Hero Fiennes Tiffin—smelling faintly of cigarette smoke and gently stirring his half- finished cocktail—has been talking about love and relationships for nearly half an hour when he finally drops the bomb. “Interestingly enough,” he begins, a little reticently, “I’ve never had, like, a proper relationship. I haven’t had a girl I would call my girlfriend.”
It’s a surprising revelation coming from the 21-year- old British actor, who is, frankly, quite adept at doing the kinds of things guys who get lots of girlfriends do. To sit across from him is to bear witness to a montage of heartthrob behaviors—he’s running his fingers through his hair, flashing a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it dimply smile, licking his lips before sailing into a particularly impassioned point. Oh, and there’s also the fact that his steamy portrayal of Hardin Scott in the upcoming One Direction fan fiction–to–film adaptation After, his first leading role, seems, well, practiced.
For many teenagers on the internet, Hardin represents the ultimate Bad Boy- friend. Inspired by 1D singer Harry Styles, the character first made an appearance in a 2,500-plus-page saga published to the storytelling platform Wattpad, where it has since racked up more than 1.5 billion reads. When Gallery Books released it as a five-part book series, it became a bona fide literary phenomenon. Suffice it to say, there are more than a few girls who plan to see Fiennes Tiffin’s new movie on opening night next month.
The young actor’s expert-level brooding has also caught the eye of casting directors in the fashion industry. His flirty smirk features prominently in a 2017 Baz Luhrmann– directed Erdem x H&M fashion film, and Fiennes Tiffin is currently dressed in slim track pants and a gray hoodie, both gifted to him by Dolce & Gabbana after he appeared in one of its campaigns. “In the small amount of modeling work I’ve done, I’m always told that I never smile,” he says. “If I’m told to smile, I’ll smile. But my go-to is just a screw face. Straight face. Grumpy-lookin’. I think that has benefited me in playing Hardin.” He laughs at this realization. “Smiling was a no-go in a lot of scenes.”
Fiennes Tiffin’s first distinctly dark role was that of young Lord Voldemort, aka 11-year-old Tom Riddle, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince—which he landed, in part, thanks to his relation (and resemblance) to adult Lord Voldemort, played by his uncle Ralph Fiennes. When asked which name is more of a pain to live up to—his first or his last—he leans back on his stool, groans, and lets out a small chuckle. “That is a good question,” he responds, though he ultimately declines to take the bait. “I don’t think of it as a pain in the ass. I think of it as a blessing.”
Instead of talking about his showbiz family (his other actor uncle, Joseph, and his mom and dad, a film director and a director of photography, respectively), Fiennes Tiffin is much happier to talk about his friends. There are the “M Boys,” a 20-person crew he grew up with that stays in touch via a massive group text; his cousin, whom he plans to meet up with later in the night (“Happy birthday, Cheyenne!” he shouts into my recorder); and a girl named Ruby, whom he thanks for recommending a nearby jewelry store where he’ll soon be hunting for a new chain necklace.
There’s little evidence of Fiennes Tiffin’s excitable, rambunctious side in Hardin, and the knuckle-tatted, Ramones-tee-wearing bad boy would probably scoff at the actor’s more athleisure-leaning sartorial choices. It’s probably for the best, though, that Fiennes Tiffin (who was also recently tapped to play a Union soldier in the war drama Freedom’s Path) distances himself from the somewhat problematic character, as the series has already sparked intense debates over what kind of message the dynamic between Hardin and his love interest, Tessa (Josephine Langford), sends to young women, and whether this genre of lopsided, horny fan fiction is too retrograde for our post-#MeToo era. Still, Fiennes Tiffin is confident that the film has landed on the right side of things, in large and small ways. “There was one stage direction where we’re giggling and running away from someone, and Tessa trips and Hardin steadies her,” he says. “And the director quite rightly said, ‘This is a pointless stage direction. It assumes that girls can’t run on their own.’ It was one of the many things we were conscious of when filming.”
The fans, for their part, have few qualms. With every After-related bit of news, Fiennes Tiffin braces for a flood of Instagram followers—many of whom deploy heart-eye and happy-crying emojis along with comments like, “I love u with my whole heart” and “7th grade me is shook.” And when the assets don’t come quickly enough, fans DIY (case in point: the overdubbed “trailer” featuring cobbled-together footage of Fiennes Tiffin’s and Lang- ford’s previous work), which makes sense considering After’s origins. It’s been quite a whirlwind for someone who until recently was best known for playing a preteen Tom Riddle. “It was as shocking to me as it was to anyone else,” he admits. Then, as if on cue, he licks his lips and says: “It hit hard, but in a good way.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of ELLE.