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Andrew Lee Potts: Playing The Hatter In Alice

Primeval ’s northern star took time out from playing Connor to create a different kind of Mad Hatter in Alice , but oddly still ended up in the company of Johnny Depp… sort of.

Andrew Lee Potts has a whole new fan base. On this side of the Atlantic we all know him as Connor Temple, the endearingly geeky star of Primeval . But in the States, he has a very different bunch of swooning admirers thanks to his role as the Hatter in the US TV miniseries Alice . When it aired over there last year, he suddenly discovered that his internet mojo had gone through the roof.

“They went crazy over it,” he tells SFX in this exclusive interview. “I didn’t even realise at the time. When it went out I felt quite detached because I was back over here. But I did wonder how it was going down. Then I got an email from the director, and – I don’t know if you know this – but on IMDB you have like this star rating thing of how often people are checking you out or clicking on you or whatever. And the week Alice went out, I went from three thousand and something to number six. I was literally next to Johnny Depp and Sam Worthington. I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ So obviously someone likes it somewhere.”

They certainly did. And if the comments sections accompany various clips of the Hatter on YouTube are anything go by, they really liked Andrew Lee Potts. And his crazy hair.

This new two-part version of Alice In Wonderland airs over here on UK’s Syfy on Thursday 27 January at 8pm with the second part following on Thursday 3 February . It’s been written and directed by Nick Willing, who’s carving a niche for himself reinventing and reimaginging fantasy classics for TV. He directed Tin Man for Syfy, and is currently wrapping up Neverland for Sky One.

His version of Alice is very different from any you’ll have seen before, in which a secret organisation called White Rabbit kidnaps people from our world and takes them back to Wonderland, where they are drained of their positive emotions. These are then turned into a drug used by the Queen Of Hearts to sedate her subjects. Sounds weird? It is. We’ll let Andrew Lee Potts explain further…

So, what are the unique selling points of this version of Alice In Wonderland ?

“I think you connect more to the story on an emotional level than you do in the original story or in Tim Burton’s film. In the original story you just follow Alice, but in our story you follow the emotional journey of some of the other characters – the White Knight, the Hatter.

“And I think also setting it in a kind of drugs culture-type thing with all the stealing emotions stuff, kind of gives it a unique selling point, because if you could bottle emotions it’s interesting how far we would go. Because obviously everybody gets a bit obsessed with feeling good all the time, which is what the Queen Of Hearts takes advantage of.

“Also, I think the way they steal people from the real world – as opposed to just a girl falling down a rabbit hole into this world and then coming home – knits the two worlds together. You see the White Rabbit in the real world, because they are stealing people to use in Wonderland.

“I also think our version is very funny. It was Nick Willing’s intention to make Hatter as sarcastically British funny as he could. That’s why we went down that route and that’s why he said he cast me in the end.”

“Oh yeah. Of course! That’s one of the USPs I suppose, yeah. It’s a love triangle as it were, which I don’t think has been done before in Alice . There is a love story between Alice and the Hatter, but also between… I can’t say, really, because that gives it away, doesn’t it? But yeah, it’s definitely a love story.”

What was your take on the Hatter?

“In the breakdown – this is crazy – Nick Willing said he wanted a cross between Lenny Kravitz and Simon Pegg. An earthy rock star look with the guyliner and all that stuff, but with the wit and likeability of Simon Pegg. Then I think he forgot about all that and cast me.

“But he was great to play. I love doing heightened reality stuff, and having fun with the characters I play, especially in a kind of darker way, which I don’t get to do in Primeval at all. Because Connor Temple is definitely vulnerable and the innocent all the time. He hasn’t got a bad bone in his body. But Hatter did. He is definitely a kind of wheeler dealer. It takes a while for his walls to break down. He definitely does have a dark side and a very hard punch as well, which was quite cool. Because I don’t think Connor Temple does.”

What did Hannah think of your look in the show?

“Oh she loved it. I think the styling in the show is fantastic. The costumes and everything. It was just amazing because I’ve never been involved in something where you go and the designer is getting things made especially for you. Like that leather jacket, it was completely made to fit my body perfectly. It’s things like that like, ‘Wow!’

“The thing that was really interesting was the hat. Obviously the hat was really important for the character. And they turned round and said, ‘We think it’s going to be a straw hat,’ and I was like, ‘What? No! It can’t be a straw hat. That’s crazy.’ But you know what? It works!

“The only thing about it was they wanted me to do a load of hat tricks in the show. And some of them make it in, some of them don’t. So they got me this professional guy from the circus who came in to teach me a load of hat tricks, which was great. Some of them I got, some of them I didn’t. But the only thing about it, was he said that the hat they’d given me – because it was straw – was too light. In hat tricks the hats are always weighted. So he said I had to work extra hard to try to flip the over and stuff. Even he was finding it difficult. So I’m quite proud of the fact that I managed to get some tricks out of it. We tried lining it to make it heavier but whatever we did didn’t seem to work in quite the right way.”

What else did you enjoy about the experience?

“I had to learn to ride a horse which was f**king awesome! I absolutely loved it. We went to a ranch a couple of hours from Vancouver, where we filmed the series. And this old, like… well, he was like a bull rider, and he was like proper, like, ‘lived on the back of a horse all my life’ type. And he thought I was hilarious, with me little Bradford ways. But I loved it. On the first day we went trekking.”

That’s one of the bonuses of being an actor – all the new skills you learn.

“Oh yeah. I can completely take a second World War gun apart and put it back together again thanks to Band Of Brothers . That’s always useful. I’ve got lots and lots of random skills I’ll probably never need again.”

Were you allowed to keep the jacket?

“I wasn’t. I kept the hat. Two hats were made, and I’ve got one of the hats. But I had to really fight even for that. But the jacket, I don’t know where it is.”

Any chance of a sequel? Would you like to play the Hatter again?

“There isn’t any talk of a sequel. When we were doing it, there was vague talk of a series. We were batting around what-ifs? and ideas. But I think it’s been a bit too long now. I know Nick Willing loved it, but he’s just done Neverland now, his Peter Pan thing. Which strangely, he was shooting in Dublin while I was shooting Primeval . So randomly we got to see each other again. There was a part on that that he said he would have loved me to play, but I couldn’t, which is a shame because it would have been lovely to work with Nick again.

“So I don’t think there’ll be another Alice , but if they did ask, I would definitely play the Hatter again. He was definitely one of my favourite characters.”

And can you give us any clues about what’s coming up in Primeval ?

“In series five it definitely gets a bit crazy. Expect the unexpected.”

Alice airs in two parts on Syfy on Thursday 27 January and Thursday 3 February