Tom Cullen is a man of intensity, both professionally and in his desire to live well. But what does that mean, “live well”? Tom believes that facing forward with confidence, accepting life as it comes, and finding the positive in everything is paramount to living well. When he says this, it’s with a tinge of weathered experience that comes from making enough mistakes to know the difference. This discerning approach brought Tom out of a rough neighborhood in Wales, got him through school, and set him on the path as an actor. His acting career officially began at the age of 25 with a small indie film and has carried him to his most prominent role to date on Downton Abbey. The show exudes heritage and style, much like Tom. He comes from a long list of Welsh acting talent and is carrying the torch, chest out and chin up. We caught up with Tom after a shoot to discuss his own legacy, his craft, and of course his great boots.
Tom, before you were working as an actor, who is the one person that significantly impacted you in a positive way that helped make you the man you are today?
I grew up in a small town and went through some really tough stuff early in my life. I tended to really act out a lot and was a bit of a problem. There was one teacher that really invested in me and gave me a little extra support and attention. It means a lot to me to have someone I respected give that to me. I’m fairly dyslexic so I had a harder time staying up on certain things and to have that support was a real game changer for my identity. The school I went to didn’t exactly encourage individuality so having that helped shaped who I am today.
What about when it’s all said and done? At the end of your career, what do you hope to leave in the way of a legacy?
Oh man, that’s such a tough question to answer. I really think we need to be present more than thinking about the future. I really try to live from a place of generosity, being a strong source of support for those around me, and learning how to be a better friend. I try to say ‘yes’ as much as possible. It’s so easy to say ‘no.’ I hope those are the things I’m really known for.
What about fear? Is there anything you really fear?
Haha! Acting is still scary! It will always be a little bit. Growing up there was a very lax attitude to achieving much of anything so I had to push through that fear of failure and everyone around me that kind of looked at what I was doing and said things like “It’s ok if you don’t get very far.” I had to push into that. But I think we are living in a new era of anti-intellectualism and that type of mentality breeds more of that negativity and fear. I think it’s pretty common and something a lot of people deal with.
Yeah, that’s probably true. When you think back to that era, say when you were about 16, what advice would you give yourself if you could?
Man, calm the f*ck down! I was so angry and had such a problem with authority. I would definitely tell myself to shut your mouth, chill out, and listen a lot more. I used to push so hard all the time.
You’re a very stylish guy. What is one piece you couldn’t live without?
I really am a fan of a good pair of shoes. I love great shoes. There are two pairs of the same boots that I’ve been wearing for years that just keep getting better with age. I have two pairs of the Wolverine 1000 Mile boots in Dark Grey and Dark Brown. I resoled the grey boots with a lower that has a little extra tread on them. I use them for hiking, walking the city, and pretty much exclusively when I travel. They’re insanely versatile boots and after three years they just look better and better. You can dress them up for a night out or head out on a trail and they handle it. I love those boots.
Photography by John Russo
Words by Ben Classen