George Hewitt recently had the opportunity to speak to Tom Price about playing Andy Davidson, as well as writing a story for Big Finish, March’s The Thirst Trap, which he also appears in. This exclusive interview is presented below, in full.
Hi, Tom – how are you?
Well, you’ll be pleased to hear… I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this. It might be highly confidential… for the past half hour, I definitely wasn’t writing something else. Definitely not. I was not doing that, just to be absolutely clear.
Well that’s exciting – or perhaps not, if you insist that isn’t what you were doing…
Moving onto the things you can talk about: it’s been almost seventeen years since Andy appeared in the first-ever episode of Torchwood on TV. What’s it like having gone from being a side character early on to Andy becoming a core member of Torchwood, being a co-lead in the Torchwood Soho spin-off, and now writing a story yourself as well?
It feels like it’s about time, frankly! It’s been a long wait. I always felt like Andy had a huge potential, and it’s nice that he’s been recognised both as a comedy foil but also just a normality foil. He was always the voice of ‘unimpressed reason’, which is one of the main things I love about being Welsh. ‘Unimpressed reason’. It’s bizarre to think it’s seventeen years. If Andy was born when he first appeared, he’d now be able to drive! In a sense, writing this episode is me ‘taking the wheel’, so maybe that’s faintly appropriate.
Did you anticipate when you made that first episode that Torchwood would still be thriving all these years later?
I knew it was going to do well, because Russell [T Davies, creator of Torchwood] is a genius. Russell is the greatest, so I knew that that was pretty good news. I definitely wouldn’t have anticipated this audio adventure that we’re on now, which I love. I cannot tell you how often I get the email saying “are you free for some more Big Finish?” and it’s just like “yes, yes, yes!” because it’s just so much fun to reinhabit that skin of his and jump back into that world. I absolutely love it. So no, it doesn’t really surprise me, because coming back to Russell, he builds worlds with strong foundations. [Torchwood is] a well-built car. It’s a Mercedes! So you’re going to get some miles on the clock with a world of his.
And what about Doctor Who – did you ever expect that in Big Finish’s Stranded series that you’d become a companion to the Eighth Doctor?
No, that was a bizarre phone call as well. I really didn’t expect that, and it was just fabulous. I think that’s what’s so nice about the audio world. You can mix and match and really have some fun with it – spin the kaleidoscope and see who mixes. So no, I didn’t expect it, and it was fantastic but at the same time it was very much Andy doing the same thing, just reacting to crazy events by going “what?”. It’s that thing when he’s in random situations – I always have to think about how he’s going to react, because you’ve got to keep the powder dry so that when he goes “oh my god!” and does big reactions it feels big. He’s seventeen years in now, so he’s going to have seen and experienced some things. You have to put those layers of experience onto him. He’s not quite as fresh-out-of-water as he once was.
Andy became a much more mysterious figure towards the end of Torchwood Season 6, his true allegiances being brought into question. Without confirmation yet of Andy appearing in Series 7 – Among Us, does The Thirst Trap follow on from that Series 6 cliff-hanger?
I don’t know when The Thirst Trap sits on the chronology, actually. That’s probably above my pay grade! That feels like you’re entering the Venn diagram of Russell T Davies and James Goss, which is a terrifying place to be! Andy does just turn up, doesn’t he? He has a kind of ‘oh, it’s that guy again’ quality to him. In that sense it’s quite comforting – he’s like a pair of slippers you can never throw away. But at the same time he is faintly enigmatic because he has seen so many things and yet he doesn’t really share much. It’s all quite on the surface with him, he reacts to stuff very much in the moment and you very rarely get a sense of the hinterland with him, which I think is fun and makes him more compelling.
It must be fun to get stories like Red Base and Cadoc Point where it’s just Andy, and you can really get a sense of what he’s like on his own.
Red Base was amazing, I loved that. It’s got such a great start – when I first read that script, and there’s the guy who to all intents and purposes is on the moon, and then you have Andy rock up.
Speaking of stories led by Andy, how did The Thirst Trap come about?
Well, I had been complaining to James Goss that the scripts are terrible and needed a better writer… no, I really couldn’t be joking more there, because I love the scripts and I’m always in awe of how good the scripts are. I’d say this and James would say, very generously, “you should have a go at doing one!”, and I was always like “no, I don’t think I can, your brain needs to be too big to do that”. But eventually he bullied me by offering me money! They pay cash money. Not very much, but they do the money thing. So I just thought, why not? The thing that’s unique about Andy in the whole world of Torchwood and Doctor Who is that you just feel like it’s his job. Everything he’s doing is his job. I feel like that’s very important to him.
I feel like Andy is that guy in the office who’s got an inner conflict, because he’s absolutely going to leave at 5 o’clock, 5:30 every day. Even when other people stay there he’s going to go home, because that’s the end now, that’s the day done. But at the same time he’s such a nice guy, and such a team player. He’s always like “I want to go home, but these guys need help”. He’s a very domestic animal. He’s like a cat— actually, he’s not a cat. He’s a dog. He wants to go back to his sofa, with his telly and his crisps. But events don’t let him do that. And that’s something which a lot of people relate to. We all feel a bit like that. We’re all dragged around. Though maybe not by time travel or invasions from outer space or Yvonne Hartman!So I think that he always has to set off and unwillingly do these things. The Thirst Trap was an idea that I had because I’m just so sick of everyone’s mobile phones! I think in the future we will look back on this era and just think, ‘my god, we were completely horribly addicted to our phones’ in a way that we don’t even appreciate now. It’s like when you watch footage of teachers smoking in the 1950s, we will look at the stuff with our phones and just think, ‘what were we thinking?’. I wanted to try and bring that into the Torchwood world, so I came up with this dating idea. I’m fascinated by the idea of modern dating, because I’m twenty years into a very happy relationship, so we never did internet dating, and I think it’s amazing how the dating scene has been ‘app’-ified, and a lot of people don’t stick with a partner because they’re too busy thinking ‘I’ll scroll, I’ll keep scrolling’. I like the idea of scrolling people. I think it’s a fun idea for Torchwood, and I feel like it’s only one step away from where we are now in reality with that. Basically, I wanted to do a shit Black Mirror.
There have been references throughout Torchwood to Andy’s pretty terrible attempts at dating, so this is a nice situation to put him in.
Yeah, exactly. That’s it, isn’t it – to see the human reality of that tech-driven addiction that we’ve all got. To see what it actually does to people who do have a very human, basic need for company, and these apps and these social media sites prey on that. That’s what they’re mining, right? It’s your soul that’s their seam of coal. We all know it, but I think sometimes you need shows, TV shows, radio shows, whatever, to flag it up to you. And if it makes you think ‘maybe I am on my phone too much’, fine. But if you just enjoy it and it’s just a laugh, even better!
Absolutely. And I think by creating a scenario that is, as you say, not too far off where we are now, it’s a nice way to make sure listeners get that.
The basic premise of The Thirst Trap is that you’ve got to have a date with someone within a twenty-minute window, so you’re forever on standby to get a notification. I was doing a gig about five, ten years ago when internet dating was really starting to take off, and this stand-up comic guy turned up and got a notification from a slightly more promiscuous, sex-based dating app, and he leapt off to go and get up to some nefarious activity and then came back half an hour later to close the show, and I was like “oh god, that’s a very clammy man on stage”! And I just think it’s insane that our sex drives have been attached to hard drives. It’s very scary.
How did you find it writing for Rhys? Was it difficult given his very different attitude to Andy?
I really like Rhys. I think he’s very similar to Andy – he’s just a Welsh bloke, isn’t he? I love Kai [Owen, who plays Rhys]. We’ve become really good pals over the last seventeen years. Two decades of fun. Two decades of the dickhead in the case of Kai! I think he is a fantastic, criminally underrated performer, so to write his bouncy enthusiasm felt quite easy, really. I felt like he’s got less of the self-doubt that Andy has. He just kind of ploughs into stuff. I think Rhys is one of those natural Welsh ‘alphas’, who belongs in a rugby club, or in a stadium. So to actually dig into the emotional depths of him is fun, because I always think of that when I see the natural Welsh ‘alphas’. In fact, any ‘alpha male’ with a pint who comes across as repressed and doesn’t want to talk about anything. The number of stag dos I’ve been on with people like that, and all I want to do is say “how do you feel? Have you ever seen a psychologist? What do you think you’d say to a therapist?”. I find it fascinating, because there is so much depth to those people, but they come across as so sorted, and fine.
That’s kind of like the audio Rhys and Ianto’s Excellent Barbecue by Tim Foley, which explores Rhys’s psyche. Do you listen to the audios at all?
Yeah! I do now! When I started to write them I got an account, so I’ve got loads now. It’s brilliant – I love them! I haven’t listened to that one, though. But there you go! Rhys is a fascinating character.
There was a new photoshoot for the cover of The Thirst Trap – what’s it like donning the costume again and getting into character physically?
I sent a selfie to Russell, and he said he was going to print it out. But I don’t believe him! It was really fun. We were doing our recording, and then at lunchtime I nipped upstairs and put the uniform on. I loved it, and the physicality of wearing his clothes was fun. The hat as well! It reminds me of the last time I put it on for the TV show in a trailer in Los Angeles [recording Miracle Day] in 34-degree heat. I knew there was a chance it would be my last-ever outing as PC Andy, so I always have that memory, that flashback, to doing that. And you know what, when you’re doing a character on radio again and again and again you can become a bit loose, and you can lose touch with what he is and what he was. So putting the uniform on can be quite a helpful bit of… er… ‘role-play’, if that’s what you’re into!
Some actors find that they get quite physical behind the microphone and almost act it all out physically as they would on screen – are you one of those?
Yeah, yeah. I do, otherwise I just get bored. But also, I really like it when you work with actors who you can make eye contact with. Some actors are very much heads down, just getting the lines done. But some stop, and they look at you, and they give you something to bounce off. I also love all the noises. You want to hear reactions and sighs and things like that. I think a lot of actors feel like they can’t do that because it’s not in the script, and I think that – without wishing to make any editing nightmares for people – it’s really important that you hear those reactions, because that’s what happens! That’s what people do!
Do you put things like that into your scripts?
I do, yeah. That’s the great thing with being a lead character – you can just rock up and do any old shite. “Are you doing that in a Scottish accent, Tom?”. “Yeah, yeah, I am. That’s Andy’s choice today!” [In terms of sighs and noises] you’ve got to talk to the director about it, and also the sound engineer might say “look, I don’t want that now, because we’ve got to edit around it”, but a lot of the time it’s fine. It makes a big difference, I think.
How do you find that from a writing perspective? Do you find that you become more controlling as a writer?
Yeah. It’s really bad. Recording The Thirst Trap was a nightmare, because I just stood there going “well, this is crap… that doesn’t work”. [The other actors would] say lines, and I’d say lines, and I’d think “no, that’s not how it’s meant to sound”. I had a lecture from James Goss before I went in – a proper sort of finger-wagging thing and he said “you are not the writer any more. This is now just you being Andy”. That was actually very helpful, so I didn’t rewrite too much as I went. I did it a bit, just to keep David [O’Mahony, the director of The Thirst Trap] on his toes!
How do you find working with Big Finish as both a writer and a performer?
They’re very relaxed about doing stuff… until they’re not. There’s a tremendous kind of “yeah, that makes sense”, but as soon as you cross lanes and end up as a different character or do something against the show and the ‘show Bible’ then they’re very quick to say “no, that’s not right”. But they’re lovely, they’re such a good bunch, and they’re supportive and they share the passion. This is not some line manager not caring how many burgers you sell, these are people who love the world, who really believe in the world, who have that same thing we all do which is that delicious escapism, so it’s important to them and me and all of us to get it right. And part of getting it right is being able to play. And that’s what’s so good about the directors, and writers, and producers, and executive producers. It’s understanding that sometimes you are going to play around and you are going to try stuff. You have to do that to keep it alive, otherwise it could get very ‘read’, and it can start to get very pale, and a poor imitation of itself. It has to be fresh, you have to be in the moment with all these things. It’s quite hard with audio, because you’re flipping a page and suddenly there’s a massive monster in the room and it comes out of nowhere, but you still have to fully commit to it and throw yourself into it. And if you’re reading it you won’t, but if you’re playing and you’ve got a sense of ‘I’m just going to take a leap here, and I might make an idiot of myself’, then when you know that behind the glass you’ve got all those people [supporting you], you feel much happier to do that.
Do you read all your scripts in advance?
Certain actors don’t. Certain actors – I won’t mention any names – sit actually recording their scripts while checking Twitter! I definitely won’t say who those people are, but I definitely read them in advance. You’ve got to. It’s all very well and good that I know Andy and I know what he’ll do, but you have to look for moments when it comes to a crescendo, and you have to know where the resolution is, you have to know those things are coming, so that when you’re laying down the seeds of that early on in the script you make sure you hit those points so they have the significance they need.
Are there any other characters that you’d like to write for within Torchwood?
Norton Folgate. I adore Samuel Barnett. He’s one of my favourite people. He’s just fantastic. [The 1950s are] a great time as well. It’s a fun time to jump into. I’m very keen for more Torchwood Soho. Norton’s got that funny, not caring, apparently very selfish, very flippant personality – that’s what we do so well, flippancy in the face of adversity. That’s a very British trait. And yet his actions often belie that, and quite often his actions are very selfless indeed. So I think he’s a perfect sci-fi character, he’s a perfect Doctor Who character, and he’s an amazing actor. My god, Barnett is ridiculous. He does not get notes, the guy is a machine. The only other person I’ve seen like that is Peter Davison. One of my first-ever acting jobs was a radio sitcom with Peter Davison, and Peter didn’t get notes. Every line was just “yeah, that’s exactly how that was meant to be said”. And Barnett has got that as well, he’s unbelievable.
Looking to the future – I know there’s stuff you won’t be able to discuss, but Andy and Yvonne are noticeably absent from the first volume of Among Us, but is there a chance they’ll show up later on…?
I couldn’t possibly comment! I always think it would be nice for Andy to turn up. I think he should turn up in all of Big Finish’s output, and I’ve written a lot of emails about this! I will say “no comment” – but in a nice way.
Speaking of other ranges, would you ever want to write something other than Torchwood?
Yeah, I’d love to write some Doctor Who. I think that would be great. I’ve got kids, and I think one of the things that we can sometimes forget about Doctor Who is that it’s a kids’ show! I think that sometimes it can get too complicated, so I would like to write a good, fun episode of Doctor Who or two!
Finally, do you have a tease for The Thirst Trap that you’d like people to hear before they listen to it?
My tease would be: What if you only have twenty minutes to meet the love of your life? That’s very much it, but in Cardiff, and with several idiots! That’s what it is in a nutshell. You meet some new characters, and some people with terrible ideas to do terrible things to Cardiff. It is fun, and funny, and also quite stressful. It’s the first thing I’ve written, so I’ll be interested to hear what people think!
Many thanks to Tom for speaking to us. The Thirst Trap releases from Big Finish in March, and is available to pre-order now on CD and download. Tom is also the host of My Mate Bought a Toaster, available on all podcast platforms, where guests tell their life stories via their Amazon order history.
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