In the BritBox original series Hotel Portofino, Oliver Dench plays regular character Lucian Ainsworth across all episodes of the released Series 1, and with a second series of the show now being confirmed, Oliver will reprise his role as Lucian, with filming taking place in Croatia. Amongst Oliver’s other screen roles, he played Young Iullus in Domina, starred as Xander Duvall in Pandora (for which he attended Comic-Con in San Diego and New York), was in the cast of The Athena as Sam Warner, and he had his first regular screen character in 2016 in TV series Ride playing Will Palmerston. Oliver will be appearing in the not-yet-released film Queen of the Redwood Mountains, and having stage experience, he performed a one-man Hamlet for the National Theatre of Nice. We found out from Oliver about playing Lucian Ainsworth in Hotel Portofino, starring as Xander Duvall in Pandora and his first regular character of Will Palmerston in Ride.
You play Lucian Ainsworth in the BritBox original series Hotel Portofino, can you tell us about the show?
Hotel Portofino is set in the late 20s in Portofino, surprisingly. My character is a survivor of the First World War, dawdling his time away in the sun, drinking fine Italian wine. It seems like a lovely life until his horrible father starts insisting he has to marry a stranger who is getting the train over from England.
What is Lucian like to play and was there anything that drew you to the role?
Lucian has been a real joy to play. It’s gorgeous out here in Croatia where we film, and the rest of the cast have all become real friends of mine. When I first read the scripts, I was interested in how aspects of Lucian’s personality that we put a lot of attention towards today, like PTSD, trauma, mental health and same-sex attraction, might be interpreted through a 1920s lens. I thought that would be really interesting to play around with.
How was it seeing the viewers’ response to the show and having it renewed for a second series?
I’m super glad that people are enjoying the show, and even more glad to be back here with my friends for a second season. More sun, more wandering around Croatian streets. Dreamy.
What was it like getting into character for the first time and working on location?
I think the first scene we shot last year was one in which Mark Umbers (plays Cecil) confronts Lucian in the hallway in Episode 1 or 2. Mark is a hilarious man, and one of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with. We couldn’t stop laughing at his ridiculously gothic character choices. So I remember it being very funny.
Who do you think Hotel Portofino will appeal to and why would you recommend watching it?
I think it has a lot of escapism and a good helping of beauty. Anyone who likes period drama will like it, as well as anyone who wants to watch something warm in the depths of winter. And anyone who likes me.
Do you have any stand-out highlights from filming as Lucian so far?
It’s always fun to be asked to swim in the Adriatic in summer.
Last year, you played Max Azarov in an episode of Whitstable Pearl, how was this?
Conversely, it’s rarely fun to be asked to swim in the North Sea as winter approaches. The cast and team were great on that show, the cold water less great.
What was it like playing Young Iullus in Domina?
I had a good time trying to dehydrate myself before a shirtless scene like a movie star before realising that that only works if you’re already muscular, and ending up laughing ourselves silly with Finn Bennet and Pedro Leandro about how emaciated we all looked. Well, not Finn. He’s a muscly boy.
Can you tell us about your character Xander Duvall in Pandora?
Xander is a space captain with a space gun and a spaceship, pew pew zoom. He’s a serious guy who fights aliens and romances space women.
What was the show like to work on and how was it filming with the rest of the cast?
We shot in Bulgaria. It was good fun. The cast was filled with nice people. I remember driving down the Melnik Wine, Ambrosia of the Thracians (it’s a real road) with Noah Huntley, who played Osborne, so we could lose ourselves in Greece like Hellenic demigods.
What did you enjoy most about playing Xander in Pandora and attending events with the show?
I liked having to get comfortable with outlandish dialogue, talking about aliens and space events. It’s not a bad acting exercise. And there was such a joy in attending Comic-Con in San Diego and NY with the show, it felt so good to meet people who had watched and enjoyed it.
In 2019, you were in the multi-award-nominated TV series The Athena, what was Sam Warner like to play?
Sam was conversely more muted. Less space-themed. He had a lot of responsibility on his shoulders and an understated approach to life. And he played the drums which was extremely cool.
What are some of your favourite memories from playing Will Palmerston in Ride?
Meeting some glorious horses and getting to know them personally. And meeting some real friends for life, like Manuel Pacific, who played Nav.
Will Palmerston marked your first regular character on screen, do you remember how you felt booking the role?
I got the call to play Will when I was at the airport waiting to travel to France for a play in the theatre there. I was so focused on the play that the phone call blindsided me. I didn’t think my career would take that turn. I’m glad it did.
Is there anything you can tell us about the not-yet-released Queen of the Redwood Mountains?
It’s an interesting film. We all have plenty of time to read some Beat poetry before it gets released so we can properly appreciate it – myself included. I wear some pretty heavy prosthetics in that film, so I’ll be offended if you recognise me.
You also have stage experience, can you tell us about some of the shows you’ve appeared in?
The show I mentioned before in France was a one-man Hamlet for the National Theatre of Nice. That was me speaking in different voices and dancing around for about 90 minutes until I collapsed, exhausted, pretending to be dead.
Where does your love of acting come from and how did you start?
I was so obsessed with Shakespeare as a child thanks to my grandad, who was an actor himself. We would talk about it for hours. I remember playing Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream when I was in Year 8, and thinking it was such wonderful fun.
Do you have any favourite TV shows or films to watch and how do you like to spend your time away from your career?
I love Charlie Kaufman – I think he makes the most interesting widely-released films in the business today. So I’d watch any of those if I could. And my time away from my career is mostly spent working to get back to my career. But apart from that I like to try to relax, and cook, and have periodic anxious moments, and also draw pictures.
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