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“You have to make it fun”: “Tom Jones” star on shooting awkward sex scenes with Hannah Waddingham

Solly McLeod thought he'd get rejected for his first leading role when he was initially called to read for “Tom Jones.”

“When I got the audition for it, I thought it was for the singer Tom Jones,” McLeod told reporters at the Television Critics Association press conference in January. “And I was like, that's not going to work.”

It's not unusual, so to speak, for the young actor not to know that this “Tom Jones” is based on the randy, rollicking 1749 novel by Henry Fielding, but after reading early scripts, McLeod was sold. The tale of the 18th-century foundling who grows up to be very popular with the ladies may have topped 1,000 pages in its original form, but McLeod found this four-episode adaptation “energetic and fast-paced.”

It doesn't hurt that Tom is irresistible to the ladies. While his heart is taken with the neighboring squire's daughter Sophie Western (Sophia Wilde), his loins are less discriminating. Once Tom is forced out of the only home he ever knows and lands in London, he falls into the clutches of Lady Bellaston (“Ted Lasso” costar Hannah Waddingham), a wealthy older woman who likes her men young and lively.

Despite the pressure to play the couple's predominantly sexual relationship, the actors were able to create a relaxed and comfortable camaraderie.

“I'm not sure what the first scene that we filmed together was, but it wasn't one of the raunchy ones,” McLeod said. “It was one of the talking ones – not that there's many of those.”

The actor recognized Waddingham from her roles as Septa Unella in “Game of Thrones” and Jackson's mother Sofia in Netflix's “Sex Education.” He hadn't, however, caught her latest role as AFC Richmond owner Rebecca Welton in “Ted Lasso” until after he finished filming “Tom Jones.”

“I think if I'd watched ‘Ted Lasso' before filming this I would have been like, ‘Oh my god!' because she's absolutely outstanding,” McLeod raved. “We spoke about that as well. She found it funny that again in this show she has relations with the younger guy.”

Tom can't sem to help attracting attention from women. Perhaps it's because he's traipsing around Somerset and London with his shirt open – far less restrictive attire compared to the stuffy cravats, elaborate wigs and face powders that were deemed fashionable for the time.

“It is yes, a lot of chest,” McLeod said. “We actually have to sew it up a little bit because there was too much, almost down to my belly button. There were scenes that we filmed – this is Northern Ireland in the winter – and with a flowy shirt I was like, ‘It's cold today.'  But it was a comfortable costume, his general one. It was nice being natural. I think that's what they wanted to do with Tom.”

Dean Lennox Kelly as Black George Seagrim and Lucy Fallon as Molly Seagrim in “Tom Jones” (PBS)  

Lady Bellaston is one of three women whom Tom Jones beds in the series, including a young Somerset woman named Molly (Lucy Fallon) and a mysterious married woman named Mrs. Waters (Susannah Fielding) he meets on the way to London. While the numerous sex scenes may appear tame onscreen – no full nudity for “Masterpiece” – they still asked enough of the actors to require the services of an intimacy coordinator.

“They were there making sure that everyone felt comfortable with what they had to do, what we wanted to do in the scene,” confirmed McLeod. “We had a discussion with our director Georgia [Pariss] about what she was looking for and how we felt doing that. It was all very much up to us and we didn't have anything forced on us.

“But because we had such a good relationship, me and Hannah, and the same thing goes for me and Lucy Fallon who plays Molly and Susannah who plays Mrs. Waters. We had a good relationship,” he continued. “So we made light of it as much as we could and tried to kill the awkwardness because you have the crew walking around trying to fix lights, and we're like, naked on the bed. You have to make it fun.”

With all this bed-hopping going on, it may seem counterintuitive to think of Tom Jones as a romantic hero to root for, but McLeod has sympathy for his 20-year-old character. Along the way, he gets taken advantage of, loses the trust of his true love Sophie and even gets thrown in jail. But despite being taken in by a kind squire growing up, Tom was never treated with any respect because of his illegitimate status.

“He's a young man who's been brought up in wealth, but he's never felt like he belonged,” said McLeod. “He's always searching for something more fulfilling than just the life that he has. And I don't think he realizes that it's what it is to love until somebody comes along. And he goes, ‘Oh, s**t. This is what I've been missing.'

“He has to go kind of go through a series of trials and tribulations to discover what's right and what's wrong,” he continued. “Probably his ability to see the good in people and trust people, I think it's a fantastic trait, but because he was so naive . . . in our show he that was his downfall.”

House of the DragonSolly McLeod as Ser Joffrey Lonmouth and Fabien Frankel as Ser Criston Cole in “House of the Dragon” (Ollie Upton / HBO)That good-natured innocence is a stark contrast to McLeod's previous two roles. In Scandi-noir drama “The Rising,” he play a troubled young man who'd been accused of murdering his girlfriend. The other is that of Joffrey Lonmouth in “House of the Dragon.” For those who may not recognize him – Tom has much shorter hair – Joffrey is introduced as the secret lover of a noble groom-to-be, but after a few snide words to the wrong knight is beaten to death at the wedding.

As with any “Game of Thrones” franchise death, Joffrey's demise was not only shrouded in secrecy but made quite the impact on those who knew McLeod watching the show.

“It was pretty instant, it was kind of an overnight thing,” he said. “My phone was blowing up, and I was like, ‘Oh, it's obviously come out.' It peaked and it dipped. And now sometimes people will say, ‘I think you look familiar, but I can't quite pinpoint it,' because my hair was long [on the show].”

While Joffrey's time onscreen was brief, McLeod thoroughly enjoyed his time on the show, which was about six weeks all told. That said, he was more than happy to move on to play the sunnier Tom Jones.

“I think coming from the two roles previously, where they had a bit of darkness to them and being able to push them away, it was just so good,” he said. “It was probably the thing that got me through the trickier days on set. And just Tom's nature lifted everything up.”

“Tom Jones” premiered Sunday, April 30 at 9 p.m. on PBS. 

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