Atlantis has changed quite dramatically this year – were you aware going into the second year that it was going to get quite such a makeover?
No, to be brutally honest! We assumed that we were carrying on in the same vein as before, and it was really only when we were shooting a scene in the first two-parter, where we are coming out from the caves with the Cyclops. I sling Rob off the edge into the water then Jack and I dive in. We were told we had to reshoot that bit because it was too funny! Last season I remember getting notes saying “Find the humour. Find the humour in every perilous situation.” And now we were getting entirely the opposite notes this year – “no, it’s being too funny. It’s serious.”
Obviously the scripts have changed. I think the feeling was the first season was written for the teatime Saturday evening Doctor Who audience, and it was really a 7 o’clock/7.30 show. It was put out at 8.30 and then the BBC decided that it was going to stay after Strictly, so you need to cater to that slightly different audience. It wasn’t a comfortable fit at that time, I don’t think. So they said “We want it to be darker, a little more grown-up, a bit more serious”. And they’ve done that.
It took a little bit of adjustment from us. The problem is that they kept writing funny scenes and asking us to play it very seriously. This is harder than you think! The groundwork was done in the first series, so we got to know who the characters were and what they were about, as well as the audience, and now you can put those same characters in slightly different situations, and you end with up with a better, richer sort of texture. It has grown up, in a good way.
Also, there are less standalone stories; there are throughlines, some which run right the way through the series, and other characters who have a four-episode story arc rather than just the one. You’re getting to know more about not just our characters, but the guests who come in and influence what we’re involved in. I think it gives it a much richer feel.
There’s a definite serial feel – last season there was the arc with Pasiphae and Minos, but otherwise pretty much the episodes could go in pretty much any order – and things are building constantly. How much have these changes affected the three of you playing the leads? Last season Jason was clearly the Hero, you were the Comic Relief, Pythagoras was the Brains.
I think it has changed. In a way we’re each using elements of the others’ characters; Hercules can have heroic moments, as can Pythagoras. Jason can have a bit of humour as well. That’s come just through the characters having more of a history with each other, which they can write for, and can allow to grow as well. It’s a lot less black and white, if you like: it means the characters are much more interesting. Different aspects of each of them come to the fore at different times.
It is a different show, and I have a feeling that it will possibly lose some of the youngest viewers, but it’s a give and take. The very youngest may find some of it a little bit scary, but it’ll be more their parents going, “ooh, they’re killing people left right and centre – you can’t be watching this!”
I would say that they are both hugely ambitious in what they are attempting to bring to life. The fantasy genre is a tricky one; I’m sure you as well as I have seen very poor versions of fantasy where they’ve gone, “Oh but we can do it cheaply”. You can’t. If you’re trying to create a world that is not ours, that is not aboard a spaceship, it’s tough. It requires a huge budget, which HBO can do.
We don’t have the same sort of financial backing that HBO has; this is a show done on a BBC budget and, given that, I think it’s an extraordinary achievement that they’ve managed to put together something that feels so real on a relatively limited budget.
They told us we’d be shooting in Morocco and Chepstow; I thought that sounded a good 50/50 split. No – we shot two weeks in Morocco, and six and a half months in Chepstow! But I was there and I can’t see the join between the two – I can’t say, now we’re inside, now we’re outside.
It’s not like the old days where film was outside/VT was inside, as Monty Python memorably pointed out!
It is shot on 35mm film, which is relatively cheap these days because nobody is doing it. Everybody is shooting on digital, so the equipment hire is surprisingly cheap.
Johnny and Julian believe that it gives a … well, a filmic quality. It’s designed for the television but it has a grander and much more epic feel.
There’s that granular element back to it as well – there seems to be this quest for perfection in the image, but when you watch an old film, part of its appeal is there’s almost a physical feel to it.
Absolutely! Some of those lenses stretched light – and now they can recreate those “faults” on the brand new lenses to make things have a feel of something less perfect. It’s strange!
I was reading an article about Wolf Hall: I’m not sure what lenses they’re using but they can shoot stuff lit by a single candle.
We’re back to Barry Lyndon – as I pointed out in the review of The Day of the Dead – where it’s almost as if you’re shooting by candlelight…
It is tricky. We do get out of those caves!
We shot that in January/February this year, in the gap in between seasons. It was a seven week shoot so it fitted nicely in there.
I was interested in my character, Rob, because I thought yes, it’s a policeman, but that’s actually the least important thing about him. He’s lost his family, and lost his will to work; he thinks he might be losing his marbles in the course of it, but in the end, he has become a better person. He’s probably going to leave the police but he’s got some sort of life back as a result of what he’s been through.
I found all of that really interesting. That’s only a part of the overall story, because each character had their own arc, and they’re all totally different…
Although they’re all finding somebody: Tom is trying to get away but realises he can’t, Hannah is looking for somebody – not necessarily a father figure but she is…
She finds one.
The scene where Rob bottles the interview was beautifully played – some of the best acting on TV this year – and it was what made the show work so well. It was so grounded.
Without laying it on, it gives you a history to the story, and a background to the characters. You do that work yourself as an audience, without having to be spoon-fed. Obviously it leaves you with a lot of unanswered questions, or questions you want to figure out the answers to yourself….
It was a great to be a part of that. I think Jodie Comer is going to do some big stuff, and it was nice to work with her at the very start of her career. She can do period drama – there are certain actors and actresses who just look contemporary – but she can do anything.
Atlantis Series 2 (Part One) DVD and Blu-ray are available to pre-order now from the BBC Shop.