Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Untold Truth Of Tom Sturridge

Tom Sturridge is best known as the star of Netflix's "The Sandman," an adaptation of the comics by Neil Gaiman and a host of artists. He plays the lead role of Dream of the Endless, also known as Morpheus and by at least a few other names. Sturridge inhabits the role of this goth icon perfectly, embodying both his icy-cool demeanor and the churning emotions that lie beneath. He even brings a touch of humor to the role, something Dream only rarely shows in the comics. Before he came across "The Sandman," Sturridge already had a wide-ranging career as an actor. In addition, his family and social lives are both immersed in show business — his grandfather, parents, and sister have all worked in film and television; he's dated bona fide movie star Sienna Miller and he's best buds with an even bigger movie star, Robert Pattinson. 

Sturridge started as a child actor and fell in love with acting on the stage. He's had numerous roles in both London and on Broadway and piled up awards. He also racked up a number of television and movie roles before landing "The Sandman." Let's take a closer look at his career and his approach to acting.  

Becoming Sandman

Sturridge described the audition process for "The Sandman" as "extraordinarily long." It was also disrupted by the global pandemic, meaning that at one point he had to be on a "Zoom call with 12 different people all asking questions that one is never asked in an audition process as an actor — quite a deep, philosophical interrogation into my position on the character and the story and the ambition for the series. After this quite haunting and terrifying hour and a half of my life, I got a phone call from ["The Sandman" executive producer] Allan Heinberg telling me I'd got the part."

As far as Neil Gaiman goes, the author thought Sturridge would land the role from very early on. "We expected very quickly to have a list of a dozen who were every bit as much our first choice as Tom, and we never did," he told Daily Express. Heinberg added, "Dream seems like a very commanding, cold, unfeeling, emotionally distant entity. What Tom understood and brought it from the very beginning is that is only sort of half true. He feels the hopes and dreams and nightmares of every creature all the time and so there is a depth of feeling you actually see in every frame." Sturridge was able to convey that dynamic quickly. Heinberg also praised him for making the sometimes formal and florid way that Dream speaks feel natural. 

All in the family

Tom Sturridge comes from a long line of actors and artists. His maternal grandfather was Anthony Nicholls, a Shakespearean stage actor who went on to a 30-year career on film and television. Tom's father is Charles Sturridge, a director with a similarly three-decade-long career. Tom's mother is lifelong actor Phoebe Nicholls, who is best known for her small but essential role in the 1980 Oscar nominee for best picture "The Elephant Man" starring Anthony Hopkins and directed by David Lynch. Meanwhile, Tom's younger sister Matilda has performed in a handful of TV projects. 

While Tom Sturridge technically debuted in a 1996 TV adaptation of "Gulliver's Travels" directed by his father, he doesn't really count that as his first part. "I wasn't a child actor. It was just three weeks of my life when I was 8," he told The Guardian. "My dad just needed a child actor, and it's a scary responsibility to bring a child into the film world where they might potentially be lionized, adored, and abandoned to it by their families. My dad knew he would still be my dad when the filming stopped." 

According to Sturridge, his family didn't help him get roles, and it does appear to be the case that his career was launched by the play "Punk Rock," which none of his relatives had anything to do with as far as we can tell.

Punk Rock

Though Sturridge had a few roles here and there, he was unsure about making acting his profession until his big breakthrough performance in the 2009 play "Punk Rock." It's the story of seven students studying for crucial exams at a British secondary school. Sturridge plays the gangly, sensitive dreamer William in a tense environment that includes violence and bullying and eventually erupts into shocking violence. It's based in part on the Columbine High School shootings and writer Simon Stephens' own experience as a teacher. 

Sturridge has said there was something about this play that was different from all of his other roles, and it made acting seem like the right choice. "It was something that I can't articulate but it felt important and it felt like it was something I could do," he told The Independent. He won a Critics Circle best newcomer award for the role and was nominated for the Milton Shulman Award for outstanding newcomer.

However, the awards were less important than the role. He says of the part and the attention he got for it, "Awards are irrelevant," he mused to The Guardian. "They're nice if you have an ego — and I've yet to meet someone without an ego — but I knew from the first day of rehearsing 'Punk Rock' that something awesome was happening, and that feeling was all about what we were doing."

Top marks from a scene partner

Vivienne Acheampong co-stars with Tom Sturridge in "The Sandman" as Lucienne, the chief librarian of the Dreaming. However, she's much more than just a librarian, as she keeps the Dreaming hanging in there during the long absence of her boss. 

When he was thinking about the role in auditions, Sturridge worried less about how long the process was taking and focused more on "the books themselves. Having that time gave me the opportunity to read all 2,500 pages, over and over again, just to get it into my skin," he told Collider. Acheampong said she immediately connected to Lucienne and feels fortunate not only to have the original source material, but Gaiman himself to consult on the role. She also considers herself "lucky" to work with Sturridge during most of her scenes. "The detail that he has put into Morpheus...He embodies him tremendously. It's hard for me not to do my job because that's what I'm being faced with. He just made me up my game and was so amazing...He just allowed me to play and discover things with him."

It helps that, as Sturridge noted, the characters love and understand each other after spending so much time together. He adds, "...that intimacy also breeds the ability for confrontation because you feel confident enough to have that."

Batman's schoolyard chum

Tom Sturridge's childhood education took place at Harrodian, a relatively new independent school in London. One tends to think about children with parents of some means attending academies that are hundreds of years old, but Harrodian was founded in 1993 and Sturridge was one of its early students. The name "Harrods" may not resonate with Americans, but any English reader will know it as the biggest department store in London. The Harrodian school was founded in a building that was once known as the Harrodian Club, which was a clubhouse and sports facility for Harrods' employees. 

The owner of Harrods twice tried to sue the school for using their name. The second time came after a sex scandal when the school's founder fired the headmistress, his wife, after she had an affair with a teacher. 

Harrodian has produced an unusual number of actors and performers in its brief history. Sturridge and his best friend Robert Pattinson are now the most prominent examples. However, "Old Harrodians" Will Poulter and George MacKay once went up against each other for a BAFTA award in England. Other alumni include actor and stand-up comedian Jack Whitehall and singer-songwriter Will Heard.  

Stage stardom

In addition to "Punk Rock," which set Tom Sturridge on his path as an actor, and "Sea Wall/A Life," which was his last play before "The Sandman," Sturridge has been in several other plays, a couple of which earned him awards and nominations. Roughly 20 years after it was written, "Orphans" made its Broadway debut in 2013. Sturridge starred as Philip, with Ben Foster and Alec Baldwin as his co-stars. Shia LaBeouf was originally slated to appear in the production but dropped out. Sturridge played an orphan who never leaves the shabby apartment he shares with his older brother, who provides for them by stealing. Sturridge was nominated for a Tony Award for best actor in a leading role and won an Outer Circle Critics Award in the same category. 

Sturridge received a nomination for the Laurence Olivier Award for best actor in a supporting role for the 2015 production of "American Buffalo" in London. This is the classic play by David Mamet, and Sturridge played Bobby, a young would-be thief who works in a junk shop — yet another role where he plays a sensitive young man with a dark side. 

Famous friends and lovers

Up until reaching international fame with "The Sandman," Sturridge was best known as a working actor connected to more famous people. One of them is his best friend from school days, "Twilight" star Robert Pattinson. Just as Sturridge is resistant to the idea that his family pushed him into his career, he also pushes back against the idea that Pattinson helped or pushed him, either. "I went to school with my best friend," he said in a chat with The Independent. We've been at school since we were 13 so that's why he's my friend. I know people because that's my job." 

Sturridge started dating actress Sienna Miller in 2011. At the age of 22, she achieved fame in part because of her stand-out roles in films like "Layer Cake" and "Alfie." However, she also became tabloid fodder when she started dating Jude Law. She told Cinema that it "makes me uncomfortable because I don't think it's as a result of having a film come out, I think it's as a result of being scrutinized because of the relationship I'm in." Later, she starred in her only American blockbuster, "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," and then took a break from films. 

Sturridge and Miller had a daughter named Marlowe in 2012 and became engaged, but they split in 2015. While they've been private about their life, we can presume they're on reasonably good terms since Miller was at the premiere of "The Sandman" to support her ex-fiancée. 

Filmmaking and craft

Tom Sturridge was the star of the 2015 British-German film "Remainder," a tense thriller about memory and trauma. In it, Sturridge plays a character conveniently named Tom who receives a huge settlement after an accident but loses most of his memories. He tries to re-construct memory fragments using actors until the scenarios he chooses to create become more violent and bizarre. 

The director is Omer Fast, who made several controversial short films before "Remainder," which was his first full-length film. Talking about Fast's approach, Sturridge said, "I suppose that someone who began in car commercials is going to have a different approach to someone who started in art school. I definitely felt Omer had the confidence that his own expressionism was more valuable than a simple translation of reality. There's always a responsibility to tell a story but what I liked about this film was this responsibility for people to engage and decide for themselves."

In talking about the craft of acting, Sturridge corrected an interviewer who wondered if older actors passed on tips to him. Referring to "American Buffalo" and Damian Lewis, he said "I'd like to say I had a Yoda figure but I didn't. I loved working with Damian, he's a good man, very talented. But the idea of him or anyone sitting around talking about what it's like to be an actor is absurd."

A Sweetbitter experience

Tom Sturridge's first major regular television role was Starz's "Sweetbitter" in 2018, spanning two seasons and 14 episodes. It's the story of Tess, a young woman who comes to New York City to find herself and gets a job at a swanky restaurant. The drama centers around that staff and the late-night world they live in. 

Sturridge plays a bartender in the restaurant named Jake, who flirts with a smitten Tess. Sturridge easily related to the role, telling Collider, "I moved to New York, two years ago. I came here as a relatively lost soul, not really knowing who I was, and discovered very quickly that this city has an ability to confront those issues, head on...I love that New York challenges you, but at the same time, you can drown, so I felt very familiar with Tess' journey."

Asked to describe Jake, Sturridge said "I think he, very specifically, would not describe himself. I don't think he'd ever get into that conversation. I would describe him as someone in a lot of pain, for a particular reason, and who just deals with that with sex and alcohol." He goes on to add, "As far as him, as a character, I feel pretty close to him. It's not much of a stretch."

While "Sweetbitter" was cancelled, not only did Sturridge land a sweet gig on "The Sandman" afterwards, but his co-star Ella Purnell went on to play a prominent role in the first season of another innovative, imaginative drama, Showtime's "Yellowjackets." 

Dumped from Jumper

"Jumper" is a sci-fi film released in 2008 that stars Hayden Christensen and Samuel L. Jackson. Christensen plays David Rice, a man who can teleport anywhere and gets his kicks out of teleporting before being captured by Jackson's character. The film has an awful Rotten Tomatoes rating, and it earned $80 million domestically off a $85 million budget, scuttling plans for a franchise.

What does this have to do with Tom Sturridge? He was originally cast in the role of David but work on the film stalled and the studio decided to cast a more "prominent" actor than then-unknown Sturridge in 2006. This plan hugely backfired, as Christensen didn't help the film at all. Of his performance, Anthony Lane of The New Yorker said, "One day, I feel sure, the rich mantle of charisma will descend upon him, but 'Jumper' is not that occasion." While it took several years for Sturridge to take off as an actor, sometimes it's the roles you don't get that shape your career in important ways. The weak script wouldn't have done Sturridge any favors, and he became a smart and sensitive performer thanks to his years spent on the stage.

Separate and together with Jake Gyllenhaal

In 2019, Sturridge starred on Broadway with Jake Gyllenhaal in a play called "Sea Wall/A Life." Well, that's not exactly true. Sturridge and Gyllenhall never share the stage for a second, except for the final bow. However, they've both talked about how close they became during the production, as though they shared every scene together. Gyllenhaal told Backstage, "The duffel bag of information and lessons I've learned from him and his process and his approach and his heart, I have taken with me already...He's ruthlessly compassionate."

Neither actor said they ever felt like they were alone onstage. Sturridge said, "The same things you get from another actor when you do a scene, we get from the audience. Their energy, their joy, sadness; however they react entirely informs the performances, and that was quite shocking." He went on to add, "...every night is completely different, because that collection of human beings is completely different."

In preparing for his performance, Sturridge said that it's easier and more natural to act in theater than on film. "I find on-camera requires a greater leap of imagination. When you do a play, you're in the room and that's the room you're in...and there's nothing else. It's like you're literally living the life you're living. Whereas on camera, there's, like, 150 men and women standing around you. And you're in a giant warehouse in a room made of matchsticks."