The Lady Vanishes is all about a socialite trying to track down a missing woman on a train, but we needed a bit more information than that. So we got on the phone with Tom Hughes - who you might know from Cemetery Junction, Silk or Dancing On The Edge, to name just a few - to find out more about his character, possible romance in the film, why he felt claustrophobic during the shoot and why we might get "sweaty palms" while watching...
The Lady Vanishes is obviously a classic film, directed by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock. Did you have any hesitation about being part of a remake?
"No, no I didn't really, no. I mean, he's got such a big fanbase that you obviously are aware of that, and you don't want to offend people by ruining something that matters to them, but I think the difference with this is... I have to admit, I haven't seen the original because I personally didn't watch it before we shot it. Rather than being a remake of the film, in this they've gone back to the book that the film was based on - The Wheel Spins. This is a new adaptation of that book. So though it has a similar narrative and a similar, I guess, theme to the Hitchcock film, it's definitely got its own tone. Rather than a remake, it's a retelling, almost. Hopefully it will get the Hitchcock audience and get a new audience as well."
So there are a few changes from the film?
"Like I say, I wanted to watch the original - I hadn't seen it before I auditioned for it and I wanted to watch it, but Diarmuid [Lawrence], the director, advised me not to really. I think that was good advice, because with it being so different you could start trying to play things in a similar tone and it wouldn't fit within the world of our film. My character is basically the Michael Redgrave part, but in our film there are two parts that if you put them together would perhaps make up Redgrave's part, and that's the part played by myself and also Alex Jennings. So there are definite differences - you don't get two guys chatting about cricket in our film! I think it will stand alone, hopefully."
If people don't know the story, can you explain what it's all about?
"You meet a young aristocratic lady called Iris who is on holiday with her aristocratic friends, and she's kind of had everything provided to her in life on a plate. She's bored with that world and wants to branch out and have a bit of risk and a bit of drama and a bit of excitement, so she decides to travel home from Europe back to England. Just before she gets on the train to travel back, she hits her head, so when she gets on the train she feels slightly disorientated. In that state, in that panic almost, she meets this English woman who seems to be the only other person that she can talk to because they're the only two who speak English.
"Anyway, she then passes out from exhaustion or whatever it may be, and when she awakes the woman is no longer to be seen. Iris, who ordinarily would not be too caring or sensitive to other people's needs, finds herself uncharacteristically impassioned in trying to find this woman and sets off on a journey where there's a lot of cloak and dagger and a lot of wrong turns that people send her down. She goes searching for anyone who can help her out, as she doesn't speak the language of the majority of people on the train, and she finds a professor and a young assistant played by myself and Alex Jennings.
"They set off on this journey of trying to uncover the truth and Max, my character, he takes quite a shining to Iris because she's quite ballsy and I think he likes her strength and her wit and they have this relationship that they just push each other's buttons - sometimes in the right way, sometimes in the wrong way. They form a bit of a partnership and go on this mission to find the lost Miss Froy."
Is there a hint of romance between Max and Iris then?
"I mean, I wouldn't want to give anything away! But I think there's a hint. I think you could say there's a hint."
Max is one of the only people to help Iris - is he a good guy? Can we trust him?
"Definitely, yeah. Definitely. I mean, he's kind of cheeky, he's got a wit to him and he's quite playful. But he really believes Iris and he's the one that takes her side. He cares for her, I think. I don't think he even realises it, but sometimes in life you meet people and you instantly, for whatever reason, you feel like you have stuff invested in them and I think that's very much the case with him and Iris."
So will I be hiding behind the sofa or is it more psychological than that?
"It's more of a psychological thriller than it is an edge of your seat, jumping out of your seat thriller. The initial half is from Iris's point of view, and it's almost as if the walls are creeping in on her. She starts to lose faith in her own instincts and her own understanding and her own thoughts and that's when things get really scary. I think as it goes along, the amount of deceit and the amount of tricks and games and twists and turns that she's forced to go down and forced to deal with - I think it makes you feel psychologically uncomfortable as you go along with her."
Is most of the action set on the train? Does that make it feel claustrophobic?
"Yeah, and it was claustrophobic to shoot as well! It really was. They built it correctly to the inside of a 1930s train, but this is 2013, so I'm 6'1" - I don't think people were 6'1" in 1932! So it was a challenge, but it was great. We're in this big old air hangar in the countryside just outside Budapest, so it was boiling hot but great fun to shoot. I'd say 70% of it's on the train and I think that really does add to the claustrophobia. You start to feel like the train is getting smaller and smaller. It feels quite European, I think, in tone at times in the sense that they can take their time with psychological thrillers and just gradually turn up the heat more and more, and you're almost not aware of it until you feel so tight and constricted that your breath is short and your palms are sweaty. I think it's that kind of tone rather than a thrill a minute."
So filming it made you feel claustrophobic, but did the psychological aspect give you nightmares?
"I'm not the one going through it, to be honest! Tuppence Middleton's part, Iris, is the one that's really kind of having to question her own sanity. The great thing about Max for me is that he felt like a modern day character in the 1930s. He's a man that knows etiquette and knows how to be in polite society, if you will, but he's not part of the aristocracy himself. He's well educated, but he's fought his way through his education so there's a real openness and frankness and an honesty to him that I found really nice to play with. So actually I spent most of my time just trying to react to whatever madness Tuppence was going through! I'm the calm one, I think, on set!"
You were obviously just seen in Dancing On The Edge - do you particularly like doing period dramas, or was it just kind of a coincidence that they both came at once?
"It's a coincidence, really, because I got a job in between these two... When I took the part of Max, I was aware of the link because I was at the same costume store trying on very similar clothes and they had all my old measurements, and I thought, 'Oh, alright, I'm clearly set to live in the 1930s!' But they're such different parts. Julian was an incredible part to get - you don't often in your 20s get roles that have the depth that he has. Sometimes you'll play the romantic lead or you might get the bad guy - there's always archetypes that you very often encounter. What I loved about Julian is when you meet him, he's this young, slightly hapless but charming guy, and then as it goes on there's a darkness to him. I thought that was an amazing thing to have as a challenge. Max is the complete opposite, really - there is no darkness within Max. If anything, he hides his sensitivity rather than hiding a darkness. So though they're very much of the same era they couldn't be further apart as people."
What else have you got coming up?
"A film that I shot, which is Richard Curtis's new film. It's a cool supporting part, but for me it's all about the world that comes with the character. The character I thought was pretty cool and he brought quite a cool energy to it. It was great working with Richard - I've always loved his films. They've got an optimism I think people can sometimes lack in life, and I kind of admire him for being the flagbearer for optimistic living, so it was great to work with him.
"And I just finished a tiny little indie but a really cool film for Lionsgate called I Am Soldier, that we wrapped about three and a half weeks ago, which is great. It was hard going because it charts a young man who's lost his way and he tries to get redemption with him trying to battle his way through the recruitment process of the SAS, when he's really not in a position of strength to start with. He's kind of coming at the back of the pack but he needs to do it to prove to himself that he hasn't forgotten who he used to be when he was young. That was great but gruelling in a brilliant way - a different challenge from something like Dancing On The Edge which is very much about the wordplay and the delicacy of the words. This is very much about one man's very animalistic battle almost to prove he's not lost himself. I haven't seen it yet but it's one that felt good when we filmed it."
It seems like there are loads of young British actors taking over the US at the moment - is that something you want to do?
"To be honest, I don't have a grand plan. I don't see it as America and England - I see it more as good scripts, good parts, good directors. I'd happily do 15 jobs in a row in the UK or equally just as happily do 15 jobs in a row in America or, you know, Cyprus. As long as I feel like I'm not resting on my laurels and I'm being stretched and challenged and trying to grow, then I'll be happy wherever I end up."
So why should people tune in to The Lady Vanishes?
"They might already know the original film and it might be a Sunday night, but I think it's got a new fresh energy to it both for Sunday night drama and also for a story that I think could excite a few people and surprise a few people. I think it could be quite enjoyable for how fresh it feels."
The Lady Vanishes airs on Sunday (March 17) at 8.30pm on BBC One.