Primeval Series 4 Preview

Exclusive interviews with Hannah Spearritt, Ben Miller and Ciarán McMenamin to get you in the mood for the show’s return on New Year’s Day

Hannah Spearritt

Playing: Abby Maitland

Did you enjoy filming in Dublin?
“Yeah, loved it. At first when I heard they were thinking about shooting in Dublin I was like, ‘I don’t know…’ but I think it’s been really good for the show and the bigger picture. It’s really good because you can get to locations so quickly and you’ve got the docks and the water, the mountains. You’ve got so many different types of locations you can shoot in and get to really quickly, it’s great.”

So did you and Andrew-Lee Potts relocate?
“We completely moved over for the shoot, Sky+ box and everything. Everything’s over here pretty much but our furniture, because we’ve got a furnished place, but our heads and our hearts are here, and we’re kind of committed in that way rather than pining to go back after work, because otherwise you’re kind of living between two places. We’re blessed in that way because I suppose if I wasn’t in the show or Andrew wasn’t in the show we would be going back at weekends, but because we’re together and we’re over here with the dog, we feel like we’ve just moved house for a year.”

Did you have to give coming back some thought, or was it a no-brainer?
“You have to think about these things. You kind of like to know where they’re thinking with it storyline wise, what they anticipate for your character, stuff like that. So there is a lot of that – it’s absolutely positive that it’s coming back, but let’s have a chat and that sort of thing, and see where our heads are at. And also Dublin was a big move. Initially I didn’t know whether I’d be up for that but it’s been a really good thing.”

Abby’s been stuck in the Cretaceous for some time at the beginning of the new series. How’s that changed her?
“It’s literally been a year out there, with one other human being – Connor. Their relationship has moved on because they’ve just been surviving – just the two of them living on not much really, just whatever they can get their hands on. Abby’s taught Connor some kickboxing moves, and they’ve just been totally reliant on each other. So when they come back through from the Cretaceous, they’re completely in tune with each other because of how many times they’ve saved each others’ lives and how connected they are by that point.

“There’s kind of a sense of safety with each other, and it’s kind of bizarre when they come back because there are all these new faces and people and all this new technology and new everything around them. It’s quite a lot to absorb at first, and Abby almost feels slightly uncomfortable with it all. A good thing obviously, but it takes a while to adapt to the environment. There’s definitely a new bond between Abby and Connor because of what they’ve been through; when you go through something like that with somebody it binds you together through that experience and you can never take that away. They’ve become very protective over each other.”

How did you feel about becoming an item on screen as well as off?
“Well, it kind of… the whole ‘Will-they? Won’t-they?’ thing had been going on for a while and I think it was only natural [laughs] that they might kind of go that way after spending that sort of time together. It was only through things getting in the way back home, you know, work and everything that it became more complicated. Whether Abby’s been in denial they did love each other, so it was only a matter of time really.”

Does Abby feel the same about the relationship on this side?
“When they come back, it does get more complicated again with other relationships that are coming into Connor and Abby’s lives. But problems only arise because of that, as opposed to the mere fact that they’re just back. They’re back and they’re together and everything’s cool and problems materialise…”

How do the roles within the team change? Apparently Abby’s got her very own “menagerie” now...
“I get brought back to the ARC to take on this role in charge of the menagerie. It is this great space that you get to through an airlock, and there’s this menagerie outside Abby’s lab. Later on she becomes part of the field team again and back in force, and more responsibility.”

Is the main story arc heavier this year?
“I think it’s stepped up a gear this series. You’ve got a whole bigger picture. You’ve got your whole story of the weeks going on within that, but there is a very strong story arc that will be progressing throughout the whole of the series, that I think people will really, really like. This series we have got story that has got a purpose.”

Will we find out where the anomalies are from?
“You may well do. And why they’re there. Questions I think that people have been wanting answered will be concluded more so in this series.”

Is it stuff you want answers to as well?
“Yeah, it makes it a lot more exciting for us coming back. You do want the answers to all these things, so I think the fans will really get their teeth into it and enjoy getting these answers.

Are series four and five a natural end point for you and Abby or could you continue beyond?
“I really don’t know. I don’t know. It’s so hard to say at this point. We’re so early in the whole process of it. I know that Im loving it and enjoying it and everything, but we’ll see how it goes.”

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Ben Miller

Playing: James Lester

Although the show is still set in the South East of England, the production has moved to Ireland. How did you find the Dublin experience?
“It’s funny. Obviously we used to shoot out just west of London in a glorious corner of the M3 and M4, the M3 and the M25 and now we’re in Dublin, the rolling green hills of Dublin, and there’s no comparision frankly.”

How long were you out here?
“I tend to do my scenes in blocks so I was out there for a week, then there was a six week gap, and then another four-week stint. I did episodes one to four in a week, doing all of my scenes one after another, and then in the intervening time I was filming our sketch show, then I came back for the rest.”

Do you sometimes feel like playing Lester’s like playing another character in the sketch show?
“I’ve been living with this character for so long, he’s like more real than I am. It’s been… I don’t know how long we’ve been doing the thing, so it feels like a member of the family really. Not one you’d ever want to spend any time with at a barbecue!”
Did you think you had seen the last of Lester after ITV cancelled the show?
It did get shelved quite definitely, but I have to say I never really believed it was the end of it. I thought probably it would come back, it’s just got such a following around the world that someone was going to decide to step in and do something with it. And also the problems were not so much to do with the show, but just to do with the banking crisis, so you just sort of felt it would come back. These big franchises go through ups and downs like anything else, but ultimately when they’re that well known and that well loved, somebody’s going to do it.”

Has Lester changed in the time the show’s been away?
“Lester’s still the same person, but he has changed throughout the series. That’s what I really love about the show, that he has developed as a character. To begin with, what’s changed is his attitude. He’s still the same person, but his attitude was extremely condescending towards all the raggle taggle of people who were part of his team in those early days. His whole attitude – he doesn’t really believe in the dinosaurs for most of series one. That’s changed, but also he’s warmed up a lot as a character and I think that’s fun.

“I think he’s like one of those teachers. There are two types of teachers at school. There are those who try to be your mate and never really got anywhere, and the others who were absolutely brutal to you for about four years and then by the end of that time you started to see their human side, and by the time you left they were your favourite teacher ever and the one that you kept in touch with just because there was a kind of… There was no neediness on their part, they were simply doing what was best for you and they didn’t care whether that made them unpopular or not. I think there’s something of that in Lester. He’s always thinking about the bigger picture and doesn’t really care whether people like him. I think that’s quite an attractive trait, really.”

This year the ARC’s a public/private partnership. How does that affect Lester?
“It’s horrible for Lester because before there was a fairly obvious hierarchy where he reported to a minister and everyone else reported to him but now he has this slightly shadowy billionaire character who’s got his own agenda, this Philip Burton character. Philip is a thorn in Lester’s side, but it’s probably the same the other way around too. Lester sort of reports to Philip, but not only has he got a boss at work that he absolutely hates, there’s also the issue that Philip’s agenda is very much to do with the anomalies and scientifically exploiting the anomalies, and not really protecting the public or worrying about what to do with all these creatures. So that’s a kind of conflict that’s kind of fun.”

Obviously public-private partnerships exist in the real world, not always to great success. Is Primeval getting satircial?
“I think Primeval ’s a bit of a satirical vehicle, but it’s not That Was The Week That Was, is it? It’s not Brass Eye . But it’s certainly current, put it that way. It’s kind of interesting. We do have this very uneasy relationship; we’re very uncertain, generally, about how banking and business interests fit in with the state, and these things are just in the air, and become part of the story. They’re just part of general thing that’s going on out there, so it’s about as disastrous as the Tube, this pubic private partnership, as far as Lester’s concerned.”

This year there’s been the big change of moving Dublin. Is Primeval a show that can keep on evolving?
“Oh yeah, it’s completely built to last, isn’t it. It can just keep on going, I think. You’ve got all the human stories between the cast and those have always been really, really well written. There’s lots of comedy, there’s good dramatic love stories and stuff in there as well and you’ve got people being chased around by massive things with big teeth. What’s not sustainable about that?”

Were you into dinosaurs as a kid?
“Yeah, I was. I was very into dinosaurs actually. It’s very surprising how dinosaurs have changed in the intervening years since I was a kid. Most of the ones that I was told about turned out to not exist or to have been confused with other dinosaurs, so there’s old school and new school dinosaurs. My generation was very much triceratops, stegosaurus, brachiosaurus, brontosaurus, T-Rex. Then in the ’80s we got velociraptors and they looked a bit like lizards with teeth, and now velociraptors look like parrots. They seem to be a very moveable feast, dinosaurs, and also we have endless numbers of really weird dinosaurs that are still being discovered. I think it’s a great area because no matter how much we would want to believe it’s science, there’s also a strong element of myth in there, a strong element of dragons and here be monsters about it.”

You’ve got a scientific background. Does that mean you have to take some of the plots with a pinch of salt?
“I have to turn a blind eye to the time travel, because that’s completely impossible but the rest of it I think the science is extremely good. [Writer] Tim Haines is a scientist, a very, very knowledgeable scientist, Adrian has a great love for science, and the science in Primeval is generally excellent. As I say, you have to turn a blind eye to the whole anomaly thing, no law of physics would permit that, but once you can swallow that horse pill, the rest of it, the science that’s generally in the episodes is very good.”

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Ciarán McMenamin

Playing: Matt Anderson

How have you found the Primeval experience so far?
“It’s all a new world for me, this sci-fi special effects. It’s great. I usually do gritty, realistic naturalistic dramas, so it’s a total departure in a really fun way. I’m having a ball. I’m really enjoying coming into work every day for totally new reasons. It’s a very physical part delivering a lot of suspect one-liners to pretend dinosaurs. It’s really good fun. It’s a totally different challenge and you kind of just rise to it and go with the style of the show, it’s really good fun.”

How are you finding acting against things that aren’t there?
“It’s kind of weird because your main tool as an actor is your imagination anyway, so it’s just about going back to basics. That’s what we do as kids, isn’t it? We go around pretending there’s things there and I think a lot of people go into acting as an extension of that. It’s people with a very vivid imaginations who like pretending, so I actually don’t have a problem with it. I really enjoy it. There are days when you feel really stupid, of course there are, and you’ve just got to snap out of it and remind yourself what you’re doing, but I don’t have a problem with it. And you know when it’s not working, you know when it’s kind of forcing the fear and you just start again. It’s good, it’s fun.”

Tell us about Matt
“I’m not allowed to tell you a lot apparently, because there’s a big thing that happens, but Matt is here for very specific reasons that will be revealed. He has a bigger motive but he’s a good guy and he has a military background. He has a real specific love of his work which you will find out later. He also is kind of very unassuming and keeps himself to himself, lives a very Spartan existence. We never hear anything about friends or family, so there’s a lot of mystery around him as to why he’s there,where he’s from and what makes him tick. You don’t really start finding all that out until later on.”

Is he an action lead or a scientist or a bit of both?
“He has a military background which keeps coming up because he’s been brought in from that end of things, but you also realise he’s got a lot of science going on. He’s got a whole botany plant thing going on and you start to realise there are a lot of layers to him and he’s very physical. The part’s very physical, there’s a lot of fighting. We’ve got a lot more man-creature contact than we’ve had before, like I had to spend last week in a gym doing a full on fight with a creature which was mental. Matt is very physical and very hands on.”

How have you found that side of it?
“That’s been the biggest challenge, but in a really enjoyable way, because obviously I’m fit within reason and I’ve done physical stuff before, but not every day. It’s a lot of running. We spend half of every episode running, but it’s great. I love it and I’ve stopped smoking on this job, put it that way. I was a smoker for 15 years and I stopped after the first week of Primeval and haven’t smoked for three months, which is great.”

So Primeval is good for you?
Primeval is healthy. Stop smoking, drink lots of water and run like mad.”

How did you find being the new boy on an already established show?
“It was hard in the first few weeks. What took the pressure off was that I was not just stepping in to the old team; there’s a few new people and it’s a whole new world. And I’ve known Andrew for years which is great, and me and Ben instantly clicked and Hannah’s lovely, so there’s a very good team feeling. I’ve been welcomed with open arms. It’s been kind of painless.”

Were you familiar with the show beforehand?
“I watched a couple of episodes at the very, very start. I remember watching it the second time it went out just to see what it was, and then obviously I watched a bit as research. But I watched a couple of episodes and then went, ‘I’m not watching any more,’ because I think it’s interesting to come at it from a fresh angle. It’s quite nice to go, ‘Actually I don’t care what the show’s done before,’ because I think that keeps your imagination going, doesn’t it?”

Do you ever find yourself saying, “How am I going to say that?”?
“Yeah, of course you do, but to an extent you kind of do with most things. There’s a heightened reality, and me and Andrew share the ‘bordering on cheesy one-liners’, before we go into the ads on a duh duh duh moment. And I struggled with that at first and then you just go, ‘Actually, this is the style of the show, it is a heightened reality’. So you overdo it at first, then you keep doing it less and eventually you find it the level where it works and it’s believable. And they’re very good. If the line doesn’t work and the actors come up with a version that’s better, they’ll go, ‘That’s better, do it.’ So there’s a bit of improvising and your input’s very valued. You do come to work every day and feel very much part of a creative process.”

How does his arrival affect the other characters?
“It becomes apparent quite quickly that he’s quite clever. Especially you can imagine there’s an instant Connor/Abby/Becker/Matt and the new guy clash. And he very cleverly lets everyone feel their importance in the group – he’s very good at spreading out responsibility and he will very openly put himself down a bit. For example, he will make it every clear to Connor that that stuff that you know about much better than I do, so then everybody knows they’re not just meat. He very quickly lets the team all have their niche and they do become a team quite quickly, so he’s quite shrewd that way.”

What’s his relationship with Lester like?
“He and Lester are quite good. Matt and Philip rub differently. Matt and Lester will come to a head over certain issues, but you find out quite a lot about Lester through his relationship with Matt. Actually you realise that these two guys are pretty much on the same page, more than that I cannot say.”

They’re using tasers rather than guns this year. Is Matt on the side of the creatures?
“Very much so. There was a really good speech I did for my audition that comes up in a later episode where he says how he’d be definitely more Green Party, less Conservative when it comes to shooting the animals. And that’s all explained later on when you realise stuff I can’t tell you. He’s very much about getting these creatures back to where they’re from and keeping the planet the way it is now. They do get into our planet-changing issues down the line, which are quite up to date and quite refreshing.”