Hero Fiennes Tiffin has only done about a month’s worth of press in his life, but he’s already had quite enough—which is understandable, seeing as he’s now basically Harry Styles fan fiction incarnate. The fact that Hardin Scott, the character at the center of the romance in Anna Todd’s After, was only loosely based on Styles never seemed to matter much to his fans; the story, which Todd began writing on her phone, has been read more than 1.5 billion times since she published it on Wattpad, in 2013. Naturally, the cult following has only multiplied since the announcement of its film adaptation, which hit theaters on Friday.
When Todd first warned Tiffin of the chaos that would come along with playing Hardin, the 21-year-old actor brushed it off. (He is, after all, a Harry Potter films alumnus.) As much as the fanfic’s fandom exceeded his expectations—they seem to like to greet him at airport gates—it’s not the fans that Tiffin’s been having a tough time dealing with; it’s the surface-level questions that have plagued him ever since he came into the public eye. (As you may have noticed, he’s been seemingly everywhere lately.)
So here are the answers to the questions that Tiffin is frankly tired of answering: Yes, his uncles are the acclaimed actors Joseph Fiennes and Ralph Fiennes. (He played the 11-year-old version of Ralph’s Lord Voldemort in the sixth installment of the Harry Potter films.) Yes, they probably inspired him to be an actor, but his real motivation for doing his first audition was getting to skip school. And yes, his name really is Hero, which has become a handy icebreaker. (Surprisingly enough, he wasn’t bullied growing up—just serenaded with renditions of a certain David Bowie song.) As for what he considers the more important things, read on for Tiffin’s take on Harry Styles and the controversial relationship at the center of After, here.
What’s stood out to you the most about doing your first big film, especially now that you’ve just come off a month of press?
I think the amount of press and promotion has been the biggest shock. I’m all for, but it’s a lot. And I feel like the fans, especially with After—it’s just nuts. They’re everywhere, and they’re so enthusiastic and supportive. Anna [Todd] tried to warn us, but I didn’t really believe the extent of what she explained, how crazy it would be, especially now that we’re bringing it to the screen. I was like, “Yeah, sure, sure, it can’t be that bad,” but reality exceeded my expectations.
I would have thought you’re used to fandom, since the first thing you did was Harry Potter.
I was pretty young, and it was a pretty small role, but I did do some press for that—I did a Potter Con thing at some point, which was cool, and again the fans were really enthusiastic and supportive and respectful. But it didn’t have any effect on my life growing up, other than the fact that I’d done it. I never actually got noticed on the street for Harry Potter. I did it at such a young age, when I was going through puberty and changing up my hair and how I looked. And I feel like there aren’t many Potterheads in the area where I grew up.
It seems like the days of not getting recognized in the street are over.
To be honest, it’s overwhelming and takes some getting used to, but I feel like it’s been crazier than it will be when we’re done and I’m not posting my whereabout so people don’t know where I’ll be. With the press tour, people have really known our schedule; if we said we’re doing a book signing in this place on this day, they just checked the flights from where we were last photographed, and there’s only one or two flights, so they go to the airport and wait and risk it. It was the most intense in Brazil—like five times more than any other place.
How did you first end up getting involved with After?
It was one of a bunch of auditions I did, and it just kept coming back around. Then I did a Skype call and flew out to L.A. for a chemistry read, and then it started to feel a bit more realistic. I went back home for about a month, and my L.A. agent was in London so he invited me to have a cup of coffee and was like, “Unfortunately, you didn’t get the role.” And I was like, What? I kind of thought I did. And five seconds later, he was like, “No, I’m joking, you did.” So then I flew back out to Atlanta, and we started filming that summer.
What was it about the role that initially appealed to you?
The complexity and mystery of the character, which is especially attractive to an actor for a first lead role. There are so many layers that you slowly reveal to the audience. It’s obviously hard work and long hours and conflicting opinions, but the whole process of filming was fun. We got so lucky in the cast and crew—I’m in touch with so many of them still today.
Have you met Harry Styles, or do you listen to One Direction?
I haven’t, and I don’t.
Did either influence your approach to playing Hardin?
Not at all. I completely understand and appreciate the fact that the inspiration was drawn from him in the book, but it’s developed so much from then. So while I don’t know much, if anything, about Harry Styles or One Direction, I know for a fact they’re not similar to the book or the film at all. I think the only similarity is that we’re both tall, skinny white guys with dark hair. [Laughs.] Obviously some of the inspiration came from Anna [Todd], but it was already such a wholesome character who was so unrelated to that when I first picked up the script, so I didn’t feel the need to take any more inspiration from anything like Harry Styles or One Direction.
There’s been an increasing amount of criticism that the book—and by extension, the film—romanticizes toxic, abusive relationships. Were you aware of that when you signed on to play the role?
I found out about that more after the film was being talked about. And after extensive conversations with Anna, I disagree with that statement. I’m happier to talk about people’s opinions on the film, because that’s what I can speak to.
Did it seem like there were efforts to make the relationship healthier in the movie than it was in the book?
Yeah, but I don’t think it was because of the criticism—I think it’s just that when something’s on a screen in 2019, it’s different from how it was as words on paper, many years ago. It’s just a different thing. I’d love to be involved in the process of adapting a book to a script, but that’s simply not my job. We just take it from where the script is.
Do you think that the relationship portrayed in the film is a healthy one?
It’s very, very far from a perfect relationship, but yes. That question—Is this a healthy relationship, and is it worth them getting back together?—is what the movie’s about, and what makes it interesting. I think it’s a huge question in everyone’s life, in any relationship, and this is just one specific example. It’s by no means a guidebook, but hopefully just an entertaining story of one couple who are trying to figure out if their love is going to work, if it’s worth it, and if the other person is right for them.
So you’d say it’s exploring, not advocating, the relationship?
Yeah. You know, to make an entertaining story, some things have to go wrong.
I’m sure the fandom is even more intense online. Is that why you’re not on Instagram too much?
I had all of those apps ages ago, and then I deleted them when I realized I was just wasting my time. But I kept Instagram, because my agents advised me to, and I completely understand and agree that it’s such a useful, powerful tool, even though you can kind of get lost in it. I just made it to keep up with my friends, but now that so many fans follow me, it’s a slightly different audience. It blew up when they announced I had the role, but fans started catching on when Anna followed me even before that. Not that I really watch it too much—the only time I ever know if I, like, hit a landmark in my followers is because a friend will message me. I’m definitely still making that transition for using it for promotion stuff.
Do you have a finsta, or a private account?
No. And to be honest, I just don’t use it too much. Right now I’m kind of focusing on the craft and making sure I get that right, and then I feel like eventually I’ll become more active on Instagram again. The film’s not even out yet!
It seems like you’ve been devoting some of your time to fashion lately too.
You know what? I definitely devote so much more time to acting, but since it only takes a day or two to shoot and get pictures out, whereas for acting you do an audition, or loads, and you might not get any of them—so I did the modeling stuff because obviously if I have the opportunity I’m going to take it. If I’m lucky enough to give it a go, I will. And it kind of goes hand in hand with acting. It was filling time where if I had nothing to do I’d rather keep myself occupied and do that as well. But acting’s always been a priority. Modeling stuff is cool—obviously you get to travel and wear cool clothes, take cool pictures, meet cool people—but for me, acting is a lot more creatively fulfilling, so I’ve always put it first. And Storm, the modeling agency I’m with, has supported that from day one.
What was your first impression of Fashion Week?
Ooh—can I swear? Fuck that! I hate that so much. I love cool clothes and meeting new people, but that’s just too hectic. I [walked the runway] once, and never again. It’s just casting to casting to casting, and you end up standing in a room because they tell you to come between five and six, and everyone comes at 5:55. It’s just not as organized, and I’m kind of organized, so I prefer the acting side of things.
So, after After, what’s next?
I just found out I got a supporting role in a thriller called The Silencing. Not that I’m trying to run away and do the most different role possible, but it’s very different from Hardin. I’ve always deliberately avoided the question of what kind of role or genre I’d like to pursue, because I won’t know how good I am or how much I enjoy playing certain roles until I do it and find out.
Is there anyone in particular you’d like to work with, though?
I’d love to be directed by my mum. We’d probably argue a lot. [Laughs.] But I think it would be cool.
Have your parents been supportive of you acting?
They’ve always been a perfect balance of supportive and realistic. Being in the industry, they’re very aware of how easily things can fall through, so I’ve always had a plan B.
There were a bunch of things. I was in a food catering company; I was doing some landscaping and renovation of properties and stuff—obviously small scale, but it interested me a lot. But we put acting in the front seat, and, well, it worked.