ARChive 14: Douglas Henshall (Series 2)

This ARChive interview took place at the launch of the second season, and is presented in its uncut form for the first time.

Words: Paul Simpson

Were you itching to get back to filming Primeval?

Yes, I was looking forward to it. Once you get the scripts, it starts to get a bit exciting, because you realise that the action sequences all get upped. There’s a new set of monsters. There’s a new set of relationships and circumstances, so you get geared up for it, so I was very much looking forward to it.

It’s a job like no other one you’ve done before?

Yes – I think it’s a job like no other kind of period at the moment. I don’t think there’s anything else on the television that’s near to what this is trying to do. There are seven episodes this series, and they’re like seven little one hour films. I think it’s pretty ambitious stuff.

What do you think the appeal is? Have you been surprised by the success of the show?

No – I don’t want to sound arrogant but I wasn’t surprised that people liked it, because I thought it was good. I thought we had come up with a good show. You can never tell whether or not it’s going to work out, but I was in no doubt that we had come up with something that was good, and that we’d done our job right. The fact that people did watch it, and particularly that we did well, and enough people watched it to commission a second series was great, and a nice affirmation for everyone, but I wasn’t surprised. 

You’ve said you liked dinosaurs when you were younger; does sci-fi attract you as a genre?

No, I’ve never been a fan of Star Trek, or anything like that. Star Wars I went for in a big way, but I was never a Star Trek fan.

Is it exhausting filming the action?

I’m always wary of saying “Yes, everyone’s terribly exhausted,” because in the grand scheme of things, it’s great fun. Sometimes my legs aren’t quite as young as they were, and Primeval is “Why walk when you can run – and why run when you can run fast?” Occasionally I think, “Do we really need to do this again?” Running on sand in the desert in 45′ heat, with a 35lb pack on your back isn’t the best way to spend the day, but I was so excited to be in the desert in 45′ heat with a 35lb pack on my back that I didn’t really mind.

Which desert were you filming in?

We were in Fueraventura, which doesn’t have a desert of its own, because it’s volcanic, but it’s only about 60km away from the Sahara on the west coast ofAfrica. What looks like mist in the morning is sand coming over, and through time, there’s wonderfully formed dunes that we can shoot on, so we were there.

What was the most challenging stunt you did this season?

There was nothing particularly dangerous that I did; the only thing that I was a little unsure about was I did a dive off a boat into the Thames over atCanaryWharf. The trouble is I don’t swim very well, and I don’t know how to dive. But I volunteered to do this, and in the sober light of day I thought, “But you don’t know how to dive and you don’t swim that great, what are you going to do?” But I realised that I was wearing a wet suit that was pretty buoyant: it would have been pretty tough to drown myself. I was a little bit concerned about how well I was going to go into the water, but I was fine.

Was it absolutely freezing?

No, it’s not – it’s not that bad. Partially that was because of the wet suit, but it wasn’t that bad.

Did you get any injuries at all doing the stunts?

Yeah, I fell on my arse! We were filming in a forest for episode 3, and they had dug this 10′ hole. It had been pouring with rain, and it had all got filled up with mud and water. I had to go in, because there’s a sabre-toothed tiger that I’ve jumped in there to get away from – it’s jumping over the top and trying to get me. I jumped in, and it came up to my knees, so they put a wooden pallet in under the water to give me a little bit more stability. I said that I wanted to do it. So I jumped in and fell backwards, and my hand went down, right down on my thumb on this wood. I thought I had broken it, but it’s such a wussy thing to hurt, I couldn’t really stop and say “I hurt my thumb” having been insistent that I was fine to do this thing. I remember trying to finish the scene and worrying that I was going to be sick – I thought I had dislocated. But it was fine.

Running round in the forest must be quite slippery with roots everywhere…

Yes, but it’s quite fun, and you notice that afterwards, because once you’re doing it, you’re into what you’re supposed to be doing. I don’t look at it as a thing that’s going to trip me up, it’s a thing to tread over.

Was the shopping centre a bit like a big playground when you were filming episode one?

Yes, it was great, and it also has that feeling of Brazil about it: that gleaming white and metal, particularly the way Adam and Jamie lit it and shot it. I wish the shops had been open, because there’s an awful lot of hanging around there while you’re doing it. They’re great shops and it’s the only time you get to see them that quiet! It was the Bentalls Centre inKingston. We started at sundown and finished at sunup.

Was that a bit surreal?

It starts like really bad jet lag. The first 10 days were night shoots, so it was a bit weird. Suddenly you’re going from your bed to running around in Bentalls inKingstonaway from an imaginary velociraptor.

Did they let you ride the bikes?

I rode a little bit. I was a bit annoyed that I didn’t get to do more. Obviously I was quite happy to let the stuntmen do wheelies because I would probably have broken my neck, but I quite enjoyed doing a number of things on my own there. That’s half the fun of doing something like this is that you get to do stuff like that.

Was there a feeling of wanting to make this a bit bigger?

There’s no point in doing another series unless you have the ambition to try and make it better. That was very apparent in the way Adrian and the guys wrote it. There’s a lot more action sequences. In the first series we didn’t have any dinosaurs because everything predated the Jurassic period – so to kick off with a Velociraptor was a good idea, and then we take a little bit of artistic licence with what the future might hold, which I think they’ve done very well. I think they’ve achieved that.

I think the ARC was a great idea. When I saw it, I thought, “Okay, so they’re serious about this for a while.” I don’t think you’d build something that big otherwise. It was a little bit of a pat on the back for everybody.

Is the show more ambitious intellectually as well with the storyline about parallel time streams? You couldn’t have started with that…

I’m of the opinion that kids of a certain age really like stuff like that to work out. The idea that they might have worked it out, maybe amongst themselves, to get it right… most of them are smarter than me, because they are prepared to go after something to work it out. The only people I think might find it confusing are adults, because they’re either too lazy or don’t care enough to go anything other than, “Och, that’s a load of nonsense” whereas the kids will go, “Hang on, I read something about that somewhere else…”

Is the benefit of series two that people know the rules so you can start messing?

I think that’s a constant fight: how much science goes in? I’m not entirely sure how many conversations go on before I get my script but I imagine there’s a few where they go, “Science is boring, can’t we put in more monsters?” I’d like to see a bit more science, because I think we can make it interesting.

Are we going to see a lot more differences in the way the world is?

I think that was maybe a trick we missed, insofar as little things that you could have done in order to make the world look like a different place but make it very subtle. I think if you do make it subtle, it’s more scary. I’ve often thought if you go back in time somewhere, what would it be the thing that freaked you out the most? I think it would be the little changes, the little things that you’ll never understand. I don’t think they had the time to be honest. That was the other problem: we didn’t get recommissioned until March and then we were shooting in June. They had three months to get it together.

Has your character changed at all?

He’s a bit grumpier, but that’s about it.

When you get a script and see which monster you’re facing, do you ever research the monster concerned?

Do you know, I probably should! I’d love to say I do, I have a database at home, but I don’t! The biggest thing is to make sure you try and pronounce things properly.

Your knowledge of dinosaurs must be great now?

No, a woman came in from a TV station to do interviews with us on set, and brought a bag of plastic dinosaurs with her. She said, “You know your dinosaurs quite well then, do you?” I said I was alright. “Ok, then what’s that then?” There were four of them, but thankfully they were the four most obvious ones you can think of – I think I pulled off most of them.

Do you get more recognition in public now?

What I sometimes get is mums with their kids and taxi drivers. I remember coming home from the gym one day, and there was a dad with his own kids and friends behind me. The bravest one – or the one who got pushed forward – was every so often running to get a look at my face, and then going back to confer with the pals, until I heard the dad say, “Will you just leave him alone?” I turned around and threw them a smile. But what do you do? Turn around and say, “Yes it is me?” And then they say, “Oh it’s not who we thought it was at all!” Every now and again you get this little face looking up at you.

Are you looking forward to getting the model of yourself?

I haven’t seen it yet – God knows what it’ll look like!

You hopefully!

Yes – you’d hope! It’s a bit bizarre having a bit of plastic of yourself in the shop. It’s a bit odd, but flattering.

Did you have time to film other projects?

No, I did a play, this time last year, at the Donmar Warehouse, and I did a film called French Film with Hugh Bonneville and Anne-Marie Duff and Eric Cantona – although I didn’t get to meet him. I was gutted about that. It was probably just as well as I’d have just wanted to talk about football, which is probably the last thing in the world he’d want to talk about. What’s next, I have no idea.

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