'The Man In The High Castle': Rufus Sewell Tells HuffPostUK Why Philip Dick's Sci-Fi Novel Is As Relevant, And Painful, As Ever
Huffington Post, 20 November 2015
This week’s been a strange one. First Benedict Cumberbatch was lambasted for using his celebrity currency, and more specially his Barbican stage, to roast UK political strategy towards migrants. Since then, events in Paris have made everyone, even telly-obsessed entertainment journalists, question the value of how they spend their day and if they’re making enough contribution to the solution, in whatever form it may take.
None of this is lost on Rufus Sewell, who stars in this high-concept drama series ‘The Man In the High Castle’, a critic-pleasing but thought-provoking dystopian thriller, debuting on Amazon Prime today. Based on the 1962 sci-fi novel by Philip Dick, it depicts a world in which the terrorists won… in this case, the Nazis, and Rufus is the hardened SS Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith.
When I ask him about the value of a role in something like this, against the background of frightening world events, firstly, he’s quick to defend Benedict’s stance, saying, “I admire anyone who gives a shit enough to stand up and risk whatever stock they have in pursuit of something they care about.”
More specifically, on the value of his own role in ‘Man in the High Castle’, it’s clear he has thought about this role more than most, and how it relates.
“My own personal response to playing somebody like this is, ‘How do I do this? What’s my motive in doing this? Do I make him remotely likeable because he’s a Nazi?” he explains to HuffPostUK.
“But then I realised my responsibility is to humanise a Nazi, because Nazis were humans, and I don’t say this in defence of Nazis. I say this in defence of humans.
“Germany in the 1930s wasn’t comprised of the worst people in human history, they were normal citizens who were somehow sufficiently indoctrinated, and who incrementally dehumanised another type of human, bit by bit without realising they were doing so. And they felt safe enough to do it. And that’s going on all over the world as we speak. On both sides. On all sides.
“We’re not in control. People will cheer the death of one individual and mourn the death of another.
“So I really think our responsibility as actors is to make it as make it as clear as we can that these are humans we’re dealing with and that, as much as they commit to one course of action, they could equally make another choice. We’re not as in control as we like to think we are.”
‘High Castle’s world might be 1962, with the Nazis on the prowl, but the contemporary relevance isn’t lost on Rufus, either.
“Philip Dick always seemed to be talking about the present in his own way,” he says. “I think he was wanting to explore just what humans do in order to live? What is that process? And what’s fascinating is that, even in the most shocking of circumstances, they somehow get on with it… for good and for bad. And that’s incredibly relevant. Quite by accident, he has held a mirror to everything we’re faced with today, but then these are universal and timeless problems.”
It is always good to talk to Rufus Sewell, with his thoughtfulness and candour. Last time we spoke, he told me he was “sick and tired of only being cast as a w*nker”. So now, a Nazi. How’s that working out for him?
He chuckles away. “Frankly, I’ve changed my mind about my work. I wasn’t interested in this role at first, but I realised that more and more would come out of it, and all of my frustrations could be utilized. And only I could turn that around.”
If that sounds precious on the page, Rufus is anything but. Referring to his other ongoing project – playing the young Queen’s advisor Lord Melbourne in sweeping ITV drama ‘Victoria’ – as well as Nazi John, he admits, “These are the kinds of roles I’d have sighed at 20 years ago, but now I’m so happy to be playing them. And if can feel that, just occasionally, I’m doing something special, that makes a difference for the better, then that’s a bonus, a pretty big bonus.”