First-Time Tony Nominee: Tom Sturridge rises above the ‘Orphans’ controversy and delivers a knockout performance

Tom Sturridge.

Tom Sturridge.

Tom Sturridge is an up and coming British actor who is already making a big splash on both sides of the pond. In his Broadway debut Sturridge stars as Philip, the homebound, neurotic brother of Lyle Kessler’s violent drama, Orphans. Despite bad press surrounding Shia LaBeouf’s dramatic exit from the play, middling reviews and an early closing, Sturridge’s electric, nervous performance is duly turning heads. His standout work has earned him his first Tony nomination, for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play.

Sturridge comes from a long line of film and theatre performers and his first role was a family affair. Sturridge starred in a 1996 television adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels, co-starring with his mother and directed by his father. After an eight year break, Sturridge returned to acting in the films Being Julia and Vanity Fair. Since then, Sturridge has had a steady string of better and better roles, including leads in Murderous Intent (with Eddie Redmayne) and Pirate Radio (alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman and Bill Nighy).

In 2009 Sturridge made his stage debut in the London production of Punk Rock, a play which details the angst and tension of school graduation. His energetic acting earned him several nominations and he won the 2009 Critics’ Circle Theatre Award for Most Outstanding Newcomer. Fun fact, Sturridge was once up for the lead role in the sci-fi film Jumper but it went to Hayden Christensen because Sturridge was unknown at the time. Sturridge is also good friends with Twilight’s Robert Pattinson. Thanks to his growing body of work Sturridge is becoming more well-known and can be seen in the recent films Waiting for Forever (2011) and On the Road (2012), an adaptation of the Jack Kerouac novel.

In Orphans, Sturridge stars as Philip, one of two orphaned brothers who squat in an abandoned house and make a living sticking up strangers for money. While Treat (played by Ben Foster) is out on the streets mugging people for cash, Philip stays inside with his personal demons. When Treat brings home a rich man with secrets of his own (Alec Baldwin), sparks begin to fly. Or they should have, but according to reviews, the show fails to deliver. Nonetheless the show was nominated for Best Revival of a Play at the Tonys.

Despite the show’s tepid reviews, Sturridge’s work has truly stood out. Almost every review made a critical exception for Sturridge’s high-powered performance. Even The New York Times, which roundly criticized the production, practically predicted the nod: “Mr. Sturridge is playing the sort of role that comes with ‘Tony nominee’ tattooed on its forehead, that of a mentally challenged, education-deprived person who learns to assert himself,” while tearing apart the set like a rabid animal. For all of his UK experience Sturridge’s high energy and physicality onstage was noted as being very American.

“It’s an honor just to be nominated” is more than a self-deprecating cliché for Sturridge this year. His leading-man competition is a who’s who of entertainment titans: Tom Hanks (Lucky Guy), Nathan Lane (The Nance), Tracy Letts (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and David Hyde Pierce (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike) are all major celebrities in their own right, with Pulitzers, Emmy’s, Tonys, Oliviers and Academy Awards to prove it. Sturridge’s chances are probably slim in the face of these giants but a nomination for a Broadway debut in this year’s company is high recognition in itself. Hopefully Sturridge will continue to make an impact in the business and walk away with a Tony of his own one day. And if he does win the Tony this year it would be a deserved surprise for this hardworking actor and his fans. Here’s to breaking a leg in this and all future endeavors.

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