Harry Trevaldwyn is preparing for a starry, A-list launch party, the premiere of the first TV series he’s ever appeared in. “I’ve been loaned this amazing red suit,” he says. “I wonder if I could also wear it to the wedding I’m going to at the weekend? Actually, I’d probably be too worried about spilling something all down it.” Navigating this red-carpet world is a new experience for this self-deprecating 28-year-old who, in the space of just two years, has gone from posting comedy skits from his London flat on social media to appearing in The Bubble, a Hollywood movie, and Ten Percent, the British remake of the hit French series Call My Agent!
Bored with his temping job in 2019, but quietly soaking up all the idiosyncrasies of the people around him, Trevaldwyn started posting hilariously biting two-minute character sketches on Instagram to his 31,000 followers. Highlights include the Office Chat Guy (“Oh, you brought a packed lunch! You’re so good”) and The Guy’s Girl (“I’ve recently got into rapping, but not in a culturally appropriative way; in a culturally appropriate way”).
But his greatest creation has to be Smug Mother. Cribbed from real-life mums of some of the kids he was also tutoring at the time, Smug Mother is an insufferable snob who takes any opportunity to boast about her overachieving children and her beloved hubby Hen, all the while being a total monster to Natalie, her off-screen step-daughter from Hen’s first marriage. Poor Natalie, I have to tell Trevaldwyn. “I know!” he says. “Even now, I’ll be announcing I’m doing a film and people will comment, ‘But where’s Natalie?’ I’m thrilled that you can create a character who doesn’t even have a voice but somehow exists.”
That is in no small part down to the talent that Trevaldwyn has for creating entire worlds around his characters. We all know these people: we’ve all been stuck in our own circles of hell with them, or forced into excruciating small talk with them at a party.
Trevaldwyn hails from the school of online comedians who shot to fame over lockdown, when we were all starved of live culture and tied to our phones in a bid to distract ourselves from the ongoing global disaster. In the US, people such as Jordan Firstman, Benito Skinner and Meg Salter posted character-led observational studies; and in the UK, Munya Chawawa, Alistair Green and Trevaldwyn similarly began to make names for themselves by creating eerily accurate caricatures of people we all love to hate.
It’s likely this form of comedy will become synonymous with the pandemic era. Trevaldwyn has his own theories for why this style of humour took off in the way it did: “I think that people were missing those kinds of interactions; those people you would meet waiting for the microwave. I also think a lot of comedy and talent was going online anyway, because it’s so much easier to do stuff online than raise money to do a show at Edinburgh or something. It’s more of a level playing field now. The pandemic definitely accelerated that.”
Although he may have not been on the public’s radar for long, Trevaldwyn’s newfound success has been a long time in the making. “If you’re asking if I was always a show-off as a child, then yes,” he laughs. He got his first taste of fame aged seven when he played the Bloodbottler in a school production of The BFG: “It wasn’t the biggest part but it was quite funny. And as I heard people laughing, I was like, ‘Do you like this? OK, well, I’ll do more.’”
Hailing from a small village in Oxfordshire, he wasn’t well placed to be fast-tracked to fame, leading him to take matters into his own hands – as when he saw an open audition call for Skins. The Channel 4 show about hard-partying, drug-taking teens, wasn’t an obvious fit for Trevaldwyn, he admits. “This is one of my deepest shames. I told my mum: ‘I have to go to this, this is my big break!’ But it was so far from my life, as I adored authority and doing well in school.” Thinking that the Skins kids were “edgy”, he decided to wear one of his grandad’s old hankies as a neckerchief and, for some unfathomable reason, put on a West Country accent when he stepped up to audition. “Spoiler alert,” he adds. “I didn’t get it.”
Despite appearing in plays at the Edinburgh festival fringe for two years in a row and appearing – with one line – in the 2019 film The King, Trevaldwyn was still drawing a blank on how to break into the industry. So he picked up his iPhone, turned the camera on himself and hit record.
Agents and industry people soon began sliding into his DMs. Then came a call to audition for Judd Apatow’s new part-improv film, The Bubble. Trevaldwyn was cast as Gunther, a health and safety officer for the film-within-a-film, set in the UK. “I got a text from my agent saying, ‘You’ve got a Zoom with Judd.’ It was the most panic-ridden four hours of my life, and then he offered it to me. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t sleep for the entire time up to the filming as I thought something bad was going to happen. On my first day I probably had a real manic energy. I was like, ‘This is too much.’”
Walking on to a set with David Duchovny, Leslie Mann and Fred Armisen was daunting for Trevaldwyn. “First of all, Hollywood stars all have amazing skin,” he says. “Leslie walked in to our readthrough and I was like, ‘You’re a shining beacon of an angel!’” Did he feel pressure after his unconventional route into acting? “Yes, I definitely felt that imposter thing,” he says. “Definitely. I don’t think I dealt with it very well. I remember doing the readthrough on Zoom and thinking, ‘This is only on Zoom but these are some of the most talented actors I’ve seen.’ Then I just thought, ‘Well, me being nervous isn’t going to help anything. They decided to go with me so I’ve just got to give it my best shot and fake confidence.’”
While he was filming The Bubble he was also auditioning for Ten Percent. Trevaldwyn bagged the role of Ollie – Herve, in the original – a celebrity-obsessed actors’ agent assistant. The new series – developed by John Morton, writer of W1A – leans heavily on the storylines of the original but is slightly different in tone. The characters are a bit more awkward, passive-aggressive and, well, British.
Trevaldwyn says: “The Parisians are so great with their emotions whereas in England we’re terrible. So my character, you’ll see the way he deals with fancying someone, or being in love, and it’s the most British thing in the world. It’s so fun to play as it rings true.”
One area in which the Brit version excels is the line-up of celebrities playing fictional versions of themselves: Helena Bonham-Carter, Dominic West, Kelly Macdonald – not bad for Trevaldwyn’s first TV co-stars. “There was one time I was in the makeup chair and Helena and Olivia Williams were next to me and I was like, ‘Eeeeek!’ Olivia was showing Helena my videos and I was melting in my seat, I was so embarrassed – and pleased. I was just making all sorts of weird sounds.”
Next up for Trevaldwyn are a couple of projects he’s working on but, in true celebrity style, can’t tell me about. However, he can tell me he’s working on a comedy show for Channel 4 called Billi, to be written and performed by himself. Billi is “a 20-year-old who has an A-list energy and is a horrible narcissist, but weirdly kind of charming,” Trevaldwyn tells me. When I ask him what else he has planned, he jokes: “I would be very surprised if I wasn’t cast as Bond! But I’m doing what I love right now, writing and acting. I feel very lucky at the moment.”
If this all sounds like a dream come true, that’s because it is. “A few years ago me and my cousin had a few glasses of wine and we did these joke Instagram photos of me leaning over a fence and captioning it: ‘Styled by Gucci.’ Fast forward a few years and I’m actually dressed in Gucci for a magazine shoot, leaning on a fence. Maybe I’ve got some sort of weird, ironic manifestation thing going on. That’s my magic power: I do a pithy Instagram post and three years later it comes true!”
On his way out of the interview room, he’s stopped by a girl in the corridor. “I follow you on Instagram,” she says. “You’re hilarious!” “Oh, thank you!” he replies warmly. On his Instagram bio, he’s written, tongue firmly in cheek, ‘very shy national treasure’. There’s every chance the latter part of this might end up coming true too.