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Interview – Ben Whishaw Re The Hour

Here is an interview from the BBC with Ben Whishaw regarding The Hour…

Romola Garai, Dominic West and Ben Whishaw star in The Hour – Abi Morgan’s new BBC Two drama which takes viewers behind the scenes of a broadcast news room.

Can you describe your character?

“I play a journalist, Freddie Lyon. He’s what might be perceived as having ideas above his station. He sees himself as being the front man of The Hour when in actual fact he’s such a loose cannon, a maverick, unpredictable, and opinionated, that the ‘powers that be’ wouldn’t dream of giving him that role.”

“In the meantime, Bel is given the role of producer, she’s his best friend, soul mate, sister that he doesn’t have, lover, it’s a wonderfully ambiguous relationship. And finally the front position goes to Hector who is sleek, slick and suave, charming and posh, and all the things that Freddie sort of loathes. So he’s in a bit of a tricky position when we first meet him.”

What attracted you to the role of Freddie?

“I love the fact that he’s very much his own man, someone who thinks for himself, challenges authority, challenges received opinions. He’s a bit of a lone wolf, does his own thing, moves to the beat of his own drum. I like that about him. It’s really appealing. I think he’s motivated by a desire to get to the truth of things. Someone who’s very aware of the fact that we’re fed lies by the people who govern us, and he’s tenacious and won’t give up until he’s uncovered what the truth actually is and that’s very appealing.

“And he’s sort of difficult but funny. I think he’s a funny character. I think Abi Morgan writes him in a way that’s kind of comic at times.”

So he’s a very passionate character?

“Yes! always. He’s passionate about things and he doesn’t do anything by half measures. “

Did you do much research for the role?

“I didn’t know very much about the period. So I read a quite a bit, including Family Britain, which is quite a recent book about life in the Fifties covering all aspects of life which was interesting. I wanted to try and get into the mind set of Freddie, this person who’s a provocateur, and agitator, someone who very much defines himself by being in opposition to people, in combat with people and with the system. I read people like Harold Pinter who began writing in the Fifties and John Berger, a cultural commentator with left-wing leanings. Whenever I came across a quote about Marx I’d go away and research it to get my head around it, which has been wonderful. I also read about the Suez Crisis and everything that was happening in the news in that period of time. I tried to understand that as well as I could.”

What did you find most interesting about the Fifties period?

“What’s most interesting are how much the events then, resonate today. Reading up about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, it taps into the whole energy of what’s going on at the moment, questioning and challenging, which is quite exciting. Egypt is in the news and our relationship with the Middle East is being examined again.”

What did you think of Freddie’s costumes?

“I love them. I even love the fact the waist almost comes up to my armpits! You have more of a centre. It feels nice to me, I felt comfortable. But I think he’s not someone who spends a great deal of time considering clothes, it was just a different mentality about how you dressed then. And again I suppose it’s probably to do with that they were very deferential times – looking smart, sounding smart – I think those things had more value than they perhaps do now.”

Did you look at any original BBC footage before filming to analyse the way people talked and presented on television at that time?

“A little bit … but we decided that we weren’t all going to be very clipped all the time because it might be off-putting for the audience. I think if you had to listen to six hours of people talking, ‘Terribly like that’, it would be distancing and also a bit comic in a way that would be wrong. We decided we still needed to slightly ‘lift it up’ a bit, when we’re doing outside broadcasts or presenting in Dominic’s case. I did watch some of Richard Dimbleby who was the presenter off the first Panorama show. I watched him and news footage. It’s extraordinary to watch footage of early television news and see what maverick producers were trying to achieve with shows like The Hour, what they were trying to change. It was incredibly stiff and incredibly amateurish in a way, news-readers reading from a sheet of paper and very static footage of things. It didn’t have the same dynamism we’re used to and lots of cuts and speed. It was very slow.”

Is it the first time you’ve filmed anything in the Fifties era?

“Yes, and I really like it. I mean I’m judging it by superficial things, I find really beautiful. The rooms and settings are really beautiful and I think the fashion is quite beautiful. They were very austere times, rationing continued right on into 1955, and a period which was perceived as being very drab. I think that by 1956 there was this sort of energy starting to rise, of youth and change and shaking the system, questioning the system which was going to erupt properly in the Sixties. So you can feel all that coming.”

What was your favourite scene to shoot?

“It’s so hard to say because the character gets to interact with so many different people. I’m not sure I could choose a particular one. I have wonderful scenes with Romola. I have some really beautiful scenes with Dominic. I have great scenes with Anna Chancellor and a lovely scene with Juliet Stevenson and people who’ve come in for relatively short periods. I think that’s one of the exciting things about the show, that there are wonderful supporting characters who are really, proper characters, not just generic people – and it’s very rich in that sense.”

How’s it been working with Dominic and Romola?

“It’s been great to work with them, really, really fun. I love them both. They’re brilliant, brilliant actors and have just brilliant personalities – people with really strong flavours. They’re very much themselves. They’re real forces and I really love that. And I think we’re all very different, have different energies and I felt that the combination worked really well.”

Categories: BBC2, Interview, The Hour
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