“I don’t like it,” says Henry Lloyd-Hughes, pointing squarely at his own face. “It gets in the way. The problem is, though, it’s fast becoming my usual look. For some parts, people even request it.”
Such are the perils of looking good with a moustache, I answer. And the actor really does pull it off. Somewhere between Clouseau and Ustinov on the ‘stash spectrum, Lloyd-Hughes’ lip-topper is at once gentlemanly and distinctive: the perfect conversation starter.
In fact, mere minutes into our interview — over an ambrosial lunch at Covent Garden’s Din Tai Fung — talk turns to facial hair. “Almost 50 per cent of my CV has a moustache,” the actor laughs. “At the moment, I’ve grown it out for a series I’m doing for Netflix. It’s a period show, called The English Game — about the birth of professional football in the 1870s.”
But, while this Julian Fellowes-penned drama may be Lloyd-Hughes’ first foray into streaming service originals, his moustache has been a mainstay of film and television for years. It bristled onto screens in 2014’s Madame Bovary, appeared alongside Keira Knightley in Anna Karenina and was most recently seen twitching anxiously through BBC1’s gritty adaptation of Les Misérables.
Lloyd-Hughes himself, sans-moustache, has been equally prolific, cropping up in productions from the Harry Potter franchise to cult comedy series The Inbetweeners, in which he played resident ruffian Mark Donovan. Currently, the actor can be seen sinisterly string-pulling as entrepreneur Aaron Peel in series two of Killing Eve — a role he clearly relished as much as the crispy pork wontons we’re tucking into.
“It doesn’t really bear any relation to anything I’ve done before,” reasons the actor, wonton in hand. “I auditioned first, and then they wrote the scripts — which were a complete surprise. Because it’s not just a simple whodunnit.
“With a show like this,” he adds, now brandishing a chopstick, “there’s a lot at stake. So they want to keep their options open with the narrative.”
And it’s quite the narrative — as you’ll know if you’ve been tuning in on Saturday nights. But Lloyd-Hughes’ character, a zipped-up, tricky-to-read Silicon Valley-type, is a walking grey area. His true intentions are hard to determine; which presumably made him even harder to play?
“Actually, it was quite liberating,” the actor smiles. “I’d probably find it more difficult playing someone really similar to me, whose biography, skill sets and personality were like my own. But this guy’s a megabrain, a murderer, speaks umpteen languages — so I’ve already changed lanes three times. I’m miles away.”
Killing Eve operates on another level of tension and television, says Lloyd-Hughes. In fact, we’re dining at Din Tai Fung because series producer and queen of the zeitgeist Phoebe Waller-Bridge was spotted eating at the Taiwanese restaurant last month. But, despite our central table and his twirled moustache, no-one recognises the actor amidst the Chinese woodcarvings and high-end Huaiyang cuisine. It’s a level of anonymity Lloyd-Hughes wryly calls a “fringe benefit” of being famous.
“I haven’t yet crossed over into defining roles,” he explains, “so I still have my freedom. But the longer you act, the harder it becomes to do certain things. The system is designed in a way that, the moment you do something once, they just want you to do it again. They’ve seen you do it before, so to cast you in a similar role is low-risk”.
Not that Lloyd-Hughes ascribes to the ‘low-risk’ lifestyle. Aside from acting, he has been dabbling in business of late. In 2017, the actor decided to revive a sportswear brand founded by his great-grandfather, using archived materials he inherited to create a new range of retro, stylish sportswear.
“I’ve always been a vintage geek,” he chuckles. “But running a business is both a thrill-ride and a complete nightmare. That said, I’ve felt a massive sense of accomplishment from working on something I — literally — built up in my garden shed.”
NE Blake is indeed a project worthy of praise. In his time away from set, the actor got to work designing a range of high-end cricket whites — from bucket hats to tailored trousers — for discerning sportsmen.
“Obviously, other cricket whites are available – and cheaper,” admits Lloyd-Hughes. “But, if someone wants to pay £100 for a pair of tailored cricket trousers, I’m more than happy to provide them with that. Everyone should do what they want, and wear what they want.”
It’s a solid style philosophy, and one closely followed by the actor himself. Today, for instance he is smartly turned out in a traditional pale blue jumper and centre-creased trousers — a suitably old-school outfit to match his moustache.
“The strange thing is,” the actor laughs, “I’ve always dressed like this. I used to buy second-hand tweed jackets from charity shops when I was as young as 13. People thought I looked like a weird old man then, but now I’m older, I’ve aged into it.”
We pause for the pomp of dessert’s arrival – Din Tai Fung’s signature salted egg yolk custard lava buns. Lloyd-Hughes is so enthralled he even misses my final question. “Sorry, acting skills?” he finally says, tearing his eyes away from the steamer. “The thing is, in my opinion, there’s no specific set of skills you need. You just have to be versatile enough to change, depending on the scenario. In six months’ time, I could be playing a Victorian deep sea diver, or I could be playing a Formula One driver. There’s no way of preparing for the unexpected.”
As if proving a point, the actor’s first bite of lava bun — “God, they’re amazing!” — jets a dollop of molten custard straight out onto his curled moustache. I pull a slight face and, with a knowing look, he immediately reaches for a napkin. “See?” he frowns, dabbing at his top lip. “More trouble than it’s worth…”
Catch Lloyd-Hughes in Killing Eve on Saturday nights on BBC1. Find out what inspires fellow British actor Tom Bateman here…