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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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Torchwood: interview with Russell T Davies


What is Torchwood?

Torchwood was a team of people whose job was to investigate the unusual, the strange and the extraterrestrial. However, they were destroyed – so that team is no more. This series shows a whole new team and a whole new dynamic coming together. It's an old religion that's brought back to life.

As "Miracle Day" begins, the Torchwood team has two surviving members. The first one is Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), who was once upon a time an ordinary policewoman who became one of Torchwood's greatest fighters and defenders – a defender of planet Earth.

She's living in retirement, so she's like a spy living in retirement, and she's got a husband and a baby. Her days in Torchwood were dangerous and fraught with powerful secrets that she's hiding. She actually knows, or she fears, that one day, people will come looking for her. People with guns and people with agendas. She's living in seclusion with her husband and her baby, hoping all of that is behind her. Of course, she turns out to be wrong, and everything she feared comes true. And they do come looking for her. She's back on the run and back fighting again.

The other character is Captain Jack Harkness, played by John Barrowman. He is formerly the leader of Torchwood. He's a buccaneer from the 51st century, and you can't say that about many people. Captain Jack is gone at the beginning of the show – he left planet Earth and is missing. As usual, something very strange happens and the situation calls for a hero.

And there he is, on a jeep with a machine gun running from explosions, diving into fountains. He's back and at his best.

Overview of Torchwood: Miracle Day

One day on planet Earth, no one dies. Like a coincidence, no deaths, no one reported dead – apparently, everyone got lucky. The next day no one dies … and the next … and the next … and the next. People are still sick, accidents are happening and people are getting old. They've got diseases, but the body won't die. They just stay alive. Nothing can kill them. Overnight, in the blink of an eye, somehow, something happened to the human race and everyone has become immortal. Not invulnerable, but immortal, which is much worse. Invulnerable would be lovely. Forever young, that would be lovely. Just to be immortal with none of the benefits – not so good. So suddenly you've got a world that goes into a panic.

We're going to live for hundreds of years, but the human life is still built around having 70 or 80 years and then moving on. Suddenly in about three days, all the hospitals are full, as the people who are sick pile up. Within weeks, that leads to the outbreak of different diseases. The health services in countries snap. What starts happening to human beings when we become this strange new race of humans? The panic and hysteria sets in with the crazies and the mobs. In every episode there's a new theory.

How do you investigate something completely intangible? No one's dying – that's like investigating nothing. Where on Earth do you begin? How do we cope with what human beings are doing with this new age, with this new era? Fighting the human race is just as bad as any aliens they ever fought. As people seek to capitalise and undermine the situation, you reveal human nature at its best and at its worst.

The series has a broad international feel, when you realise the dynamics of the plot, and what's happening to the world. It starts in Wales and Washington simultaneously. You have Rex (Mekhi Phifer), a CIA agent in Washington, and Gwen (Eve Myles) in Wales. Those two worlds first start to collide and it becomes a very big picture. We travel to Montana, Utah, Atlanta and Dallas. We spend a lot of time in Los Angeles and in Washington. Deliberately, it's actually all part of the story that all these places become important. It's got a nice epic sweep to it.

The Torchwood team comes out of retirement partly because it has no choice. The situation draws them out of hiding. Gwen is hidden and Jack has disappeared. The world changes and heroes rise. And then you have new people joining Torchwood. We begin with Rex investigating in Washington, uncovering the secrets of Torchwood. His assistant at the CIA, Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins), joins in. Slowly you have this new Torchwood team taking shape. The old and the new fighting for the future.

About coming to America with the series

Coming to the US for Torchwood (the organisation) is like another case. They've dealt with galaxies and universes, so another country is not that big of a deal. It is, however, a big deal for Gwen. She's separated from her husband and from her child. She's arrested and taken to America, so it's heartbreaking on that level. But for Jack, he hits the ground running. For many years Torchwood (the series) has had an American actor in the lead role, so in that sense it feels entirely natural. For the show to hit America, I think it's a new start without being a reboot. That's what's exciting about it. This is simply a new horizon. We have different producing partners, and it has added a new influx of imagination, and frankly, a bigger budget as well.

For the series coming to America, it's just an infusion of energy. Whole new questions and things emerge that we've never thought about before. And it's a new audience. We're very, very proud of the Torchwood fan base, but I never believe these programmes should be cult or small. I think everyone in the world should be watching them. Starz, the writers, and the new cast, came on board because of the Torchwood of old. There's no doubt about that. And that's the greatest compliment of the show.

About the cast

It is brilliant working with John Barrowman. He's mad and marvellous and he takes me by surprise after all these years. I love working with this extraordinary project we're on. Way back in 2004, we started creating this character for a few episodes of Doctor Who. There was a swaggering buccaneer from the 51st century who I then made immortal. To see people loving John like they have done, to see that growing, has been a real joy. The best part of my job is working with actors, because I just sit there and type and then they are the faces on the camera and they bring it to life. He's just the best, he's extraordinary.

Eve Myles – she's marvellous, because I think she's a limitless actor. She's what you want in every actor, which is that you feel you can simply write anything for them. You can take the character of Gwen anywhere and have her do anything. You can hate her, you can love her. You can do anything and she does that great. The thing of truly great actors is that they never ask for sympathy on the screen. I think that's such a magnificent attribute, because most of us want sympathy all the time. Most of us just want to be liked. We get through the day just hoping to be liked, and Eve will take that extraordinary deep breath and not care. She presents that on camera and that is so bold and electrifying.

Mekhi Phifer has been extraordinary for the show. Because I think when you've got lead actors like John and Eve, it's hard to match them. There's big John with his Broadway reputation, and there is Eve, who is Welsh and bold and distinctive. It's hard to find a space to fit in and Mekhi just swaggers in there. I can't think of many men who could have found a space in between those two. But he's made Rex so unequivocal, so arrogant, so bold and brave. He's just right at the same time. He's arrogant, but he's always right. I think that's a great attribute. You cannot miss the fact that Rex Matheson is there being a match for the Torchwood team and I think it's a perfect partnership.

Bill Pullman is a blessing. It was a Godsend the day that man arrived. People told us we'd never get him for the role of Oswald. They actually looked us in the eye and said, you haven't got a chance. But we sent him the script and in two days he said yes. That was very, very exciting. I didn't expect that coming to America I would get to work with stars of that stature and he's an absolutely lovely man. He's so committed to it, to a very bold and contentious part. That could perhaps cause a lot of controversy and it's certainly not an easy part to play (that of a child killer). He just takes it and grabs it and runs with it and makes it a thousand times better than you ever could have imagined.

Lauren Ambrose is just gorgeous and amazing. And I think one of my great regrets is her Jilly Kitzinger character isn't in Episode 1. You have to wait until the second episode for her to blaze onto the screen in her red coat, red hair, her red lipstick and red nails. She's so controlled and knows what she's doing. It's a brave performance with what I think is a brave character as well.

Completing the Torchwood team is Alexa Havins as Esther Drummond. I love working with Alexa because in theory, Esther is the one who gets the story going. She sits at the desk and reads blogs. She's the desk bound member of the team. And I think Alexa's done the opposite on the screen. She's filled the role with life. Yes, she's beautiful, but she's far more than that. She's sparky, lively and vivid. She just gets in and carves out a space for herself – in a part that I think with any other actor, they would have found that very hard to do.

About the new season

I want to convey that this is a high concept show that is tackled intelligently with a lot of drama and with a lot of imagination – with some love and thrills. We set up this high concept which asks, what if no one died? What happens? And then you have 10 hours to literally watch this ripple out. And I think it's very well researched and imagined.

This season stands completely on its own. If you've never seen Torchwood before, you can join in at Episode 1. It's written that way. The lead character of Rex in Episode 1 is also that viewer. He has never heard of Torchwood – he doesn't know what they are. He barely knows where Wales is – he's never heard of Gwen or Jack and that's the point. A brand new viewer starts there and uncovers everything with him. And for the faithful – and I am one of the faithful – there are references to Torchwood of old. And psychologically, everyone from the old Torchwood is following the same character, the same path they were on before. But it's laid out as a brand new start. Which I think is the point.

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