Monday, May 26, 2014
Jamie and 'New Worlds' Cast on the cover of Guardian Guide Magazine - Interview + Scans (March 2014)
New Worlds to conquer: meet the cast of Channel 4's new historical drama
Four of the most talented young actors in the UK are transported to 1680s America for the follow-up to The Devil's Whore
"It shows the beginning of the American dream," says 19-year-old Alice Englert, one of the four co-stars of the Channel 4 drama New Worlds. "What will be fascinating for UK audiences is looking at the beginning, how that dream was always going to be built on something quite… gross." She struggles, engagingly, for the mot juste. In the opening episode, her character scalps a man. It is indeed gross.
"We don't do much long-form drama in the UK," says co-star Jamie Dornan, 31, "so we have to pack a punch within the few hours we have."
New Worlds does. Set in the 1680s, it's the follow-up to Channel 4's 2008 English civil war miniseries The Devil's Whore, also co-created by Martine Brant and Peter Flannery. It covers a period sometimes regarded with mistaken fondness: of Restoration dramas, bawdy Nell Gwyn and an end to Cromwellian austerity. The truth, as this series unflinchingly observes, was very different. Charles II did not just live in obscene luxury while the poor slaved in claypits to make bricks for his mansions; he was a monarchical despot, reigning by terror. The people had "seized liberty for a season", reflects a veteran civil war campaigner, but now they were back under the thumb of a king. Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, new settlers had fled the old European tyrannies with the dream of building a more equitable, Republican society from scratch. However, this idealism was somewhat compromised by the fact that their dream was built on stolen land.
New Worlds is visually ravishing but viscerally brutal. The blood flows freely from the beginning: a butchered deer, a stabbing, torture, musket fire aplenty and that scalping. As with The Devil's Whore, it's a story told primarily through the eyes of the young. Joe Dempsie, 26 (Chris from Skins, Gendry from Game Of Thrones), plays Ned, son of an expat in Massachusetts but coming to realise that his father is complicit in "land piracy" at the expense of the understandably querulous native Americans. He is the love interest of anti-monarchist Hope (played by Englert, of Beautiful Creatures fame, and daughter of director Jane Campion), who has evidently grasped very early on the survival skills required in the 1680s, bereft of both her mother and all sentimentality.
Meanwhile, in England, 20-year-old Freya Mavor (another Skins veteran) plays Beth, who lives a life of sunlit bliss, the apple of her mother's eye. However, she's abruptly taken hostage by Abe (Jamie Dornan of The Fall – the TV drama, not the group), the fictional, outlaw son of real-life revolutionary William Goffe. Beth becomes a sort of Maid Marian to his Robin Hood, as she and her family discover it is impossible to live in discreet, liberal seclusion in a new England that is all too grimly similar to the old England in its tyranny and strife.
The themes of the series – civil rights, land grabs, gross inequality, the desire for liberty and the need to take sides – are uncomfortably topical in our own times, especially as we slide deeper into the mire of the 21st century. Certainly, for the actors involved, playing idealists living desperate lives for the sake of future freedoms represented a far cry from their more contemporary roles, creatures of a more cossetted world. Dornan, for example, identifies with the desire for justice that's an eternal characteristic of the young. He was drawn to Abe's "passion" and "determination to fight for what he believed in; I like characters who are passionate about something".
Dempsie echoes this sentiment. "The scenes discussing history, morals and values were actually more fun than the action scenes. It's so rare to play characters of real conviction, who made a genuine difference in society." Englert, meanwhile, was personally struck by "the courage, the sacrifices people had to have at that time; the pain you had to go through. Today, we're so much more comfortable."
The Devil's Whore featured among its cast Dominic West, John Simm and Michael Fassbender. It's tempting to suggest that New Worlds could catapult its stars to bigger things, but the career trajectories for young actors today are more complex than that. The transatlantic gap has narrowed; TV has easily the same scope and prestige as cinema. Big or small screen, what's changed is that today it's about the work, the content: there's a new seriousness.
"I think we've seen that in cinema as well as TV, it's more about narrative, more about stories, less about stars. Everyone's upped their game," says Dempsie. "Actors are a lot hungrier. There was a lot written about the death of Peter O'Toole: such a fantastic actor but also the legend that went with him as a hellraiser. That has kind of been lost. You've got to be on your game. You can't be going out and getting tanked up the night before a big day of filming. There's hundreds, maybe thousands of people who'd be willing and able to take your place."
Celebrity, meanwhile, is no longer synonymous with the acting profession; it's been farmed off as an industry in its own right. Mavor describes this as an "encouraging development. Questions come up about the public attention you get, being an actor, but it's not something I really give very much thought to. It's about the work."
Adds Dempsie: "If you want familiar faces, there's reality TV, Daily Mail website, Made In Chelsea. If that's all you want."
Of course, commercial cinema hasn't evaporated, and is still a lucrative, enticing prospect. "You go wherever the work is really," says Dornan, who's been cast as Christian Grey in the film version of 50 Shades Of Grey. "If you have any kind of choice as an actor, you can count yourself extremely fortunate." Dempsie has made his own foray into that mega-world with the forthcoming Monsters: Dark Continent. However, he believes you can maintain a level head, making trade-offs that occasionally involve "doing one for the agent", as the old saying goes. "Now, people don't just want a career, they want the kind of career they want, and have an idea about how to go about getting it, and a belief in their ability."
There's a sense that this generation of actors has grown up fast; perhaps, in the case of Mavor and Englert, because they were thrust into their profession early in life, and have a maturity about them at an age when most of us are still making late-adolescent idiots of ourselves. "Alice is wise beyond her years, but then growing up on film sets means it's all second nature to her," says Dempsie. "She gets on with stuff. I found myself going to her for advice, life issues, whatever. She's 19!"
Mavor describes her time on Skins as "like a university experience: a bunch of teenagers playing out stories about teenagers as they're experiencing adolescence anyway. It's maturing, but at the same time you're encouraged to be young. I think people are being given more challenging roles at younger ages now. I started young at 16, going on 17. I've met many actors who started their careers at 12, or eight. We're in a fast-moving society and you learn the tricks of the trade at a younger and a younger age."
"What interests me is my generation," concludes Englert, briefly channelling the spirit of Hope. "What are we going to do? What are we going to bring? Formula doesn't work. I want to do as much as I can get away with."
Source | @guideguardian | Scans