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Interview – Dominic West Re The Hour

Here is an interview with Dominic West from the BBC regarding The Hour which begins on BBC2 soon…

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.

How would you describe your character?

“Hector is the charming and charismatic front man of The Hour, a topical news programme set in a Fifties newsroom.”

And a little about his background?

‘”Hector went through the Second World War and was decorated for bravery and married into quite a rich family. His father-in-law is a friend of the Director of News at the BBC as well as being connected to politicians. Hector rose very quickly from presenting a sports show, which is probably what he is more interested in, to becoming front man of The Hour.”

What do you think his character represents or says about the era?

“Hector represents the confusion of the era, longing to escape the world that his distinguished upbringing has afforded him, yet also afraid of being outside of it. He forms a close bond with Bel Rowley and Freddie Lyon, the brilliant young members of the newsroom, who spark his desire to rebel in a politically explosive era, but he is still shackled to the establishment.

“He’s perhaps more old-school than anyone else on the team and he’s less keen to rock the boat and irritate the government or to question their judgement and authority, partly because he’s of that previous generation but mainly because he’s very ambitious and wants to get ahead.

1956 is an often-forgotten period of time, why do you think it struck a chord with writer Abi Morgan?

“I think what is interesting is the bridge between the amazing generation that went through the war and the following generation who came to flower in the Sixties.”

“You always think of the Fifties as being incredibly conventional but it seemed like that because the change was so enormous. The older generation was coming out of the Edwardian period and the younger generation was the modern world as we know it.”

What did you learn about that period?

“I was surprised at how much censorship there was. I always knew that political views and the media in general were more deferential towards the government and the authority of royalty but I didn’t realise the degree of censorship that existed as a hangover in the late Fifties from the War. I also didn’t take on board just how cataclysmic it must have felt with the Cold War and Russian invasions and of not being protected by the Americans anymore, of being bankrupt and the situation in the Middle East. It’s strong stuff when you compare it to our relatively peaceful times.”

What was it about the project that appealed to you?

“Abi’s great and original writing and the fact Romola Garai (Bel Rowley) and Ben Whishaw (Freddie Lyon) are in it. It’s my parents’ generation, a fascinating time, so I felt I knew it quite well and what I didn’t know I was interested in finding out.”

The period details have been brought to life in The Hour by Oscar-nominated production designer Eve Stewart, who worked on the set from The King’s Speech, how did the work of the design team help creating the character?

“I had a scene yesterday where I was carrying a memo that was supposed be a top-secret MI6 memo from 1957 to a Downing Street press advisor. This memo – I never see it and the camera never sees it – was actually written as a top-secret memo from the Fifties, so you read it and you’re transformed straight there. The team here is extraordinary in that kind of attention to detail.”

How did it feel bringing quite a recent period of history to life?

“The people that I know from that generation cannot wait to see this. It was a beautiful time and women and men did look amazing and the music was good and the cars were great so it’s an aesthetically pleasing period. It doesn’t take too much to get into character, you just put your suits on and get the hair done and you feel great. My wife insists that I have my hair like this all the time. This is how men have looked best for the past 70 or 80 years – a suit and a good haircut.”

Would you have like to have lived during that period?

“I’m very nostalgic generally and I do get a pang when I read the newspapers or watch the television shows of the time. You think it was a more innocent, slightly simpler world, less crass than the way we are now, but then you sit in the canteens full of smoke with pineapple saveloy in front of you and you think thank God for Jamie Oliver!”

What research did you do to get a sense of the period or the job of the newsreader?

“I found that I didn’t need to do any research on the presentation of a news show. I watch and listen to a great deal of news – I should try not to because it’s so depressing – and it is such a part of my culture and my consciousness.”

‘”The director Coky Giedroyc, put me onto a Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster film called The Sweet Smell of Success (1957), which looks really beautiful and evoked a particular style of that period which isn’t overly glamorous and reflects the quite dark subject matter, the amazing photography still stands up today.”

“I also saw Good Night and Good Luck (2005) directed by George Clooney, but it still feels like a modern film – the lighting and editing. Whereas those from the Fifties aren’t, although they did seem to go over the top with the cigarettes and the booze. We marvel at how much they drank and smoked.”

What can the audience expect from watching The Hour?

“The viewer gets three for the price of one. They’ve got a murder mystery spy thriller, a romance and a political news show. The politics of the time has an extraordinary resonance with journalists investigating or scrutinising if the government went to war illegally and there’s the romance of the suits and the clothes and the beautiful Romola in a love triangle with me and Ben. I’d watch anything to do with the Cold War and that amazing time where the British establishment seems to be split between those who were spying for the Russians and those who were trying to keep the Empire going.”

What have you thought of the parallels today, in light of current world news events?

“It is extraordinary how cycles happen and how we seem to be in a Fifties obsession at the moment. I don’t know if it’s like fashion, but consciousness seems to go in cycles. Ten years ago the Fifties were absolutely derided, an appalling time. Maybe it’s the people in charge, my generation, are just trying to be like their parents!”

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Categories: BBC2, Interview, The Hour
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