The Brit star ex­plores the dark heart of The Man In The High Cas­tle

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Contents - Words by Richard Ed­wards /// Pho­tog­ra­phy by Maarten de Boer The Man In The High Cas­tle re­turns to Ama­zon Prime on 16 De­cem­ber.

The man from The Man In The High Cas­tle.

Rufus Sewell’s John Smith may not ap­pear in Philip K Dick’s orig­i­nal The Man In The High Cas­tle novel, but the ruth­less SS Ober­grup­pen­führer made a big im­pres­sion on the first sea­son of Ama­zon’s TV adap­ta­tion. While Smith is, on one level, an ut­terly chill­ing vil­lain and a thorn in the side of the re­sis­tance fight­ing to free the USA from Nazi rule, the Brit star says he doesn’t see the char­ac­ter as evil – just an or­di­nary guy adapt­ing to his cir­cum­stances.

“Un­til the Nazis dropped the nu­clear war­head on Wash­ing­ton in 1945 Smith was a good soldier for the Amer­i­can side,” he tells SFX. “He never showed any pre­dis­po­si­tion to­wards tor­ture. He’s not par­tic­u­larly racist. But he ended up in a so­ci­ety where those el­e­ments were eked out of him, and the oth­ers were sup­pressed. I be­lieve that he’s the dark ver­sion of that ev­ery­man.”

It feels like Smith is equally di­vided be­tween ad­vance­ment for ad­vance­ment’s sake and ac­tual be­lief in the Nazi ide­ol­ogy.

I wouldn’t say that’s true. I would say he be­lieves in pro­tect­ing his fam­ily at all costs. I don’t think he has a sense of ad­vanc­ing up the lad­der for the sake of ad­vanc­ing up the lad­der. Do you think he’ll thrive in any en­vi­ron­ment he’s thrust into, if the ul­ti­mate end is the preser­va­tion of his fam­ily?

I don’t know. What I try to steer away from is the idea that he is an evil per­son and there are cer­tain as­pects of this per­son­al­ity that will push him to­wards a cer­tain type of be­hav­iour, ir­re­spec­tive of his en­vi­ron­ment. I think the key to him – and what’s in­ter­est­ing to me about play­ing him – is that he is a man who has many, many good qual­i­ties and many danger­ous qual­i­ties, like a hu­man be­ing. What does he tell us about the rise of Nazism?

He was a good case study for Nazis. Nazism was started by a small group of re­ally cor­rupt, re­ally twisted peo­ple. And it spread un­til it took over an en­tire coun­try. And the en­tire coun­try was not evil peo­ple. They were not all pre­dis­posed to evil any more than any­one else. How­ever, it took hold. And not only that, it nearly took hold ev­ery­where else. There are peo­ple in Amer­ica who are very pro-Nazi. So the idea that’s in­ter­est­ing for me is that peo­ple find a nar­ra­tive to con­vince them­selves that what they’re do­ing is good and right. On the sur­face he seems like the typ­i­cal 1950s nu­clear fam­ily fa­ther…

That’s like the snap­shot, and what’s in­ter­est­ing for me is go­ing past that snap­shot. That’s the photo of the “al­lAmer­i­can fa­ther knows best” kind of thing. But just like in real life, you peel back be­hind that, and then you ac­tu­ally have a real prob­lem. I was against the idea that in or­der to make some kind of dra­mat­i­cally ironic point that we were in all other re­spects a cheesy Amer­i­can fam­ily. For me, in all other re­spects, we were a real fam­ily. That’s where it be­comes in­ter­est­ing, once you get past that. What steps did you go through to build the char­ac­ter?

I tried to put my­self in the mind-set, not of a Nazi, but of a hu­man be­ing. I would no­tice, for ex­am­ple, that day play­ers would come in to play Amer­i­can Nazis, and they would [does Ger­man ac­cent] au­to­mat­i­cally start speak­ing like this. Their body lan­guage would au­to­mat­i­cally want to pull on their fin­gers, one glove at a time. A lot of these sig­ni­fiers of Ger­manic evil would au­to­mat­i­cally hap­pen to the per­for­mance. And we all do that with our think­ing – if you want your granny to think you’re a good ac­tor, you act like a Nazi. I wanted who­ever that granny fig­ure was to think I’d got it wrong. What did you read for re­search?

As soon as I found out my char­ac­ter wasn’t in The Man In The High Cas­tle, I thought, “I won’t read that yet.” I read, first of all, The Rise And Fall Of The Third Re­ich, which was the his­tory – very fa­mous his­tory – of how it hap­pened. And I dis­cov­ered a lot of very in­ter­est­ing things. Hitler said some­thing very, very ter­ri­fy­ing about peo­ple who ques­tioned the va­lid­ity of Nazism. He said, “Don’t worry about these peo­ple. I have their sons, I have their daugh­ters, I have their sis­ters, I have their moth­ers, I have their wives.” That is very, very chill­ing. You think you’re a lone per­son, but you lose ev­ery­thing you have. What in­ter­ests you in a char­ac­ter when you’re choos­ing a role?

I don’t know. It varies. To be per­fectly hon­est, liv­ing in the real world, some­times I hold out for the great­est part in the world – and then you can be un­em­ployed for a re­ally, re­ally long time. So for me, it just has to ex­cite me.

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