Airing on Masterpiece on PBS, the sweeping drama series Indian Summers (already in its second season in the UK) is set in 1932, when the height of privilege was to be British in India and the high point was the summer season at the hard-partying colonial retreat of Simla in the Himalayan foothills. One focal point of the story is the relationship between the mysterious Ralph Whelan (Henry Lloyd-Hughes), who is a politically ambitious bachelor hiding a checkered past, and his beautiful younger sister Alice (Jemima West), who appears suddenly from England with her own secrets.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actor Henry Lloyd-Hughes talked about his funny audition process, what attracted him to this project, how amazingly immersive the set is, knowing this story has five seasons worth of material, exploring the unusual brother-sister relationship, what he’s most enjoyed about the journey of playing this character, and how incredible it is to work with the diverse cast.
Collider: How did this all come about for you?
HENRY LLOYD-HUGHES: I was on another film and I got sent the script. It was actually Laura Carmichael from Downton Abbey who was on the film with me, and she read the scenes with me. I was tired from doing this other thing and I couldn’t really focus on it, but she insisted that I send them a tape. I was like, “Oh, god! Okay, fine!” And then, I completely forgot about it. And many months later, I ended up meeting the director. It was a long process of meetings and chemistry reads, and all of that stuff that’s really boring and that you don’t need to know about. Originally, like so many series, you just get this tiny window into the show and you maybe get a few scenes, which are out of context, and the plot of this show is complicated. So, you have the thing revealed to you, the further you get into the process. By the time you get to your final audition, maybe you get a whole episode and you’re like, “Oh, I was playing that so wrong!”
This show is so beautifully shot. What’s it like to be on the set?
LLOYD-HUGHES: It’s an amazingly immersive experience, I have to say. Having been on sets that run the full gamut, sometimes you have to do that extra bit of imagining to obscure the person getting the Starbucks in the back of the shot. And yet, when we’re shooting this, there’s so little that doesn’t look like the period. The sets are real buildings that are really from that era. It’s quite transformative. You do feel like you’re doing a bit of time travel, and then you come out the other side and you’re like, “What just happened?” It’s really helpful because it’s so easy to get immersed in what’s going on. You’ve just got to try to snap yourself out of it, at the other end.
Is it challenging to be a part of telling such an epic story when you don’t know what’s coming next?
LLOYD-HUGHES: The pace that we shoot at is quite fast, as most television is. There’s a lot of decisions that get made, on a daily basis, and you have to make it work. You’ve got to be open to that process of being willing to be creatively problem-solving, all the time.
How is it to explore the brother-sister relationship?
LLOYD-HUGHES: It’s ambiguous, to say the least, but it’s definitely deliberate that you should sense that ambiguity. It’s not an accident that that’s there.
What have you most enjoyed about the journey that you’re taking with this character?
LLOYD-HUGHES: I suppose it’s really satisfying to play someone with secrets. It’s really satisfying to decide how and when those things are going to start being revealed, and how subtle to be. And I’ve never, ever gotten to play a character with such a long journey. This is a five series character arc, which is crazy. I can’t even get my head around it. In the other roles that I’ve done, I’m used to knowing you start here and go there, and I can see the end. With this, to do something where in 15 years, I know that my character will potentially be doing this thing, that’s a whole other way of working. That’s the challenging, but it’s also what’s amazing about it. It’s almost like a different genre of acting for me. I’m sure people who have done long-running shows before, that’s their experience and they have that skill set. But for me, that’s new. That’s what’s fresh about it. That’s the challenge, and also the thing that’s very rewarding.
So, this is a character you’ll be sticking with for awhile then?
LLOYD-HUGHES: Exactly! I’ve gotta be honest, at the end of Series 1, it was not that easy to walk away and completely forget about the character. Because the arc is so big, it’s still potentially open-ended. You don’t get that sense of locking him up and shutting the shutters. It’s still bubbling away.
You have such a diverse cast in this, which is very cool to watch.
LLOYD-HUGHES: It’s very deliberate. Because of the timing of when the show is set, the writer wanted the viewers to experience that time where people are starting to subvert the rules that have been in place. That’s what’s interesting. All of those characters are rubbing up alongside each other. That’s what’s provocative and exciting. You’ve got people going where they’ve never been before, and turning up in unexpected places. It’s a very intentional cast, as well. There are a lot of great actors from India, there are a lot of actors who are British Asian, and there are a lot of actors from all over Europe, and yet we’re filming out in Southeast Asia. It’s a really unique combination of elements being met and cooked up. Yeah, I don’t think there’s a show that delivers that same combination of things. It’s fascinating to me because I just don’t know what that affect will be on an American audience, and whether they’ll be confounded, confused, or delighted. They’ll be so obsessed with it, or it will be an odd mix of flavors. I’m so excited for people to see it, once it’s out.
Indian Summers airs on Masterpiece on PBS on Sunday nights, starting on September 27th.