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They are true victims in this story. They're innocents. You know when scripts are good because we tell each other that we've read something good. This script was buzzing all around the acting community in London. Everybody was trying to get it on it because you don't come across something that's this well written often. You mentioned living in London at the time. I grew up in Southern California, so when Chernobyl happened, it just seemed so far away.
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But in the UK, farms and animals in northern Wales were monitored. Harris: Yes. The grazing animal was no longer safe because if it was eating grass that had absorbed the rainwater that had irradiated material, the grass would become irradiated. And the animal eats it, then it becomes irradiated. And then if it's producing milk, and you drink the milk, you become irradiated. It had a big impact, not just in England, but all across Europe. What do you remember from that period?
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Harris: Everyone took it very seriously. And what made everyone more alarmed was that you didn't really get much information as to what was actually happening. The China Syndrome had come out by then, so there were all of these alarming stories that the reactor could burn the core of the Earth and end up in China or something.
In the absence of information, human beings invent it, so there was a lot of speculation at the time. What kind of person do you think Valery Legasov was? Harris: He was somebody who was unlucky enough to be the person who answered the call that day. He was a reluctant hero in the sense that I don't think that he ever thought at any point he was going to have to put his life on the line to succeed in a job. But that's immediately apparent to him once he goes down [to Chernobyl] and can't leave. In real life, I think he was probably more aware of what he was going into.
In real life, you can see the photographs of him arriving on site, and he's got luggage. He knew that he was going to be staying there. But in our story, it added a little extra thing if he's in the same clothes for the first couple of days. He was plucked out of his life and found himself there.
We also changed some things about him. I was on board for playing the part the way that Mazin wanted it to be played. The real Legasov was married and had children. Looking at the footage of him, you could see that he had a lot of confidence and he was an extremely intelligent man. He was part of the system, but he also was aware of the flaws of the system.
And I think that at this point in his life, when this accident occurred, the idea of not addressing the problems and keeping quiet is no longer an option. He made himself extremely unpopular. You can see from the footage he also had a certain arrogance about him, a certain swagger that came from being an expert in an extremely specialized field, which within the Soviet Union was a superstar field. The [Soviet] state was committed to being a nuclear power in any way He had standing within the state.
In this scene from the second episode, Legasov tells Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet leadership that the situation at Chernobyl is catastrophic. Compared with other historical figures you've played, like The Crown's King George VI, who has a long-established historical record, how difficult was it to research someone like Legasov? Harris: It was very difficult. I've played many historical characters, and it was the first time I didn't find the research helpful.
It was also because [Soviet officials] did successfully cut him out of the narrative. If you go and look at a lot of the books that have been written about Chernobyl, some don't mention him at all. And yet he was very clearly in charge of the cleanup, which is an interesting omission. He was in books written by Western authors. I was trying to find footage that I could hear him talking in, but in the end I stopped pursuing it because I realized Craig did dive deeply into this research for several years. He had come up with someone slightly different that was needed to fit the narrative structure.watch
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The role that I was gonna play was the Legasov in Craig's script. It wasn't a biography of Legasov, it was a story about the accident. It praised the series for its authenticity, down to small elements, like the little basket your character used in the first episode to take out his rubbish.
Did you spend time thinking about getting those little things right -- things that somebody who was brought up in Russia or was a scholar of the disaster would pick up on? Harris: We had people there who advised us, who would tell you about the way things happened. My research for things like that ends up being about reading.
So, for example, the acting method that people refer to as "the method" has been mischaracterized as walking around and trying to tell yourself, "I am Legasov" every day, as though that's gonna help you. But it's really about immersing yourself into the culture. So you read books that would have been part of that person's upbringing.
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I watched Russian films to try and get an idea of how they represent themselves, how they employ humor. We all behave differently in social circumstances so I did a lot of that work. Did you go to Pripyat? Harris: No way. Harris: No, it's still radioactive. I mean, people go there, but you sign waivers. Now, weirdly, there are actually Instagram influencers going there , taking in the abandoned school and the swimming pool and the swings in the amusement park.
By the way, the swings in the amusement park are a bad thing to be on. They're made of metal and it would have absorbed a lot of the ambient radiation that would have come down on that city. It's been 33 years since Chernobyl happened. Was this the right time to tell this story?
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What about it is resonating right now? Harris: Well, it's obviously the right time. It's caught on in a big way. There are a couple of ways that it resonates in different issues that are going on right now.
You can see the denial of truth and the denial of the facts. There's something that the climate story and our story have in common. I think people could quite easily see those resonances. I can't imagine a better time to bring this out. Who knows Legasov explains how the Chernobyl reactor exploded during the courtroom scene in the show's final episode. What were some of the scenes that were most difficult to film, either physically or emotionally?
Harris: Scenes are difficult for different reasons. The very first thing that we shot was the end where Legasov is prematurely aged. That was a weird place to start in the sense that you haven't experienced the story yet. But here you are, trying to imagine how all of that is going to inform you. After filming did you feel you really understood what you talked about in that scene?
Harris: I can explain it in layman's terms -- what happened and why the reactor blew up -- and I can explain in layman's terms about the concept of a nuclear power reactor. I get that part now.
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I mean, if you dig deep into some of it, like the exact effects of the xenon gas being and the positive void coefficient, you can start to get lost. But, basically, I understand what happened. A page monologue is a one-man play, it's a short play. And the idea of stage rehearsals, which you don't get in films and television, is to become so familiar with the material that you can forget you know it. Your scene partner might be playing something slightly differently. They might pause, and that causes a reaction in you.
They might strike a different word, which unlocks a different understanding of where you are in a scene. If you're desperately focused on "What do I say next? I reviewed this a couple weeks ago and enjoyed it immensely. Your email address will not be published. If you are a human, do not fill in this field. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.