EXCLUSIVE: Netflix’s ‘The Order’ star Thomas Elms is Hamish Duke IRL, but even more cool
If you thought Hamish was charming, buckle in because Thomas is even more so.
The Order a horror-comedy series on Netflix that follows the path of college student Jack Morton as he infiltrates a secret, magical society at the exclusive Belgrave University. His mission is to avenge his mother’s suicide and destroying the man responsible for her death. One of the highlights of the series is its mythology, comprised of the gender-neutral collective of werewolves that are sworn enemies of The Hermetic Order of the Blue Rose. The gender-neutral collective of werewolves call themselves the Knights of Saint Christopher and have sacrificed their lives to the cause of protecting humans against unethical uses of magic.
The Knights of Saint Christopher are made up of: member of the Order-slash-reluctantly turned werewolf Jack Morton, vengeance-fueled Lilith Bathory, surfer-chill Randall Carpio, and the utterly dapper and even-keeled Hamish Duke. (Don’t even get me started on how much I love the wolves’ names; that level and kind of detail is apparent throughout the entire production of The Order.)
Pure Fandom was able to talk with the actor who plays Hamish, Thomas Elms, who ended up being even more charming and intelligent than his on-screen character. We chatted about his theater school experience at the University of British Columbia, the way he approaches acting and character work in particular, and he even shared some fun stories from the set of The Order.
SPOILER ALERT: We did discuss the ending and other spoiler-y bits of The Order during the interview, so tread carefully if you haven’t finished watching the show!
The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
PURE FANDOM: So I stalked your Instagram in preparation for this interview. Based on your Instagram, you’ve had theater experience. Tell me a little about that. Did any of the skills and experiences you had while performing in theater translate to working in TV and film?
THOMAS ELMS: I owe a ton to the professors that guided and nurtured me through that program. Without a doubt — going through theater school, sweating it out on the boards, working on Shakespeare and Chekhov, and writing and collaborating a feature film — it was easily the best decision I ever did with my life. I owe so much to those people and that program. It gave me a good foundation and appreciation for good work and good writing, and for the work ethic of being an actor. You finish a program like that with a certain artistic joie de vivre and you go out in the world and you’re all wide-eyed and naive. You start auditioning for television and film and you realize you know absolutely nothing and have to learn it all over again from the ground up. But that was such a fantastic journey.
One of the things I’m most thankful for — having that baseline of training — is having that humility and work ethic. Working on The Order, it felt like being on vacation. I got to work on such an amazing project with so many hardworking, humble people and actors, with such a fantastic crew, and such great writers. It was a dream come true. I’m thankful that I do have that previous experience of being on set, working on student film, doing theater, because I have that appreciation for all the hard work that goes into it.
Trying my luck and throwing my hat in the ring in the film industry over the past few years; it’s fun and it’s got its reward, but it’s an uphill battle most of the time. It feels like such a treat [booking a job like The Order], because you’ve worked so hard and you’ve waited so long. Given the fact that this is my first time being a series regular, and having eight episodes, and a long character arc that I get to really work out — it was too good, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. And to work on a project, that I kind of have this geeky obsession over — I love the ancient history, the magic, and the monsters — it was like winning the lottery.
Image courtesy of Thomas Elms’ Instagram
Because you brought up your geekiness about history and mythology: There was briefly a scene where Hamish went into the background of the wolves and the Knights of Saint Christopher. Were you privy to even more backstory that you could use to flesh out your character?
I gotta be honest, I know as much as you. [laughs] Originally for this project, I was auditioning for Jack [Morton, the protagonist], but I suppose I was more naturally suited to someone else. I was offered the character of Hamish and I said “yes” right away. He ended up being such an interesting, complicated, and conflicted character.
I got a blueprint of Hamish, which hinted at a relationship with a father that was strained, and the love of his life that had also been a werewolf herself who had somehow died in the line of duty. And Hamish was sort of just there. He had lost most of his close friends, he’s on his own, and he’s the guardian now of these young pups. It was really as much of a mystery for me seeing what would happen and where the character would go every episode.
I had a theory, and suspicion, that Hamish would turn out to be a bit of a selfish prick and betray his friends to have a chance at a real life or something. But he ended up making it through to the end, so let them deal with him, the old fart. [laughs]
The banter and camaraderie between you, Devery Jacobs (Lilith), and Adam DiMarco (Randall) was very natural and organic. Did do any bonding activities before or during the filming of The Order to achieve that naturalistic relationship?
The easiest way for me to answer that question is that there has to be a little bit of magical chemistry that happens between human beings. We didn’t go to summer camp for a week before the show started to make sure that the dynamic would be solid but — something that I can relate to theater, almost, in a way is the way in which characters evolve. I have my character of Hamish and I have an idea of how I would like the scene to go but really it can go in any direction on the day. Potentially, something I bring to the table doesn’t quite fit or doesn’t work or is not really the vision they’re going for, but everything has this fluidity to it.
Image courtesy of Adam DiMarco’s Instagram
What really worked was that there was such a clear — I see those wolves and I see that relationship as almost as if they each have their own color. Lilith is this blood-red, angry, fiery passionate color and Hamish has got this softer color — I’m feeling like maybe a lavender for good ol’ Hamish. But there’s something about the way that each of those actors brought such a strong personalization to those colors, it just ended up working so well. As we grew together and got to know each other and trust each other more, so did the characters on screen.
It was such a magical experience, growing alongside these characters. Again, really, it’s a bit of magic, luck, and good writing.
Do you by chance have synesthesia?
I unfortunately am not lucky to possess such skill and ability. If you are curious, though, I discovered — and this is maybe a little secret that I’m revealing that I shouldn’t — that for me, I have such a strong emotional connection to the sound of words and spoken word, song. I absolutely love poetry. For me, when exploring a character, I like to find “what is the poem of the character?” “What is Hamish’s poem?” It’s like a secret window into another life and another world. I think every actor has tricks like that, that they like to keep to.
Mine is, and I can’t quite explain it, but there’s something about the way words sound as we’re speaking them. And it fit very much with Hamish: he likes to think of himself as the arbiter of good taste, high society, high values, honor, tradition. He’s an old-school guy, he’s an old soul, and I can definitely relate to that.
Hamish is a very thoughtful, well-spoken, and dapper character. Based on your social media presence, you seem similar. Did you have any say or input in the crafting of Hamish’s personality?
I put a lot of my faith in the creative team and I’m very glad I did. I’m fairly new to this industry and with a big role like that, I knew I had a certain responsibility to figure out who Hamish was. For me, I tend to approach things from a research point of view and I like to think about the character. When it comes to actually visualizing it and that final transformation of putting on the costume, the makeup, and the haircut, I tend to like to be surprised in a certain way. I really did leave a lot of it in the hands of the creative team and I’m so glad I did. I mean, I’m not going to lie: there’s a certain — I don’t know what you want to call it, maybe it’s a pretentiousness or something [laughs] — but I can definitely relate to a lot of Hamish.
When I first got into this acting thing, there was a certain freedom in having a director there, who tells you where to stand, where to look, and how to talk. It’s interesting, though, as I’ve matured, and really learn what it means to be an actor by myself. You are expected to be the expert on this character. It doesn’t mean you need to throw your weight around necessarily, but you do need to be the expert of this character in this group, and if you’re not, you’re not good enough to do the job.
Image courtesy of Thomas Elms Instagram
Did you have a favorite scene you filmed in The Order? Did you have a favorite character or creature you interacted with on the show?
There were a couple standouts and highlights. My biggest day was one of the first real days of filming we had. I was going to be there all day, and we were going to tackle some hefty, meaty scenes that had emotional depth. That was really the first time I would be out there, stretching my legs on set when the cameras were rolling. Everyone would see who Hamish is, and who is this guy Thomas Elms. Obviously I wasn’t being judged, but for me the pressure was real. This was a huge step up for me in terms of the responsibility.
Making that gimlet, that was my first really big scene in the whole series and it was so much fun. I was so nervous and terrified. You’re trying to make sure to hit the emotional moments because you know what’s going to happen, kind of improvise things along the way, remember which hands you used to move a cup on which line, and, the whole time, there’s a really scary continuity guy watching over your shoulder.
I was juggling so many balls on that day, it was such a good workout. It was such a good lesson for me in ego. Let’s say you don’t quite get something as perfect as you want it, or a certain line doesn’t click, or you’re forgetting a part. Immediately, you want to beat yourself up. It’s such an excellent experience to take that little voice in your head and put it on the shelf for a moment, and realize that you’re just freaking out. So take a breath, focus, go at it again, and remember why you’re here. For me, it was a huge moment of growth.
My favorite day on set was when we had the bar fight [Episode 7, “Undeclared, Part One”]. It’s probably a theater thing, but I love stage combat, wrestling, fighting with swords, and throwing people over tables. So just to be able to work on that all day, with everyone getting sweaty and laughing and having a great time, that was easily one of the stand up days.
Did you follow a workout regimen that got you ready for the more physical scenes?
I tend to play a lot of leaner, more athletic guys. It can totally feel like a chore to work out and stay in shape. For me, I have to find something that is stimulating on multiple levels. I love rock climbing. I think rock climbing and indoor bouldering is such an awesome workout, because you have to mentally figure out a problem. It’s like a meditation almost, in a way: you’re challenged. You essentially have your body as a tool and you have to figure out “how am I supposed to get up this upside-down cliff face?” and you just have to go for it.
Image courtesy of Thomas Elms Instagram
Things like body-weight exercises are incredibly valuable for me. I’ve always been a skinny guy, and I’ve always had self-conscious issues about my weight and not being able to gain much muscle. As an actor, you’re kind of expected to look a bit like a superhero. I’ve been very fortunate to find a happy relationship with exercise. Nowadays, after graduating and growing up from Hamish, I’ve started getting into more strength-training and lifting weights. I’m very lucky in being a versatile actor. I get signed up for all kinds of stuff and, recently, it’s been “superhero guy” or “soldier guy” or “leading man who needs to look like he can handle himself in a fight.” I’m excited to see what kinds of roles I’ll be asked to do next and how I can transform for those.
On the Instagrams of the other actors of The Order, it looked like the read-throughs were conducted in bright sunlight. That looked amazing. What was filming like, generally, on the set of The Order?
Aside from being just the best thing ever, it was great. The creative team, the crew, the construction team, the set designers, the the props masters — everybody who was involved in building this world, they did such an outstanding job considering the resources they had available. They pretty much built that whole world inside of an old giant barn, a big warehouse. All the temples, classrooms, tombs, and fancy penthouse apartments, they all lived in this crazy world. You would walk five feet and you would be in a completely different room. There’s so much detail, and time and love were put into these sets.
It was the middle of summer and it was boiling, stuffy, and hot. Everyone’s all sweating and a little grumpy. But it was such an adventure every step of the way.
There was some good exterior filming. What I love is that The Order is one of those iconically Vancouver shows. If you’ve been around the city or around the area, you’ll recognize places like UBC and Riverview. So that was a lot fun too. Seeing the detail that they can build into these worlds was incredible.
It sounds like the sets were immersive. Did any sets make it seem like you stepped into a completely different world? Did any set-pieces make it easier to act as Hamish?
Yes, very much. One of the first days I arrived on set, I remember it was the first time I stepped into the werewolf mansion, which is the pad where you imagine these guys spend day after day, night after night. For me, it was finding something to ground myself in this world. I was curious to figure out which one of the things — it’s interesting; you walk into these sets and they’re so incredibly detailed. People must’ve put so much time and energy into these things that might never really get noticed or highlighted [on screen].
For me, it was a game: I wanted to figure out which one of the books were Hamish’s favorite, which one was his favorite album cover that he’s listened to five billion times and everyone’s just sick of but he loves because it takes him to a different place and a different time. I was talking one day with my coach, and she asked me “well, have you found Hamish’s favorite book yet?” I remember thinking, “oh my god, what a fantastic idea.” So that was another way in.
I’m always looking for little secrets and keyholes [into the character], to stimulate my imagination, and it’s so easy too when there’s so much love put into these sets.
Your resume is varied; The Order, isn’t your first fantasy/supernatural series, correct? Was The Order your first horror-comedy series?
I recently did an indie horror film called Spiral, out in Calgary, which was deliciously creepy in a completely more twisted way than The Order.
I have had a little bit of experience in the supernatural before. I shot a feature film called I Still See You that starred Richard Harmon and Bella Thorne, and it was directed by Scott Speer. That was my first real big role in a feature film. I was a supporting character, the antagonist. I was the ghost of a swimmer who may or may not have been a serial killer, and who may or may not have been haunting the leading lady. It was more of a young adult, supernatural, psychological thriller, but there were definitely some overtones of horror and suspense that was quite a lot of fun to play around it.
I’ve worked on another horror film. I’m not sure if it has seen the light of day yet, but I worked on an indie feature film up in One Hundred Mile House which is in British Columbia, about eight hours north of Vancouver. That was shot with location sound and location lighting. We didn’t have power, there was a forest fire, we didn’t have food, we were missing camera equipment — that was a true “kids go to the woods for a weekend and they’re picked off one by one.”
So I have to admit that I have played around in these worlds before.
I was going to ask if The Order was wildly out of your wheelhouse but I guess not so much!
No, it’s frighteningly accurate [laughs], in terms of my own kind of geekdom and the types of characters I tend to play. Maybe because I’ve got blonde hair and blue eyes and everyone thinks that I can authentically play this upper class jerk, but so far it’s been working out all right.
The next two questions are going to sound a little non sequitur, but let’s dive in. Have you played beer pong before?
[laughs] Well, I can tell you a little story about that. I’ve played my fair share of beer pong. I won’t delve into that too deeply today. [laughs] I knew very well that that scene was coming up and so, on the day, we all got together to do a dry run of the scene to show the lighting guys and the camera. I’ve got this whole crew watching me and I’m trying to sink the darn ball into the bloody cup and I’ve missed like five shots in a row.
Everyone’s like, “Okay cool, we’re just going to set it up and be back in five minutes.” I walk back to my trailer and give myself the talk: “You really should’ve played more beer pong, shouldn’t you?”
Image courtesy of Netflix
I credit it to the fact that I had about fifteen people come up to me and give me tips on my shot. The TV gods must’ve been on my side, though, because when the cameras started rolling, I just could not miss a shot. It was unbelievable. There were numerous challenges that went out for beer pong on closing night but thankfully I never had to stand up and defend my title.
If you could choose, what would be your personal apres-kill cocktail?
I did kind of fall in love with gimlets working on this show. But if I had my pick, I would go for a good, nicely-made, not too bitter, not too sweet, old fashioned. Just some orange peel, some good liquor, ice; that is all I need. That’s a perfect drink for an apres-kill adventure.
Obviously, I have to ask, and feel free not to answer: what did you think of the ending of The Order? Have you speculated what will happen to the Knights should Netflix make season 2 of The Order happen?
I’ll be completely honest with you, when I was sitting in the van ride home from set, and we were reading the final episodes and I got to the end, I was absolutely heartbroken and outraged. I felt betrayed on so many levels [laughs]. I remember talking to friends and they were like, “why are you so upset? It’s a good ending!” and I was like, “I know it’s a good ending but it’s wrong!”
I can’t help but be emotionally invested in what happens to these characters. It was sad seeing them carrying out the artifacts. I’ve been peeking at people’s comments and responses because I’m curious at people’s response, and I think people are echoing the same sense of heartbreak and betrayal. Hats off to the writing team for having the guts to go for a twist like that, that tears your guts out.
I’m rooting for the wolves; they’re not perfect and they’re not necessarily the good guys, but nobody is in this world. They’re trying to do good, and they don’t always pull it off, but gosh darn it, their hearts are in the right place. That really moved me. I was really affected by that.
As far as speculation, I’ve got my personal fantasies. I would love it if Hamish was a cage fighter, or something really cool and masculine like that, something completely different from the skinny jeans, vest, and tie that we got to see him in Season 1. Jokes aside, I’m really excited about what happens if we do get renewed. I think the writers made a really cool decision, and they’ve given the series a blank slate. We could see the introduction of brand new characters in the world. Maybe the wolves are working as some kind of pets for the Order, and they break free when they realize their identities. Who knows? I’m very excited to see what can happen.
Personally, I want to learn more about these characters. I want to learn more about Hamish, what his relationship is like with his family and his father. What’s it like, lying to your family for eight years, pretending to be a college student, when you’re out there, ripping out people’s hearts at night and doing these horrendous things? There’s a mention of a lover — what was that like? What was he like when he was a young Knight, full of high-minded ideas of justice, power, and responsibly, and just completely head over heels in love?
I think there’s so much potential for storytelling that can happen in a series like this, when you can play with time, dimensions, magic, memory, and ghosts. Oh gosh. I love the series very much. My only gripe is that it felt almost like we didn’t get enough time to really dive deep into these characters and their history.
Are you currently working on anything that you’d like the Pure Fandom readers to be on the lookout for? Where can Pure Fandom readers find you online?
Currently, it’s just back to a normal life for me, the daily grind of auditioning for projects, going to class, trying to stay sharp. It’s been so wonderful watching the show come out and seeing everybody’s reaction to it. It’s been such a long time in the making and I’m so overwhelmingly proud of everyone who was involved.
For me, It’s not really the time to rest on anything. It’s the time to keep working hard. Like I mentioned, I’m really lucky that I have a versatile look. My agent and team sends me out to everything under the sun so whatever it is, whatever happens to be the next project or next character, I’m sure I’ll be lucky that it’ll be something different and amazing like Hamish was.
For now, people can check me on Instagram (@thomasgelms). I’m pretty new to the whole social media spotlight so I don’t have Twitter and I don’t really have much of a Facebook. But I do try to reach out to people on the Instagram platform just to let them know that I do read things, I’m aware, and how grateful I am for everything.
All ten episodes of the first season of The Order is currently streaming on Netflix.
Read on for more exclusive Pure Fandom interviews.