Interview by Tara Bennett for SYFY Wire, 10th April 2018
As we continue our weekly The Terror episode postmortems, showrunners David Kajganich and Soo Hugh, along with cast members Jared Harris (Crozier), Nive Nielsen (Lady Silence), and Adam Nagaitis (Hickey) talk about their character motivations as the dark night of winter envelops them all.
The episode begins in England with Commander Sir John Franklin’s (Ciarán Hinds) wife, Lady Jane Franklin (Greta Scacchi), forcefully trying to persuade the naval admirals to seek information more urgently about the whereabouts of her husband and the crews of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. However, we know that Franklin has perished, leaving Crozier and the surviving men in a bleak place.
Let’s talk about why you started the episode back in England with Lady Franklin stalwartly standing up to the British naval officers.
David Kajganich: There’s something really interesting about having witnessed someone die on one side of the globe and have that most beloved person not realize it. There’s something really sad about the fact that she’s going to be trying to launch rescue missions for the next 10, 15 years, and she still believes he’s alive. But the audience is in the position to know that she’s wrong. So there’s a lot of pathos in that situation. But we also wanted to embrace that her story is pretty darn interesting. Here’s a woman who, not unlike Crozier as an Irishman, wasn’t really given a platform to be listened to in the way that she ought to have been. She was an interesting explorer in her own right. She would never have been allowed onto one of these ships, but as an overland explorer she was quite savvy and quite insightful about all kinds of things.
And I wanted to make sure that after having proven the fallacy of Franklin’s hubris, to go back and see where that hubris gets born. All of those men sitting around that table, that’s the factory for a lot of the hubris that comes out of this story. It’s almost like a hubris incubator, the Admiralty. And so we wanted to see someone who also didn’t have a voice that was valid enough in their eyes to be listened to, approach them from a different direction, and just show how all of this gets made worse and worse and worse.
From a costuming perspective, what did you want to say about Lady Franklin and Sophia (Sian Brooke) with what they wore into that meeting with those men?
Annie Symons (Costume Designer): I wanted to give them strength. I wanted to give them really strong colors. They are slightly suffragette colors, which are just there if you want [to see] them. Also, it’s the power of that feminine species in that all-male environment. Lady Franklin was the driving force behind all of this. Also, she’d been an explorer in her own right. She was a force to be reckoned with. With the audience, everybody is also craving color, so it felt like it was about throwing the color in there. And the daftness of these bonnets, in a way. Even the most proto-feminist, strong women would’ve spent hours pondering over what kind of flowers and feathers to wear.
What does going from civilized society scenes back to the ship environments do for the overall tone of the episode?
Soo Hugh: In this episode, the crew see the last sunrise (as winter sets in). We thought it was really poignant to set up an episode where, for our men on the ship, they’re facing the coming of the night. And then seeing that Victorian light contrast, I think it just creates a lot of sympathy for our characters, for our men. I think it shows how forlorn their situation is, and it makes you really weep for them.
Jared, let’s talk about the flashback we see of Sophia rejecting Crozier, which really happened. You were able to read letters by the real Crozier. How did all of that impact your performance in terms of establishing his mindset?
Jared Harris: It was absolutely accurate to say that the doomed love affair with Sophia was playing heavily on his mind when that journey started. It might be more accurate to say that from a historical point of view, but did it cloud his judgment, because we don’t know exactly what really did happen. Did he make the best decisions? Because he was in a very depressed state of mind.
That’s obviously not the story that (author) Dan Simmons is after, and not the story that Dave and Soo are after. But you know, it’s interesting when you read stuff like (his letters) just to see an idea of what someone’s state of mind was. And how their mind works, because for instance, he didn’t have a lot of punctuation. It was almost stream of consciousness. You know, he left school and his life when he was 13 and joined the navy. So he would have had a limited education beyond that point.
Adam, your character Hickey takes more of a central role in this episode. How much of the book’s characterization influenced your approach to him?
Adam Nagaitis: Aside from his name, and his role and his movement through the story, the character is essentially different. A lot of Hickey was created as we went on. It evolves in a way that you can’t really predict, and it was an organic process for me and Soo and Dave together. Who he becomes is just unpredictable.
How much would you say the claustrophobic environment of the ships influence Hickey’s actions?
Adam: For Hickey, his mind is just so callous. When you are surrounded with this shrunken roof (in the ship) and below those three decks, and if you can’t always go outside, you are always stuck, in a sense. You have to find a new space within yourself to find calm, to engage in thoughts, and to do whatever you need to do to find your own privacy. You end up being private, in public, in a very interesting way. That’s a skill that some people develop and some people don’t. I’d characterize that Hickey has that down to a T. He’s a natural at that.
Hickey gets a good look at the creature in this episode. Did you, the actor, want to see the creature design early on so it could inspire your acting reactions?
Adam: I wanted to. I just assumed I would not see it. But I saw it at exactly the same time that Hickey sees it. I think Dave may have done that on purpose.
In this episode, the fear that the men have of the creature, and what they assume is Lady Silence’s connection to it, is growing. Nive, talk about how you wanted to portray this woman who is thrust into this tense and surreal scenario with these foreign men.
Nive Nielsen: I think Dave at the end of the audition asked me how I imagined this woman to be, and I said that she would be a strong woman. That she wasn’t a stereotypical portrayal of an indigenous person. And that is also how I see Inuit women today. Inuit women in general are pretty strong and independent, and they know how important they are. When you’re up in the Arctic and the elements are what they are, everybody depends on everybody. And I think that’s the reason why we’re an egalitarian culture, because the elements wouldn’t allow any other way.
Was there a primary throughline that you kept in mind in regards to how she responds to being in this situation?
Nive: I thought it was really interesting to imagine seeing a ship for the first time. In a way, it’s like getting into a UFO ship, right? So it’s interesting to imagine that and then to know how recent that actually was. I know it’s like 100 years ago, but still, it’s not that long ago. I still have friends and people I know who are from even harder-to-reach areas up in the Arctic where my friend’s grandmother remembers seeing white people for the first time. And then having firsthand stories about what that looked like and what that felt like, and then how terrifying that was. It’s very interesting to me, to think of that.
Soo, talk about the scene where we start to see a connection between Harry Goodsir (Paul Ready) and Lady Silence.
Soo: We knew when we were in the writers’ room and we talked about that scene where Goodsir tells her their mission, that “We’re here to find a Northwest Passage, our route to China” and how he sees the hollowness of this word. We knew in the writers’ room how crucial that scene was. And then seeing it in the edit, you know, that’s sort of lightning in a bottle, where you know a scene is important and in fact it turns out just as important as you thought in your head. It’s so gratifying to us. And their chemistry, it’s not a traditional chemistry. You can’t tell if this is a romantic pairing, or is this a sibling bond pairing. What is this relationship? We loved just how unique it was.
Aside from Crozier speaking to her in her own language, Goodsir is the only person to show her real kindness. It feels important.
David: Well, I think in a show that people know that the stakes are going to be life and death, and they know that people are going to make some fairly morally difficult decisions and even repugnant decisions, it seemed important to keep reinforcing that the show considers empathy a value. Literally nothing is being communicated in that scene except through body language and tone, because they can’t understand one another yet. But what she does know in that scene is that they’re looking across this cultural divide, and this divide of language, at someone who means well. And in a show where there are a fair number of characters who don’t mean well, it seemed important to have the audience be able to know that there was going to be at least a couple of storylines that would reward them for caring about these characters. That empathy was an important currency in this show. That it would have lasting consequences.
Soo: And that’s the hope of this show. The bond he creates with Lady Silence could save these men. For the audience, what we want to set up is that there’s other routes to salvation in this show aside from violence. And Goodsir is very much the root for that narrative.
This article was originally posted on SYFY Wire but has since been deleted. It has been recovered and reposted here for posterity.