The Aliens: Interview: Jim Howick

The AliensHorrible Histories, Yonderland and Stag star Jim Howick plays Dominic in The Aliens, E4’s new genre series starting on March 8th. He’s one of the aliens, but has dreams of making more of his life than his situation allows – for in this world, aliens have arrived and then been ghettoized. The series follows Michael Socha’s Lewis, one of the guards of Troy, the aliens’ living area, as he makes a discovery that turns his world upside down – and he needs Dominic’s help. A few days before the show began, Howick chatted with Paul Simpson…

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Playing Dominic on The Aliens is obviously something quite different for you from what we’ve we known you for in recent time. How did you get involved?

The AliensI got sent a script and I auditioned.

I had just finished work with a First Assistant Director, John Jennings, who was on Stag with me, the show on BBC Two. I was flicking through some records at the record store at the end of my road and heard a bang on the window. It was John on the locations bus for The Aliens – although I didn’t realise that at the time. We got chatting; he was with the producers and the director, and when they drove off, he must have recommended me! I got a call later that afternoon, got sent the scripts, read them that night and went in the next day and auditioned.

What did they tell you about your character in terms of background and the world?

At the time, very little. I was just sent the scripts, and read them, which is what I prefer to do, because it’s nice to get a sense of how the story is being told. It’s up to a director or a producer to embellish a story around the script later on, which we did in the audition room. The first thing was reading the scripts and taking the dialogue itself and creating a character based around what I could read. The scripts were so great; I hadn’t read anything like them before. The tone was so stylish, it screamed style. I just loved it.

The AliensHow many scripts did you get?

Two episodes, and then a couple of scenes to prepare for the audition – the scene where Dominic and Lewis go back to the flat, and also the one in the car when Dominic picks Lewis up, and Dominic talks about how he’s a T-and-A man.

Very much going for the homoerotic undertones…

When you first meet Dominic, you immediately know that he’s infatuated with Lewis, within the first 10 seconds. That’s very broad. It’s not something that we investigate – it’s just there.

What’s fun is that it’s something Lewis has to temper through the entire series, it’s fair to say. Dominic knowing [Lewis’s secret] doesn’t help Lewis in his quest for tempering… Dominic takes advantage. It makes it quite interesting for me. It’s very fun to play.

The AliensDid you feel that Dominic’s homosexuality was used as part of the satire?

No. I think Dominic just happens to be a gay character. There’s a real effort to make the aliens as humanoid as possible, which then encourages paranoia throughout the entire show. If they had gills, or three eyes, then that would cease to exist.

I think as far as the satire goes, what the story of the aliens is alluding to resonates throughout history – people being subjected to being partitioned off, ghettoes, favelas, apartheid, things like that. I think that has existed for many years.

That’s a great scene where a fantastic comic called Tom Davis does a little cameo for us; Lewis enters Troy for the first time, and Tom burns his hair. That’s the only real test that the aliens can carry out I suppose in that respect. What sets us apart is our fur.

Did you need to find a different mindset to play Dominic?

I think my mindset was that I should pull back from any broad alien physicality choice, or any blinking or sniffing or anything that would make an audience consider me different in any way. I think what was important was that we blend in, and are no different.

To begin with, when I went into read, doing something like that was in the back of my mind, but I quickly erased any perceptions of what I might be doing on set.

ALIENS (DRAMA)And everyone would need to be doing the same thing…

Yes, it would have to be something organic, a choice that was universal for the aliens in the show. It’s a can of worms – and it doesn’t really make things any better. You might as well go all out and give them three eyes or something.

The show’s not going the Doctor Who route of being a science fiction adventure…

No, it’s much much more of a crime caper in that respect. The fact that we’re alien doesn’t really count in that respect – it’s not like V when you get that tantalising reptilian skin under normal skin. I don’t know where it might go but for the first series, it’s very much you accept that these are aliens, these are humans, this is how they’re being exploited. The first series focuses on Lewis’s struggle with who he is, and what does it mean?

Does Dominic have a clear arc through the season, or is your character a mirror for the audience to see sides of Lewis?

There’s definitely a separate arc for me. Dominic finds his own path later on in the series; he gets himself in situations without Lewis. He goes his own way for a couple of episodes.

The AliensWhat was the most challenging aspect of playing him for you?

It was just getting an idea of how to adapt. What Dominic provides in the story is the heart, and to a greater extent, the comic relief in the story. Really what I was doing wasn’t anything different from what I do in a lot of shows as far as energy and timing are concerned but what I had to get used to was the brutal nature of the tone.

I’m doing what I normally do, but at the same time I’m shooting people and watching people get murdered and buried alive, and go through it with that face on. That’s where I had to adapt – more to my surroundings than as an individual.

Does Dominic realise that he’s the comic relief?

No, absolutely not. Absolutely not. He doesn’t know that he’s a clown. He just goes about his business. He wants to better himself the whole time, and I think his positive nature and his general outlook, provides a comic relief in what is otherwise a really bleak story.

 

The Aliens starts on E4 on March 8th.

 

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