The BBC’s latest adaptation of HG Wells’ War Of The Worlds is on this weekend and here’s Robert Carlyle, who plays Ogilvy in the show, talking about it…
How would you describe your character in The War Of The Worlds?
Ogilvy is a professor, a chemist but also a sort of jack of all trades. One of those trades is astronomy. He has an observatory and it is Ogilvy and Amy who first see that there is something unusual going on with Mars.
Would you say that Ogilvy is an open-minded person for this period?
Ogilvy is very much ahead of his time. The first showing of this is that his assistant is a woman – back in 1905 that was pretty much unheard of. This is observed when Ogilvy and Amy attend the crash site and are joined by fellow astronomer Stent (played by Daniel Cerqueira), who comments on this. Ogilvy is quick to confirm her importance, which now would not be a big deal but back then was something new.
That is the first moment that makes Ogilvy different. There is also the fact that he is potentially gay. There is nothing that is explicitly stated in terms of confirming this but it is there nonetheless. He does say at one point to Amy when she is highlighting the gossipy nature of the village and worries that her relationship with George is being discussed, Ogilvy says ‘you should hear what they say about me’. She questions this and he tells her that he is an unmarried bachelor of advancing years who keeps himself nicely turned out, which is a big thing to say in those times as you could go to jail for being gay.
What was your first encounter with The War Of The Worlds?
My first encounter was actually the music, the Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War Of The Worlds. When I was a kid I had a friend whose father was a vinyl collector, and one day this album arrived at his house. My friend and I just thought it was music so we put it on and quickly discovered it was actually a story. I found out that it was based on a book, and after hearing Richard Burton’s voice as the narrator I was prompted to seek out the book and read it. I just loved it. Then recently, when I returned from shooting a long series in Canada and had no intention of working for a while, this script came through the post and I thought – it’s The War Of The Worlds… I’ll do it!
What do you think of Peter Harness’s interpretation of the story?
Peter’s script was so succinct that I totally forgot about the book and wondered if this was an adaptation of the book. I then went back to the original book, which I still enjoyed, but Peter’s script is really something special and I think he has told the story in an interesting and exciting way. What I also liked about Peter’s adaptation is that it will be the first time on screen that it will be set in its original time period. That was a surprise to learn as it was this period setting in history that originally attracted me when I first read the book. That clash and juxtaposition of the high-tech Martian craft with the Edwardian English landscape is wonderful and exciting.
On this production the team physically built the landing capsule so that you could reach out to and interact with something real. Did that help you get into character?
My first day shooting on set was the capsule crash site in the forest. I fully expected to see green-screen everywhere, so when I saw this huge set it was fantastic. The first time the effects team made the capsule move and rumble it actually gave me a fright. If it gives me a shock then I think that is exactly the same reaction the audience is going to have so I think it was a fantastic choice to make the capsule a real object on set.
Have there been any stand-out locations on this shoot?
Ogilvy’s observatory, which was filmed in the botanical gardens in Liverpool, was an outstanding location. It was an incredible set, from the large telescope to the tiniest of props that create this world that Ogilvy surrounds himself with. This sort of set is my passion. I actually restore old furniture, particularly of the Victorian age, so coming to Ogilvy’s location was like a home away from home for me.
Do you feel that there is a message to be taken away from Peter’s adaptation of The War of the Worlds that resonates today?
I think what Peter is trying to say is that we are all the same. We as human beings are all one in a sense, particularly in this story. The earthbound elements of the story depict us as all refugees and we should be reaching out to help each other rather than fighting each other.
What would you like audiences to take away from watching The War of the Worlds?
I hope people get interested in H. G. Wells again. There are kids today who don’t know about his works and it would be wonderful to get an upsurge of interest in his writing.