Ciarán Hinds on the horrors of The Terror, Sir John Franklin and working with a monkey

Interview by Alex Fletcher for BT TV, 11th April 2018

The Northern Irish actor speaks to us about his chilling new drama series, ‘cold acting’ and his furry co-star.

Ciarán Hinds has starred in some of the most epic and acclaimed series and films of all time.

He played Mance Rayder in Game of Thrones, Gaius Julius Caesar in Rome and his big screen credits including Harry Potter, Munich and Tinker Tailor Solider Spy.

His next adventure is the chilling and critically acclaimed AMC series The Terror, where he plays the leader of the doomed expedition to the Northwest Passage, Sir John Franklin.

A man brimming with Victorian hubris, it is Franklin’s burning ambition which leads the ships into terrible danger and where the horrors of The Terror begin.

What did you know about Sir John Franklin and the real HMS Terror before the show?

I knew absolutely nothing about John Franklin or the expedition. I studied history and liked history up to A-Levels, but that story never crossed my path. I wondered why and you realise that the things you do study in history are what changed us and when we achieved things. Because this didn’t work out, it gets quietened down a little, compared to the great victories. I’m sure everyone with an interest in the history of the navy would know about this man, but I didn’t know a thing.

Why did you want to be a part of this series?

It’s fascinating. When they sent the script, they were fascinating because they didn’t follow a normal formula, they were just slightly off-kilter. I immediately dived into good old Wikipedia to learn more about these men and find out who these guys really were. That’s the amazing thing, because this is all real… up to a point. Then it becomes imagined. The drama sneaks its way into this show and suddenly it all turns…

It would be easy to make Franklin the villain of this story, but I actually felt sorry for him as he makes his mistakes…

Whatever he did, the things I read about him, he was not a bad man. He’d got a lot of experience and he’d made mistakes. I don’t really think he was pompous, but he was a believer in God, Queen and country and there was a sense for him that this was his right. I don’t think that makes him a bad person, it’s just how he was carved at the time by the society at the time. You should be judged on your actions and his actions weren’t negative, he just made the one big wrong choice. He was maybe pushed into the wrong choice by his desire to complete the journey and become this great figure in history, but it doesn’t make him a bad man.

He had been on failed expeditions in the past – do you think that haunted him?

I think he did want to absolve himself and slightly cover over those events with something more great and glorious. What had happened previously in life would become a hiccup on the way to a massive achievement. Maybe that was in the back of his mind when he was making these decisions. But I also think on the show we see him being driven by his wife. She believed that he’d done all his hard work, been on many expeditions and this was now his turn to be on the top of the ladder. He’s obviously not stupid and he’s considerate, but he’s flawed. We’re all flawed. But his major flaw was that he really wanted this achievement now.

What was the monkey like to work with?

My mate the monkey. Maximillian he’s called. We had to train with the monkey, we had to become friends with him, leave treats around for him and stuff. In fact, our brilliant production designer, an English production designer who built the ship, he came in when I was training with him and he said, ‘Is that Maximillian?’ I said, ‘How did you know?’ He said, ‘I worked with him on the Borgias’. This monkey gets around!

Poor Greta, who plays Lady Jane, she had a terrible time with the monkey. It was an awful day. The monkey was all over her hair and the wig and we just ploughed on doing the scene, she did incredibly well, because it was all over her. I would never have got through the scene.

How cold was it on set?

Not as cold as it would be at the Pole obviously. But it was pretty cold. They took the heating out of the studios and when we were filming in the winter in Budapest, there was ice floating down the Danube. It was only -1, -2 or so, but when we were in the studio it was it even colder because they were massive warehouses we filmed in. So it got down to about -10. Thank god for the thermals!

We did joke about who could do the best cold acting, we were all very competitive. But thankfully we got the real deal as there is something that happens when you’re body is cold. You tighten in a certain way that I don’t think you could recreate.

I have to credit the make-up team as well. You’d bump into a cast member and say, ‘Jesus man, you look freezing!’ and they’d say, ‘Don’t be daft, it’s just make-up’.

Do you think there are lessons we can still learn from Terror?

I think there are always lessons we can learn. There is imperialism, colonialism, a sense of divine right and arrogance in this story. But we also know inside this time, there were good people working to maybe ameliorate things. I think something to take away is about understanding other cultures and different ways of seeing the world, which are as right or wrong as you are.

This interview was originally published by BT TV. It has been reposted here for posterity.