HBO’s kicking off a brand new fantasy, and some might say superhero series, this month called The Nevers. Premiering on April 11th, the show is set in 1890s London and the first episode revealed it has an incredible cast who play varied and interesting characters in their own right. Blending Victorian London with people who have superpowers called the “touched” the show hooks you with its deep mysteries and fantastic production values.
To kick off the series, HBO has made their actors available for interview (don’t miss our interview with Zackary Momoh and Denis O’Hare) and today we have a chat with three of the show’s villains, soon to be heroes and everything in between. Nick Frost plays the Beggar King Declan Orrun, a violent gangster who controls much of the lower-level criminal activity in the city. Rochelle Neil plays the criminal Annie Carbey aka Bonfire who can manipulate and create fire. And then there is Vinnie Heaven who plays Nimble Jack who also has powers though they don’t show up till episode 4.
The show blends two popular flavors in recent TV programming: Period drama and superheroes. Neil compared the blending to umami as it’s an unexpected flavor but one that you can’t quite describe. It’s a blending Frost said makes a lot of sense. “It’s a time industrial Britain is going through a great change,” Frost said, “I think there’s a geographical change happening, there’s a socio-political change happening and also these people individually are changing so I think within that kind of maelstrom, change is coming.” Heaven added, “The Victorian era is the time where everything is divided by gender and class, that’s when that begins. So to then add in giving certain people powers that’s a fascinating thing.”
All three actors made it clear the period drama allowed for a unique experience on set in part because HBO’s high production values allowed for zero green screen and incredible costumes. “We were able to actually be in the world,” Neil said, adding it was easy “to geek out in that world and stand there as a human on set in this incredible place.”
Frost added how there were, “loads of horses there and tons of extras. Like an old bus from 1870. It’s so immersive. They make it as easy for you as possible.” Heaven said the costumes were their favorite part of the role. “We don’t have anything like that now. Sort of jumpers and Jeeves so unless it’s a wedding, and I haven’t been to many of those recently.”
The period drama and powers can be a challenge too. Heaven pointed out you can’t get away with ad-libbing as it wouldn’t jive with the lingo of the time. Neil agreed, sharing an anecdote from shooting episode 4 and how she was making paper airplanes to zip around the scene, but there was a problem. “David [Semel] our director was like, “The airplane hadn’t been invented yet,” Neil said laughing.
Add in the superpowers and shooting was a complicated affair. “The challenge for me was more the technical side of the fire. Making sure that my hands were always in a position that was of service to the special effects team,” Neil said.
It was an incredible experience learning about the show through these actors. Read below as we discussed their draw to the series, the joy of playing a villain, and if all three of their characters put together a band, what would it be called?
AIPT: My first question is a simple one. What attracted you to The Nevers? Was it the genre? Was it the character that you were offered? The potential to have superpowers?
Rochelle Neil: I knew nothing about the world of The Nevers. It was all very hush-hush. And it was like a five-page scene, where a character, nondescript, is torturing a priest. And it wasn’t that specifically, that attracted me. It was the that it was just completely up to me what I wanted to do with this role, there was nothing, it was completely nondescript.
But that’s what attracted me to the part, the fact that I can make it what I wanted to and when I met Joss [Whedon], he was very much like, yeah, like, let’s collaborate. Let’s run with this. What like, what do you see? This is what I see. Let’s work together. And so it was that because I didn’t get a script for maybe very close before we were filming. And then you’re like, “wow, this amazing world.”
Nick Frost: I think I was thrilled to be offered the chance to work on a big HBO show about superheroes created by Joss [Whedon]. I was a bit afraid, a bit nervous, you know, I went in to see him and he showed me things and we talked and essentially he said, “You can do what you want.” And “this is him and he’s got a razor” and I was kind of soft-sold at that point, you know.
I think I saw it as an opportunity in terms of moving away from things I’ve done in the past, you know, things I’m very proud of. But, you know, as an actor, you want to try and be as many different styles of people as you can. You can get kind of boring otherwise. I don’t think you put as much effort in if you know the character you play again, again.
It’s nice to be new, you know, and to try and go from being someone who’s known as a kind of puppy dog of a man who people think, “oh, he’s cute,” or being a man who people will say, “Jesus Christ. He’s terrifying.” You know? That was a nice thing to try.
Vinnie Heaven: Yeah, I think the offer of the character was, you know, to wear a sharp suit, and a cool hat and get a superpower. So I was like…
AIPT: Vinnie, you play a thief. Rochelle, you play a career criminal, Nick, you’re the Beggar King. Is it more fun to play villains? And if you guys were a band, what would it be called?
Frost: Oh my god.
Neil: We had the Beggers Bonfire from my waffle van. We need to add Nimble in somewhere The Beggars Nimble Bonfire. King Nimbly Bonds.
Frost: King Nimbly Bond it is.
Neil: That’s what we’re calling ourselves. King Nimbly Bondages.
AIPT: Was it more fun to play a villain?
Neil: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. What a wonderful outlet for life. And also, it’s interesting to — I make myself sound like an awful person — but it’s interesting. I always think no one’s ever one thing. No one ever thinks that they’re the villain. I don’t think Bonfire’s even like, “I’m just going to be a dick to everyone I see today.” Like, I think everything has a reason. And it comes from a place of truth.
I often play characters like this, and another actress once said to me, “The reason why you’re so good at this,” wow, I just complimented myself. That you need a firm sounding board. I like the fact that when you play a bad character, you have a clear sounding board because I’m like, “I would never do that. I would hate for someone to feel that way.” And then I’m like, “Oh, yeah, I’m going to do that today. I’m going to say it in that way.” So I find it easier to have a reference point than if you’re playing someone who’s supposed to be quite pure and true. I feel a little bit lost.
Frost: I think most of the characters I’ve played have come from me. I’ve been a lot of those people I’ve played in one way or another but I’ve been a lot of Declan but not the 1% of him that would shoot a man or kill a man and not give a s--t, you know? So to try and think about what that’s like, you know, is a great challenge and a lot of fun to do. These people don’t think about it. They don’t overwork it through their minds.
“I’m gonna f--k this guy up. I’m gonna cut this person,” right. “Here’s an apple. I’m gonna eat that. I’m gonna f--k this thing. I’m not gonna cut this open.” You know? In terms of just that’s your life, it’s black and it’s white. Really must be really easy and simple. Everything I do I think about the consequences. “Oh I’ve made tea but my wife’s upstairs, should I make her tea? Maybe I’ll make two teas.” Declan would just buck the kettle over your head and not give a s--t about that.
AIPT: Like a machine.
Frost: Yeah I mean it’s kind of nice in a way, it’s nice to play because it’s really black and white.
AIPT: Vinnie, we haven’t seen the character that much so I don’t know if bad is the right word?
Heaven: There’s definitely no loyalty to anyone or anything. They make their money as a thief so I guess most people would deem that to be not so good but there’s a charm about them and that can get them, and you’ll see as the series goes on, that can get them into all sorts of different rooms really easily so it’s not necessarily that they’re on one bad side. For me, playing that was good because I’ve got a face like a little sweet bunny. They asked if I want to be a thief I was like, “Yes, yes I do.”
Frost: A thief of heart.
Neil: And a soul like a sweet bunny.
Frost: That’s the soundbite I’m going to keep Nick, thanks.
Neil: That’s the band name, guys!
Frost: Heart Thieves!
AIPT: That’s pretty good. I do have a burning question for my website, specifically. My audience at AIPTcomics.com loves comics and I think this show is going to be a huge draw for comics fans. I was wondering if you read comics, or if you have a favorite comic you’d like to call out.
Frost: My favorite is Kirkman’s Invincible. I love it.
Neil: Oh, I can’t think of the name of it. There is one and I can’t think of the name of it. And I can see it turning into a TV show about a woman that she has a son.
Heaven: I don’t know if it counts as a comic, but I got sent a copy of Owly not that long ago. And it’s like just a real simple comic about an owl. It was great. The last time I can remember reading a comic and I was like yeah, I’m drawn to that. I’ll give that a crack.
The Nevers airs Sunday nights on HBO.
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