Shelley Marsden speaks to Belfast star Jamie Dornan and his fellow cast members for Channel 4’s ambitious series New Worlds…
THE lead cast of New Worlds, a four-part drama follow-up to 2008 drama The Devil’s Whore (the first episode premiered on Tuesday, April 1 at 9pm) are here to talk about their roles in Channel 4’s latest epic, beautifully shot period drama, capturing the political struggles of the period following the English Civil War both at home and overseas.
Leading its ridiculously good-looking cast is Belfast-born heartthrob Jamie Dorner , as outlaw and idealist Abe, smouldering suitably throughout.
THE SMOULDERING HERO
The former model proved he could act in Belfast crime drama The Fall, alongside Gillian Anderson, for which he’s been nominated for an IFTA. He is also playing Christian Grey, the dashing lead in the film version of bestselling erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey – but makes it abundantly clear he’ll not be talking about that. Fair enough.
Joining Jamie him to talk all things 17th century are Aussie actress Alice Englert (Beautiful Creatures) as Hope, Joe Dempsey as Ned ?? and Freya Mavor (Skins, The White Queen) as Beth, the over- protected daughter of Countess of Abingdon Angelica (Eve Best) a character we first met in The Devil’s Whore.
Penned by Peter Flannery & Martine Brant, New Worlds – and spanning two continents and the period up to the Glorious Revolution -is about love, loss and the human price paid for the freedoms we enjoy today. It is exquisitely realised, and it may be depicting an important and bloody chapter in history, but make no mistake – it’s a rollicking romp with feasts for the eye and a good amount of sexual tension, namely between Abe and his ‘Maid Marian’, Beth.
The drama follows Angelica, now Countess of Abingdon, in the 1680s. The restored Monarchy of Charles II has betrayed its promise of tolerance and reverted to tyranny with the likes of torture, show trials and summary executions. At Fanshawe House, we rejoin Angelica now Countess of Abingdon, as she tries desperately to protect her daughter from a country yet again on the brink of chaos.
BREAKING THE BUBBLE
But when outlaw and idealist Abe breaks into Beth’s sheltered world (at her birthday party in the manor’s grounds, no less) he jolts her into consciousness, asking her if she can really standby as the liberties won with her father’s Civil War blood are destroyed.
Meanwhile in New England, the colonists attempt to throw off the distant but steely control of the English Crown and Hope (Alice Englert) and Ned (Joe Dempsie) find themselves on the brutal frontline.
For Jamie, whose bravado on-screen is offset with a certain self-effacing shyness off it, Abe Gough represents a desire and necessity for change, one visible to a certain extent in all the main characters.
“OK, so it takes Beth about four episodes to catch up, but she gets there”, he laughs. “It’s that fight against injustice. We can’t have another tyrannical Stuart on the throne, and Abe shows his frustration through aggression, violence and a certain quickness to use his fists. He realises that talking and shuffling and signing papers get you nowhere fast.”
“it takes Beth a while to grasp the seriousness of the political situation”, adds Freya. “She’s lived in a very sheltered environment with her mother, but through this encounter with the rugged Abe Gough, she has an awakening as her eyes and her heart open to a whole new world. Wow, that was cheesy….”
Was sweeping her off into the forest in the middle of her own birthday party to give her a wake-up call about the real world beyond her mansion the best or worst present Abe could have given Beth, I ask Jamie?
“The best”, he says, grinning like a Cheshire cat. “What girl doesn’t want to be swept off her feet on her birthday? It’s like being at a crap party, then somebody comes along and says look, I know a great party up the road…”
THE MORAL COMPASS
Joe believes Ned has gone on the longest ‘journey’, becoming the moral compass of the piece as his conscious begins to tell him right from wrong: “He’s being groomed to take over his father’s business but his devotion changes as the series progresses. His conscious gets the better of him and he joins the revolutionary cause; it’s a real education for him. In modern screenplays it’s hard to find such men of conviction; it was an amazing role to play.
For Alice, who spends most of her on-screen time with Ned, the pair are the epitome of the ‘original young Americans’ who at least initially see things in a simple, American dream kind of way. She says: “It was black and white – the colonials are good and the Native Americans bad. She’s driven by Puritanism and revenge, but she starts to realise her feelings and instincts are being judged and repressed within this community, and so the world begins to get more complicated.”
There’s a lot of action in New Worlds, unsurprising given the tumultuous times it portrays, and the cast have plenty of stories about how they got on when they had to leap across streams, scale mountains and learn how to shoot.
Joe reveals he managed to almost knock himself out with his own gun, and says he’s no lover of action scenes. “They’re a test of your metal. They’re really fun for half an hour- then you’re really looking forward to sitting in a well-lit room and saying some words. The moral ambiguity and the political conversations for me are far more interesting.”
Jamie, on the other hand, admits he loved running around with a gun, and enjoyed taking a pop at his love interest’s ineptitude: “Freya was terrible. She didn’t even have the strength to pull the trigger on a gun. I think she said ‘My hands aren’t designed for this gun…’ ? I loved it, but I did so much running, with these animal leather shoes that basically have no soles and no support. I bloody sprint everywhere.”
Says Joe: “Learning about the old fashioned pistols was eye-opening. The prop guy told me when you fire a pistol, there might be a second delay when the charge went off, and I said right, so if someone shot at you, you might have time to move out of the way? He said yes you did, but it would have been ‘ungentlemanly to do so’ at the time!”
RESEARCHING THE ERA
E ach actor had a different approach to researching the period. Scot Freya was recommended a book called Cavalier, by Lucy Worsely, which she explains followed the Cavendish family in the 17th century and all the intricacies of that time, from childbirth to the way you held your cutlery.
Alice made unashamed use of the internet. “Google, baby! But you know what; it was fascinating to understand the lives people led. People did actually die for what they believed in. That was important for me to gage the emotion of the people.”
And Jamie? “Joe and I watched the entire Sex and the City boxset…which were Joe’s.”
Creators Peter Flannery & Martine Brant say they hope New Worlds will prompt viewers to make parallels with their own times, and Joe says during filming (last summer in the West Country), it wasn’t hard, as the second uprising in Egypt was happening.
It highlighted the difference between the Britain you see now and the Britain of New Worlds”, he explains. “When any drama series address social and political issues, it’s amazing how there are always parallels to be drawn. It almost shows how the status quo seems to be preserved, rather than changed.”
He adds: “The closest thing we have to Abe Goth these days is… Russell Brand. All you can do nowadays is go and mouth off on Newsnight; you don’t really go around shooting people, not in this country anyway.”
CHANNELLING RUSSEL BRAND
So is Jamie channelling his inner Brand with Abe? With the rock-star tousled locks and the skin tight leathers the comparison isn’t as outlandish as it might sound.
“I’m slightly more camp”, he smiles. “I don’t think I thought about Russell Brand once over last summer. I do like his writing, particularly on sport for the Guardian. Why am I talking about this?!
New Worlds, Tuesdays, Channel 4, 9pm.