Despite being “quite jet-lagged” after a flight from his hometown of Edinburgh back to his home base in New York, the actor Thomas Doherty is all smiles. He's talking to me over Zoom about the invigorating challenge of starring as Walter in The Invitation (which released in theaters August 26), a modern take on Dracula. It’s a role that has tested Doherty’s transformational character abilities as he metamorphosizes from the free-spirited 17-year-old he plays in HBO Max’s Gossip Girl reboot to Walter, an ageless British aristocrat for Jessica Thompson’s mysterious thriller.
With a sharp jawline and shirt perpetually half-unbuttoned, Walter is the accommodating host for an upcoming wedding at his isolated English manor nestled in the British countryside. Protagonist Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) receives an invite to the wedding after her ancestry DNA test reveals she has a cousin (Hugh Skinner) she knew nothing about. As Evie arrives at Walter’s mansion for the wedding preparations, surrounded by relations she has never met, The Invitation descends into a Gothic plot of familial deception where darkness lurks around every corner.
Below, the 27-year-old Scottish actor chats about playing a man with a shrouded past, facing his fear of horror movies, and what to expect from the upcoming second season of Gossip Girl.
How did you get involved with The Invitation and what was it about this story that intrigued you?
I’d finished filming season one of Gossip Girl, and I was on my way to Spain for a family holiday. I was about to get on the plane and I got a call from my team saying “there's this opening, they need you in Budapest in a couple of days to start filming.” And a couple of days later, I was in Hungary. It was a very quick turnaround.
I jumped at it and to be able to work with Jessica Thompson, Nathalie [Emmanuel]–who is just a dream and who I’ve been a fan of–and the rest of the cast, Stephanie [Corneliussen], Alana [Boden], Sean [Pertwee]. To have this story told from a different perspective was something that definitely caught my eye. It was hard to turn down—even for a week in Spain.
The Invitation brings a Dracula-inspired story into modern-day. Did you revisit any Gothic works to research your role in this film?
My character, obviously, is very old. The first thing I tried to get was the tone, and Jessica was really helpful because the prep time was so short. I watched three or four films a night to try and get the right tone she wanted. One that stuck out as very helpful was Interview with a Vampire. I thought Tom Cruise's character in that was the right feel. I didn’t want to replicate anything, I just wanted to get the feel from all these other great actors, and try and embody that. A lot of Walter is in his eyes. To have those intentions, objectives, and knowledge in the back of his head come through the eyes is what I wanted and went for.
I’ve read that you are not a fan of horror movies, did you conquer your fear with The Invitation?
I don't hate horror movies, I just don't like them because they scare me. You watch the 10 o'clock news and my nervous system is already jacked and I don’t need more. I’m a big wimp. Jessica and Autumn [Eakin], who's the DP, the whole wardrobe and set team were so great at creating this world. Obviously, it's completely different because 50 people are standing around with headsets in your face, but for the master shots, it felt like you were onstage acting. As well as being in Budapest, there’s that Eastern European age to it. The original Dracula was from there as well.
Nearly the whole film takes place in this grand English manor—by its very nature, it already looks spooky. What was the experience of shooting there like?
It was incredible. We were filming about an hour's drive from Budapest, and we were there for a minute, filming. I would sneak away and wander around the castle; a lot of it was falling apart and old, which was really cool. You could feel the energy of it, which was very heavy. You could take that and inject it into your character and performance. All these small things make such a huge difference when you’re on set.
Walter somewhat falls into the “nice guy” character type. How do you go about navigating the layers of this character who’s a good host at the forefront, but with a dark secret lurking behind?
That was probably the hardest part for me. He is sociopathic, but I do still have to find the humanity and the person inside of [him]. I made Spotify playlists and found pictures from different periods to really flesh out the idea of this guy. A lot of it was posture and physicality, too. Initially, when I was auditioning [I was worried] that I was too young, but Jessica insisted that I wasn’t. I went to the gym and put on 15 pounds of muscle in a month to get that strength and groundedness of this person.
What was on the Spotify playlist for Walter?
A lot of classical music, a lot of Vivaldi. My number-one song in my headphones before I’d walk on to set was [Vivaldi’s] “Four Seasons (Winter),” and then Jessica put it into the film.
I also have to ask about Gossip Girl. I’ve heard season two is in production.
We just finished last week, and wrapped in Rome. It’s going to be an exciting series! I feel like people know the characters now, they're familiar with them, which is always an added benefit. It feels a lot more heightened this time, with locations, costumes, storylines, romances, bromances, and heartbreaks.
What can fans expect from your character, Max, this season?
A different mentality. Leading off of the last season, we finished with him, Audrey, and Aki in love—this season is a continuation of that. You see him trying to maneuver through this new life situation. In season one, Max was playing Max. In season two, Max is Max. That’s all I can tell you!
How is he as a character to revisit? Is it easy to get back into his headspace?
We [shot] the first [season] for about ten months, so you become very accustomed to these characters and can just dive back in. He’s such a fun character to play: flamboyant, expressive, and free-thinking. There’s always a joke in the back of his head. I play him that way, which I love to do. I always have a joke in the back of my head. I used to get in trouble in school because all my teachers said I was very cheeky. You’d think when I’m 27 it’d have gone away, but it’s still there.