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Torchwood: Miracle Day actors Eve Myles and Bill Pullman met with reporters at Comic-Con International in San Diego to discuss the British-turned-American sci-fi series, which debuted its third episode at the convention with the actors in attendance.
Serving as a point-of-view character in the series’ earliest episodes, Myles’ Gwen Cooper was a newcomer to the mysterious Torchwood Institute, which operated “outside the government, beyond the police” to confront alien threats. By the end of the third season, Children of Earth, Gwen and Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) were all that remained of the agency, and Torchwood disbanded. But now, with the move from the BBC to America’s Starz network, an unparalleled threat to humanity brings Gwen and Jack back into action as they fight to discover why human beings have suddenly stopped dying. The mystery appears to center on Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman), a death-row inmate who survived three lethal injections and is the first non-fatal death on record.
Myles began by praising Kai Owen, who plays Gwen’s husband Rhys Williams. “He’s one of my very best friends, I adore him,” she said. “We knew that the character was going to be killed off in episode six of the first series. But we put our heads together and said, ‘We have to make this work, because I don’t want to lose him.’ And we really did make it work.”
On the differences between working in the U.K. and working in the United States, Myles said that there was certainly a larger sense of scale in the U.S. compared to Wales, one manifestation of which was apparent in on-set catering. “You have to scramble in the U.K. just to get a poached egg, but you know here you get table after table until you say, ‘I can’t eat any more!’”
In the first episode of Miracle Day, Gwen, Rhys and their infant daughter must escape from their sleepy Welsh cottage when it’s besieged by paramilitary forces. Gwen, with the baby in her arms, shoots back at the attackers and helicopters before being driven out of the house by a rocket blast.
“That scene was so difficult to do,” she said. “That scene must have taken three days to do, because you certainly can’t shoot a firearm when a baby’s on set. That’s ridiculous! Even [with a baby in] the building, you can’t shoot a firearm. Juggling the helicopter … the rocket … in one scene, very, very difficult. It was very time consuming, but the director was incredible, he knew exactly how to do it. A lot of those scenes when I shoot things, I’m not shooting. When you see the baby, I’m not shooting, when you don’t see the baby I am shooting.”
Myles also said it’s impossible for her to put down Russell T. Davies’ scripts until she’s read them through — and, speaking of babies, she revealed she even flips through the pages as “I’m changing my daughter’s butt.”
After some talk of the decisions Gwen makes at the end of Miracle Day, Myles was asked whether she ultimately makes the right choice. “She makes a choice,” Myles said. “What she does is make some horrific sacrifices.”
On the opposite side of the spectrum from the noble Gwen Cooper, Owen Danes is a pedophile and murderer whose execution by lethal injection appears inextricably linked to the “Miracle Day” phenomenon — Danes is the first person to survive death. Bill Pullman, the actor portraying Danes, was asked whether he had any reservations about taking the role.
“I wonder if I should’ve? I feel like in some ways I didn’t, and then I realized everybody was surprised that I didn’t,” he said. “Sometimes you make certain choices and you wonder, well, what does that mean? I am kind of chronically deliberating, certain projects would come up and then I’m deliberating on them for my own reasons, and the agency’s used to kind of taking a long time. I just accepted a new thing on Monday that on Friday I had turned down.
“This one, I was not like that,” Pullman continued. “It was just before Christmas, they sent me three scripts of Children of Earth. I saw the first 15 minutes of Children of Earth and halfway through the second script, I said, ‘Oh, this is my Christmas present.’”
Pullman said that, although he isn’t a method actor who constantly embodies his current role — “I didn’t get the Certified Method Actor Stamp, I was in the wrong line or something” — the crew was sometimes disturbed by his presence on set due to the extraordinary darkness of the Danes’ character. “And there are interactions that happen like, ‘Can I get you a cup of coffee? Oh, he’s a nice guy!’”
The actor had high praise for Torchwood creator Russell T. Davies, who was also responsible for the Doctor Who relaunch in 2005 as well as the spinoff series The Sarah Jane Adventures. “I love Russell T. Davies, I think he’s such a genius. This has been one of my favorite things in 25 years,” Pullman said. “But the hardest thing was confronting him about things in the script. Because Russell Davies has Oswald Danes in him! There is an incredible intensity and passion about what he does. I have never gotten so much love and support [from a producer], which makes it hard to go up against him when he doesn’t want to hear certain things. I love him so much because we could go into those things and, fwoom! he hits you like a Roman candle burning hot! ‘That’s not fair! That’s not fair!’ Hold on, hold on. That’s a scorched Earth, that guy, he just burns it all down. And then he’d come back with [a solution], ‘Well, there.’ And you’d go, ‘Holy Jesus, this is much more than what I was asking for!’”
Pullman said that not only the cast of Torchwood but also the crew cites the show as one of their best working experience. He also explained why, from his perspective, the show generates such loyalty among the people who make it happen. “I have a basic prejudice against the basic hierarchy of television. I have trouble watching television because I most often fail to see a visual point of view that is honest to the story. I feel a lot of cinematography is a lot of flash but it has no heart, it has no intelligence behind it. It’s only trying to accommodate a writer who really is mostly about the words. I just have all that built into me. What I’d see is directors who were coming off some show, they weren’t listened to. They’d deliver their cut and they’d never get talked to again,” Pullman said of other television series. “Russell and Julie [Gardner, executive producer] would take a cut from a director, look at it and say, ‘Here’s our notes,’ and give it back to him, which really makes great sense, but is rare. So I liked that difference of how they were operating.”
He also joked that arguing with Davies set him somewhat apart from other cast members. “Curiously there is a built-in condition in England where the actors don’t really talk back. I don’t know whether it’s a cultural thing, or whether they’ve done so much fucking Shakespeare where it’s like ‘Don’t change the words!’” Pullman said. “So I was a little bit of a fucking prick, I guess. I was the one that was giving it.” The actor added that, “I was careful, I was respectful, I pulled off of things that was like, ‘thank you, you’re right,’ and things like that.”
Beyond his own “talking back,” though, Pullman reiterated that he was impressed by the producers’ drive to get things right. “They did things that we re-shot. We re-shot the scene where I break down and cry in the studio,” Pullman said. He confessed that he had his own reservations about the scene, but did not speak up until it was too late. “They had me talking to [a TV] interviewer, and he’s saying, ‘What do you think, Oswald Danes, when you see this?’ and they turn and it’s a video of me being given three lethal injections. And I look at them and I start breaking down and say ‘I’m sorry.’ And it was the wrong trigger. I [as Oswald Danes] would have looked at him, and turned back and said, ‘You fuck! You did this to me! I’m not sorry! You put me through this, and now you’re trying to humiliate me?’ I wouldn’t cry, I’d get angry,” Pullman said. “I fought that because I knew I had to cry, and everyone seems happy with it, and everything’s fine. And they came back and said, we want to re-look at that scene. We need a picture of Suzie Cabrini, the girl, that’s what’s going to get to him! There is that sense of, what do people want of me [Danes]? What is this moment? You don’t know where the crying comes from.”
“That shows a confidence in their show to say, we didn’t get this right, let’s go again.”
Related: Torchwood: Miracle Day Panel