‘Feud’ Star Tom Hollander Says Playing Truman Capote Was Like Learning to Surf

TheWrap magazine: “It’s just repetition,” the actor says

Tom Hollander- Featured image
Tom Hollander (Credit: Molly Matalon)

The actresses who play the Swans in “Feud: Capote vs. the Swans” described Tom Hollander’s ability to come onto the set as a 56-year-old British actor and instantly shift into flamboyant 40something writer Truman Capote as something of a magic trick. And Hollander, a theater-trained actor whose career has gone from “Pride & Prejudice” and the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “The Night Manager” and “The White Lotus,” understands why they might feel that way. But how did he turn this particular trick? The answer was simple: practice. 

“At the beginning, it feels impossible,” he said. “But there were a good couple of months before we started, and that was intense.”

He worked with voice coach Jerome Butler on Capote’s distinctive, high-pitched vocal style and with movement coach Polly Bennett on the diminutive author’s melodramatic gestures and movement. “It’s just repetition,” Hollander said matter-of-factly. “The god repetition, who bestows fluency and knowledge and all sorts of things.

“It’s like learning a different language, which I’ve never done successfully. Or, you know, surfing, figure skating, painting, playing piano — there’s a gazillion ways of making other people feel like you’ve done a magic trick.”

He came to New York to begin the shoot in November 2022 with months of Capote training under his belt — but even then, he admitted, “I was pretty nervous about it on the set for at least the first month of shooting. After about six weeks on the set, I was able to slip into Truman.”

feud-capote-naomi-watts-tom-hollander-fx
Naomi Wats and Tom Hollander in “Feud: Capote vs. The Swans.” (Credit: FX)

At the same time, though, he needed to get beyond doing an uncanny Capote impersonation to get to the emotion in the script. And sometimes, that meant doing things that he knew weren’t exactly true to Truman.

“I had to give myself permission to express being a human being,” he said. “I had to prioritize that over doing a Truman impression. The audience knows you are not the person, and if you persuade them enough — throw them enough red meat, as it were, in terms of the movements and the voices — they give you a little bit of a leash.” (The one exception in “Capote vs. the Swans” was a drunken talk show appearance late in Capote’s life; that scene is an exact duplication of what really happened.) 

For Capote himself, the verbal and physical tics were part of an elaborate construction: His persona as a grand, gossipy cocktail-party entertainer moving in rarefied circles was partly a shield to cover the trauma he’d suffered as a child and the fact that he was a gay man living in a homophobic world.

“To have that sort of persona, to live at that kind of theatrical level, anyone would have to have constructed it at some stage, wouldn’t they?” Hollander said.  “I mean, his voice had broken, and when he laughed, he laughed in a lower voice, post-puberty. But when he spoke, he spoke pre-puberty. At some level, he’d become that person.”

The series focuses on the final decade of Capote’s life, when he sank further into alcoholism while struggling to complete his book “Answered Prayers.” A few of the book’s chapters were published in Esquire magazine in 1975 and 1976 — notably including the “La Côte Basque, 1965” chapter, a catty portrait of his high-society Swans that spilled secrets and turned the women against him. Some think the reaction to that chapter essentially killed Capote, who became an outcast from the circles he’d loved. Hollander isn’t so sure.

“Unfortunately, he was an addict,” he said. “One thing about addiction is that people are always finding different excuses and different imperatives to justify it. ‘I drink because I’ve been rejected by my friends.’ ‘I drink because I have too many friends.’ ‘I drink to fill the void.’ ‘I drink to silence the noise.’  And ‘I need to drink’ is really the thing.

“So I don’t think [the Swans’ rejection] was what killed him. I think in this narrative it tips him, but he was already on the path to self-destruction. I think had he not been drinking so much, he probably wouldn’t have written ‘La Côte Basque.’”

If Capote hadn’t written “La Côte Basque,” though, “Capote vs. the Swans” would not exist. And for Hollander, that would have been a huge loss. “It was really profound,” he said of the experience of making the limited series. “As an actor, you can spend years doing stuff which is interesting and stimulating, but there’s a general feeling of dissatisfaction. That’s the nature of doing anything creative. You hope it’s going to work, or you go, ‘Well, it was good in parts, there was nearly something there, I’m kind of proud of it and I met some interesting people,’ or whatever it is. 

“But this one, I had an astonishing part in a beautifully written script that was being directed by someone masterful [Gus Van Sant]. It was not without its tensions, but we always thought that we were doing something worthwhile. And it seems to have landed with people as well.”

A pause. “It was one of those moments where I thought, ‘Oh, it was OK to become an actor.’”

This story first appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

Read more from our Races Begins issue here.

Feud: Capote vs. The Swans cover
Photographed by Molly Matalon for TheWrap

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