Interview with Harry Lloyd from Counterpart
Counterpart is out now on SoHo (and Neon) and thanks to the friendly publicity people over at Sky TV we got handed a nice little interview Q &A with Harry Lloyd, star of Counterpart who plays Peter Quayle.
Counterpart screens weekly on Fridays at 8:30 on SoHo and weekly on Neon from 12 March.
Grab yourself a coffee, sit down and have a read of what Harry had to say.
Question: Have you watched the show?
HL: Yes, and I have to say I’m very pleased and proud of what I saw. It’s a demanding premise. They made it so clear. I thought, ‘You’ve got us in. Now we can play.’
Q: How do you pitch the premise because it seems like something difficult to explain in one sentence?
HL: This is metaphysical espionage. I just read the pilot and I thought, “This is extraordinary!” I’d just come back to London from filming an American TV show for two seasons, Manhattan. I thought, “I’m now moving back to London. My furniture had all just arrived. I don’t want to do any American TV.” Then I saw the Counterpart script and thought, “This is really fantastic!” I had to go audition
Q: Could you grasp the concept in just reading the scripts?
HL: I did, yeah. That’s what Justin’s (Marks, the show’s writer and executive producer) gift is. He can take something that elicits lots of really complicated, interesting thoughts about nature and nurture and other huge themes. But ultimately, it’s a really strong story. Structurally, it’s tight. He wrote all 10 episodes so I got to read the whole thing pretty much as we started so we could shoot it like a movie. I was just page turning. At its heart, it’s a thriller. That’s what pulled it together. That was my main worry. Is this going to be too big? Then he sent me other episodes and I thought, “Oh, you’re looking at the back-door aspect of it. That’s a clever way of doing that.” So I think the structure and the material complement each other really well.
Q: Your character at first comes across as kind of a jerk. Can you describe him?
HL: You start off with him as someone smug and smarmy and privileged and you think, “Okay, you’re going to take a kick in the…” And he does! He’s someone who arrived at this job not because of his intelligence and skills but because of the people he knows and family connections. In a way, that’s probably why he’s someone Howard Prime can trust to begin with. He knows guys like that. “I can predict you. You’re in it for yourself. I’m not worried about you. You’re not invested enough in this to have your own back-door agreements [with] people.” So he becomes someone embroiled in this and does his best to try and get out of the TV show as much as possible. He’s quite useful for the audience sometimes, I think. He’s the one who basically says, “Hold on. This is what’s happening and this is why it’s a problem.” He’s someone who can help audiences get a handle on what’s going on. But as the series goes on, this guy who has never really been out of his comfort zone is forced to make big decisions and realize actually what he’s about. Which I think is a surprise to him. For him, it’s about survival. It’s about keeping his job, then it’s about keeping his life as it gets worse and worse. I don’t think he’s playing out any master plan and his character is revealed through these really essential decisions he makes.
Q: What would you say is his backstory?
HL: He’s someone who, to work in this office and be let in on the world’s biggest secret, he would have come straight out of some place like Oxford or Cambridge and into some form of ambassadorial position or government agency job, perhaps U.N.-based. Then through a connection from his father-in-law, played by Richard Schiff, who is the head of Diplomacy, that was his way in. I think for him the idea of being sworn into this big secret makes him feel extraordinarily important and superior to the rest of his classmates, who were probably smarter and more successful. It gives him this feeling of power. Which is very important to someone like him. He gets to feel he’s in on the biggest secret in the world. He gets off on that and it’s probably enough to keep him happy. And then it’s just about him trying to stay there. I don’t think he wants to take over or that he’s massively ambitious.
Q: One of the central themes of Counterpart seems to be “the path not taken.” Have you ever wondered what would have happened if you had taken a different path in life?
HL: As an actor, it’s sometimes hard to work out where the forks in the road are in your life because you’re constantly thinking, “What if I didn’t take that job?” I think people often ask, “What would have happened if you hadn’t done this or that?” As I get older, part of me gets less and less curious about that because it gets so complicated. I don’t know if that thing specifically led to the other thing. Less and less, I think of my path less traveled.
Q: The show features this other world that is almost but not quite exactly like ours. What would the Harry Lloyd on that other side be like?
HL: What’s interesting about this is obviously there are so many multiverses out there. Every time you make a decision, you split. The genius of this show is that this started with a world having an identical copy 30 years ago. And when they were identical, after 30 years, how are they so different? Justin and [the writers] have charted it and worked it out specifically, “This was a big thing in 1991. This happened on this side but didn’t happen on this side.” What’s interesting is there’s not like a good side or a bad side with these worlds. There’s no, “We’re more advanced” or “they’re more advanced.” For them, this is just what’s happened in the world.
Sometimes I feel like looking around the world today, this feels like an alternative reality to a world that probably would make more sense. But every version of life could feel like that.
The relationship between the two Howards is fascinating to me. They have the same DNA and up until the age of 20 or 30, they were exactly the same. So how are they so different now? Howard realizes, “I have that in me even if I never expressed it.” I think that’s a really interesting aspect of the show.
Q: Did you grow up liking science fiction or shows that at least had a sort of existential theme?
HL: I’m always interested in things that are really original. There’s so much wonderful stuff on TV now but it’s such a saturated market you need something original so it can stand out. [Many of]The jobs I’ve enjoyed the most, like Game Of Thrones or Doctor Who, have some element of sci fi or fantasy to them. The only sci fi element to this show is the fact that the world got copied 30 years ago and other than that, you just get logical about it. You see it through. You follow characters. You learn about human behavior. So I don’t think of it as a sci fi or a fantasy show. There’s one premise which is one notch away from reality and the rest of it is just life. I think that’s an interesting gateway and I love a project that gives me that kind of playground to play in.
Q: Given the state of the world today, this seems like a very timely show. Do you see it that way?
HL: I think so. Some of it has to do with government transparency, the idea of this mysterious management, of the diplomacy between the two worlds and who is really in charge. What is the real purpose of this building, this Office of Interchange? It’s not about spy work and the double-crossing. It’s about finding out the American census for 2011 from the other side. How is it different from ours? What can we learn? What economic advantages can we gain by learning things like [the location of] mineral deposits in a trench in the Pacific we haven’t found [yet on our side].” Ultimately, this is still about corporate greed and shady government bureaucracy. There are so many threads to the show.
Q: What did you personally learn from doing this show?
HL: To learn that you earn all these interesting conversations about philosophy and metaphysics by getting the structure of the story right. The narrative has to be complete. And because he had all 10 scripts written and wrote it all like a three-act play, you have all this wonderful freedom to explore. I learned seeing it firsthand how that was the priority from the start. That gives you a wonderful freedom and that was a huge takeaway.
Q: What was it like filming part of the show in Berlin?
HL: It was wonderful. I didn’t really know much about Berlin before this. We’d done four months of shooting in Los Angeles and just at the point when people are getting pretty tired, we picked up and went to Berlin and got this massive shot of adrenalin. Suddenly these things we’d been talking about and these films we’d been watching and these sets that had been fabricated were real. They were right there. All these museums were there about the Berlin Wall that you could go to. The season is about this crossing and about this wall. When you’re there, you realize all these different parallels. Being in the city added a huge amount to the show and we’re shooting even more in Berlin in the second season.
Q: Did you learn things you didn’t know?
HL: The first thing I visited was the Berlin Wall museum. The thing that was most fascinating was finding out all the little human stories about the people who lived in this little pocket [of East Berlin] and you could ferry yourself across the river. There was the person who hid for six months and the guy who tried to make the crossing and got caught. It’s all those fascinating little stories that take a while to kind of surface once history has calmed down a bit. Those are the things that really blew my mind. I remember my dad coming home one day with a piece of the Berlin Wall. He visited on soon after 1989, and I was maybe 7 or 8. I saw this little piece of brick and vaguely understood it was significant. It’s history and it feels like it’s from a very different world than the one we’re in now but it’s actually still so fresh.
Q: Because there’s a heaviness to the show, is there any interest in doing an episode set in Hawaii or a musical episode?
HL: Absolutely! The one thing I didn’t really realize until I saw the first episode is that Quayle is the funniest guy in the show. Only because nobody else is particularly funny! I didn’t realize I was the light relief. There is a scene much later on in the series I have with J.K., where we’re talking about the stuff that’s gone down and how messy it is and without meaning to, I started laughing because it was just so ridiculous. And so did he. It was a lovely moment and I think it made it into the final version. In real life, that’s often when you laugh the most, when things are at their darkest. And if you still try to pound it and be all noble about it, nobody wants to watch that. So I think the show has a wonderful self-awareness. It knows how much you can take.