Justin Cook caught up with The Man in the High Castle cast members Alexa Davalos, Rufus Sewell and Jason O’Mara and executive producer Dan Percival at New York Comic Con. First and second season spoilers lie ahead…
When it comes to dystopian fiction, perhaps none is as scary, or as consistently timely as Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, which imagines a world in which the Axis powers won World War II and the United States has been divided by the Greater Nazi Reich and the Japanese Empire. Amazon Video’s adaptation of the work is gearing up for its third season and the cast/executive producers of the show were present for the “World of Philip K. Dick” New York Comic Con panel, where a chilling sneak peek from the forthcoming season was unveiled.
Returning series stars Alexa Davalos and Rufus Sewell, cast newcomer Jason O’Mara and executive producer Dan Percival were asked a few questions by Flickering Myth about working on the show, their characters and providing a startlingly human portrayal of Nazism.
In the new season, Sewell’s John Smith is faced with “worlds” that are beginning to “crack open,” while Davalos’ Juliana Crain tries to make sense out of the return of her sister (or alternate reality version of her sister), Trudy. O’Mara is remaining mum on character details, but he will be playing Irish-born Wyatt Price, a man who has learned to survive as a hustler in the Neutral Zone. He will cross paths with Juliana and could play an important role in the Resistance.
Jason, what was it like joining the cast of The Man in the High Castle in the third season? Was everyone receptive to you coming on board?
Jason O’Mara: It certainly felt like they were… (jokingly) but they’re actors, you never really know…
Rufus Sewell: We were more receptive to his face.
O’Mara: And really good actors too. [In all honesty], I got a lovely, warm welcome. This is a train that’s already left the station and it’s like [I’m just] hopping on as it moves. It’s been very exciting, it was something I was really really looking forward to and is delivering on its promise. It’s just trying to find the character’s place in this world and what he’s going to add or take away from it. That’s been the journey for this season, for me, anyway.
Rufus, what’s been your experience playing a character like John Smith and marrying his brutal side with his human side that has a family and cares deeply about them?
Sewell: It’s a great opportunity to approach the truth, which is a far more responsible thing to do. I think Nazis are more prone than any other kind of character type in films to be rendered into werewolves, vampires, zombies, aliens. Why is that? The fact is, what’s scary is that they’re humans. And they’re not like German 1930s humans — they’re humans. All of Germany went Nazi, for various reasons. Some people were particularly anti-Semitic or angry, some of them weren’t, but it happened to an entire country. That means it happened to people… it takes a normal person and there’s a system that suppresses what’s good in them and brings out what is dark, and it is very very effective. [The role] is an opportunity to show what can happen to people.
O’Mara: There’s no sense of individuality in fascism. There’s no space for it. It’s really about the collective.
Sewell: Well, there might be one big hero to worship at the top of it.
O’Mara: Sure. But the individual really doesn’t matter. So to get to know your character and to see the humanity behind the uniform, I think is interesting. Because it really, in a sense, shouldn’t exist according to Nazism.
Sewell: Exactly, and what people do to do deal with their doubts. Some people will fund their doubts into examining and pulling things apart; some people’s doubt will turn them into fundamentalists. It’s often the case that the people who are prepared to die for it are the ones who feel they have to atone for some doubt. My feeling about Smith is because he has these doubts, it makes him more dangerous.
Why do you think the works of Philip K. Dick still resonate with audiences today?
O’Mara: It probably comes down to genius, honestly. I mean when you can’t quite explain why some of the ideas he was playing with so long ago have become not only relevant but even more relevant as time goes on, as we get closer to A.I. and these different kinds of anxieties that we seem to be experiencing at the moment, you realize he was touched with something that the rest of us mere mortals just don’t have. It’s probably genius. Every page [of his works] just drips with ideas — probably too many. There were so many ideas he didn’t even fully get to flesh them out. He was moving onto the next new idea. We’re dealing with a guy who carried this stuff around with him and was trying to find a way to work it out, and here we are 50 years, two shows [and multiple] movies later.
Sewell: It seems that his recurring theme is… what are we? What do we do to survive? How do people continue to exist? How do they rationalize their existence? How do they exist in the world? That’s what this show is about. What happens to the subjugated mind? What happens to the fascistic mind? How do we cope with the changing world around us and keep our humanity, and what is our humanity? That doesn’t change. The world continues to change, and we continue [to attempt] to deal with it all.
Is the environment on set ever uncomfortable due to the subject matter?
Dan Percival: Yes.
How do you make it feel more comfortable working on the show?
Alexa Davalos: We don’t. Which is fine. I mean it’s palpable absolutely, and it should be. I think the fear would be that we’d become immune to it, or that it would become just a normal day work. It’s not. It can’t be. I think that’s part of what makes it… what it is, energetically and emotionally, the way that we’re connected and the way that we react to the environment we’re in. I think it’s very important.
Percival: We don’t ever want to get comfortable with it or used to it. Sometimes there’s some gallows humor because we have to cope too.
Davalos: We have to survive.
Percival: But when we’re shooting on the streets and we’re dressing locations, we cover all Imperial Japanese signs and Nazi signs until the last minute. There are two sets of boundaries of warning signs to pedestrians of what we’re filming. They’ve gotten very used to us in Vancouver now. But there are moments where, in one case we were shooting at UBC, which is a university there, and they asked us to move the [filming] dates because they had a Jewish delegation coming in from Israel — absolutely, without question, we’d do that. We’re acutely sensitive of the power of the symbolism that we’re dealing with, and we don’t want it diluted. We want to keep reminding people of the danger and the threat of rallying behind this kind of symbolism.
Based on Philip K. Dick’s award-winning novel, and executive produced by Ridley Scott (Blade Runner), and Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files), The Man in the High Castle explores what it would be like if the Allied Powers had lost WWII, and Japan and Germany ruled the United States.
The Man in the High Castle is set to premiere in 2018.