NICOLE HOLOFCENER’S WONDERFUL new film, You Hurt My Feelings, raises an essential question: Should you lie to ensure happiness in a marriage? It’s a query not easily answered, although the couple at the heart of the story, Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Don (Tobias Menzies), find their own solution after Beth overhears Don admitting he doesn’t like her new book. The film hovers between comedy and drama, which drew Menzies to the role of Don, a therapist with wavering self-confidence.
“Nicole has a very particular take on life in the world, which I really like, and this is a rather brilliant iteration of it,” the actor says, speaking from his home in London. “It feels real, it feels heartfelt, but also properly insightful and funny at times. It was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.”
The British actor has an extensive IMDb page, which includes everything from the James Bond flick Casino Royale to Game of Thrones, on which he played Edmure Tully, but it’s only recently that he’s become a household name. His Emmy-winning turn as Prince Philip on two seasons of The Crown ensured that even if you don’t know his name, you at least know his face. Playing Don in You Hurt My Feelings marks what Menzies hopes is a new chapter, veering away from period characters and fantasy (next up he’ll portray Edwin Stanton in Apple TV+’s Manhunt, out later this year).
Here, Menzies discusses being part of Holofcener’s film, showing new sides of himself, and how he celebrated the recent coronation.
It’s a big ask to find the husband in the central couple in You Hurt My Feelings, especially opposite Julia Louis-Dreyfus. What was the casting process like?
Nicole and I had a chat, really, and we got along. With some of these sometimes you have an intuitive thing. It is partly an investigation of male insecurity around aging, which is an unusual angle. The female version of that has been portrayed a lot more, so that was instantly a pretty interesting area to dig into. We did have some conversations on that call about exactly how that manifests or what Don does. I think originally, she was thinking someone maybe a little older, so that was in that conversation as well — how we land that stuff with me. It felt like a good fit by the end of the conversation. I was already due to go to Savannah, Georgia, to shoot a TV show for Apple and we were able to nudge the dates around so I could do a few weeks beginning that trip in New York.
Beth and Don have been together so long they share ice cream cones. But if you only have a few weeks to film, how do you prepare for and convey that shared history?
There’s no single recipe for it. It really depends on the person and how they like to work, and how much lead time you have. This time, we really didn’t — the dates came together last minute. So suddenly we were just in it. We didn’t have to talk about it that much. It was pretty intuitive. I think when you’re working with someone as good as Julia you just get there quick. And Nicole had a very clear idea of what the temperature of the relationship was: It was a successful relationship, one that was really good, and they were storied into each other, and this is a major misstep from him. And then it was about seeing how two people, who do really care about each other, do that to each other.
Are you of the mindset that sometimes it’s necessary to lie to keep the peace?
It’s a good question. The film doesn’t really come down on one side or another, and what I love about the film is the variety of angles on that question. I think the answer is: It depends. I think, sometimes, the truth isn’t entirely necessary.
In the U.S., you’re known for dramatic roles, like on Outlander and The Crown. But this is a different way for audiences to see you. Was that something you were thinking about?
Definitely. I’m excited about that. It felt a chance to broaden my casting a bit with these softer, more naturalistic, even just modern roles. A lot of the roles I’m known for feel very period and often feel quite alpha male. Characters who come in and drive scenes. Don felt like a really good change of pace from that. It’s really nice to step into a different kind of frequency. That was definitely one of the reasons I was keen to do the film.
Have your career options broadened since you appeared on The Crown?
Yes, but it hasn’t been a day and night kind of change. The visibility of The Crown, winning the Emmy that year — that does shift things a bit. Scripts are coming to me slightly earlier now in the process. It’s a bit of a change of pace, which I really enjoy. But am I quite out of the woods of having to audition? Sometimes, but probably not. And that’s fine.
Maybe once you turn 50, you’ll stop having to audition.
Yeah, at 50 I’m to be going, “Guys, I’m not doing that anymore. It’s not dignified for a man of my mature years to be trolling around and trying to sell myself.”
Did being on The Crown change your perception of the British royal family?
I don’t think it changed my politics. Essentially I am still a small “r” Republican. I think it might be a bit more grown up to choose our own head of state, but I gained a lot of respect for [Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip] and the work they both did. What struck me was the level of duty, the level of turning up, doing stuff that I wouldn’t want to do day in and day out. Quite a weird, boring life, I imagine. Obviously hugely privileged, but really not in control of their days. I don’t know what that would be like, but I wouldn’t fancy it. So for someone like Philip, who had a very successful career in the Navy, I realize now what a big call that was for him to park all that and become this ceremonial figure. You can see the irascibility that was in him. I think that came out of boredom, sometimes, and frustration.
Did you watch the coronation?
I watched like an hour and a half at the beginning. And the music was amazing. It also is kind of a weird thing. Then I actually went into [Central London] and met some friends in town and had a drink. We wanted to sample the atmosphere of the street a bit. We were near the Strand and so we stood and watched the flyover from the Red Arrows and then, yeah, got bit drunk. I think I might have missed the bit where they actually put his crown on, but I got the flavor.
When you’re the actor who played Prince Philip on The Crown and you’re out drinking during the coronation, do people recognize you?
No one seemed to really notice! I’m on a journey with noticing that sort of thing and it’s definitely gotten worse. But I very much like to go about London and be able to go about my business without the world watching me too much. That’s the energy I try and give off: I’m just an ordinary person, don’t worry about me. That day it seemed to work fine. Also with the Brits, you can see people clock you but not come and say anything. Whereas in America when people clock you it’s about 95 percent certain they’ll come and say hi.
What are you most recognized for in America?
It’s a mixture. The big three are The Crown, Outlander, and Game of Thrones. And there are different subsets of fans for each one. There’s a whole Thrones aspect to it. He was more of a niche part in that, not a huge part, but people often know it quite well. There’s just a huge audience. So many people saw that. And then there’s the Outlander phenomenon, which is much bigger in America than here.
In a recent Instagram Q&A, Outlander star Caitriona Balfe said she’d be happy to welcome you back to play your roles of Frank and “Black Jack” Randall “any day of the week.” Is that something that interests you?
It was a really important part for the three of in us our lives, Sam [Heughan], Cait, and me. We were, to varying degrees, kind of starting out. And no one really knew what Starz was — it was early on in Starz. And no one really cared that we were up in Scotland making the show. We ended up making something pretty interesting. But it felt like we were at the ground level. So we already made something together, and it doesn’t happen [like that] all the time. Outlander holds a very fond place in my heart. I don’t know about going back. I’m ambivalent about that because it was such a particular thing and such a big thing in a specific part of my life. So part of me is nervous about going back into that.
While people know you for your dramatic roles, this film isn’t your first comedic effort. Your role on Catastrophe, for example, was very funny.
Sharon Horgan, over the years, was the person who thought maybe I was funny and would shove me in a bit of comedy stuff. It was such an amazing show and so easy to want to work with [Sharon and Rob Delaney]. They’re both so brilliant. It’s very, very enjoyable to dive into those shows. But some people have a funny bone and I don’t feel I’m in that bag. But if someone gives me funny situations or funny lines, I can do them. I can inhabit them. But, generally, it’s through playing it straight and then it becomes funny. Or the situation is funny. I don’t think I have that bone, which is just being inherently funny.
You Hurt My Feelings is a noticeably sincere film. Why does it feel important to be part of a story like that?
I feel it’s really important at the moment. The Marvel world and a lot of the cinema that’s going on, those worlds are so plastic and so CGI, and anything can happen. So sitting down and watching our film, I found there was something very relieving about being back in a world that was just about some people and these are the things that are going on for them. This happened and then there was this, and the time can’t bend, and the skyscrapers aren’t going to flip over. In a weird way, it felt genuinely radical. None of that is happening. It’s just people. Maybe I’m showing my age, but I think I’m good for bending buildings for a while.
Does that impact what you want to work on going forward?
I think that’s always been in my instinct. I’m interested in amazing acting. I’m interested in brilliant writing. And often that is more easily planted into naturalism and drama that isn’t too fantastical. That will always be my natural taste. Obviously, if Marvel are reading this then I’m really into doing Marvel. Don’t discount me! I can wear a padded suit or a chest plate or whatever it is they wear.