Ciarán Hinds, who plays Sir John Franklin on AMC’s The Terror, discusses why his character is seeking redemption, why he refuses to listen to Crozier’s advice and shooting Episode 3’s climactic showdown.
Q: How familiar, if at all, were you with Dan Simmons’s novel or the real-life history of this expedition before doing the show?
A: I was completely unaware of both, actually. I hadn’t come across Dan Simmons’s novel, The Terror. I did study history to a fair degree and British history as well, but the Franklin expedition – I don’t know, maybe I wasn’t listening in class or they skipped it.
Q: What aspects of Sir John Franklin did you connect with the most when you read the script?
A: I immediately liked the writing. It felt slightly left-field to me. I was sent the first two episodes to begin with and that just intrigued me. I thought, “This is interesting. They’re actually laying down the foundation for a rather complicated, slow-burning story.” [Franklin] was a fair man. He had experience in the Navy and as Lt. Governor, so he knew how to take the lead but unfortunately, he was not all-seeing and he made some mistakes in his career – one pretty major one where he lost several men in a polar expedition before this one. Here’s a man who believes in his destiny and is driven by God’s will and his own personal glory. There’s something ridiculously Victorian and pure about that. At the same time, he’s a flawed character. He’s a good man, but he just made the wrong decisions. I liked that he was somebody that didn’t doubt that he was right even though he was wrong. [Laughs]
Q: It’s made clear that Franklin wasn’t the first choice to lead this expedition. Does he view this as his chance at redemption?
A: If he’d become the explorer of the expedition that actually did finally break through this extraordinary Northwest Passage and find the route through the Atlantic to the Pacific, that is what he would be known for in history. That would be your calling card to prosperity. Perhaps the other little indiscretions or failures would pale in comparison, but as it turns out, there was the expedition where he lost 10 or 11 men beforehand and then he led these men into hell. At that stage, I guess he was looking for personal redemption and to gain prosperity.
Q: How would you describe his relationships with Captain Francis Crozier and Captain James Fitzjames?
A: He has a fondness for Fitzjames – whether that comes from history, we don’t particularly know. He liked him as a man. I think he might have stood for some of the same morals and ethics that he had. Maybe he saw in him a younger version of himself. I wouldn’t say he looked at Francis Crozier as a son so much as a righthand man and the one who knows how to get the men on their side. The man who is a major connection between top of command and all the laborers working beneath. Crozier has this gift and they saw that he came from a different stock than the other captains. I guess [Franklin] used him in that way, but he was fond of him in a sense. Crozier’s such a complicated character with his narrowness and despondence and drinking. [Franklin] found him very hard to forgive for that behavior. We know that Crozier would have been a better command of the expedition, but he was never going to get there because of the social systems at the time.
Q: Why do you think Franklin didn’t want Crozier to marry his niece Sophia?
A: I think it’s about the social class issues. John Franklin himself came from merchant stock, so he wasn’t aristocracy, but he got himself into a position and worked his way up in British society. As an explorer, that gave you kudos to be recognized by society. The idea is you don’t marry the same as you. You marry upwards and push yourself upwards. Crozier would have been below the mark. Franklin trusted him as a man to work with and as a great sailor, but when it came to the family, he just wasn’t good enough.
Q: Do you think that personal entanglement had anything to do with Franklin rejecting Crozier’s ideas in Episode 1?
A: I think that’s an element of it, but I don’t think it’s the major thing. I think he trusts his own judgement and gets it wrong. Crozier says, “I don’t wish to speak out of turn, but sometimes your decisions weren’t right” and Franklin does say, “You can speak candidly in front of people, but in the end, I’m going to overrule you.” That’s not just stubbornness. It’s reasserting your position as the person who will make the ultimate choice. I think he might have been rankled by Crozier.
Q: Why, after Crozier is proven right, does Sir John remain steadfast in his own plans in Episode 3?
A: He realizes they’re in a terrible situation. At that moment, he realizes a wedge has been driven between them. Franklin decides that if Crozier is not going to pull his weight to get them back on track, despite the fact that something’s gone wrong, then he will just take command. Now that Franklin realizes that this glory he was intent on attainting might prove to be very difficult, he’s determined not to lose any more men. He believes if you send these men out, there’s a possibility to lose more. He doesn’t have a solution himself. He’s just waiting for the ice to break, in hope that they can survive.
Q: When Crozier suggests a rescue party, Franklin finally explodes. How does he feel to finally get so much off his chest?
A: It shows a man under terrible inner pressure. They’ve lost another man who was close to them. Crozier keeps pushing because he knows it has to be done and he pushes so much. Franklin loses his temper, but I think it shows the inner pressure on him when he realizes he’s now out of his depths. He says, “Will you excuse me, please?” and at that moment, it’s like he’s saying, “We have nothing more to say to each other.” Indeed, they don’t meet again.
Q: Sir John meets his demise in Episode 3. Did you know going in that the role would only be for a short time?
A: I just went into work one day and they snuck this giant beast on me! [Laughs] No, I knew exactly what it was and the structure of the piece. To work with Tobias [Menzies] and Jared Harris, who I have enormous respect for, and the opportunity to play sailors together was very appealing.
Q: What do you think Franklin is thinking about in those final moments? What do the various flashes of his life mean to him?
A: They’re kind of odd images. They’re very different. I thought it was just the brain acting randomly. After being savaged like that, there ceases to be any rationale or reason. It’s just the mind abandoned, really. It’s interesting when we have time to reflect if we know death is imminent, but this just happened. There was no time to consider.
Q: How difficult was it to shoot that set piece?
A: It was very exciting because you get to use the power of imagination. There has to be certain rules, like where exactly are we all looking, but the idea of being out there and seeing in your mind’s eye – not your real eye – what you might be looking at and to create moments from that is very appealing. That’s also juxtaposed with the brilliance of the production design of the ship. It was so real. When you’re on top of the boat, you’re in another world completely. You feel everything around you with the costumes. Every time you’d come into work and go into the studio there were all these images of snow and this boat. You just become a part of a crew. Everything was just right for us to be able to go in and do our work.
Q: What was your favorite part of shooting the show?
A: Walking the deck as if I was in control of a ship was quite fun. To have men look at you and salute you and looking at the visual aspects all around. It was a wonderful group of people of different generations. We hung out together and ate together and went to work together. Everyone was very committed, very real and very talented.
This Q&A was originally published on AMC’s The Terror website. It has been reposted here for posterity.