New drama for BBC One starring Matthew Macfadyen, Jerome Flynn and Adam Rothenberg
Adam Rothenberg plays Captain Homer Jackson
Describe your character
Jackson is a kind of a jack-of-all-trades and on the darker side of the spectrum.
He doesn’t quite fit into the world of Whitechapel. I feel like he has a very interesting outsider’s perspective on that world. And I think through his eyes you get to see how peculiar a world it is. It’s almost as if someone from today would be if transplanted in to Victorian London. I think he’s very much a surrogate for the audience in a lot of ways. He is different from anyone the other characters have ever met.
How would you describe Ripper Street?
Ripper Street is about Whitechapel during the tail end of the reign of Jack the Ripper. But that is very much just the beginning and the introduction to everything that follows. It’s a drama about the lives of the people that are trying to install some sort of order in a world which is on the verge of exploding.
What drew you to the character of Jackson?
I was drawn to Jackson because he is an odd one. In a way he’s sort of a catch-all of old iconic American imagery. You know, he’s a bit of a cowboy; he’s bit of a rogue but he’s also a little bit of Albert Schweitzer, you know what I mean. He’s a healer. He’s a fighter. It sounds absurd, the treatment of the character, with the writing and wardrobe and everything that happens makes him an actor’s dream to play. Who wouldn’t be drawn to playing Jackson? If you were to have male actors of a certain age write down their dream role they'd like to play, it would probably be Homer Jackson.
What is the dynamic like between the three main characters?
Reid is the brains. Drake is the brawn and Jackson’s the American. You know what I mean. That’s all I know how to explain it.
What makes Ripper Street different to other cop shows?
Ripper Street has elements of CSI cop shows, set in Victorian London. So you get to see people who are developing the science. You get to see the creative process involved in trying to piece together the details of various crimes. And you’re invited along into the thought process behind it. On top of that you have riveting characters. Very strong interpersonal conflict. And it’s beautiful. I mean, it really does have it all.
What made you most excited about the project?
Ripper Street is fascinating because you’re invited to follow a thought process. I think that the character of Reid especially can be seen as a real forerunner. I think that the science and technology these days form a matrix that we live in. We forget that there was a time when people got excited. Excited over the idea of like, dry cell batteries - that was a creative endeavour, you know. Science it could be said, was a new art form at the time. And fascinating, edgy, underground people were fascinated with things like ornithology and geology. The things that we think of as very dry today were actually infused with real passion back then. I think that’s a really nice thing to be reminded of.
Ultimately for me the most exciting thing about Ripper Street is the quality of the scripts and the people involved. The subject material is fascinating but unless you had the quality behind it, it wouldn’t work. I mean the writing is brilliant. The actors are brilliant. I’ve never worked with people that are just so on top of what they do. So that’s a very exciting thing. To come into work every day and to know that no one is bored.
What about the sets?
The sets of Ripper Street are the real stars of the show. The attention to detail is phenomenal, right down to things like how people carved meat back then or something like that. But you walk through the Clancy Barracks and the depth and the detail of this world that they’ve created is really breathtaking.
What do you think is the fascination with Jack The Ripper and the Victorian Time period?
I think it’s a very original and fascinating take on that time period because I know that it’s a very well covered period of time, especially in the UK. And usually you get a lot of drama that’s associated with the upper classes, which has been brilliant. But in this very specific area at this very specific time the people were fighting for everything. Life was a struggle and I don’t think that that’s an element that you get to see much in other dramas. The colour and the flavour and the melting pot Whitechapel was. And I think that these sets along with the very specific dialogue written for each character will mean that people are really going to get behind the story. I think it has a very, very modern and ruggedly real feel but at the same time you get a little extra something.
What knowledge did you have of Victorian England and what sort of research did you do?
I had absolutely no knowledge of Victorian England. And in terms of research, I didn’t get to do a whole lot because I got this job and it was hectic to get over here. Plus I don’t really know what I would have done. There’s nothing the writer doesn’t know of this time period. The set designer clearly is a genius so I’m in a happy situation where I’m in very, very expert hands. And my job is not to question that and give the project as much energy and focus as I can. That being said… there is a book written by Jack London called People Of The Abyss. Jack London, who’s a very Jackson-like character, went undercover in this exact area in Whitechapel in the early 1900s, so that was very enlightening and very fascinating.
What do you think is the universal appeal of the series ?
I think people are going to really get into Ripper Street, for the reasons people always do. I mean, you have fascinating, very human characters who find themselves in impossible situations and I think through that you learn a little bit about human dignity, especially in a place that doesn’t afford humans a lot of dignity. And it’s very, very exciting.
Tell us a little more about your character
Jackson is a definite outsider in this world which is no small feat in this area of London at the time when almost everyone is a sort of outsider. Everyone is dangerous. Jackson is definitely not being up front with who he is.
I think one of the biggest appeals about Jackson is the fact that he’s definitely very much an enigma. You’re very aware that you’re not filled in on his whole story and I think Jackson relishes that. I also think there’s probably an element of Jackson, where he’s not telling you the whole truth, probably because he’s not even aware of the whole truth. He’s very impulsive. He’s very wild and he’s a victim of his own internal drives. And I think that’s one of the fun things you get when you watch him because he’s not someone who makes decisions so much as he gets led around by forces inside him that most sane people don’t listen to.
Who was Jack The Ripper?
Who’s Jack The Ripper? I would say, not to be cute about it, but he’s kind of the Elvis Presley serial killer... I think in our minds we lose sight of just how grisly and just how terrifying someone like this is. You know - the horror of the crimes that he’s committed. But he’s the first celebrity of that kind, which I think this series deals with quite brilliantly. A lot of the dialogue we have about Jack is about the press stories around the time adding fuel to the terror. It’s about the mystique behind the legend.
Reid especially is someone who’s trying to bring certain sanity and a certain clinical clarity to the situation. Jack was a man who did terrible things to women, but in Reid’s view, a man who can be found if you just keep your head about you. And this was a time of sensationalism. That’s the matrix that this show opens with. And I think it’s actually a very good theme to the show because the whole time you have these three characters trying to use focus and clarity in very, very confusing and very, very wild situations.
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