April 14th, 2012 by thetvchick
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, ABC is airing a miniseries this weekend, written by Downton Abbey scribe Julian Fellowes. I have sung the praises of Downton on this site, so I am very excited for this miniseries. We all know the movie Titanic, but this miniseries doesn’t just tackle one story. From the first class right down to the crew, we will see fictional (and actual) characters in a story we sadly know the ending to. I recently had the chance to talk to Linus Roache, who plays Hugh, the Earl of Manton, about his character’s story, what sets this miniseries apart from other Titanic stories and working with Julian Fellowes.
What originally attracted you to this project?
I really liked the idea when I got told the idea before I got the script. I thought it was smart to try and create a piece of event television that would commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s maiden voyage and the sinking. And to do it in a way that is different from the James Cameron movie, and try to tell the stories of the multiple aspects of society that were on that ship at that time. So that it would be about the whole ship and not just one sort of romantic story. So, I liked that and when they told me Julian Fellowes had written it, I liked it even more. I really liked what he’d written, so that was great.
Absolutely. So talk a little bit more about your character Hugh, Earl of Manton.
I’m playing a fictitious character, obviously upper class, aristocrat, and an earl. As an actor, I’ve actually never played anything like that before. So it was great for me to have a stab at it. And I really liked what Julian had created on the page which was someone who’s quite progressive in his thinking, yet very much of that class, accessible, warm and with a sense of humor. So I found that I could feel the man, get a sense of who he was. And often with aristocrats, the upper class, you can sometimes find them impenetrable and a little removed, and that’s why they can be quite hard to play and to relate to. But I didn’t find that with Hugh, so I liked him.
Interesting. And just from reading a bit about it, Hugh might have a big secret in his past. What can you share about that?
Well, it all comes out in the wash, as it were, in the first episode, but yes. It seems that Lord and Lady Manton are on the bridge maybe to try to repair their own marriage a little bit. And then something about his own mis-handlings come to the surface. But they’re also traveling with their daughter, who’s a suffragette. I break her out of jail at the beginning of the first episode. It’s quite a complex family situation. I’m being a little cautious about the answer, because I don’t want to give away too much. But part of the whole idea of the show is that all these lives, in the face of this disaster, is that what’s underneath comes to the surface. So their secrets are no longer secrets.
One of my favorite parts about Julian Fellowes’ work is that while he writes a lot of period pieces, to me, they don’t feel like period pieces. They feel very progressive. Do you think that is the same with this project as well?
Yeah, I think because he’s able to write accurately to the time and the period and the different classes and how they clash. He’s very observant of that. But at the same time, why I think he feels current and relevant, is that it’s very human. He’s not just objectifying it. For example, I think Geraldine, who plays my wife, does an incredible job because she plays this woman who’s really trapped in her society, in her level of society, and has never ventured outside of it. And you can look at her and go “Oh, she’s a snob.” Well, she is, but you realize this human predicament she’s in. She’s a victim of her own class as well. And so it becomes very poignant, because you see this sort of human struggle in all this separation.
And you’ve done a lot of procedurals in your career, how different and challenging was taking on this role?
Partly I’ve built my career on doing very different things. Some I get more known for than others, doing Law and Order, obviously, in the U.S. So this for me was another string to my bow because I’ve never played the aristocrat. And I was very happy they came to me, because I’m not always the first choice for these kinds of things. So I always love a challenge, and I always love playing a different color. It’s interesting how things come at the right time. It was just perfect because I had done so much work in the U.S. and was actually longing to do something in Britain again. I really was attracted to doing that.
I’d imagine the sets and the costumes were pretty amazing to work with.
Oh yeah! We had the best, really. A wonderful costume designer, great costumes, and also the sets were amazing. We were out in Budapest and they built a sort of working promenade deck, lifeboat deck and the cabins and the dining room. Most of it was done on the set. Sometimes we would go into interiors of old buildings in Budapest and shoot things. But most of it was done in the studio and it was very impressive. And we had a water tank as well. A lot of stuff was done inside the tank, and I’ve never done that before. We had sets that were sliding into the water and all of that. For television, it was pretty epic. It was kind of quite strange, because I took the job with a character driven period piece. We did a lot of epic stuff and the CGI looks incredible. I was blown away, I couldn’t believe it. I saw a screening in LA the other day on a massive cinema screen and it held up. It looked amazing.
You mentioned you were a fan of Julian Fellowes before you started the project, so what was your experience like working with him?
I just have enormous respect for what he’s able to do, which is remarkable I think in terms of writing for a large ensemble. That’s his strength. Really, not many people can do that. And I thought the narrative style that he chose for this piece was very brave and fresh and new and interesting. And the script I got delivered was pretty much word for word, scene for scene, the script that we shot, that you see on screen. He masterfully composed the whole piece and then we went to work and committed it to film. And he came out to visit us once, and he seemed very happy. And he seemed very happy with the end product. He really knows his stuff. He really does understand drama and television and he can write in a way that I think few people can. I was a fan of his because of Gosford Park. Downton Abbey hadn’t hit America yet. Gosford Park was really my memory of him.
Do you think that this story fits very well into the miniseries genre? I’m a big fan of them and they aren’t done so much anymore.
It does because I think it has to be a miniseries because we know it has an ending. (laughs) People saying this is Downton Abbey at sea — well, it might be but Downton Abbey is not hitting an iceberg. So this by its very nature, had to be a miniseries. I think to be honest, you’re having a better airing of it in the U.S. because it’s going to air over two nights. And I think because of the narrative style, that’s actually a stronger way to see the whole thing. Just watching it episodically week after week, will be a little hard to hold some of the freshness of the narrative. Whereas when you see it all together, the cumulative affect is quite profound.
You touched upon it a little bit, but obviously with the story of the Titanic, we know the ending, we know a lot about it. So what do you think makes this mini-series stand out?
This series stands out because it’s a story of the whole ship. And it’s not just a romantic sweep of a love story in the midst of it all. It really is taking you through first class, second class, steerage and crew, and giving you a sense of the world at that time and the many different lives. And also the cultural differences that are represented on that ship. So it was like this microcosm of the world, or at least the western world, that we’re traveling and trapped in that hull. And I think that’s what’s different, when you think about it.
Titanic airs over two nights, starting tonight at 8 PM on ABC.Tweet