ARChive 6: James Murray (Series 2)

Primeval’s second series saw the show’s “action man”, Stephen Hart become embroiled in Helen Cutter’s grand plans. Speaking after he’d filmed Stephen’s final appearance, but before it had aired, James Murray told Paul Simpson about the major course changes Stephen went through…

There’s definitely a feel of Stephen being alienated from the team…

I’m glad somebody spotted that! They’re subtlely separating him. It’s a great device that the history that we found out of him sleeping with Helen way back when doesn’t help much. He becomes increasingly disillusioned with Cutter’s theories and what they’re doing as a team: whether it’s the right thing to do or not.

Were you aware at the start of season one that this was in Stephen’s back story?

We had no idea, and I don’t think that particular strand of storyline was set in ink yet. I think the writers adopt an approach that first and foremost driving theme of the whole story is the anomalies and the dinosaurs and the creatures, and I think they wait till the last minute to decide what to do with the characters, which can have positive and negative outcomes. With this particular case, no, as the series unfolded, I think they thought this would be the right thing to do. I imagine it was because originally we set out with this two characters, Cutter and Stephen, who are best buddies, and thick as thieves, who’ve got each others’ backs. It transpired either through the performance or the writing –  and Dougie [Henshall] and I agreed –  that they’re both in essence similar beings, albeit Cutter is a professor and slightly older. They’re both jostling for the same kind of space. It’s very hard, unless it’s really written well, for them to be buddies. I think it’s good that [writer and co-creator] Adrian [Hodges] took it away from the buddy thing and thought, “how are these guys going to co-exist with similar wants in life?”

Do you think that the affair happened in Cutter’s original timeline? It’s only revealed after history has been changed at the end of the first series…

Do you know what? That had completely escaped me, and has never been brought up by Adrian, but I sincerely hope that you’re on to something there. That would give it an extra depth. I don’t know if it’s coincidental or deliberate.

In episode five this series, the body language between Stephen and Helen is completely different from the series one encounters…

Juliet and I played that from the writing. She’s in Stephen’s house, and very much more front-footed with him in this series. I don’t know if that’s just because they’re shining the spotlight a bit more on these two and how they are with each other, because we didn’t do that much last series because there were other things to think about, or whether it’s a parallel timeline.

The way I approached it was that the cat’s out the bag. These two know each other more than we first let on, and the dynamic of the relationship is that once upon a time, many moons ago, it was all very physical, as you can imagine between a lecturer and a student. Now, it seems obvious that she’s trying to manipulate Stephen to her game. She obviously needs him for something. He’s going to be useful to her, and she’s doing it in the only way she knows how with him, which is by trying to press his buttons. What you get, if we’re doing our jobs properly, is he’s all too aware of this, and knows that she’s trying to play him, but in the same breath, she’s saying things that he wants to hear, that he agrees with now, which are counter to Cutter’s theories. He’s torn, and then add a little bit of her inherent seduction into the mix, it hopefully ups the stakes a little bit.

Stephen is now the doubter…

He’s quietly Thomas the Doubter isn’t he…?

Did the death of Valerie in episode three trigger him over the edge…

It did. I will always say this – it’s a shame that there’s not room to explore it more within the confines of Primeval, but absolutely that’s what Adrian and I discussed. If you increasingly disagree with what you’re working for, and who you’re working for, and then something huge like the death of somebody happens, it compounds your doubts and gives you a justified platform to voice your doubts, which is what happened in that episode. All these are well placed devices for this character to keep going, and the rift to become wider and wider until inevitably something’s got to give.

There’s a rougher attitude to life this series. People are killed by creatures more, and Cutter kills Leek’s operative…

You’re absolutely right – although arguably it’s manslaughter. It could be self-defence but it was fairly cold-blooded. I think they’ve stepped it up. It’s a tough balancing act. You’ve got an ITV primetime show on a Saturday night, so you’ve got to appease that side of things, and at the same time you’ve got a fantastically ambitious concept which can only benefit by being enriched by more realism. I think they’ve tried to introduce a little bit more realism and a little bit more shock. It’s a shock tactic to have people actually die.

I don’t know whether it’s worked or not, I can’t speak for the audience, but I think it was a good idea, because what else can you do with these characters? Baddies die, but perhaps normally they’re not killed in such cold blood by the goodie. The thing I’d say about Primeval is it goes one way then another. Just when you think you’re comfortable with it being a well made reasonably light hearted entertaining family show, it does throw something into the mix which makes you sit up a bit, which I hope is a good thing.

The way to keep audiences wanting more is by getting them to invest in the characters. I think it’s vital to the success of the show that we keep these characters involved with each other, as well as the creatures, because you can spend millions on a show and have the most wonderful effects but if you don’t care about the people, who cares?

The strongest episode so far has been episode four because of the emotional content…

Everybody seems to have said that. I hope that they continue with that because any new show takes a couple of episodes, or even a couple of series, to find its feet, and the one thing that Primeval could have improved upon, and indeed has, is the emotional content of the characters. I think episode four really did introduce that. It can only snowball from there. You can’t show a little bit of emotion between characters and take it away – obviously it’s got to go somewhere.  I think it’s a good thing.

Were you surprised that Stephen got things so wrong?

When I read that episode I thought, “What they’re doing here is trying to create even more of a rift between Cutter and Stephen, trying to ostracize Stephen more, and if they get him to make a mistake then it confuses him, and adds to the confusion as to whether he’s right or wrong.” I think it was a fair mistake: he got it horribly wrong but it wasn’t one that was blindingly obvious. I think it was an unfortunate mistake and had he got it right it might have given him more of a voice against Cutter. But to be honest, I think Cutter is handling it incredibly well and could have kicked him into touch a long time ago considering what he did. But he knows Stephen’s useful, and they did have a very close relationship, which is straining to be rediscovered.

I think it’s good because fallible characters is a good thing. I pleaded with the writers to give him something that isn’t just about winning the day. To have someone like Stephen who most of the time is doing something heroic, becomes awfully boring to play after a while, and awfully boring to watch in a show where everybody else is doing the same.

I wasn’t surprised, and I thought it can only serve to make him a more interesting person.

Everything’s been ramped up this season – where you aware that it was going to be as big as it is?

They gave us a bit of a snippet but we didn’t know they were going to step it up as much as they have. Normally as an actor, if something does get recommissioned, it’s because the execs have gone, “We want more of the same,” and the word ‘more’ is the one that’s underlined and highlighted with a big pink highlighter. If something works you want to turn up the colour on this sort of TV. It didn’t surprise me when we found ourselves fighting raptors in a shopping precinct in the first episode. I think it’s good. For this show to keep going, it’s got to constantly keep moving, and progress, or go another way. Although it’s a great concept, the worst thing you can do is get lazy with it. It’s got to keep going.

Andrew-Lee Potts was dropping heavy hints that the end of this season has as big a shock as the end of series one…

There’s some big things. The end of this series is mammoth compared to the end of the first series in every aspect: character, monster, action – episodes six and seven are in essence the same episode, one story told over two episodes. It kind of cliff-hangers out of six and concludes in episode seven. It takes two hours to tell the size of story that we’re leading towards. They have different creatures in both episodes, but it’s the same story. That will hopefully be a real bombshell to end it on. Towards the end of this series, everybody shows their true colours, and it really should be something good to watch!

With a third season guaranteed….

So I read. I never trust these things until you’re actually on set with a bacon sandwich in your hand and the cash is in the bank! Nothing is set in stone in this game.

Between series, did you have a chance to sit down with Adrian to discuss the characters?

There were some calls back and forth during the development of the scripts of series two, at least with myself, and I’m sure there were with the other characters. Adrian is very amenable and will listen to suggestions. The problem is with so much going on in these episodes, they’re so full, that we can all have the best intentions but to get a small percentage of where you suggest your character should be going, you’re lucky. It’s all about trust and faith, and you have to have a lot. You have to have a lot of faith in writers – sometimes you can be disappointed, but you’re an actor.

For an ensemble show, there’s been something for everybody so far…

That was important, not just from an actor’s point of view to keep us all interested and therefore interesting, but also to keep the audience going. You’ve got to develop these characters or it’s a dead duck.

What would you like to see happen with Stephen, assuming he survives this season…

Even if a character doesn’t survive the season, as we’ve seen in series one, through the magic of anomalies and time manipulation they can reappear as someone else or indeed themselves!

Back in drag for series three then?

I’d like to see Stephen come back as a drag queen, if indeed he is going anywhere! It’s wonderful for me to be part of a show that has that scope. If somebody did call me in a year or two or three and say, now Stephen’s going to be a drag queen, for sake of example, or a ruthless European Mafioso type, you wouldn’t go “don’t be ridiculous, you’re taking it too far”. It’s got that scope and that’s what’s great about it.

Have you signed your action figure?

I haven’t – I don’t even know where you can buy them! You might have thought we’d be sent effigies of ourselves. We’ve got to put our hands in our pockets like everybody else. I don’t think it’s big enough to sign – I don’t know where I’d sign it. There’d be nowhere that would take the signature!

Check out our other Series 2 ARChive: Andrew-Lee Potts

and our Series 1 ARChives: Juliet Aubrey & Lucy Brown; Douglas Henshall; Hannah Spearritt; directors Cilla Ware and Jamie Payne

and our major exclusive interviews with Ben Mansfield; Alexander Siddig; and co-creator Adrian Hodges Part 1 and 2

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