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If you’re looking for dreamy fall fashion inspiration, look no further than Tibby Schlegel. Think long, colorful scarves, brown bowlers and slouchy outwear: It’s classic menswear by way of Brooklyn with a detour at Kate Moss. Tibby, played by Alex Lawther, is the secret weapon of Starz’s Howards End, an adaptation of E.M. Forster’s masterpiece by Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea), which stars Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter). Darkly funny and with a complete lack of self-awareness, Lawther and his deadpan delivery make the 1910 character, and the show, feel entirely modern. If Lawther looks familiar in period costume, it might be because he portrayed the young Alex Turing in The Imitation Game, a character whose older incarnation was played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Lawther, who also starred in Netflix’s End of the F***ing World, spoke with EW about the terrible, lovable Tibby.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So how would you describe Tibby to someone who maybe hasn’t read the book?
ALEX LAWTHER: Useless. Spoiled, and the product of a middle-class family, and being a male in that middle-class family, and never really having to step outside the very comfortable world that he’s created for himself. So, sort of blessed and cursed by his incredibly comfortable social position.
How did you prepare to take on a role from such an iconic work of literature? Had you already read Howards End?
I read it when I was at school, and so I had a sort of dry, academic understanding of the book. And then re-reading it before shooting Kenny Lonergan’s script, I sort of fell in love with the story and with the sisters, really, these brave, intelligent, interesting, complicated women. And this idea of a home and a spiritual home and a community. I was struck by how the characters in Forster’s early-20th century Britain seemed very modern, really. They’ve got their corsets on and their top hats, but the emotions are very modern.
The costumes are absolutely gorgeous. How was seeing them come together?
The costumes were beautiful. And I think Hayley’s spoken about this before: Our impression of the past, of that time in England, is taken from photographs. So they’re very still, but they’re also very black and white, and therefore we have a sort of grayscale imagination of the way things were. And particularly the sort of literary, bohemian middle classes were discovering color, they were leaving the Victorian period and they were really luxuriating and rejoicing in color. So I was lucky and I got to wear sort of lovely scarves and different colored waistcoats, and that was really intriguing for me. The Schlegels had an exciting, sort of modern color palate.
Tibby looks like a Brooklyn hipster.
Yeah! Very slouchy.
He could become a fashion icon.
We can hope. There’s not really much Tibby can become outside of an academic. So maybe if he becomes a fashion icon, maybe that will get his head out of the books.
This show is so funny, which is something I’m not sure people would necessarily expect from a turn-of-the-century period piece.
It is funny! Aunt Julie, by the brilliant Tracy Ullman, and these funny sisters who talk about themselves, twittering away and causing mischief and implicating themselves in other people’s lives and being a nuisance, and they’re very conscious of their interfering, as Wilcox might put it. And there’s something quite funny about that: They’re these intelligent humans, but they’re careless and silly. There’s something funny about the contradictions in them, that they’re these thoughtful, intelligent people who do careless things. And with Lonergan’s script, he loves people talking over and interrupting, and there’s a sort of energy and a humor that comes from that.
The finale of Howards End airs this Sunday on STARZ.