Alex Moreland talks to the cast of Jamestown – dle (Alice Sharrow), Stuart Martin (Silas Sharrow), Luke Roskell (Pepper Sharrow) and Steven Waddington (Marshal Redwick) – about power dynamics, historical drama, and more…
So, I just watched the first episode, and I quite enjoyed it. One of the things that struck me about it was that the series is ultimately about power and authority – how it manifest and who can wield it over one another. Do you think that’s fair to say?
Sophie Rundle: Very insightful. Yeah, in different platforms. There’s the political stage, but the domestic front as well, and everyone trying to survive isn’t it? I think when you go to create a new world and you have a new microcosm of society it becomes very clear what people’s greatest desires are – and you see very quickly the people that want power, and want authority, and want prestige. And some people just want a peaceful simple life, and I think that’s what this is: a study of human nature, and what different people are craving, and what lengths they’ll go to, to get and protect what they want.
Stuart Martin: And the constant shift in power. You know when we first started Season One you ultimately have that power and then very quickly we start … You know men are given land, and become almost in sense become landowners, they become a middle class, who they were tenured men almost, the lowest of the low before. And then suddenly you get these landowners, then you get the burgess and elected council, which completely goes against everything that you want. So, there’s that clinging on to power and over who you hold all this power. And then you’ve got other people who are starting to gain more power, in the New World.
Steven Waddington: Or the illusion of the power.
Stuart Martin: Well, maybe you have the illusion of power.
Steven Waddington: Maybe you have the illusion of power! There’s a way of manipulating people into believing they have power. For example, any government allowing the citizens to believe they have power. Like voting, it’s fun because you can vote for what you want, and [then they’ll do whatever]. So that’s what I mean about the illusion.
Stuart Martin: Land is power.
Steven Waddington: It is but even the possession of land can be manipulated, couldn’t it.
Stuart Martin: Well it is in many cases isn’t it.
Steven Waddington: All property is theft.
Following on from that, do you think historical dramas are more reflective of the concerns of today than necessarily being ‘about’ the past in a literal sense?
Stuart Martin: I think we’ve got very modern relationships and modern characters. I don’t know, I always thought our relationships were very modern.
Sophie Rundle: Yeah, I think every generation has [its own concerns] – it’s the same historically if you look at sci-fi dramas, it’s always representative of a generations greatest fears. Perhaps that is true to say about historical drama as well, it’s our generations spin on their understanding of what’s gone before them. It’s sort of impossible to create a show without that viewpoint isn’t it?
Steven Waddington: And also, not very interesting if you do. If you manage to do it, it’s not very interesting – it has to relate to everything we’re doing in the 21st century, doesn’t it?
Sophie Rundle: Yeah.
Steven Waddington: I think if you manage to avoid that successfully it’s not a very interesting show. I think sub-consciously we watch it, one watches it because you’re absorbing today’s viewpoint.
Sophie Rundle: Yeah – and you’re seeking out, you know, a representation or an understanding of yourself. That’s inherently what drama is, isn’t it? So, it would make sense that it is a collective desire to see represented a manifestation of what’s going on in society at the moment – what’s troubling us, what are we trying to work out – through these characters, through drama that we see in front of us.
Is there anything in particular that you think the show draws on, or reflects back?
Sophie Rundle: It’s the birth of America, isn’t it? What a pressing time to be doing it – politically it’s so tumultuous – to go and look back on where it started and how you create a free country. I think there’s all of that, and I think there are very human storylines – as you say the pursuit of power, and status, and the desire for freedom. It’s all of those things. I don’t know, it’s all got very smart suddenly hasn’t it?
Steven Waddington: It’s Alex, he’s given us the big questions.
Sophie Rundle: You really have.
Well, here’s another one – how important do you think it is to have likable characters?
Steven Waddington: That’s interesting, because you love to hate characters as well. You want to hate your baddies, but love to hate them. If they’re just f***ing annoying you really don’t – [just] get rid of them! That comes in the technique of writing I think – Bill’s quite clever and I can’t think of any character I don’t really like or want to spend screen time with, as a viewer, when they’re on. Also, the pace is so fast, it’s a fast turnover of events and story. So, I think it’s very important to have likeable characters.
Sophie Rundle: They have to be understandable, don’t they? They don’t necessarily have to be heroic, but they have to be realistic, and I think that makes them intrinsically likeable – not in a popularity sense, but in the sense that you find them appealing.
Stuart Martin: Yeah and I think in seeking to be likeable it can sometimes make it the opposite – really likeable character then actually they can be f***ing annoying can’t they? And I think with these characters none of them are the be all and end all of being good or bad, they’re so multi layered. I could say pretty much all of them have done a bad thing, made a bad choice, done something that you [disagree with]. When you read the scripts and you think “Oh f***, don’t do that” – I think that’s what makes them much more interesting than just being the good one, or the bad one. Bill [Gallagher, series creator and showrunner] likes to start you with somewhere – start you as a baddie, the villain, the hero – and then take them on this journey, to see how far you can get to the other side, and see if an audience will stick with that.
It’s quite interesting to do that, especially now we’re in the stage of having done 16 hours, 16 episodes – so if we’re going to do another season, do 24 hours or something [a third season has since been confirmed] – how much can you stick with one character being the good one, or the hero, or the love interest, or the baddie, the villain? It’s much more interesting to go and f*** about with them a little bit I think. So, yeah, they have to be likeable don’t they – but they can still be assholes.
Picking up on that a bit then, what do you think makes your character stand out amongst the ensemble?
Stuart Martin: Silas’ hair I would say.
Steven Waddington: The perm! I don’t think my character stands out, so I’m quite happy. The way I see it, I see things visually, as this big journey that’s going on occasionally passes my way, and I’ll just bat it over there, or I’ll influence things positively or negatively, but I don’t think my character stands out. I don’t think he’s meant to.
Luke Roskell: Yeah, same as Steve for me.
Sophie Rundle: But that’s interesting, that idea of it being a visual thing, because it’s a collaborative story. They all bring in a stroke of colour that you need to create this ensemble piece as a whole.
Steven Waddington: Maybe it’s easier to see each other’s, in a way, because Luke has just said the same, but I love your character and I love your relationships and I look forward to those moments. So that really stands out for me in this chaotic world that goes on. So, it might be easier for people to see –
Stuart Martin: Could say the same for you.
Luke Roskell: Yeah, I’d say the same as well.
Stuart Martin: I do love this thing of going from Jamestown – which is very wood, it’s brown, and it’s mud, framed by this blue sky – to the Sharrow plantation, which seems to have a whole different soundtrack, a whole different sound and feeling and look, [it’s so much more] green. And I like that, that always stands out to me. I like that world, I like filming in that world and I like watching that world.
Sophie Rundle: And the Sharrows are trying to protect what they’ve already got, whereas I think a lot of the characters are trying to gain things, and they’re looking for something. Our family finds it very quickly, and we’re constantly trying to protect that and perhaps that’s a different stroke.
Steven Waddington: There’s also a lot of romance with you two, I know you sort of turned it upside down a little bit, but that really stood out as well.
Sophie Rundle: It’s real love, yeah.
Steven Waddington: It’s a genuine need, and a desire, and a love and all those things that you have. It’s time to change that in Season Two, put loads of obstacles in your way, but that’s really refreshing. And that’s literally the scenery. Every time we go out to the plantation and see you guys there, it is night skies and stars, and I think that’s very beautiful.
When you’re on set, how much of your performance comes down to choices you make intuitively, in the moment?
Stuart Martin: All of them. You do your prep, you know, the night before, your initial read of the script, you make those decisions, but actually you turn up on set – so often you think it will be different but actually it’s there in the script that we’re in the shack, so you automatically imagine the way it’s going to be. But then you turn up and you’re out in the fields, so actually you just go off each other don’t you, whoever you’re doing the scene with. And that’s lovely because we’re such comfortable friendships, and relationships, that’s really lovely to be able to turn up and work with each other every day, and to work something out together. I love that, so it’s part of the flow isn’t it.
Sophie Rundle: By now there’s a different sense of ownership of these characters. Thinking back to the first couple of weeks of filming of Season One, you’re very conscious to serve these things that Bill has written, and the producers, and everyone has this idea. As an actor you don’t often have that much control, but you do get a little bit given over to you, [so] these feel very much like our people. I feel very territorial over Alice, and I know what you guys are going to bring to a scene, so you start to develop it in that way. There are days that you get more freedom than others, there are scenes you get more freedom to see what happens, and sometimes it needs to be very distinct. They need to tell you what to do so it fits in with everything else. It’s a collaborative process.
Steven Waddington: And sometimes different directors will influence it differently as well. Some people like to be very physical with their blocking and stuff, and other people give you free rein, so it’s organic isn’t it? You have a very strong sense of what you want to do and then it’s organic on the day.
Did you have any particular favourite scenes across the series?
Luke Roskell: For me, I love working with Steve, but working with these guys for me is just so much fun. Honestly, every day we’re at the plantation I just have such a good time, so any scenes at the plantation for me.
Sophie Rundle: Yeah, we get quite clubby, don’t we?
Steven Waddington: I don’t know why I’m here!
Stuart Martin: Sharrow business.
Sophie Rundle: But it is true what you say [about] the plantation – when we go and film that stuff it’s in a completely different location, so we’ll go off and do all our stuff.
Stuart Martin: It’s an amazing little space.
Stuart Martin: You drive out an hour – out through the fucking Budapest countryside, it’s beautiful – and then you’re in the middle of these fields in the middle of nowhere, and that’s our plantation. Lots of fields of tobacco, you sit in 30-degree heat, and you spend 12 hours sitting there, the three of us, or five of us, or whoever else is coming there. It’s really lovely you know. Just doing your five scenes for the day.
Sophie Rundle: I thought you fitted in very well Steven. Yeah, we liked you because you didn’t come in and move things. Like people will go into the shack and be using it as a green room and shifting things around. Like, “Excuse me, that is my house.” “Get off my bed”. Stevie was very well behaved.
Steven Waddington: It’s a beautiful place, and it does feel like it belongs to someone else. Like it’s a real ranch or something.
Luke Roskell: It is Stevie!
Stuart Martin: Matt [Stokoe, who plays blacksmith James Reed] gets the same way about his – what’s it called? – a smith, a forge.
Sophie Rundle: He gets really pissed off if you go in, which is obviously really fun to do, and just start moving things around. He’s like, “Just don’t, just leave them.”
Stuart Martin: He gets really angry.
So, like you were saying, you filmed in Budapest – that must be quite immersive?
Sophie Rundle: Yeah definitely. You go out there and you’re there for five months. If you’re filming up north or wherever you can hop on a train at the end of filming and be back to sleep in your own bed at night. But you are out there, so it did feel like actor’s summer camp at times, which was just a really nice thing, because you all bond so much. Where Jamestown is built is an hour outside of Budapest, so you’re travelling two hours each day, and it does help with the sense of that you’re a team or a gang. Also we’re all really similar people I think – I know people always say that, but it’s a really lovely group of people – and we all get on very well. So yeah, it is helpful.
Stuart Martin: The other thing about not filming in a studio, I think, is that thing of going and filming exteriors outsides of houses, then going into a studio for a month and forgetting where you’ve just come from [doesn’t happen]. It just makes our job simpler I think. That sounds a bit lazy, but you know you get changed, you get into costume, and then you walk down into Jamestown, through the gates. The green room is the pub, or whichever set you’re not using. Deano’s [Dean Lennox Kelly, who plays Meredith Rutter] always got his little bag of fucking dominoes, so you sit round and have a game of dominoes. It’s nice. I’m not saying we feel like we’re in it, but you sort of go from inside to outside on the sets really easily.
Steven Waddington: It is like an existing world isn’t it? And geographically, we are away from home, we have travelled a little bit, the horizons are different, the sunshine is different so it does feel like you could be in America, you could be in that place – that lends itself well to this little toy town where we muck about.
What would you say are your chief creative influences when you’re working on Jamestown?
Sophie Rundle: Different for everybody isn’t it, I think. Where we stay has a big courtyard in the middle of it, and everyone will come down at night with a glass of wine, and inevitably we all end up being like “Yeah but what do you think about this?” and “I don’t think your character would do that”. There’s a lot of discussion, which is quite nice, because at the end of the day we all really love our jobs, so we bounce of each other quite a lot. And then everybody else works differently, you know people use music or images. I don’t know, do you guys do that much homework?
Stuart Martin: Steven doesn’t even read the script.
Steven Waddington: It gets to a point where it’s second nature – you just know who you’re playing, what you’re going to do, and how you’re going to do it. And then it changes as well, as it becomes organic. But that’s a great idea because there is a hub, there is a place where, without even realising it, we are talking about and discussing it.
Stuart Martin: Well if we get the bus back at the end of the day, we’re all on these buses together. Get a little can of beer, and then you know, you do, you chat about it. Because you get the scripts through and your character might get chucked from there to there, and you sort of really try and join up the dots. You know you think “How do I… I don’t think he would act like that” or “I don’t want him to act like that” – but the reality is you join up those dots, so the problem solving that comes with that. We all love it, we love the stories and we love the world, so we are all sort of mulling it over, and chatting it over.
Steven Waddington: Yeah, we’re actually doing more than we think we do, or more than I thought we did, consciously do.
Stuart Martin: When you’re there – it’s so long ago now – but it is a wee world isn’t it?
Steven Waddington: It is, isn’t it? [At the beginning] you kind of think that you get scripts, you read the scripts, you have your interpretation, you think of what you’re going to do, and then that’s it. [But there’s] the read through, we have little rehearsals as well at the beginning, and discussions, introduce the new directors, and decide which way we’re going to play it. I guess we never stop really working.
Sophie Rundle: Yeah.
Steven Waddington: Although it doesn’t feel like work.
Sophie Rundle: Yeah. Which I prefer. It’s much nicer to sit and just chat. Because that’s what [we’re there for] every single person who’s on the set, doesn’t matter what department they’re in, [is there] just because they love story telling. And that’s what it is, and that’s what we all kind of get off on, just chatting about stories and characters, so it doesn’t feel like work.
What can you tell us about what happens to your characters across the series? Without spoilers, of course.
Stuart Martin: Trouble in paradise.
Sophie Rundle: Yeah.
Stuart Martin: Not that’s it’s paradise.
Sophie Rundle: What?!
Stuart Martin: I mean the world. Our life is paradise. Within the… can I start again? In Season One, everyone wanted to f*** up Alice and Silas’ world. You know, they were off on their own, miles out of town, and constantly people were pecking away like vultures and trying to destroy that. Then with Season Two people start really pulling them apart and chucking more barriers in their way. So, you just hope that the two of them will be able to come through together. It’s hard for them.
Sophie Rundle: And now they’ve got a child in this terrifying new world and that brings in different dynamics – for everybody actually, everybody is affected by the arrival of this baby. For Alice it certainly brings out a new side of her, like it does for everyone when they become a parent. And then the threat of her needing to protect this family that she has.
Steven Waddington: For mine, there’s different layers of vulnerability. He doesn’t ever show that he’s vulnerable or that he would like to think that. There are a couple of areas that I’m not sure I’m allowed to talk about or elaborate on, but he does actually allow himself to become vulnerable, and [on another occasion] doesn’t allow himself but has no choice. So, it’s showing a different side to my character, which is quite refreshing for such a stern character.
Luke Roskell: And for me [it’s] basically trying to step up and become like my older brothers, to be honest. Now that Pepper’s a year older he just wants to be part of the action I think, and prove himself to his older brothers, so that was really nice throughout.
Steven Waddington: And he gets the chance to, yeah.
Luke Roskell: Yeah, he mans up. So that’s nice.
Just to round everything off then – what would you most like audiences to take away from watching Jamestown?
Stuart Martin: [I hope] that they’ll fall in love with the world as much as we have, fall in love with the stories. When we get the scripts, we get really excited about reading them – we get drip fed them in a way because of how they’re written. You get episode one and two, and then three and four as we film, so you get really excited and it’s like you’re reading a book, with each next chapter. So, I hope that the audience love that journey as much as we have.
Sophie Rundle: Yeah totally. We all really fell in love with it, and I think it’s the kind of programme you can fall in love with, and you can sit and binge watch – it’s escapism, and it looks so fucking beautiful. I hope it’s just a really pleasurable, enjoyable story that you get can sucked up in. [check!!!]
Steven Waddington: And people that I’ve met, who love it, they really love it, so that’s a great indication for me. You know, they don’t just like it, they really like it.
Luke Roskell: Just echoing on what the guys said – we fall in love with it ourselves so all you want is the people who watch it to feel the same. We’re very proud of it so yeah, I hope they fall in love with it. You better!
Thank you very much!
Jamestown is available now on DVD and Digital Download.