What drew you to the part of Hercules in Atlantis?
Well, I got sent a couple of scripts by Johnny (Capps) and Julian (Murphy) and I kind of expected a gradual introduction of characters but as I read it I realised it wasn’t the usual TV script at all. The Labyrinth and Minotaur feature in episode one so there’s no longwinded build-up, you’re straight in with the action. The scale of it all just blew me away and the ambition of it was enough for me to say I really want to do this. It’s incredible – if you got a movie script that was as good you’d be very happy! Having had a meeting with the guys I realised we are in very safe hands with all the CGI and effects, nobody in this country knows it better than them. I didn’t have to think twice.
Atlantis sounds like an epic new production, tell us a little about it…
There’s action, there’s adventure, friendship, loyalty, fate and destiny, there’s a whole bunch of things which I suppose makes it into a roller coaster of a show. I’ve always liked roller coasters!
How is it playing a legend?
Well it’s maybe not the Hercules that people think of immediately. My kids were a little bit quizzical about the idea of me playing Hercules at first. I showed them the programme Britain’s Strongest Man and told them that this is what strong guys look like - my Hercules isn’t strong because he goes to the gym every day, he’s strong because he’s the son of Zeus!
Your Hercules seems to have a couple of flaws…?
He’s a legend in his mind. If he got into a fight with some guy in the tavern by the time he got back home, in his story he would have defeated an army. He’s his own spin doctor and his accounts of all his heroic acts should definitely be taken with a large pinch of salt! Jason and Pythagoras find it very amusing. They kind of go along with it as they know that it’s just the way he is so they may as well have a laugh at his expense.
You have a lot of scenes with Jason (Jack Donnelly) and Pythagoras (Robert Emms) and it sounds like you have plenty of fun on and off set..?
It’s great. They sent us horse riding before we started rehearsals and we had three or four days in France in a stunt stable which gave us a chance to get to know each other. It was great from our point of view as we had a lot of time in each other’s company and it meant that when you arrive on set on day one, you knew each other already which isn’t always the case. We have breakfast, lunch and dinner together every day and have done since we started filming in April so we know each other pretty well.
How was filming on location in Morocco?
It was hot! When you’re out in the desert and its 103 degrees and you’re in your leathers there’s really nowhere to escape from the sun. Just when you think it can’t get any hotter and the director says, right get on the horses now…!
The stuff that we shot there is literally in the desert; you couldn’t create that anywhere else. The amazing thing for me is seeing how they’ve joined what we shot in Morocco with what we’ve shot in Chepstow and that you can’t see the difference, it’s seamless. That’s down to very clever camera work and lighting and everybody is at the top of their game, it is remarkable. We only shot for 3 weeks out there but it was enough to give it a flavour and a sense of scale that you couldn’t achieve here.
What’s the funniest thing that’s happened on set?
Jack and I were doing a scene where we’ve been ferried across a river one evening. We had an older actor with us playing Charon who had been made to look like death with weird contact lenses and covered in cobwebs. We had to get out of the boat and then he punts the boat back to the other side of the river. We’d done it a few times and on the fifth take, I said my line, turned around and saw that he’d actually fallen over backwards into the boat. Clearly a shot that isn’t going to make it to the screen and we lost the solemnity of the moment!
Is a fantasy piece more fun than a contemporary drama?
Yes it can be in a way as you are creating a world and creating the rules of that world as well. Maybe some things that you wouldn’t do in a contemporary piece you can do here. Also this is a mythical world so there are no rules and regulations about what we can and can’t do and say and so you’ve got a bit more freedom to create a world that’s full of fascinating characters.
Will your children be watching?
They are totally looking forward to it and spreading the world. We’ll all watch it together and I can’t wait to see what they think of it.