Dominic West and Romola Garai talk 'the Hour' and other things

If they shared the same fictional TV world, The Hour’s Bel Rowley would have become executive producer of a BBC news magazine in 1957, a few years before Mad Men’s Peggy Olson took a secretary job at Sterling Cooper. But Romola Garai says Bel is the brilliant fantasy of Abi Morgan’s sexy period drama, equal parts Broadcast News and The Philadelphia Story, in which her character runs ably alongside the men. Garai, whose recent credits include the miniseries The Crimson Petal and White and the film adaptation of David Nicholls’s One Day, rang Vulture from London this week to talk about where we pick up in season two  and why the actress thinks Bel wound up less loud and demanding than she could have been.

How have things changed for Bel since the end of season one?

Eight months have gone by and there’s been a pretty seismic shift in her life because she’s been running the show without Freddie. He was the creative in their partnership. She’s running the show very confidently in his absence, but some of the spark has gone out of the reporting. She does need him. They come very much as a team and his absence is really felt.

Right, it’s not that anyone is questioning her ability —

But there’s no question that a woman of my age — I am 30 — would be doing that job. And there’s no problem with that, The Hour is a drama after all. And I do think Abi quite deliberately made Anna Chancellor’s character Lix an important part of the dynamic so there was a representation of a woman working in the office who was more age-appropriate. The problem is that with shows like ours we’re essentially having a dialogue about contemporary politics. [Producers] want Bel to be a woman in her thirties because that’s a character that viewers are going to link in with, even if it’s not absolutely accurate of the period.

Is that something Abi has ever discussed with you?

Not really. Given I was cast in it, it was always pretty obvious that there was going to be some complexity around Bel’s age. She’s running an editorial news department in 1957, and when I got this job, I was 28. It doesn’t totally fit. But the sexism exists. She’s not in a dream world either.

People can be incredibly picky about their nostalgia. I saw Abi even answered complaints about the show’s dialogue being too modern at times in season one.

Yeah, and I sort of feel like there are people whose great joy in life is discovering an accident in a TV show and having the opportunity to point it out. Why deny them the great pleasure of saying, “I know for a fact that Put ‘em up wasn’t a phrase until 1975!” Why would we want to take that away from them?

You worked with January Jones and John Slattery on 2004’s Dirty Dancing 2, which was also a period piece set in the late fifties.

Absolutely I remember working with them! They were both amazing actors to work with. When Mad Men came out, I thought it was a strange coincidence that had both been cast in Dirty Dancing 2, which is set in 1958, and then this show set in 1960. Then I got cast in a show in 1957! We’re all very castable for that time period [laughs]. Of course, I’ve been in so many period pieces that getting cast in the twentieth century is like an enormous leap for me. I remember watching the first seasons of Mad Men going, My God, this is really weird. I’ve worked with both those actors and they’re still wearing really similar costumes. I haven’t really run into them since. I rarely get out to the states.

Getting back to Freddie … we find out pretty quickly that he’s been traveling abroad but hasn’t kept in touch even though at the end of last season, it looked like Bel was maybe ready to acknowledge her feelings for him.

Freddie is obviously the man that deep down she really loves. Whether or not they’re meant to be together or whether or not she will allow herself to be with him, that’s the relationship she gets the most out of intellectually and emotionally. The relationship she had with Hector was never going to fulfill her. Having said that, I really like that Abi’s written that Hector and Bel go on to have this really fond, affectionate, successful working relationship having been lovers before. You don’t see very often, people ending a relationship but it sort of going on much as it did before, and that’s interesting.

Freddie and Bel

While you were promoting the show over the summer, you teased that Bel would be very angry and doing a lot of yelling this season. That’s not the case two episodes in —

Yeah, I think they edited those takes out [laughs]. They normally make you do things a number of different ways, and I was quite enjoying being domineering but it doesn’t seem to have made it to the screen. I don’t know why. I thought Bel would appear much more dominant in her job, but I think that probably the directors are wary of having her be too alienating as a character by having her going around yelling at people. I think it’s a very appealing quality but nobody else seems to.

Would you say this season will be darker than last? In the first two episodes, Hector becomes embroiled in a sex scandal this year, and Freddie’s pursues a controversial piece about race and immigration.

There was definitely a conscious effort to concentrate more on domestic rather than international politics. The Suez crisis, as fascinating as that period of history was, that was very much the story of the end of Britain’s empire. This year, it’s about Britain’s internal politics and police corruption and gang land underworld, and it’s all more intertwined in the character’s personal lives. It is darker because of that I’d say.

You’ve said you wanted to be a journalist before you became an actress. Has this job fulfilled any of that earlier ambition?

We all just love walking around an office and pretending to pick up phones and slam down paperwork and pull our glasses on and off in important ways, which is basically what we think journalists do and how they behave. There’s not so many shots of us, you know, filing stories. So this fulfills my desire to be a pretend journalist.

Hector Madden and Randall

ESQUIRE.COM: How does your wife feel about you having sort of cornered the market on dashing adulterous lushes?

DOMINIC WEST: Oh, you are nice to say that. She doesn't care. As long as I'm back with the kids, I can play up my advantages as much as I like. I've known her for twenty years now, and she dumped me on several occasions. I can't surprise her in any way now.

ESQ: Obviously you're great at playing the charming drunk, but I really like that Hector is a little more persecuted this season.

DW: Well, that's what comes with middle age: a sense of persecution. And it certainly comes with four kids. A great sense of persecution when they jump on your head at six o'clock in the morning. It's heartfelt, the persecution, I can tell you.

ESQ: Yes, but this season you're actually being persecuted, and prosecuted, probably, if things play out the way they seem they will.

DW: He starts off at the height of his celebrity and then — I don't know if it's the same in America; I think not as much as it is here — any celebrity is sort of built up to get shut down again, and Hector gets the full force of both of his celebrity and of his fall and subsequent persecution. So it makes total sense, and it's a delight to play, because you get to play the highs and the lows.

ESQ: I always wonder about people who are famous in two countries. Because I would imagine that, in America, people probably run up to you and say, "McNulty!" but then in England, you're both better known and subject to what seem like much crazier paparazzi.

DW: Fortunately, I'm not paparazzi material. I'm totally under the radar. So people in America still — yeah, I still get a bit of love from McNulty, and here I used to get love from McNulty, until I played this serial killer, and now people try to avoid me.
ESQ: Did it affect you to play a serial killer?

DW: Yeah, it certainly does, but I was determined not to let him get to me. I started dreaming about him, and that's when I... Yeah. But then we filmed it quite quickly, in three our four weeks in Manchester, and then I got away and went back to London to my kids and didn't give the bastard another thought.

ESQ: Until you started winning awards for the role.

DW: I played Iago as well, just after, and he's kind of the most evil man in drama. So I had quite the summer of villainy last year, but I became adept at shaking them off.

ESQ: Hector isn't a villain, but he's definitely a toxic person.

DW: Oh, really? Well, I think that's very unfair. He's damaged, he's a war veteran, he's seen the worst of the war. And we look into that in the subsequent episodes. And you get to see what happened to him in the war, and you get to see, you know, the trauma of that. And hopefully you get to see the reasons for his behavior and his zest for celebrity and his newfound status. And, hopefully — well I think definitely there is a sense of redemption after the sixth episode.

ESQ: It's hard to not compare him to McNulty just because there are some superficial similarities with the drinking and the womanizing, and I kind of got the impression that McNulty did what he did because he cared so deeply about things that he needed to dull his pain, and I was under the impression that Hector was doing those things because he really didn't care about anyone but himself. But it's interesting to hear that that is not the case.

DW: No, it's not really. He went through the Second World War, and I think anyone who did that — their life is much more complicated than pure selfishness. And certainly that's where I placed his womanizing and his philandering: the trauma of the war and the release of having faced death. My dad was at university with a lot of guys who were in the Second World War, and he said they partied like crazy. They really knew how to party 'cause they... And it's the case with my nephew who is in Afghanistan at the moment. They have seen death, and they embrace life. But also, with that, comes the trauma and the damage done. As you can tell, I'm rather more sympathetic to Hector.

Hector and Kiki Delane
ESQ: Your real-life wife has a pedigree. Do you bring anything from that into your fictional marriage?

DW: Not really, 'cause Hector's not really posh. Well, he's married into a posh world, but it's not particularly posh. It's more wealth, really. My wife's family is posh, but they have no wealth. It's the other way around.

ESQ: That's more fun, isn't it?

DW: It is, yeah, but it'd be nice to have a bit of dough. But no. I really drew a lot on my dad, in fact. My dad really was a man of the fifties in the way he dressed, and the way he looked, and his sort of old school manners and charm. That's where the similarities stop between him and Hector, but that's where I got an understanding of the manners of the age, which were different than they are now. And I think that they were rather nice. And I hope that one of Hector's redeeming qualities is that he dresses well, and he has a certain chivalry.

ESQ: Last thing: You know how the director of the CIA was having an affair with a journalist?

DW: I couldn't believe Petraeus was fired 'cause he had an affair, and we all thought, God. Dreadful. You know. Who cares? But obviously it's much more complicated than that.

ESQ: Yeah. She was a journalist and apparently had access to classified documents.

DW: 'Cause that's treason, isn't it? I mean, that's criminal, isn't it?

ESQ: One would think. I think in season three of The Hour, your character should have an affair with an upper-tier female spy operative and learn state secrets.

DW: Brilliant.

Marnie Madden tyfyt