Paul Ready, who plays Doctor Henry Goodsir on AMC’s The Terror discusses his character being up close and personal with the creature, his fascination with Lady Silence, and how he never saw Dr. Stanley’s final act coming.
Q: How much of this story did you know before being cast on the show? How much research did you do on the real Goodsir?
A: The whole world was new to me. Surprisingly I didn’t know anything about the expedition, which is really surprising, considering it’s a whole period of British history, but I suppose – because of what happened – it’s not something British history shouts about. I couldn’t believe that something so major in history was there and I was completely unaware of it. I realized what a big event this was and what a big disaster – still one of the biggest naval disasters, I think. I read the novel and then I did as much research as I could before we started.
Q: How deep did you go in deciding who Goodsir was as a real person or did you more want to stick to what was in the script and develop him as a character in your own mind?
A: I went as deep as I could because I think, for me, you gather all the information you can, as many angles as you can and then you choose what’s useful as you consider the character that’s written in the script. The script is ultimately where I have to start and finish. Little things like knowing that his father was in the medical profession was a big thing and that his brother was also in the medical profession and quite successful. It gave me little hints of what I might be able to use. Why were any of these people going on this expedition? Some were going out of necessity, for financial reasons. Other people were going for adventure and other people were going to make their name. I thought it was useful that part of Goodsir’s journey was, apart from adventure and curiosity, that he wanted to make his name as well. That’s useful to get on the ship, but then circumstances pretty quickly take over.
Q: Goodsir is a bit of an anomaly on this crew. How would you describe him and how he fits into the larger dynamic of the expedition?
A: He’s certainly an open-hearted soul and a curious individual – and that is what drives him, I think. His desire to understand different cultures, his desire to understand even the surgery he’s doing. He’s still an assistant surgeon. Back in the day, there wasn’t any formal training. You observed how surgery was done and you learned on the job. His inquisitive nature is at the heart of who he is, but he’s not just a good sir. Ambition is important. He doesn’t always follow the rules. He has to break them where he can, subtly. When his superiors are telling him that this is none of his business, to keep his nose out, he still continues to burrow and find out what he needs to find out. Even though he’s a good fellow, I’d say he doesn’t always play by the rules, and I think that’s important as well.
Q: What does Goodsir think of Dr. Stanley?
A: I think it’s very difficult [for Goodsir to work for Stanley]. Dr. Stanley is someone who blocks him at every turn, it seems. I think that’s why he’s found more of an ally in Dr. MacDonald on the Terror. I think he’s there to learn and he finds it very difficult to have this obstruction above him. As the voyage goes on, Goodsir becomes a little bit cheekier. There’s a part of one of the episodes where he starts to be cheekier towards Dr. Stanley, and I think that’s how Goodsir undermines that relationship.
Q: Goodsir has been up close and personal with the Tuunbaq twice already. How do those experiences affect him?
A: I think he is tied to science, but I think he is also open to wonder, open to the unknown and to the unimaginable. Dr. Stanley, from Goodsir’s point of view, doesn’t leave space for the unknown element in the world, but I think Goodsir is ready for it. Goodsir is ready to be surprised. Having said that, being faced with a creature that is terrifying and unlike anything he’s ever come across before – how does he cope with that? He’s obviously shaken to his bones by it. I mean, there’s no doubt about it. What I think gets him through that experience is his curiosity. He doesn’t know what it is. It’s terrifying to him. What can he do? He can study and see what creature it could have been. Is there any record of this creature? Is it a bear? His curiosity is the thing that gets him over his fear.
Q: Why do you think Goodsir becomes fascinated with Lady Silence and learning her language? What is he hoping to accomplish?
A: I don’t think he does things particularly to please his superiors. I think he’s doing things because he sincerely wants to know. At the time, going to the Arctic was like going to the moon and the people that lived in that culture were so foreign. I’m sure that Goodsir was projecting. In his imagination, he’d already projected so much on the Inuit people. I think this is his chance to discover something, perhaps to be the authority on, hopefully. I can imagine, in his dreams, he could become the authority on this culture, for example. Even though he’s a good man, there’s an ambition in there. There’s an ambition to really study the culture.
Q: When Crozier vows to take away Lady Silence’s protections, how does Goodsir feel?
A: I think he completely disagrees with Crozier in that moment. I also think, unlike many of the characters, I think he’s open to the guilt and shame of what it means to go into another culture. I think from very early on, in Episode 4, he’s talking about why they are there and looking for this Northwest Passage to open up trade routes – and it already starts to ring hollow. I think that he’s really affected by the way Lady Silence is treated by Hickey. He feels very protective and very guilty. I don’t think there’s romantic love. I think it’s more like a sibling love eventually, I would say, but he does feel protective of her.
Q: How does Goodsir feel when he sees Lady Silence has cut out her own tongue? Does he bear guilt of not being able to protect her?
A: I think he’s horrified by the moment, but of course he’s already seen an example of her father’s tongue being removed. I think when someone he cares for walks in the door and is covered in blood, I think he’s really worried for her and really horrified. I don’t know about guilt in that moment.
Q: Goodsir discovers that all of the men are at risk for lead poisoning but Dr. Stanley doesn’t care. Why do you think Goodsir doesn’t break rank immediately?
A: I think he was very careful before he went to anybody with his theory. When he sees the gums of Morphin, that’s when he starts to suspect something. He carefully studied Jacko. To a modern reading, I find it quite shocking for a caring character to be experimenting on Jacko. I mean, he obviously knew it was going to head towards death, but it’s a different time period. To our modern sensibility, I think it’s extremely cruel. So, when he goes to Dr. Stanley, he’s convinced because of the studies that he’s done. He expects Dr. Stanley to do something about it immediately, but I think as soon as [Stanley] says, “You don’t talk about it anymore,” I think he knows he’s going to go to somebody else with this information.
Q: What does Goodsir make of Stanley’s suicide?
A: I think he reacts with horror. I mean, he knew there was something deeply wrong, deeply depressed about this man, who seemed embittered by life, but I don’t think he ever expected that he would go this far to kill himself and put other people in danger. Also, he’s the main medic on the ship. I think it’s terrifying to him that, not only the act, but what he’s doing is putting the men in danger because he’s the guy with the experience and knowledge of the medical world, which Goodsir doesn’t have. I think in that moment, it explains everything about why Stanley didn’t particularly seem bothered about the information he was given and it explains everything about how he’d been acting for the whole trip.
Q: How do you think Goodsir will carry on now that he is officially the doctor for the expedition?
A: I think a moment as big as that is just too overwhelming. After the dust settles – well, actually the dust doesn’t have time to settle because by the end of the episode he obviously realizes that he is the only surviving medic. I think that is a moment of fate landing on him and feeling completely out of his depth.
Q: Which of the many terrors faced by the crew would you least like to face?
A: I’ve got to say I think there’d be a lot of things I would be afraid of. Initially, I imagine there would be some camaraderie among the men. So, I think facing a harsh, unknown environment – and it becomes very apparent very quickly that they might not have the tools to survive it. I think, faced with a harsh, unknown territory and land, I think I’d be quite unnerved by that.
Q: What was your favorite aspect of shooting the show?
A: For me, it was a really great shoot and a great experience. I won’t forget how – after doing all the research I’d done about the ships, about how Victorians lived, about the knowledge that they had of the Arctic or the polar regions at the time – I still won’t forget walking into the studio and seeing the ship for the first time. That was jaw-dropping for me and a bit emotional to finally arrive on set after all the working on my own — and to see this incredible, detailed replica where I’d be working for the next few months. That was pretty epic.
This Q&A was originally published on AMC’s The Terror website. It has been reposted here for posterity.