Q & A With Torchwood: Miracle Day's Russell T. Davies, John Barrowman, Eve Myles, and Alexa Havins

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Frank Ockenfels3/Starz

The Torchwood: Miracle Day team (L-R): Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), CIA Agent Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins) and CIA Agent Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer)

What if you suddenly woke up one day to a world where, for 24 hours, no one died? Is it a gift or a curse? The latter might be the more appropriate, especially if people continued to age, get hurt, and fall ill.

Who has done this to all of humanity, and why? That is the mystery facing Captain Jack Harkness and Gwen Cooper in Torchwood: Miracle Day (airing Fridays at 10:00 p.m. EST/PST on Starz). As the last two surviving members of The Torchwood Institute, they are “drafted” by C.I.A. Agent Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer) to help him and fellow agent Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins) expose those behind this global and extremely dangerous conspiracy.

Just prior to the premiere of Torchwood: Miracle Day, series creator, show runner, and executive producer Russell T. Davies, along with cast members John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), and Alexa Havins (Esther Drummond) spoke with journalists about the series. The following are some excerpts from that Q&A. Enjoy!

Russell, I wanted to ask what inspired you to write about this theme of never-ending death?

Russell T. Davies: It’s kind of an old classical idea that I’d had in my head for years, possibly decades. I think it happens in medieval mythology where death takes time off and leaves the world and things of that nature. I just thought it would fit Torchwood marvelously, and that we would have ten hours to explore what would really happen to the world as opposed to telling something like a fable or fairy tale. So it was rather irresistible because Torchwood now is about big ideas, and this was a big idea. 

John, in Miracle Day Jack becomes mortal and he can die. Do you think that prompts him to see his relationship with Gwen in a new light? Is she suddenly more important to have in his life because his days are now numbered?

John Barrowman: I think Jack has always thought of Gwen as being important, because initially she was the heart that he brought into Torchwood in order to teach him again how to be more connected to the human race.

We’ve now moved on to where Jack is at risk of dying, and I think over time he’s realized that he hasn’t really come to terms with his mortality. Now all of a sudden that Jack is mortal, he realizes that he kind of liked being immortal and loved the life he had. So he needs protection and Gwen is the right one to protect him. They have a 50/50 type of team and partnership, and Jack very much needs her to step up to the plate and save him from harm. However, he finds it very difficult not to get involved [in what’s happening]. Jack has to stop himself and think, “I could hurt myself here.”

So it’s a really nice new dynamic that develops and you learn an awful lot about Gwen and Jack and their relationship in this series.

Alexa, you’ve done comedy, drama, and so forth, but when you first read the script for Torchwood with these unusual concepts and characters, did it take you a while to get used to that new world?

Alexa Havins: I think I just had to take a breath and trust what Russell wrote, because sometimes we’re reading things and it’s this spider’s web of fabulous ideas that are so out there in the sci-fi world. However, he takes all that and roots it in reality, so, again, I just had to trust what was on the page, especially because we didn’t even know where Russell’s mind was taking us on this journey.

 

Eve, can you talk a little bit about living and working in America for a while and what were maybe some of the differences in the way we live or just different odd associations of how we do things that you found interesting?

Eve Myles: Well, we arrived in Los Angeles on the 16th of December [2010] and left four weeks ago [early June], so it was a big part of the year, really, and we just had the best time ever. I mean, it was incredibly stressful, the huge move over here with a small baby and my partner had to leave work for a year, but we knew we were coming to do something outstanding and we couldn’t wait to be there and do it. I found the pace of life in Los Angeles to be a lot slower and more relaxed, and because of the sunshine, people tended to be happier. It was generally just a very, very lovely place to be.

Russell, as Torchwood drifts further from Doctor Who and is now not only its own self-sustainable series but has come across the pond, what are the chances that fans will see crossovers between the two series in the future?

RD: It’s probably less [likely] to be honest because when I used to run Doctor Who and Torchwood then I could sort of spin those things quite easily in my head and talk things over. Now, however, I’m so out of touch with Doctor Who. I’m not even sure when it’s on the air because they’ve got these very expensive plans as well as split seasons, and I don’t know what they’re planning for 2012 at all.

So it would be difficult, though not impossible, but we’ve got Torchwood now standing on its own two feet. I think that was always the case, but in the public’s eye there is a nice separation now and they see the show as this big, strong, muscular program. So I’m not in a rush to sort of go back or anything. Nonetheless, we will always exist in the same happy, lovely universe and there will always be lots of references to and fro.

Russell, what would you say were some of the biggest challenges in the filming of Miracle Day?

RD: It was interesting for us coming across from Britain to America because in many ways it’s the same industry - you have scripts, you have actors, you have a camera, etc. So you get on with it, and yet everything is translated with a slightly different language. Even the lights have slightly different names, and sometimes even three months in you sit there and have to ask one of the grips, “What are you talking about?”

So the language was a really, really odd thing when going from one country to another, but as ever, the biggest challenge was the same one we always faced in Britain, which was realizing the ambition of the show. I think we’ve done that. This is a show that everyone involved wants to be bigger and better every week.

We always start with a great episode and want to build on that. There are two really unexpected episodes to come involving history and these great big, modern, epic scenarios. It’s just a matter of pushing it all the time and pushing ourselves to make it bigger, better and bolder and never relaxing. That’s the key to it, really. We just finished editing episode 10 and it’s magnificent. Oh, my God, it’s good. It’s epic, huge, heartbreaking, and wonderful. So we did it. We got there, folks.

 

John and Eve, how have you managed to keep your characters not only fresh and exciting but also challenging for you both to play since the first season of Torchwood right up through Miracle Day?

EM: That’s completely to Russell T. Davies and what he puts on the page for us. And he challenges me as an actor every time I get a script through the door. It also keeps you alive as an actor, and every day you go in and once you’ve conquered the scenes - and some of them are massive, big, epic, beautifully written scenes - it’s just the best feeling in the world.

Every year these characters are evolving and becoming different and stronger people as well as these great modern day heroes but in a very different way.  And that goes for every character in it this year. So it’s down to Russell and the words he gives us to say.

JB: I have to agree with Eve and that the thing I enjoy most about playing Jack and working with Russell and everyone else is that every day when you come to work or get another script, you’re learning something new about your character. I’m not one of those actors who like to analyze things too much, so I trust what Russell and the writers are doing with the characters in order to give them their journey.

My job is to come in and try to make those words on the page come alive on the camera, and I think one thing all of us on the show have in common is that we bring a little bit of our own personalities to these characters. That’s what connects, I believe, with the audience and lifts the words that are brilliantly written off the page. So it’s a collaboration, but it’s also as Eve said right off, it’s a trust. We get the words, which are beautifully written, and then we can build from there. I think that’s why it works.

John, there’s a moment early on where Jack realizes that he is mortal, and intellectually you’d think Jack would be relieved about that. However, there was a distinct look of fear going on and I wanted to know what was going on in Jack’s head during that moment? And also how easy was it to slip Jack Harkness back on as a character?

JB: Jack Harkness is so easy to slip back on because it’s like his coat. It’s very easy to put your arms in and wear it, and it’s such a part of me that it comes very naturally.

In regards to him discovering his mortality, yes, there was an element of fear on his face because it’s something he’s never experienced before. It’s something that until the point where he became immortal he never really had that moment of fear. So to have that and to then realize that his body wasn’t healing, that he could die, was also a moment of confusion because how does he deal with this? How does he handle the situation? What does he do?

Jack has always been the one who’s put himself in front of harm’s way to help people and really gone boldly into these situations not fearing anything. Now all of a sudden, my goodness, he can’t do this. So there’s a bit of excitement there, too, because he can experience a lot of things that he’s never experienced before. That’s what’s really wonderful about Jack’s journey; when he discovers this has happened, he starts not only having a little bit of fear, but he also starts to live a little.

This question is for Russell and Alexa. Are we looking forward to romance between Rex and Esther, or is there relationship strictly professional?

RD: I’ll let Alexa talk about it, but I think in the first episode Esther quite clearly has a bit of thing for Rex. It’s quite understated but she feels very friendly towards him and attracted to him. Esther is the only person at his hospital bed, which maybe says more about Rex than it does Esther. But there is certainly a bond and loveliness there. What do think, Alexa?

AH: Well, Rex is out in the field and it’s dangerous and there’s something sexy about that. My character, however, is stuck behind her computer and I think there’s a longing not only to be with him, but then to also be out there in the field and work with him hand-in-hand.

So we have this little tango, the professional and the personal relationship, and you’ll see as the ten episodes go on that Esther tries and really gives it her all, but as you also see, Rex is tough. He’s all business, he’s gruff, he’s stern, and I think that makes for quite an interesting pairing between the two of them because she has this innocence and is naïve, whereas Rex is a guy who’s lived a lot. Like Jack and Gwen, he’s lived a full life. All three of them know who they are. They’ve had time for growth, and what was such an honor for me and so much fun as an actor, was getting to play a character that clearly had the potential to grow and somewhere to go.

Esther’s not the one who has had weapons training and experienced life on the run. So you kind of see her stumble a little bit and pick herself up, and she is surrounded by these strong characters that help her become who she is.

 

My question is for John and Russell; are we going to continue to see Jack’s sins or missteps from elsewhere in time continue to come back and haunt him?

RD: I think you might have hit upon a theme there. The most fascinating thing about Jack is that he’s lived for thousands of years both in the future as well as the past. So it’s such a gift to a writer, and I mean the whole writing team, where you sit them in a room and they always gravitate towards that because it’s so fascinating.

We’ve done that in the past and taken Jack to some very dark places, and we certainly do that again here. It’s absolutely vital to the story and, oh, my God, there is some shocking stuff to come, isn’t there John?

JB: I love hearing that because I love playing those types of stories as it allows me to alter Jack a little bit and look into how he has become the man he is now. I enjoy that type of in-depth look into the characters, whether it’s Jack, Gwen Cooper or, hopefully, Rex Matheson, it’s exciting for an actor. So I’m always up for what I refer to as time traveling through past history.

Russell, is the season going to end with a cliffhanger?

RD: I don’t want to give too much away. It’s a riveting last episode that has shocks, explosions galore, and big, proper revelations, to the point where all your questions are answered, if people are worried about that.

I don’t like series that reach a great big cliffhanger that demands you come back next year. I think the next year should start from scratch. So you needn’t worry about Miracle Day. Literally everything you are wondering about will be answered in detail, not just in the last episode but especially as you hit episodes seven, eight, nine and, of course, ten. Things get answered, but you do have to keep watching until the final seconds if you want to find out everything. 

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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