It’s a funny thing being an television critic. Every so often, your ordinary life is thrown out the window and you’re sent to the other side of the country, where you have to deal with a whirlwind of press conferences, briefings, parties, and interviews as part of the bi-annual TCA (Television Critics Association) confab. During this January’s festivities, I sat at a table with Outlander star Tobias Menzies for 18 minutes. We weren’t there alone. It was me, Tobias Menzies, the lovely Jared Harris, and two other journalists. It was a “roundtable” interview setting for an upcoming AMC limited series featuring both Menzies and Harris called The Terror.
The Terror is a taut thriller based on a fine book — and we will get to it closer to when the show comes out in March. But today, I want to talk to you about something weird that happened during the roundtable interview and why I think it’s worth talking about. I’ve interviewed Tobias Menzies something like five times before this one encounter. In the past I’ve always talked to him about Outlander. It’s one of the big shows I cover and so I know that whenever I have time with the cast of Outlander, I should be expected to ask questions about Outlander. Why? Because Outlander is great, Outlander is interesting, and Outlander offers up a lot to talk about. So, knowing that I would have 15-20 minutes in a roundtable format with former Outlander star Tobias Menzies, I told myself that if I had the chance to lob in an “off-topic” question, I should ask him something about Outlander.
Here’s the thing: Tobias Menzies also used to be on my personal all-time favorite show…a little drama called Rome.
Outlander fans, have you seen Rome? I think a lot of you would like Rome. Imagine Game of Thrones, but with more full-frontal male nudity, and no dragons. Tobias Menzies played the conflicted aristocrat Marcus Junius Brutus and he was very, very, very good in it. The reason why Rome kept leaping to the forefront of my mind on this particular occasion was because The Terror reunites Menzies with one of his big Rome co-stars, Ciaran Hinds. In fact, there’s a scene early on in The Terror where Menzies and Hinds are sitting side-by-side and Menzies’s character makes an allusion to Julius Caesar, and the TV nerd in me wanted to scream, “CAESAR’S SITTING RIGHT NEXT TO YOU, BRUTUS!”
So, there I was, sitting at a table, staring at Tobias Menzies, fully aware that I had, for once in my life, the perfect excuse to bring up the show Rome…so, reader, I did.
When there was a lull in the conversation, I said to Menzies, “I have kind of a nerdy question for you.”
“Yeah?” he said.
“One of my favorite shows is Rome, so I was really excited to see you with Ciaran —”
“I LOVE THAT SHOW!” Jared Harris interjected, as Menzies nodded with a laugh.
“— Hinds. What was it like working with him again after all those years?”
“With Ciaran? I know, Caesar and Brutus. That’s right,” he said. “And funnily enough there’s a kind of echo — there’s a slightly father/son relationship in this and there was obviously in that.”
Then, with a thick layer of sarcasm, Menzies said, “I mean, you know, Ciaran is one of the worst people in the world.”
“Very grumpy,” Harris added on.
“Not charismatic at all!” Menzies joked. “Really tough company.”
“Can’t hold his booze…” Harris deadpanned.
“No stories…so, it was pretty tough!”
After the laughter died down, I followed up and asked, “But do you find as an actor — when you get to work again with an actor you haven’t worked with in years — do you find certain rhythms or do you see how each other have changed over the years?”
“You know, I was super young when I did Rome so I didn’t know what I was doing then,” Menzies joked, before adding, “Ciaran’s one of our finest actors, so it’s always great to get in front of the camera with and he brings so much to the part.”
And that was it. One polite actor complimenting his co-star. Was it newsy? Is it buzzy? Does it tell you a lot about The Terror or Outlander? (Or even Rome?) Nah. But I don’t regret asking the question for a moment, because Rome is one of the shows that changed my perception of what a television show could do. The way most of my peers feel about Breaking Bad or The Sopranos is how I feel about Rome, so when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped. I asked the question because I loved that show — and apparently, Jared Harris did, too. (Which…that’s cool to know, right? Well, it is for me.)
This interview was originally published by Vulture. It has been reposted here for posterity.