What does an actor do when the global health pandemic brings all the big projects to a juddering halt? In the case of Thor: The Dark World actor Tommy Hatto, you write a book and speak publicly about the challenges you’ve had with body image and eating disorders.
When I was approached and asked if I would like to speak to Tommy, I simply had to. Body image is quite rightly recognised as a huge issue for girls and women. Alas, the issue doesn’t get the same recognition among boys and men, despite the fact it’s a growing problem. Fewer men speak about the challenges they have faced and yet here was Tommy, happily prepared to do so.
We spoke a couple of times in preparation for this article. Tommy, whose acting talents were spotted by Dustin Hoffman, is very easy going and relaxed. He is also model in addition to being an actor. I had to ask how he balances speaking out about positive body image and eating disorders while working in a field that is notorious for promoting unhealthy habits. As you’ll see, he didn’t dodge the question at all.
Tommy’s book, In This Skin, which focuses on positive lifestyle changes anyone can make, will be published in the near future. The young actor has travelled widely and met an amazing array of A-list stars and this does come though in this interview. Nonetheless, I hope you’ll agree that what he says about positive body image and the pressures he faced as a teen are are pertinent and messages every parent needs to hear.
Tommy, you’ve got a fascinating background as an actor, model and soon to be author. Can you please introduce yourself for anyone who isn’t familiar with your work?
“My acting career started in the most extraordinary but surreal way, as I owe it to Dustin Hoffman. The Dustin Hoffman. I had left school and was interning for a company in London. I found myself at London Film Festival and Dustin was doing some press for a film.
“He noticed me and told me that I had a face for camera, and that I should pursue acting. A casting director then approached me and put me forward for a small role in Thor: The Dark World. I got that gig and everything else just happened so quickly afterwards. I was then on a plane to LA and signed with both an acting and modelling agency, and I’ve been so fortunate enough to experience so many wonderful things. I’ve been incredibly lucky, but although I say that luck has gotten me this far, I do also credit myself with working extremely hard with the opportunities I’ve been given. I love entertaining in all forms, whether that is through my acting, or through writing the book.”
You’ve appeared in some interesting big and small screen productions including Marvel production Thor: The Dark World, Hustlers and Vietnam war drama The Last Full Measure. Which of your acting roles has been the most challenging?
“You naming all those movies brings back so many great memories, and all those different roles I’ve played. Even then, I haven’t even scratched the surface of the possibilities of characters I could play. I think by far my most challenging role was playing Psill; my character in The Last Full Measure’. It was a small role, so the character development wasn’t too extensive; it was more the preparation and physicality that the role demanded which was challenging.
“The producers really wanted authenticity, so they hired an actual US Marine to train the cast for about 3 weeks prior to shooting. We were up at 4am every day, with our commando gear on and we were running, army rolling, doing press ups. It was relentless. Having said that, it was one of the best experiences of my life. I love challenging and pushing myself. I’m quite an active person, so it was great to really test my strength and endurance on the physical side of things, as well as push myself mentally.”
Before we get on to talking about body image and your forthcoming book, I have to ask about your experience with working with some big names at such a young age?
“I pinch myself sometimes because you grow up with these talented actors whom I spent my childhood watching on TV, or talking about with my friends, and then you’re standing in front of them in the flesh. It’s a weird feeling when you meet your idols, and you’re thrust into the world of Hollywood. But what I always notice, and what surprised me at the beginning of my career, was that they are just normal people.
“I will always treasure when I met Paul Walker. I was so star-struck, but he was very down-to-earth and gave me some great advice. That’s the benefit of being young; you know a little but not too much, so you can just relish in soaking up knowledge and guidance from all around you. Getting to work with Jennifer Lopez was a special moment. She was so supportive in reading the script with me, and helping me develop the character because I was so nervous.
“Being young and working with some big names was a positive for me. I didn’t have much self-confidence and I did not believe in myself. Having those experiences boosted my self-esteem.”
You’ve very honest about having experienced an eating disorder when younger. Can you explain what your experience was?
“I just had a very unhealthy relationship with food and exercise and I think a lot of that comes down to not educating myself fully to understand how to be healthy. I was a very self-conscious kid at school as I wasn’t in shape, and I would suppress those insecurities by eating junk and playing video games. Combined with the fact that my friends were starting to get girlfriends and I was single, I wanted to do something about it. So I started exercising all the time. I limited the food I had to half a grapefruit for breakfast, a chicken breast and salad for lunch and a small dinner.
“When I started losing weight, people would complement me and it felt nice, you know? But that was never enough for me. I then went even further and would try to make myself sick after a meal. Rather than being something I could control, it started affecting how I lived my life. It’s the reason I’ve launched Tommy Hatto Online (follow this link); it’s to provide information about the nutrition of the recipes we use, rather than focusing on how many calories a meal is.”
I’m really pleased to see a man speaking out about this issue. Not enough do and yet this is a growing issue among men isn’t it?
“It is and I’ve had a lot of messages from men all around the world message me sharing similar experiences they’ve gone through. There’s also a lot more men in the public eye, especially in sport, who are talking about their own experiences of body dysmorphia and negative body image issues and they mention how they regret keeping it secret for so long because of the stigma that’s attached.”
What three things do mums and dads need to be aware when it comes to eating disorders?
“It’s hard to define because it can manifest in many different ways. I would say look for changes in your child’s eating habits. Understand and talk to them about the reasons behind them changing their diet, or why they are stopping eating certain foods. Identify whether their mood has changed; are they becoming more reclusive for instance? If you think your child may have an unhealthy relationship with food or eating, then there’s so many great organisations and charities that can offer information and advice.”
A comment I have heard many mums say is: “I speak to my daughters about body image and eating disorders.” I always challenge this and say they should speak to their sons as well. Fair comment?
“Absolutely. I’m really glad you raised this point and that you do challenge people on this. I write in the book (Tommy’s soon to be launched book In This Skin, more info below) that body image and insecurity show no bias. They are not gender specific. We are all human and we are all going to experience some sort of insecurity about the way we look. It’s important to talk to your daughters about body image and eating disorders, but it’s even more important to talk to your son’s about it, because there is this stigma regarding men keeping quiet about these types of issues. I wish that 10 years ago, when I was in school, I had some sort of outlet to share what I was feeling.”
You’ve also got some interesting things to say about positive body image. What is your message to youngsters (. . . or maybe even dads and older men) reading this who are concerned about body image?
“Love yourself. Who would have thought such a simple concept would be so damn hard? It takes time to look past our flaws and imperfections and see how great each of us are, but taking that time to discover your inner happiness is vital.
“Loving yourself is about self-acceptance and embracing every part of you. One of the hardest steps is to stop seeking validation from other people. Not in a conceited way, by all means listen to advice from people, but make sure that every decision is for you, and not what other people want. Measure your happiness by your own standards and not at the perception of other people. It’s also so necessary because in order to give love to the people around you, you need to truly love yourself.”
You have done modelling work for some notable companies. Some will say it’s hypocritical for a model to speak up about positive body image. What would you say to someone who thinks that?
“I’m not going to sit here and say I don’t understand what they’re saying. I get it. Some days I think to myself ‘am I really the right advocate to talk about this?’ But I go back to what I said earlier about these fears showing no bias. Yes, I’ve had my face and body on huge billboards around the world but I’m no better than anybody else. I’m the same as everyone else; I overanalyse photos of me and pick out all of my flaws. I look at photos of other guys and wished I looked like them. Although I chose this career path, there’s a huge amount of pressure to live up to the expectations that people see of me and that’s why it’s important for me to maintain a positive body image. Is the industry hypocritical? Maybe, but a lot of companies are starting to hire real people for their campaigns and anything I can do to encourage that, I will.”
You’ve got a book coming out soon called In This Skin. I understand it’s based on your experiences of being knocked back at auditions.
“This book was supposed to come out – like – a year ago and be about owning your best self and living your best life, but it didn’t feel authentic. For it to really be authentic, I needed to open up about my life and share how I overcame some of my darkest moments. I describe the book as part memoir/part self-help.
“There’s so many things that this book discusses; from my experiences growing up as an ethnic minority individual and struggling to find my identity, dealing with my insecurities at school and my relationship with food and exercise. I also write about my experiences in the acting and modelling world, and being rejected time and time again. I write about a time when I was modelling in Asia, and as soon as I walked in the door for a casting, I was laughed at and told to go home. When I was due to join the Fast and Furious franchise and the news articles were everywhere, I had so many hate comments online. Those kind of things knock your confidence and I doubted my self-worth. When people say negative things about you, it starts to seep into your consciousness and you believe them to be true.
“Even with all those dark times, there’s so many positive, inspiring, funny and informative moments to share. We also have contributions and chapters from the people in the know who have helped me such as my nutritionists, personal trainers and life coaches.”
There’s a self-help element to In This Skin as well isn’t there? What knowledge are you hoping to pass on to readers?
“Everything I’ve learnt trying to navigate being a young adult, and, as I said, the book has chapters from people in the know. I’ve been so lucky to have had access to and worked with some of the best personal trainers, life coaches, dermatologists and nutritionists, and having them contribute to teach us how we can ultimately feel happy in this skin. There’s so many components to it that it isn’t just about going to the gym – it’s about the things we eat, how we look after our skin, how to look after our mind and self-esteem.”
Is the book aimed at anyone or is it mostly written to appeal to men?
“The things I have gone through in my life so far, and the feelings I have felt are universal. This book can be aimed at everyone; I want everyone to be comfortable in their skin, to celebrate who they are and be the best version of themselves. I don’t want to put a label on who this book is intended for however, I think it’s important to encourage young men to read this because I’m speaking from my own personal experience, and wanting to open up the conversation amongst young men. I know what I was like as a teenager: I wasn’t the most forthright with sharing information to my friends or my parents, so if this book can be a resource they can turn to; if I can be that friend to them during their struggles, or topics they might find embarrassing to discuss, then that’s what I will be. I actually dedicate the book to my godson, who’s 3, because I want him to grow up never forgetting his own self-worth.”
Is there anything else in the pipeline for Tommy Hatto aside form In This Skin? Any interesting film or fitness projects?
“My main priority is the book right now. Finishing it off and getting it out there. Hopefully things will start to go back to normal this year and I’ll be able to promote it and meet people and hear their stories. Acting wise, everything was kind of put on hold following the pandemic, but things are starting to move slowly now. I’ve had a few meetings with producers about some films heading into pre-production at the end of this year. I actually had a meeting last week about a Netflix film, so we shall see. I’ll keep working at my craft, auditioning and see what the Universe has in store.”
To finish off, where can people find you online and learn more about your work?
“You can follow me on all socials @tommyhatto (this link will take you to the Tommy Hatto Instagram account). I love connecting with people and you can find all the updates about when In This Skin will be released. You can also visit my website tommyhatto.com to sign up to pre-order the book. We also have a library of recipes I’ve created which are nutritious and tasty.
“What’s so great is that each recipe informs you why certain ingredients are good for you and what they do for your body, your skin, your mood etc. It’s been a great collaboration between myself and my personal trainers and nutritionists to bring informative content.”