Star of The Syndicate Sam Phillips speaks to HELLO! Online

Rising star Sam Phillips will hit TV screens alongside Lenny Henry, Anthony Andrews and Elizabeth Berrington in the eagerly anticipated new series of BBC One drama The Syndicate on 2 June. The 31-year-old stars as Spencer Cavendish son of the once wealthy Lord and Lady Hazelwood who are struggling to make ends meet in their crumbling stately manor when their small team of staff win a staggering £14million jackpot on the lottery.

Speaking exclusively to HELLO! Online, Sam opened up about playing a character with 'dubious morals', what he would do if he won the lottery and how the show has changed his opinion on what it would be like to become a millionaire overnight.


What was it like playing Spencer?

Spencer's an interesting character. He's got dubious morals and he's motivated by cash, but that was a lot of fun to play to be honest! He does think about himself a lot, although he also looks out for his mother. He's mostly concerned about his and his mother's welfare and making sure that he has the kind of lifestyle that he thinks he deserves and that's about it. But I think the audience will see that there is a little bit of warmth in him… all will be revealed!

Previous series of The Syndicate have been tense and sinister at times. Is that kind of atmosphere present in the new series?

Yes, from the first episode that fast pace continues. There are people talking over each other and it's very high energy and as an audience you have to keep trying to chase what's going on with all the characters because there is so much happening. The plot twists and turns everywhere and it's very high-octane stuff. The first episode sets the tone so the audience can expect more of that.

©BBC / Rollem Productions
Sam as Spencer Cavendish alongside Alice Krige, who plays his mother Lady Hazelwood

Do you think the authenticity of the characters is part of the appeal of The Syndicate?

Kay writes such real characters but then she puts them in insane and dramatic circumstances, such as winning the lottery, that the average person might not come across every day. The way that it happens to everyday people, as it does in The Syndicate, is what the audience will always want to see time and time again – extraordinary things happening to ordinary people. She writes such real, three-dimensional characters that show their side of the story. Whatever happens, there are always two sides to a situation and that’s what I loved about the scripts.

Given that it’s an ensemble cast, was there anyone in particular that you got on with best?

It was one of those casts that really felt like a family. We were staying all together in Leeds and Scarborough for around four or five months, so we would tend to find ourselves in a hotel having a drink or having a curry after filming which is testament to how well we got on. In particular I got on with Tom Brittney who plays Tyler Mitchell in the show, and Joel Morris (DS Sam Houghton) who I had a bit of a chuckle with and Kieran O'Brien, who plays Andy, he's always a cheeky chap and lots of fun. But for the most part we all had a lot of fun and a big laugh. There were no divas and everyone pulled together. It was also freezing so we all had to endure the hardship of winter in Scarborough as a group and that brought us together in a funny sought of way.

©BBC / Rollem Productions
Sam (centre) with Stephen Brand, who plays Eddie Garcia (L), and William Hope, who plays Scott Mitchell

Your character seems very of his location at Hazelwood Manor. What was your experience of the location?

Being so cold actually worked well with the plot because as we enter the series Hazelwood is a crumbling building that is £6.5million in debt. You could feel that in the lack of heating helped when we were performing being cold because that’s how anyone with a gas bill that high would feel – they would have to turn off the heating.

Bramham Park where we filmed is such a beautiful location and the house is so grand, but, like the story we tell anywhere like that comes with a lot of upkeep. Luckily they had the heating on for us probably more than is indicated in the show as it was very cold.

©Ben Johnson

What's your opinion on the lottery and has it changed since you worked on the show?

What’s fantastic about Kay's writing is that she shows that money can bring more problems and that winning the lottery is not necessarily going to be for the better. I think it has changed my opinion of what it would be like to win the lottery. Of course it would be amazing but you have to approach it with a bit of caution because once you have got so much money, you've got to be careful about who has your best interests at heart.

That said I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a lot of money! But it has made me realise the implications of winning the lottery a lot more

What would you do if you won the lottery in real life?

First of all I would help my parents out because that’s what I always want to do. They've invested money and time in me for my profession and I want to pay them back for all the brilliant things that they've done for me so that would be number one. Then I think I would probably buy a nice house somewhere in London. I would also give a lot to Cancer Research because my father had cancer a few years ago and it was a very hard time and the NHS did a wonderful job with him and so I'd love to put some money into that as well. Finally I'd like to set up a television production company because I've had a dream to do that for a while now. It's nice to daydream.

©Alex Bailey
Sam in Far From The Madding Crowd

You recently starred in Far From the Madding Crowd alongside Carey Mulligan and Tom Sturridge. How did working on a film compare to your TV roles?

The scale was interesting because I have done a fair bit of TV and this was my first film so just how many more crew and cast there were. You also have more time to spend on scenes and certainly for this film we could spend up to three hours just on one part of the scene so you had more time to go over the specific moments. Being on set with some of these actors was a bit scary for me, but when I took a breath and calmed down a bit it was a lot of fun and the cast and crew, including the director Thomas Vinterberg, were all incredibly friendly and put my mind at ease. I am very proud of it and it’s a really good film. Its always hard to recreate a classic like the '60s version of Far From The Madding Crowd was, but it has been done with a lot of care and I think Carey Mulligan is just wonderful in the film as well.

What can we next see you in?

I've got a film called Hot Property coming out either later this year or early next year. It stars Myanna Buring, Tom Rhys Harris and Ella Smith and it’s the story of a woman who is living the high life but only looking out for herself. Then she loses everything and the story become about how she tries to get everything back and takes no prisoners along the way. It's a really fun indie film that I hope will have people laughing. Myanna Buring is such a talented actress and she carries the movie so I'm excited for that to come out.

©Ben Johnson

What kind of projects have you got your eye on and what would you like to achieve?

I'm just happy and excited when I get a call any TV show, or film, or theatre! That's enough for me. Obviously there are people that I'd love to work with like Danny Boyle or Spielberg would be nice! I'm also a big fan of Woody Allen, in particular some of his older stuff In general I'd love to do more films now that I've crossed that line, both independent films and a few big budget ones if I can. But more generally just to have a mix, a broad range and a diverse career because I've had the privilege of doing a mix of TV theatre and film and so long may it continue.

What do you get up to when you get a break from work?

I tend to eat out a lot, which is probably not good for my bank account but I do love Japanese food and I eat far too much of that so I would consider that a hobby! I also watch box sets, Bloodline and True Detective are my favourites at the moment, and I go out with friends to our local pub which is a nice way to unwind.