By
Jonathan Shia
Photography by
Rich Gilligan
Styling by
Javon Drake

Grooming by Eloise Cheung using Shiseido. Stylist’s assistant: Vic Allen Jr. Retouching by Jamie Saunders at Madden. Shot on location at the Spaniard, New York.

HARRY LLOYD WON'T GIVE YOU THE ANSWERS


In the early episodes of the acclaimed science fiction-spy drama Counterpart, Harry Lloyd’s Peter Quayle epitomized the organization man, devoting himself to pushing papers as the deputy director of Strategy at the Office of Interchange, the bureaucratic headquarters overseeing the portal to a parallel dimension opened accidentally in East Berlin during the Cold War. Placed in his high-ranking position partly thanks to nepotism, he was largely ineffectual, overpowered by both his superiors and his underlings—including JK Simmons’s Howard Silk, whose counterpart from the other world is a ruthlessly effective spy—and betrayed by his wife, who was eventually revealed to be a double agent.

The new season, however, has forced Quayle to act boldly with increasingly high stakes, bringing new vigor to a character who feels compelled to hide his wife’s secret in order to protect his family, even if it means having to deadbolt the door between their rooms at home. This season’s action has energized Lloyd as well, requiring a new intensity in his performance. “He has to be a different person with everyone he speaks to,” the English actor explains. “He has to sell a different lie. This season, I was concentrating much more on winning as much as possible the individual scenes knowing the risk that he’s going to ultimately fail and seeing how smoothly he can get through.”

As if that duality weren’t complicated enough, Lloyd also had to contend with Quayle’s recently introduced counterpart (known as Quayle Prime) in the alternate universe, whose life path has diverged from Quayle Alpha’s since the world cleaved in two in 1987. Kept in a holding facility where his memories and secrets are extracted for use against Quayle Alpha, Quayle Prime is, as Lloyd points out, distinct enough from his mirror image as to effectively be a second role. “It felt like doing another job for a few weeks in a way with all the same crew and the same actor, JK,” he recalls. “I hadn’t had any scenes with that character for ages because he’d been on the other side, so it was nice to hang out with nice Howard, but it was also nice to use a whole different set of muscles.”

Left: Jacket, trousers, and sneakers by Hugo Boss. Shirt by Ermenegildo Zegna.Right: All clothing by Bottega Veneta.

In his extensive free time, Quayle Prime obsesses over a taped rugby match, identifying it as a point of difference that separates his life from Quayle Alpha’s—the former got lost and caused a scene, perhaps distracting a player, while the latter didn’t—and perhaps explains why he is being kept in what is effectively a penal colony while his other enjoys his success. For all its spycraft and copious bloodletting, Counterpart touches on deep issues of nature vs. nurture and the innateness of individual potential, forcing characters to ask themselves if they are better or worse than their mirror selves. For Lloyd, the arrival of Quayle Prime has helped solidify the contours of his main character. “Through this Quayle, you learn a bit more about Quayle Alpha,” he offers, “that he’s ultimately a child and that the entitlement and the smugness don’t come from malice. It’s just that he’s not been challenged and he’s unequipped but is still trying to get by through some path of least resistance. He knows he’s lucky and he knows that it’s run out and he doesn’t really know what to replace that with. Actually, I think they’re quite similar, they’re just in very different circumstances.”

Apart from these larger existential questions, there is also no question that a large portion of Counterpart’s success comes from its relevance to our own circumstances when no one on the internet is who he seems and spies and secret agents are once again a topic of national importance. Although set in contemporary times, the show has what Lloyd calls a “Cold War palette” thanks to its wan coloring and the use of Eighties technology, which is the only way the two dimensions can continue to communicate. “There’s been quite a lot of Cold War drama of late,” Lloyd muses. “It does feel that it’s had a revival because of its relevance today with the lack of trust and the difficulty of believing the motives of people in charge. It’s an interesting period where there are wars of a kind going on, but the battleground is somewhere else, yet things are happening behind closed doors in civilian circumstances. Much has changed, but much has not.”

Counterpart can seem in some ways like a natural successor to Lloyd’s last series, Manhattan, which presaged the Cold War in recounting the Manhattan Project to develop atomic weapons, but the 35-year-old says he was not ready to return to television so quickly after two years in Santa Fe away from his native London. “I’d just move back to England—literally my furniture had just arrived,” he recalls about reading the script for Counterpart, “but it was something I felt I really wanted to be involved in straightway. You’ve got to sign away seven years of your life and they made it really easy.”

All clothing by Bottega Veneta.

Lloyd may have spent a fair amount of his past few years on television, but like most English actors, he got his start on the stage, performing in school plays as a way to set himself apart. “I went off to boarding school when I was eight and that first term I got the main part in the junior play, I think because I was good at reading out loud,” he recalls. “Quite quickly, I found a thing that other people didn’t do at school and found my own little niche. It became a hobby but also my little escape and something where I had a bit of an identity suddenly in a school with a hundred kids.”

His “little escape” quickly turned into a passion and he continued performing on stage throughout his time studying English at Oxford. He credits his coursework with giving him a unique perspective on acting, even if he admits it did complicate things inside his head at times. “I noticed when I was at college that sometimes the two were pulling in different directions,” he explains. “In my studies, I was breaking down the text and putting it into little pieces and working out the science behind the art and then when I was doing the plays, it was the opposite. I was trying to take all these different fragments and build it up into something real. In some ways, I found that quite frustrating at times, but actually, I think the two experiences—if you can keep them in check—served me really well. Those are the two necessary parts I think you need.”

Left: Jacket by Hugo Boss. Shirt by Ermenegildo Zegna.Right: Sweater and trousers by Gucci. Shirt by Ermenegildo Zegna.

After graduating, Lloyd continued to act, even as he imagined his time was running out. “I always thought I’d have to go and do something proper,” he laughs—but that never came to pass. He had early roles in the BBC drama Robin Hood in 2006 and in Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge on the West End and was part of the first season of Game of Thrones. Supporting roles in The Riot Club and The Theory of Everything followed, along with Manhattan. He’s spent the last several years mixing film, television, and stage, but his natural curiosity continues to seek out even more. “I would like to get into other forms of stuff,” he enthuses. “I’ve done radio and audiobooks and I enjoy all the different sides of it. I’d like to do a video game, I’d like to get into VR. Nowadays there are more and more different platforms and I think they all require slightly different emphases from the performance and what the audience needs to believe. I’m definitely into what the next steps are, what actors will be doing in ten, twenty, thirty years time compared to what they were doing thirty years ago.”

But for now, Lloyd’s focus remains Peter Quayle—both of them. After last week’s midseason cliffhanger, which left Quayle Alpha splattered with blood and close to discovery, things promise to only get more complicated. Fortunately, all the added layers are exactly what drew Lloyd to the series in the first place, resulting in a show that does not offer easy solutions. “You start second-guessing people and you start exploring what lies people are telling,” Lloyd says of Counterpart’s continuing evolution. ”You’re not given the answer straight away, but it encourages you to try and piece together your own narrative. I find that really rewarding.”

Counterpart continues on Sundays on Starz and is available on the Starz app.




By
Jonathan Shia
Photography by
Rich Gilligan
Styling by
Javon Drake

Grooming by Eloise Cheung using Shiseido. Stylist’s assistant: Vic Allen Jr. Retouching by Jamie Saunders at Madden. Shot on location at the Spaniard, New York.

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