Interviews 'The Man in the High Castle' Season 2 Set Visit: Interview With Rufus Sewell
Seat42f.com, 16 December 2016
At the conclusion of Season 1, the hero of the Reich, Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith (Rufus Sewell) had unearthed not one, but two traitors in the Reich and has well on his way to another well-earned commendation for his zealous loyalty. But as viewers saw, that loyalty is soon to be tested after discovering his son had a debilitating disease and it remains to be seen whether John will ultimately betray his son or the Reich if forced to choose between them. In a press interview from the set, star Rufus Sewell talks about John Smithís conflicted heart.
What were your expectations going into the second season?
RUFUS: For me, the hope is that as the story widens, it deepens.
What can we expect for your character John Smith?
RUFUS: Well, Smithís predicament was pretty soundly set up at the end of the first season. Heís in a terrible position and a great position at the same time. So in one sense, heís at the top of the world in terms of his position in the Reich and getting pat on the head from the Fuhrer. He couldnít really be positioned better in his ascendance in the hierarchy. I mean, heís already at the top in America, and heís just done very well by his boss. At the same time, this is someone who I believe, everything he does is some cracked idea of protecting his family. Heís told himself certain stories. Heís got a very strong narrative in his head for why that is the right thing to do, but his son is very much in danger from those same forces that heís hooked himself to in order to protect his family. Heís split, which is something that Iíve hoped would happen more and more with his character ó that he gets divided because I donít believe heís ever been straightforward evil or straightforward good, but just a kind of guy like most people. A mix of those two things, and thatís why itís so interesting to play a Nazi, those things. Because if he was just a straightforward bad guy, I wouldnít have any interest. That is why this series succeeded and thatís why Iím here.
Is John Smith solidly behind the Fuhrer at this point, or is he looking for kind of a way out, the way Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) almost had at the end of the first season?
RUFUS: I think in terms of the long game, I wouldnít like to go into that. I donít think thereís anything thatís straightforward with him. I think heís dealing with things one at a time. He certainly has his doubts. I wouldnít like to say out loud or predict where heís going or what heís planning. I know that he can seem to be going one way, but planning another at the same time. I like to think that there is a lot of potential change in his future.
Well, one could say that ďthe higher you get, the further you fall.Ē
RUFUS: It doesnít necessarily just have to be a fall. I like the idea of him using his power. I like the fact that Iím involved in [the show] because I certainly have very strong ideas about where I feel this character should go, but I donít feel at liberty or really in a position to talk about where it should go because Iím talking about where I want it go, but it might not. One of the problems of being an actor and having a brain in a long-term series is that certainly you have a vested interest in where your character goes. I have a very strong connection to the future of this character, and itís not necessarily what people would imagine.
Itís clear that heís not just pure evil as thereís other elements to him, which we see in his home life and the scenes with his family. Do we get to see a lot more of that this next season?
RUFUS: Yes, thereís a lot more of that. I mean, I was always very much in favor of avoiding too much cuteness with the family life, and I donít mean that as a joke. I mean that comically or ironically, itís very tempting I think, and stylistically, to go for the cookie-cutter í50s dad-knows-best picture postcard idea because as a counterpoint thatís very ironic. Itís almost witty, but I always wanted to press for beyond that. You might get that immediate two-dimensional view with the pipe and the cardigan and the dog, but I think itís far more interesting if it turns out to be a real family and not some kind of stylized pastiche in order to make a point. For me, Iím really gratified that weíre going deeper and deeper into that. I mean, a lot of his stuff has been with family, absolutely, and itís just going between these two different worlds that fight each other, inside him and in other ways.
The parallel universe, Iím so curious how John Smith would react to what we saw at the end of Season 1.
RUFUS: For me, I very much like and look forward to the idea of exploring alternate John Smiths. But I wasnít keen on the idea of spreading us too thin too quickly in terms of taking characters and giving us alternate versions of them because you can dilute the currency. Itís essential to establish your currency and have people know the value of what theyíve got before you start to play around with it. If everyone was to start spinning off into different realities too quick, what happens is, as far as Iím concerned, itís like watching one of these films where they have too many flashbacks, too many ďwhat ifs.Ē After a while, you donít invest in what youíre watching because you think, ďWell, Iím just going to find out that this is a bloody flashback. Whatís the point?Ē Youíve got to know that there is one main world and the others slowly, judiciously move away from that, and I think that thereís enough potential depth in Smith that I wouldnít want to fail to explore that because people get carried away with cute ideas. However, the beatnik Smith is someone I want to play, or whatever, just as an actor, but also I think itís very interesting for the audience. [Laughs] But not too soon. Also whatís more important to me is explore the depth of one character because one character has alternate worlds in them, as far as Iím concerned. That might be a little bit cute way of putting it, but Iíd rather explore that Ė and I may also fail to do that, I donít want to talk my game up too much, but that is the potential. I think Smith already has that two people in him. Heís the one, the person that he wouldíve been, and the person that he is, and they fight.
What about Smithís son? How is keeping this secret going to affect their father-son dynamic in Season 2?
RUFUS: It is going to affect the father-son dynamic in many ways, and itís a large part of the story. I couldnít tell you how, but itís basically the key part of my story, so I canít give you a quick answer.
What about his other ďsonĒ ó the surrogate son of Joe Blake, who is now kind of the runaway child. Is John Smith in pursuit? Will Smith welcome him back? Whatís kind of that relationship going to be for Season 2?
RUFUS: Itís not so much a runaway. I guess you could call him a runaway in the sense of if you deliberately leave the door open and a trail of coins leading off to a cliff somewhere. I mean, itíd be a mistake to assume that Smith doesnít have a potential game plan. I like never being a hundred percent sure whether Smith is unhappy about some turn of events or happy about it.
John Smith seemed to give Joe an awful lot of latitude or rope in the first season, even once he sensed that Joe wasnít entirely on his side anymore. It seemed like he just kind of wanted to see what Joe might do and there was a curiosity to it.
RUFUS: Not just curiosity, but also to be a very good chess master, to have a keen idea of what he might do, and an idea that could work in [Smithís] favor.
Playing a high ranking Nazi officer is, obviously, a very unique role. Were there any challenges for you getting into that character, especially going into Season 2?
RUFUS: No more going into Season 2 than in Season 1. I mean, the challenge for me was to not let history, or cliches, or previous movies, or previous performances, make decisions unconsciously for me because one of the least interesting things about any character is the costume they wear, or the uniform theyíve got. Just as far as Iím concerned, every thing about him that was not Nazi-like is whatís interesting and worth exploring because heís a high ranking American Nazi in a Reich that never had to be open or honest about its failings, never was allowed to write its own history of itself, so heís an all-American hero. Heís an all-American Nazi hero, and one of the creepy things about it is that you donít have to push that í50s Americana idea too far for it to fit. Thereís not many things you have to take out of the picture for it to work. For me, the challenge was to play a human all the time because as far as I was concerned, having thought about it a lot, and what my responsibility was playing a Nazi, and the conclusion I came to is I think itís my responsibility to humanize because I read ďThe Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.Ē I read Albert Speerís book. I read everything I could about what it was like to be a normal person in that environment and what narratives you constructed for yourself in order to tell yourself youíre a good person. You know, what did the majority of Germans do? How did they manage to go through that and go along with it? They all did. Pretty much all of them. The idea that that could not happen in other countries is pretty delusional. I think itís terrifying, but itís true. Just to imagine that someone to all intents and purposes might have lived a very full life as an American and been loved and good father and gone through a different set of circumstances and ended up a high ranking officer who did evil, terrible things and managed to tell himself it was part of the job. This happens in every country. Sometimes, itís just very, very disturbing. But I try to find as I read-through it that a man could believe he was still being good somehow. Sometimes thatís harder than others, but itís my job.
What part does the film reels have to play in the second season? Are they something, theyíre still inquisitive? Or has that been dealt with?
RUFUS: Yes, that they get to the idea, it gets kind of turned on its head quite interestingly towards the end. Itís very quite clever, but theyíre still in play and not the only thing, yes.
You said sometimes itís been harder than others to get in touch with the human sides of your characters. Which oneís been hardest to kind of really get out the humanity of any of your great villainous characters?
RUFUS: Iím not talking about in general. Iím just talking about there were some things in terms of the Nazi ideology that obviously does not come easy to rationalize your way around, but as I said, because weíre playing Nazis who were able to write their own history, it was possible for the majority of them, easier for the majority to think that they were good, wholesome people because we only know what we know because we won. We only know as much as we know because of the way it panned out. Imagine if they hadnít lost, if the Americans hadnít gone through Germany. What would Nazi America know of itself? What idea of itself would it be allowed to have? Itís quite extraordinary, but every country does that to a certain extent. I mean, in England where I grew up, 5th of November, burning Guy Fawkes. I didnít realize I was celebrating the ritual execution by fire of someone who made an attempt to blow up the House of Parliament, and weíve been implicated in a political act by every year burning this thing. I didnít know. Thatís what societies do.
What storyline were you most excited to get to explore in Season 2?
RUFUS: For me, I was, and still am, just excited about a simple, true storyline. If I can just have something that makes absolute sense. Obviously, as an audience member, I love the idea of a spectacle and all that, but my job is to try to find a way through something that is usually kind of mundane in the sense that it just makes emotional sense, so for me it was just exploring the story of my son and making sure that that stayed true to what a human being in those circumstances would do. It doesnít sound important, but that was to me the thing that was most important.
To find out what further twists and turns await and where John Smithís heart and loyalty takes him, be sure to tune in for the release of THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE Season 2 on Friday, December 16th available exclusively on Amazon Prime.