He may be new to the scene, but rising star Tom Hughes is already landing top roles, including the latest Marple mystery. The brooding actor discusses ambition, childhood and charm with Sophie Herdman
Winning a part in a British institution such as Agatha Christie's Marple is daunting for any actor.
Spare a thought, then, for Tom Hughes, the 28-year-old with the most chiselled cheek bones in the business, who graduated from The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art just five years ago.
"It was amazing, at my age, to be working with someone as great as Julie McKenzie," he admits, referring to the latest actress to play Britain's top spinster sleuth.
Of course, Hughes has had a very successful five years post-college.
In fact, his CV would make many an aspiring star weep with jealousy.
From roles in British films Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll and Cemetery Junction, TV appearances in Silk, The Lady Vanishes and Page Eight, to Richard Curtis's About Time, Hughes has really hit the ground running.
The actor, who until recently was a member of the indie band Quaintways (he plays the guitar), has played musicians and bad boys and also starred in a Burberry campaign with Emma Watson.
But for the latest Marple - Endless Night - he takes on the role of Mike Rogers, a charming and ambitious man with the gift of the gab.
"Mike is such an amazingly rounded and deep character, I would have been a fool not to be attracted to playing him," he says. "He's not really from any wealth. He's just a working class lad and has always had aspirations to make something of himself. He's desperate not to just accept the cards he was dealt, and to make a name and a better life for himself."
In an attempt to create this better life, Mike hopes to build his dream home on a local beauty spot called Gypsy's Acre, despite its alleged curse.
He soon falls in love with a beautiful American girl, Ellie Goodman, played by Joanna Vanderham, but Miss Marple comes to suspect that there is more to the pretty woman than meets the eye.
This isn't the first time Vanderham and Hughes have worked together, but last time their characters shared a platonic - rather than romantic - bond, as brother and sister in Dancing On The Edge, a Stephan Poliakoff drama about a black jazz band in 1930s London.
Having Vanderham on set was both exciting and a relief, Hughes admits.
"When I found out it was Joanna playing the part of Ellie, I was even more excited to do the job," he admits. "To have a partner in crime to help find your rhythm quite quickly was brilliant."
Hughes took the opportunity to learn from the experienced actors he was working with, especially McKenzie: "Julia is such an incredible actress with an unbelievable wealth of varied experience, so just to be on set and learn from her was great."
She also has a great sense of humour - he notes - not unlike Marple herself.
But that wasn't the only studying Hughes undertook.
In fact, the actor has a very specific way of researching before going on set.
"I look at the music or fashion of the period, people's energy, the feeling in society and research what it would have been like to be living during this time," he says.
"At the period the film is set in, the teenage culture in America would have just kicked off, and Mike would have been attracted to that, living the American dream, which was all about making something of yourself. That sits very well with his psychology."
Mike's secret weapon for success is his dazzling charm, and Hughes, ever the dedicated actor, thought long and hard about how to portray that.
"Whenever you play a character that's charming, the biggest mistake I believe you can make is to play someone who knows they are charming," he says. "The truly charming people in life are at their most charming when they don't realise it."
One woman who can see through Mike's charm though is his mother, played by Tamzin Outhwaite.
"In order to wriggle his way into every single social gathering and social group, so he can climb the ladder, Mike has a persona which he takes on, allowing him to gain access to those private worlds," Hughes says.
"He knows that this act - if he wears the right clothes, speaks the right way and says the right thing - can get him places."
Of course, his mother isn't fooled by the facade.
"She's probably the only person who truly does [see through it], and I think that scares Mike, it rattles him."
But rather than cutting out the act, Mike decides he has to cut his mother out of his life.
"He needs to turn his back on his relationship with his mother, because it's the only way he can really achieve his ambitions.
"It's an interesting comment on ambition - having a bit of drive in life is a good thing, but if ambition takes the wrong turn, it can be incredibly poisonous," Hughes adds.
He reveals the day spent filming the tense scenes between Mike and his mother was one of his favourites.
"I always find the relationships between my characters and their parents fascinating," he says. "You can trace a lot of people's problems back to childhood."
Actor, model, musician... psychologist? Who knows what the future holds for this bright young star.
EXTRA TIME - ENDLESS NIGHT STARS
:: Tamzin Outhwaite - Playing Mike's mother, Outhwaite first became a household name playing Melanie Owen in EastEnders and has recently replaced Amanda Redman to play Sandra Pullman in New Tricks.
:: Hugh Dennis - One half of comedy duo Punt & Dennis, he's a regular on Mock The Week and stars as harassed dad Pete in Outnumbered.
:: Wendy Craig - She's nearly 80 and has appeared in some of Britain's best sitcoms, from Not In Front Of The Children to Butterflies and The Royal.
:: Glynis Barber - South African-born Barber starred as Glenda Mitchell in EastEnders. She's also appeared in Blake's 7, Dempsey And Makepeace, Night And Day and Emmerdale.
:: Aneurin Barnard - Rising Welsh star Barnard's appeared in movies including Ironclad, Hunky Dory, Citadel and the BBC Four film We'll Take Manhattan, as photographer David Bailey.
:: Agatha Christie's Marple: Endless Night airs on ITV on Sunday, December 29