Interview: Olivia Williams, Harry Lloyd and Nicholas Pinnock Talk ‘Counterpart’ Season 2
The critically acclaimed sci-fi drama ‘Counterpart‘ returns to STARZPlay this Sunday for its 2nd Season, which sees more spy drama set in a “cold war” between parallel worlds.
If you haven’t caught the thriller yet, it stars J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson in ‘Spider-man’, and Commissioner Gordon for the DCU), as Howard Silk, a low-level bureaucrat at a seemingly innocuous UN agency. He’s trudging through his latter years of a life filled with regret, that is until he discovers the agency is hiding a secret… It’s protecting a gateway to a parallel universe.
We had the opportunity to sit down with some of the cast – Olivia Williams, Harry Lloyd and Nicholas Pinnock – and chat about what comes next for their characters. Olivia plays Emily Silk/Burton, wife (and ex-wife) of Howard Silk, who is way more involved than she initially seems. Harry stars as Peter Quayle, the Alpha (aka “our side”) OI Director of Strategy. And Nicholas portrays Ian Shaw, an aggressive OI Housekeeping operative on the Prime side (aka “the other side”), and former boyfriend of the Prime Emily. Let the interrogation of the operatives commence…
Geektown: Olivia, let’s start with you first because out of the three of you, you’re the one that has an Alpha and Prime character that we know of at the moment. Your Alpha character spent most of the first season in a coma, but at the end of the season, we see her wake up. I’ve seen the first couple of episodes of the new season, so we do know that she’s going to be walking around a little bit in Season 2. How was it actually getting to play that character properly for the first time?
Olivia: Well… in a way, I’m not playing the [Alpha] character that was hit by a car because I wake up and that person has been wiped from the hard drive. My challenge, my research, which I loved doing, was into people who have suffered total memory loss, which from the potential factor point of view was a joy to explore exactly what kind of memory loss she has. She has difficulty reading and she has words, random words, which she can’t grab hold of. But since you’re from a show with the word “geek” in it, the geek angle on it, that’s thrilling is that the woman that was hit by the car knows information that is the linchpin to Season 2. Both Emily Burton from the other side [i.e. Prime Emily], and the woman who wakes up who can’t remember anything [i.e. post-coma Alpha Emily], are in search of the woman who was hit by the car [i.e. pre-coma Alpha Emily].
It’s a kind of pincer movement. Gradually these two people are trying to find out who she was and what she knew. That was a complete world to get to play. The woman who wakes up who’s such an innocent, she’s but a 50-year-old child. Everybody’s coming to her and saying, “remembered anything yet? Anything you want to tell us at all?” She develops a very intuitive sense of who is lying and who is genuine. That was my incredibly interesting acting challenge this season.
Geektown: So you end up playing three versions of the same character? As if this show wasn’t confusing enough!
Olivia: [Laughs] Yeah, exactly right! I did need a bit of Justin’s therapy occasionally going, “Who am I? Why am I here?” No, it was a joy. It was a joy. I can’t believe I got the chance to do it. It was a bit of a dream come true, really, as an actor.
Geektown: Harry, you’ve had an interesting journey as well, because, although we don’t know anything about Quayle’s counterpart, your character’s turned from being this smarmy privileged guy to somebody for whom everything could fall apart for at any moment. How was it playing the evolution of that character?
Harry: I kind of get the sense that he’s someone who’s never really been out of his comfort zone and now, he’s not only is he out of his comfort zone, but every step he takes he’s fucked. He’s about to lose his life, his privilege, his job, his wife, his marriage, his child. He’s on his own and is a man who’s never really been on his own before. I think we’re gonna learn what he’s made of. I don’t think he knows himself. I don’t think he’s ever really been challenged and so the beginning of Season 2, he’s still trying to have it both ways.
He’s got his uneasy alliance with his wife. He’s trying to make this fake new alliance with the new character that Betty Gabriel plays [a former FBI agent hired to root out moles in the organisation] in terms of finding his wife. He’s stalling for time. He’s pretending to catch Lambert, but he’s not really. All we can know for sure is this is not gonna last very long. Shit’s gonna hit the fan.
Geektown: Then, Nicholas, again, you’ve got no counterpart that we know of at the moment. Where do we find your character in the 2nd Season?
Nicholas: Shaw kind of goes on a bit of a journey by himself. We see him confronting elements from his past and his past comes to catch up with him, really, in various ways. That’s all that I can say… and I don’t even know if I should’ve said that, but anyway [laughs].
Olivia: You’ve just been chucked by Emily…
Nicholas: Yes, Emily dumped him, so he’s a bit of a lonesome figure. Love is a big element in his story.
Geektown: I know you can’t tell me, but I will be very interested to know if we are going to see Shaw’s counterpart at some point. Do you know anything about your counterparts even though they’ve not shown up on screen?
Nicholas: Yes, from Season 1, we all knew who our counterparts were and what they were doing, even though they weren’t all revealed. We do know them, yeah. Absolutely.
Olivia: The other thing that I’m gonna help Nick out with, because he’s way too discreet [Nicholas laughs], what Nick told me about his story is that Emily Burton chucks him, but then realises very quickly that she needs him professionally. So having just said “you’re chucked” and telling him to get his own apartment then says, “but I need your help on this incredibly impossible mission”. That is where he has to decide whether he’s going to stay involved with someone he cares about professionally and emotionally, and that makes him incredibly vulnerable for the rest of the season, and then there’s a whole other plot which he’s been very discreet about.
Nicholas: What Olivia said! [Laughs]
Geektown: Do you ever have problems trying to keep the plot line straight in your head because you’re dealing with two different versions of characters? Or, in your case Olivia, three different versions of the character. Do you find it easy to keep that plot going in your head and does it get confusing sometimes on set which versions you’re dealing with?
Olivia: It’s very easy because my costumes are colour coded, so if I’m going I’m wearing brown, I must be the one that’s lost her memory. We have a wonderful director in episode one called Charles [Martin – ‘Marcella’, ‘Skins’] who came on set and would say “You have just come here from the Office of Interchange… You have just been shot in the arm…” and that really helps place you at that moment where you should be. And then Justin [Marks – show creator] is an open door… The one thing I can’t do… I can keep track of my character, but I have a very, very, very loose grasp on what’s happening to other people [laughs].
Harry: When there are lots of different things happening at the same time, I think it was a really good idea for Season 2 is that Episode 1 is totally on this side, then Episode 2 is entirely on the other side. Episodes 1 and 2 are really setting up where we are now, it’s this very uneasy peace. The doors [between universes] are closed, the other side is not acknowledging this body. Everyone knows that Indigo are the antagonists, but no one’s really taken responsibility. We look like we’re on a very slippery slope to all-out war, but no one’s really saying it. And management itself, it seems, can’t be trusted.
We’re setting that up. I think Episodes 1 & 2 very cleverly separates it, and then Episode 3 is where we start linking the storyline, and that’s when the thriller aspect kicks in again. I’ve always just thought Justin’s writing is brilliant in terms of structure. He knows how to write a 10 episode movie, for want of a better phrase. As I thought last year, Episodes 1, 2 and 3 set it up. Episodes 4, 5, 6 are the big twist. Episode 7 was the reveal, then Episodes 8, 9 and 10, were similar but with a different inimicality to it. It’s got a wonderful flow to it when you see it together.
Geektown: You mentioned management there and up until now, we’ve only really seen management as this disembodied set of cameras on this weird device. We are we gonna get to see a bit more of the management now. Do you wanna just talk about a bit about dealing with that side of things?
Olivia: Who told you that? Are we allowed to talk about this?
Geektown: Well, you do see a bit more of that in the 2nd Episode of the new season. I don’t know…
Olivia: It’s completely brilliantly done and brings in this other generation. I’m 50, and so much of our politics that we’re dealing with now in the world are to do with what my parents did, or what my parent’s generation did. Justin is not intimidated by producers, and is prepared to put octogenarian actors on screen, and have them have an incredibly important role in what happens in this drama and the choices they made. I was in a series with Harry about the invention of the first atomic weapon, about Los Alamos, but what those guys did on that mountaintop 50 years ago has brought us to this place and Justin explores that in this season. I don’t think I’m telling too many spoilers by saying that [laughs].
Geektown: No. I think you’re okay! The production design throughout the show I think is really fascinating because you’ve got our technology which seems a bit more advanced than theirs… But one thing that has slightly bugged me all the way through, which hopefully you can explain… The old office computers on our side of the line – they’re these old, 80’s/90s green text, CRT computers. Is it ever explained why the offices use those sort of old equipment?
Olivia: Yes. Yes! Because every piece of equipment that we have now can be hacked. And, actually, when the American embassy was built in Berlin, they ended up writing to each other on pieces of paper with pencil because the place was so bugged and so completely rigged that no other form of communication could be guaranteed that it couldn’t listened in to. Harry is so desperate to speak to you that he’s snatching the phone out of my… [laughs]
Harry: Also because at the point of departure, when these two worlds kind of split and they ended up forming the office of interchange the technology remained along this baseline, so we still have the same 1989 IBM computers because that’s what we both shared. Since then, they had to spend all their money into distant technology to deal with the flu virus. Our side turned out smart phones and Apple and all that kind of stuff, but in terms of the computers we had the shared files on, it deliberately set pre-split, as it were, which also then gives it this Cold War aesthetic. There is kind of a plot reason for it.
Geektown: Last question. If there was another parallel world you could visit, what’s the one change you’d like to see compared to here?
Harry: World peace, no conflict.
Olivia: Yeah. I don’t know, which invention fucked it up? Do you think it was the atomic weapon?
Harry: I was just thinking about Brexit… we could probably do without that…
Olivia: Actually, can we just do without 2016, I think?
Olivia: It fucked everything up.
Geektown: Yeah. That’s good. We’d get Prince back as well if we take out 2016.
Olivia: Yes! And David Bowie!
Geektown: Alan Rickman as well.
Olivia: Yeah! Okay, I think we’ve all agreed on that!
Geektown: Remove 2016, okay. Brilliant. Well thank you for spending a little bit of time to chat. It’s been lovely. I’m looking forward to watching the rest of Season 2.
Olivia: Thank you. Great questions.
‘Counterpart‘ Season 2 will premiere at 8am on Amazon Prime Channel STARZPlay from Sunday, 9th December 2018.
For those of you confused as to what is StarzPlay, it is an addition “add-on” channel you can get via Amazon Prime Video. This additional service to the main Amazon Prime Video offering costs £4.99 a month, with a 7-day free trial. They also are home to the Brendan Gleeson/Harry Treadaway series ‘Mr. Mercedes‘, so now could be a good time to subscribe.