Were you expecting the reaction to the first season of Primeval to be as positive as it’s been?
Last time we had to contend with the whole comparisons with Doctor Who. There’s always going to be comparisons – to all intents and purposes, it sounds like an idea within the same vein as Doctor Who, but what was overlooked was Primeval was in development for five years. It was written as its own entity. But we were confident that once people saw the show, that would start to disappear. Obviously it’s sci-fi, but other than that, it’s grounded stuff, not outer space stuff.
The more apt comparison is with Torchwood…
Yes, but once again you’re talking about aliens. We may have futuristic animals, but it’s all set within evolution. In Doctor Who, anything can happen, but Primeval is still grounded in the reality of what could be. Having the Titanic fly around space [as seen in the Doctor Who Christmas Special which aired a few days before this interview was carried out] is a pretty extreme idea – you wouldn’t have that on Primeval. It’d be like having a T Rex on the moon.
Doctor Who and Torchwood are strong shows, but they are very celebrity-driven now. It’s the celebrity of the week. You would hope that you had a strong enough show not to depend on that. It didn’t initially start like that – obviously they got Billie Piper and Mr Eccleston, but the guest stars didn’t start like that, they were all just normal actors. My personal opinion is that when you have famous people coming into it, it takes the reality away. With us, bar Hannah Spearritt, no one knew who anyone of us were, so it made it instantly more believable in a way.
And anyone over 35 probably didn’t know who she was…
Exactly. And she’s the first to admit she was one of the less publicised of the band. She wanted to slip under the radar. She managed to do it. Journeywise, it’s worked out well, some of it planned, some not, as it always is in this industry. I could never imagine anyone else playing Abby the way Hannah does.
There seems to be a stronger team feel – you’re all anticipating what each other are going to do…
That was very conscious. Even though it’s the same point when Cutter comes back, at the beginning of the series, we don’t go into how long we’ve been doing this, how long we’ve had the ARC for. Information about the past and how evolution is different is going to be released as Adrian Hodges wants, as every episode goes past – even with the whole Claudia Brown thing. They’re not going to give you that at the beginning.
The first episode was done really well: they closed off a shopping centre, there’s a ticking clock situation, you have to get these raptors out. I think it’s really strong. Before, we were all over the place doing our own thing, but with the first episode, we’re back as a team and that’s how it’s going to be. It continues in that vein – obviously we do have our little missions but we are so hands on this time.
Were the effects done differently on set?
Initially there was a guy who came in as the monster double. His job was to run around as the monster. We found that that made it worse. This guy, bless him, was so lovely and gentle, and he tried to do the raptor stuff, but it ended up making us laugh. We scrapped that idea – he stayed around as he was the actors’ stand in as well – and went back to using our imaginations.
The eyelines on episode one between the cast and the monsters are a lot better than in series one…
There’s a team actor-wise as well. If you watch when the raptors fall over, we had nothing in front of us, apart from the director going, “Okay, he’s walking towards you, he growls then he falls to the floor.” The scene where I shoot it, none of us had an eyeline, but we all look at the same place. Our heads move exactly the same.
They are matching the creatures with our bodies and our reactions a lot better. One thing I noticed last year was a scene where Rex gets out, and I’m talking to him on top of the car. I realised that for comedic value they were mimicking Rex’s head movements with mine. We were quite in synch and I thought that was cool. They were so into making these creatures into characters, and I wondered how far you can push that with really giving something and acting with this imaginary creature. I know it sounds nuts, but in our heads, we have to trust that Framestore are really brilliant at their jobs, and the tiniest details that they put in now.
I’ve gone into Framestore and there are 60 people behind computers just working on Primeval. It’s fascinating: it’s like a little Primeval heaven. Every single monitor has a completely different shot.
There’s a little bit in that scene to look out for: watch what the raptor does when he jumps on the pool table. It’s a little joke that the CGI people put in: he might actually pot all the balls! He does the best trick shot! They’ve got to brighten their day – they’re working on the same sequence for weeks on end. They must hate our faces.
This time we’ve had CGI versions of us created. The first year we didn’t know how far we could push it, and interaction was always at arm’s length. There was always a separation – like when I stuck the pole down the Motorsaur’s throat. Now, we’re touching these things constantly. We are centimetres away, or they’re actually hitting us. One thing we got told the first year was we weren’t allowed to touch them. No physical action: everything was cause and effect. If it pushed the car over, we got hit by the car. This time, they realised that there doesn’t need to be that and it makes it right on top of you. It looks more dangerous!
Did that speed filming up?
It did in a way. When you’re using animatronics, even mobile phones interfere with the frequency. Getting an entire crew to switch off their mobile phones is a nightmare on a set nowadays.
You remember the fight between the Gorgonopsid and the Future Predator at the end of last series? I thought that was incredible, but there is stuff in this series that I don’t know how they do it. It’s almost magical in a way. I think they’re tremendous at what they do.
Were you working on the DVD extra documentary during filming?
Yes – from the first day to the last day of filming, I had a mini DV camera with me. I pretty much captured everything.
Did it help you as an actor knowing what was going on?
It was a double edged sword. It did get me really close to the crew, because no matter how hard you try as an actor, there’s always a separation between you and the crew. They’re in every single day and you might have days off here and there – although you probably don’t on Primeval – but my mission was not only to get a lot of the cast. The first year documentary had hardly any cast input, and it was all about the CGI; it didn’t capture the mood of Primeval, and made it look really serious. The show is really serious but it’s one of the best sets I’ve ever been on: the mood is really brilliant. I wanted to capture that. The producers asked if I’d be interested in carrying a camera around and I said, only if I can do it in a certain way and show people for what they really are. I don’t want it to be pretentious, just show how proud people are.
I’ve got close to people in job departments that I would never have realised before, so in that way it’s really helped me as a performer progressing in this industry, because it’s made me appreciate absolutely everything. The production designer who created the ARC, I wanted to give him his due because it’s an amazing building for a TV show to create on the budget he had.
When I went to the wrap party, there was still that level of excitement, because we were all being pushed to the max and a lot of the time you don’t get that opportunity. We’re always taking risks. We’re not relying on celebrities to pull in the ratings, we’re relying on story and what it says on the tin: we’re going to create brilliant CGI and every time you watch an episode, it’s just going to get better. The character arcs are getting more interesting. I’m super proud of it!
Emotionally that was just tremendous for me. Before playing this character I’d only ever done serious stuff, playing really serious roles. That’s why it was such a breath of fresh air to play Connor and to really enjoy playing him. But it was also nice then to go back to what my roots were, which was serious drama, and to put that serious drama into a character like Connor is really interesting. I think it makes it impact more. When you’ve got a character that doesn’t really show that side, it gives you a lot to work with.
Without sounding pretentious, the arc in that character’s storyline in that particular episode is really quite massive. After that, everything shifts. He’s still the same Connor, still stupid at times, but he starts to realise what responsibility means, and starts to actually listen to people a little bit more. He’s growing up, and that continues to go on. I think everybody will see it in the Connor/Cutter relationship: as the trust between Cutter and Stephen breaks down, the trust between Connor and Cutter just becomes so strong. Cutter can’t believe that it’s the same person who was there by default at the beginning, who knew a bit about dinosaurs but wasn’t really useful. He starts to know exactly why Connor’s there – for Cutter’s own personal struggle with himself.
Was there anything that took you aback in the scripts?
No, because they’re written for us now, and it’s all been a real organic process. As for stuff in the show, there was loads of stuff that made me go, “No way!” We got given the last episode and I read the ending and thought it was a really cool ending – and then unbeknownst to us, we hadn’t been given the proper ending until just before we shot it. When I read the real ending, the hairs on my arms literally stood on end. Last year there were a couple of hitters at the end, with Ryan dying and Cutter coming back with everything changed. This year, it’s hit after hit after hit. The sense you get is, if they can do that, I can’t wait to do the next series!Adriankeeps surprising me like that. I read it as a fan, and it’s so nice to work on something that you’re genuinely a fan of. I’ve done so many jobs where it’s alright and you do the press and go through the motions, but on this you have to shut me up!
Did it feel odd working with different directors?
Massively different. For me it’s the first time I’ve been switched on directors: I’ve never done a long series of anything, so I’m only used to working on one job with one director. But I loved Cilla and I loved Jamie and I loved their styles. Cilla was more Spooks, more gritty when she got into her stride. They had the same camera crew, but I think Jamie was more accessible. He was also more confident in my humorous side and he let me run with the improv bits – in the first three, because the scripts were written not for us, they were written before we were cast, I wasn’t allowed to do that as much. I try and bring a naturalistic energy to something.
There’s not a lot of crap on the show. When the five of us – me, Hannah, Dougie, Lucy and James – were sat in a room with Cilla Ware and Adrian Hodges, and they told us what they wanted from the show and how big they wanted it to be, none of us until that point knew what they were trying to do. They went out, and all five of us went, “I’m really scared now.” We didn’t know it was going to be on Saturday night or anything. They didn’t say that much at the auditions so we didn’t know what we were getting into. Me, James and Hannah went to the pub thinking it could be a massive failure! We were so scared that now we’re so happy that all the work paid off. When you take the risk and it pans out, that’s a really nice feeling.
If you liked the last series, this series will blow you away. I think it’s everything they wanted the show to be. I think you can see that from episode one onwards. I think what’s great is that everyone is working as a team well, but they’ve got so much animosity towards each other for various reasons. That just grows!