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This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.
To commemorate, ABC will air Julian Fellowes‘ Titanic miniseries beginning Saturday evening. Star Linus Roache, who plays one of the wealthy passengers on the ship, likened this four-hour revisit to 1912 as “event television.” As he tells The Hollywood Reporter, unlike James Cameron‘s movie blockbuster, this small-screen journey will tell the story of the entire ship: “This was playing on the story of all the different lives and like a microcosm of our culture and of 1912.”
Researching for the role meant having discussions about relationships, rather than the technical and the historical details, Roache admitted.
“I spent more time with [co-star] Geraldine Somerville, who plays my wife and who is an old friend, and we talked a lot about that period, that era, that sense of entitlement, the kind of lives these people lived, being in high society and social events,” he shared, “how many times a day you changed, what was your relationship to your servants, how did you treat them and how many did you have.”
Roache spoke to THR about boarding Titanic, recalls the miniseries’ most memorable scenes and an unexpected acting challenge.
The Hollywood Reporter: Who do you play and how did you come to be a part of this project?
Linus Roache: I was approached last year about the idea. It was pitched as a kind of event television to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the maiden voyage and the sinking of the Titanic. Also, I had heard about the idea to tell the story of the whole ship. We love the [James] Cameron movie — it’s brilliant and epic and romantic and delivers on so many levels — but this was playing on the story of all the different lives and like a microcosm of our culture and of 1912. [My character Hugh, earl of Manton, is] a lord, an earl and a very entitled human being, but he’s traveling with his wife and his daughter and their servants across the Atlantic. Although he has that status, I felt he was accessible as a human being and was quite progressive in his thinking, witty and has a sense of humor.
THR: It says that we don’t know much about his past. Will that unfold quickly?
Roache: I think it unfolds pretty quickly. By episode one his dirty secret, his dirty laundry comes out, but I think the question will be how does it resolve with his wife.
THR: Especially with the sinking of the ship looming ..
Roache: This is what’s part of the narrative style of piece, is that all these lives, their secrets, what was important, what was underneath the surface in the face of two-and-a-half hours to live and in the face of life and death these things come to the surface and do they get resolved or not? It’s heightened drama because of the reality of what they were facing.
THR: Did you do any research before filming?
Roache: I did a little bit on the Titanic, but if you think about it, it’s not really very important to know anything about the ship because these people are ignorant of it. He could afford the equivalent of $67,000 or whatever it was for first-class tickets and he was traveling on the best ship around. I went to exhibitions and I read about different accounts, but I spent more time with Geraldine Somerville, who plays my wife and who is an old friend, and we talked a lot about that period, that era, that sense of entitlement, the kind of lives these people lived, being in high society and social events, how many times a day you changed, what was your relationship to your servants, how did you treat them and how many did you have. The etiquette and also the accent.
THR: They spoke differently in that time period ..
Roache: Very different. It’s as hard as doing New York playing Michael Cutter in Law and Order.
THR: It sounds like you worked closely together to form the backstory for your relationship?
Roache: Oh yes, definitely. We didn’t go into great great detail but we managed to get a sense of our lives and we do actually have another son, I think he’s mentioned in the story — he was a character in this piece at one point but he didn’t get to travel on the Titanic. Again, it was trying to understand the relationships. Geraldine does an amazing job because you really see someone who’s trapped by their class, by their status. There’s this wonderful moment where Madame Aubart, who’s the mistress of Guggenheim, is sitting at a table and Geraldine wants the table and expects this woman to move and is treating her like a piece of trash. The way she responds is so poignant because you see that she’s a total snob and at the same time she doesn’t know how to deal with the situation; it’s beyond her scope and you feel the humanity in that.
THR: is there a scene that sticks out in your mind that you really enjoyed?
Roache: I do love the scene towards the end of episode two with Maria Doyle Kennedy and Toby Jones, when they make peace with their bitter marriage and all this sense of loss and what they have not achieved. Suddenly she puts her hand out and says, “Let’s be friends.” For me, moments that I’m in, I love doing a lot of the [action] stuff, being with the guys and trying to get that collapsable life boat off.
THR: Was there anything surprising for you?
Roache: The only thing that was challenging was always running around a set in Budapest wearing a thick heavy winter coat in the middle of summer pretending to freezing cold having just hit an iceberg when you’ve got sweat coming down your neck. That was not an expected acting challenge.
THR: You can’t really fake that.
Roache: Exactly, they don’t give awards for that kind of acting. How do you do that?
Titanic miniseries debuts Saturday on ABC at 8 p.m. before wrapping up Sunday.
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