A Discovery of Witches Q&A —Tom Hughes Talks Kit Marlowe, With A Harkness Twist

In A Discovery of Witches, Tom Hughes plays Christopher "Kit" Marlowe, one of Season 2's new faces, and one of the few characters based on a real historical figure. Marlowe, one of the most renowned Elizabethan playwrights, gets a Harkness twist—in this version of 1590, he's a demon. In this interview with amc.com, Hughes talks about becoming Kit, how costuming played a big part in his transformation, and how Kit really feels about Matthew.

Q: Unlike many other characters in the show, Kit is based on a real historical figure. That presents a situation that seems to be both constraining and freeing for an actor. How did you work with the creative team to develop this version of Kit? How much historical backstory did you fuse with your own vision of the character to create Kit? 

A: I didn't see it as a constraint, I actually saw it as being quite freeing! Often, as an actor, your job is to make choices that can sometimes go against the grain of the obvious way of playing things. It's at least what I try to do when I can. But you need to know which way the grain goes so you can make the choices that go against it. Sometimes if you have a plethora of different options available to you, in some ways that can be trickier. The beauty of playing someone that was a real person means that you have that skeleton, that framework from which to build from. Then your job is to flesh that out and try and make that character as complicated and as fascinating as we all are as people. We're all walking contradictions and gray areas and question marks. The joy as an actor comes in trying to delve into those things rather than just playing an obvious archetype. It's certainly what I get drawn to anyway.

Having that true skeleton of the real man was important, and obviously research and reading was a massive part of that. I really delved into his writing, read a lot of stories about him, ideas about who the man was. He was quite an enigma in many ways. The more I delved in, the more excited I was. But one can't lose focus of the fact that this is Deborah's vision of this character, and he very much has to sit within Deborah's world. The real Kit Marlowe wasn't a demon. So it became a combination of finding that true framework of the real man, and then pushing that through the prism of Deborah's vision.

Q: The costumes this season are incredible. Did donning fashion from the 1500s help get you into Kit’s mind set? It must affect everything from your gait to the way to hold your body.  

A: It does, very much so. It was interesting stepping into a show that was already up and running. You have to hit the ground running, and find the tone of what everyone has created and built during that first season. But there was also a freedom to start from scratch again in the fact that Diana and Matthew have traveled back in time, so our awakening to the 1500s was fresh.

The wonder of Deborah is, being a scholar, she's so incredibly knowledgable about that time. The  specifics of it were an understandable necessity for her. It was exhilarating  for myself and the costume designer, and I think for everyone who was trying to build these characters. You start with the framework of the restrictions of the period costume, and then bring Kit's personality into that. Having certain elements of flair within that costume, and trying to have some freedom in that. You've got very high-waisted trousers for example, you've got the boots. I worked a lot with the costume designer to try and find a freedom of the upper body for Kit. It was important to me that his shoulders and his breath and his arms were free, because I felt there was a romance within breath that I didn't want to be restricted for Kit. I really think we found that balance. And then fundamentally, the high-waisted trousers just make sure you don't slouch. I am definitely a sloucher, so that was a benefit for sure.

Q: When we meet Kit, it’s right as Matthew and Diana have made their entrance into 1590. He’s immediately distrustful of Diana, and disappointed in Matthew for associating with her let alone marrying her! We don’t know much about Kit and Matthew’s relationship, just that they were best mates, but he’s incredibly possessive of Matthew so there’s definitely baggage there. Can you speak a bit about how you created this dynamic with Matthew?  

A: I've been lucky enough to work with Matthew Goode before. It's funny that there's two Matthews that we can refer to, Matthew Goode and Matthew the character. I've been lucky enough to work with Matthew Goode a couple of times before, added to which I'm a massive fan. That, coupled with us having a rhythm, meant that as actors I felt like we were able to hit the ground running and that really helped.

In terms of the relationship between Kit and Matthew, well I think there's an innate hedonism in Kit but there's a vulnerability to him as well. I think he sees the other side of Matthew de Clermont. I think Kit's love is pure. I think there is that hedonism within it. There's a desperation within Kit that I think he's not always necessarily in control of. I think that comes from his incredible intellect, his witticism, his aptitude for acerbic genius, but there's also a childlike quality within him. There's a vulnerability. There's an open sensitivity that leaves him exposed. I think what he finds in Matthew is a reflection of all the magic in his character, but also so many things to fill in all the other sides of him. I very much looked at what Matthew Goode had done in the first series, and tried to find something rhythmically that I felt would be the true poetic couplet to his performance.

The way he reacts to being ousted as Matthew's bestie and replaced by a woman—it does feels childlike in its desperation, and how sad he is that his friend has "moved on."

A: Yeah, definitely. Kit's feelings for Matthew are never quite defined. I think that's very clever of the writers of the series, and also very clever of Deborah, because love is hard to define. But I do think it's a plethora of different indulgences in terms of Kit's feelings towards Matthew. Yes, there's this loyalty. They feel united in many ways. But there's also a kind of this true love there, I think.

The purity of that love does run through the veins of Kit, so when that's taken away, he has to fall back on an emotional structure that isn't there. For all of his genius and his mercurial nature, perhaps that emotional structure wasn't within him, so he fell back on nothing. As he flails, the child in him, the boy in him, comes out. I tried to play that as much as I could, particularly in his decisions, mechanisms, movements, and relationships. I really wanted to show that desperation and vulnerability in Kit. He goes down a path that I don't think he's actively choosing.

Q: If you could timewalk, what era would you want to enter and who would you want to meet?   

A: The 1960s without a doubt. Who would I want to meet? John Lennon springs to mind. I'm from the northwest of England, so the Beatles are a big thing. There's a bunch of people I'd want to meet, including Hendrix. But John Lennon's got to be the one. It's quite apt for Kit because I think Lennon had an equally kind of mercurial, acerbic wizardry about him. If I could go to any point in time, I think that would be it for me. For the music! The music and the social change, and all of the ideas. I think it must have been incredible.