Americans might only know him as Cutler Beckett from the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean films, but Tom Hollander is, of course, much more than that. The 44-year-old British actor is a veteran of the stage and screen, though his most recent work might be his best. I'm talking about the BBC Two sitcom Rev, which he co-created with writer James Wood. Hollander stars as the protagonist, Reverend Adam Smallbone, an inner city vicar with a tiny, preoccupied congregation. The series is coming to America through the streaming site Hulu, which has already premiered the first eight episodes. Talking to Hollander before the Hulu Television Critics Association press panel, we found out a little more about the ideas behind the BAFTA-winning series.
"[Rev] came about from hearing several anecdotes about a local priest in West London," Hollander explained. "I was telling someone a funny story about it, and they said, 'That sounds like a TV show." Hollander promptly phoned his friend James Wood and pitched "a show in which you discover what it's like to be a priest with a congregation of nonbelievers who are just exploiting you to get their children into your school."
It was important to Hollander, though, not to fall into the cliches of British television. "[We wanted] the vicar to be essentially a good natured person and on some level the hero," he said. "Not in the tradition of vicar comedies where the vicar is a slightly strange, preposterous outsider. In our show, he's an everyman who is made an outsider by virtue of his job, not because he's a strange sociopath, which is the normal cliche."
Hollander plays that vicar, Adam Smallbone, as a kindhearted man who wants to do what's best by his congregation and God, though those two things often clash. In one series 2 episode, Adam is unknowingly dosed with ecstasy by a member of his congregation (who, to be fair, thinks he's doing Adam a favor). "I wanted to do the story [about Adam on ecstasy] because we had met many vicars [during research of the show] and asked them what it was literally felt like to believe in God, physically," Hollander explained. "When they tried to describe it, it always sounded like they were on drugs. I thought, that would be interesting -- there's something common between religious ecstasy and chemical ecstasy. [Drugs are] an artificial way of feeling it."
While that might sound like Hollander is dismissing religion, he's very adamant that Rev is a series that is respectful and even sympathetic to the faithful. "It was very important to me to not be mocking faith [with the series], because that would be so easy," he said. "I'm bored of the atheist argument. I'm not particularly religious myself, but I am bored of the noises of atheists, because any five-year-old can disprove the existence of God. It's much more interesting [to explore] people who are attempting to transcend the disappointing nature of real life."
Rev won the BAFTA for best sitcom (a prestigious honor) for its first series, and was nominated again for its second series. A third series is "planned," but hasn't been written yet, according to Hollander. "We will be trying to take [Rev] further and deeper and broader," he shared. "Maybe we'll push it just slightly out of our comfort zone. We've got a plan for it. We want to try and do an arc that runs through it. That's the one major difference [from previous seasons]: a story arc that will run across six episodes."
Hollander also just finished his next project: the audiobook reading of J.K. Rowling's highly anticipated novel The Casual Vacancy, due out in late September. "It was very exciting," he said of the experience. "She's a considerable writer. It's eagerly anticipated and it won't disappoint. It was a wonderful privilege to be one of the first people to read it before anyone else. I felt like a pioneer discovering a new land as I came over the brow of a hill."
If you haven't checked out Rev, you should give it a try. It's side-splittingly hilarious at times, and heartwarmingly gentle at others. Head over to Hulu and watch it.
Check back with Hulu in the coming days; we've got interviews with Veep creator Armando Iannucci and Up to Speed star Speed Levitch on the way.