ARChive 13: James Murray (Series 1)

As tracker and hunter Stephen Hart on Primeval, James Murray was a world away from his roles in Clocking Off and Cutting It, as this interview from the press launch for the show proved.

Words: Paul Simpson

What was your first reaction when you read the script for Primeval?

I thought it was great. It was very new and very ambitious, which is always interesting to read. You genuinely care what happens to these people from the off. I couldn’t put it down.

Did you see it as a chance to live out your childhood dreams?

Yes, very much so. It’s not often that you get the opportunity to be in something so boldly Boys’ Own. When you get the chance to run around with guns, chase dinosaurs and be chased by dinosaurs, you pay attention.

Was it difficult to make it believable?

Yes. It’s easy to overact or underact. To get it right is quite hard. Unless the audience believes that you’re frightened, they’re not going to be frightened. To begin with, there was a lot of “Take five! We don’t believe you’ve just witnessed a very life threatening dinosaur for the first time!”

We were acting to a ball on a stick, so we all had the same eye-line. But, apart from that, it was completely up to our imaginations. So, as wonderful as the CGI is, we know these things don’t really exist. But if they exist in the characters’ world then it becomes frightening.

Did you see pictures of the monsters before you shot the scenes?

Some of them. But, as the show went on, time was of the essence. By the time we got to episodes four and five, we didn’t always get to see the creatures, because they hadn’t been properly devised or drawn until we were halfway through filming.

The effects guys would come and brief us about what these things looked like, though. That was brilliant, because otherwise I could be imagining a little plastic Pterodactyl, while Dougie Henshall [Professor Cutter] has this elaborate Godzilla-type thing!

Did you do any research for the role?

I’d love to say that I went to the Serengeti for a month with nothing but a rifle, but I’d be lying! I did do some rough trekking in Belize for a couple of weeks, but I knew the scripts wouldn’t really demand too much detailed trekking knowledge!

I did some walking in the jungle, too, which was good fun. But I haven’t been wrestling tigers, as such, which it’s insinuated that Stephen has done at some point in his life.

Did your understanding of Stephen change as you read each new episode?

Not really. With someone like Stephen, you know that he is the silent-ish type. He’s the hands-on, physical member of the gang, as opposed to the expositional character that fills things in for people.

I was perfectly happy with that because, for me, the draw was running around and rolling my sleeves up. When you’re young, you don’t want to play Shakespeare and Chekhov, you want to play Indiana Jones and James Bond! I’m shameless about that. Fantasy is a great thing to live out.

No dark secrets, then?

There may be. But at this stage it’s all about the dinosaurs and discovering what these anomalies are about. As the series develops, you learn a lot more about the characters. With regards to Stephen, let’s just say he has a history that has a bearing on the present.

What about the frisson between Stephen and Abby?

There’s a will-they, won’t-they relationship, which is very well constructed by Adrian Hodges. But with a backdrop of potential dinosaur Armageddon, there are more important things at stake than whether we can get each other into bed or not. To begin with, at least…

How does the relationship develop?

Between the dinosaurs and the characters? I think there will always be some tension there!

Are you a fan of the shows that have been cited as influences on Primeval, such as Doctor Who, Stargate, Quatermass and Lost?

If I’m being honest, I’ve never really tuned into them. I’m very dull with my viewing. I’m more of a documentary guy. But, if you’re going to be compared to anything, the shows that you’ve just mentioned are good.

Were you impressed when you saw the finished episodes?

I was very impressed with the CGI. We didn’t see much CGI on TV until recently. I guess you do on Doctor Who, but that’s so bold and so ambitious that you can forgive it because it’s not meant to be exactly realistic, whereas this is.

You can talk about doing effects for the small screen, but the smallest screen in some houses these days is 40”. To live up to that is no mean feat, but the guys at Impossible Pictures were constantly improving. If it goes to series two, it’ll be even better.

To find out what Murray made of series two, click here or check out the other ARChive interviews.

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