A slightly heavier, rounder Tom Hollander stars as Thomas, who ultimately drank himself to death in New York City. The actor tells reporters at the 2014 Television Critics Association summer press tour that in addition to the biographies he read and the recordings of Thomas reading poetry he listened to, he put on weight to fully inhabit his role as the troubled poet.
“It was a mixture of overeating on my part and judicious padding from the costume department. I put on as much as I could in the six or seven weeks I had beforehand,” he says. “I felt comfortable fat, being him. I loved not having to worry about whether my double chin was visible knowing I could just sit into my double chin.”
Among the things he learned about Thomas is that the poet ultimately had a problem with self-control — with vices like cigarettes and alcohol, but also with love. “He didn’t restrain himself. When he spoke about the workings of his own heart, there was no control. It’s beautifully expressed in a scene in the film where he’s sitting at the bar and he’s writing a letter to [wife] Caitlin and he pours out his yearning to Caitlin,” he says. “I’ve read some of his love letters and they’re almost embarrassingly open.”
Hollander says he was asked to read a recently discovered Thomas poem, which sums up Thomas’ problems in a beautiful way. “It’s the description of an imaginary pub, which he describes as the Buckingham Palace of booze where there are no consequences, everyone is on their best behavior, and everything is free,” he says. “It’s a sort of yearning for a life he couldn’t live. He sort of tried to, but he paid the ultimate price for it which was to die incredibly young … [and] a terrible mess.”
“A Poet in New York” premieres in the fall on BBC America.