Paterson Joseph is the sort of actor whose face tends to be familiar more to the Anglophiles who frequent BBC America than to the average Stateside viewer, a fate owed to the fact that the majority of his projects – such as “Casualty,” “William and Mary,” “Peepshow,” and “Hyperdrive,” to name a few – have had highly limited screenings on our shores. They’ll soon see him, however, as one of the stars of BBC America’s latest import, “Survivors,” which premieres on Saturday, Feb. 13th. I was able to catch up with Joseph a few hours after he’d done the TCA panel for the series, but the start of our conversation was delayed momentarily by the fact that he popped into the bar just at the moment that I was saying good night to my daughter on the phone. Thankfully, however, he was quite tolerant of my family matters, and we soon settled in to talk about “Survivors,” though not until after I let him know why I recognized him.
Bullz-Eye: When I first started watching “Survivors,” I saw you and I kept thinking, “I know this guy. I know I know this guy.”
Paterson Joseph: Oh, really? (Laughs)
BE: And then I suddenly realized, “It’s the Marquis!”
PJ: Ah, yes: the Marquis De Carabas! (Smiles) I loved “Neverwhere.” Absolutely loved it. And I wish…see, if the “Doctor Who” we have now had happened that same year, before we did “Neverwhere,” then “Neverwhere” would’ve worked like a dream, because it would’ve had all the money that it needed. Unfortunately, at that point, the only proper sci-fi that we had was “Blake’s 7,” which had not gone down well at all…and I suspect you know exactly what I mean by your expression.
BE: I don’t know what you’re talking about. (Laughs)
PJ: (Laughs) And, so, sci-fi was persona non grata until “Doctor Who,” but then “Doctor Who” happened, and…well, you know all this, but now fantasy drama, sci-fi, has got lots of money. It’s a damned shame. But Neil Gaiman, I think, is still trying to get a movie done here. He’s working on it.
BE: I’m ready for it. I’m ready for “Neverwhere,” “American Gods,” and anything else of his that they want to adapt.
PJ: Yeah, he’s great, man. Great.
BE: So what was your familiarity with the original version of “Survivors”?
PJ: I probably saw the opening sequence when I was about 10…and then was told to go to bed. (Laughs) So I had never really seen it, but I did remember the opening sequence when I saw it on YouTube. It’s quite striking. And then I watched the first three episodes when I got this job, and…I might as well have done in some ways, because it’s so vastly different.
BE: Yeah, Adrian (Hodges) was just saying about how he made a point of changing a key moment in the first episode, just to keep people on their toes.
PJ: That’s right!
BE: So how developed was the character of Greg Preston when you first came aboard? Did he evolve at all once you got into the role?
PJ: He was always…I mean, I described it in my interview when I read it as…he seems a bit like a guy who’s basically walking on water. Everything seems fine, he’s walking away, everything’s very serene. But underneath is a sea of shit. That’s how I described it to them in the interview, and I think that’s right. I think Adrian always had that in mind, that there was a world of pain under Greg’s easygoing persona. Even in his sort of dismissive “I don’t need people” persona, there was a world of pain and desperation, and you see that in…well, for you guys, it’s in Episode 7. It all comes out. Literally. You see everything.
BE: When he first appeared, my first thought was that he was kind of a survivalist.
PJ: Oh, definitely. The back story, really, would be of a guy who’s a systems analyst. A pretty boring job. An organizer, that’s what he is. But he decides that what he really wants to do is live off the land. He wants to find a way of living out there, so he gets kind of obsessed with it and does survival training and all of that stuff. And it sort of separates him a bit from his wife, because they’ve lived a very middle class kind of lifestyle. They’re doing very well, and here he is saying, “I want to downsize everything and make everything a bit more basic.” So it probably begins the rift he has with his wife. (Laughs) But, yeah, he’s ready. He’s emotionally ready, too, by the time the virus hits, because his life has gone to hell, anyway. So for him, it’s, “I’m going to be on my own, I don’t need people.”
BE: It was brought up during the panel that you already had an existing onscreen chemistry with one of your co-stars.
PJ: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s right: me and Julie (Graham). Although in some ways, you know, the character I played, being her ex-husband and such a pig, the chemistry was all me trying to cling on to her, and her sort of pushing me away, whereas in this case, I think it’s a meeting of equals. They both know the cost of life, they both had families, and…they’re sort of equals, really, and they have the same sort of mindset. It could be beautiful. I mean, I think Adrian’s got stuff in mind for the future for the two of them.
BE: I loved the moment of…I guess you’d call it a release, really, when she makes the comment to him after their accident about trading insurance information.
PJ: Yeah, I mean, because who’s laughed? Nobody’s laughed for weeks. This has been the hardest, horriblest thing that’s happened to anybody, and it’s great to have somebody just sort of prick his bubble, which I think is what almost first endears her to him, apart from the fact that she’s a beautiful woman, the fact that she’s willing to laugh at him. He can then look at himself. He needs that, as we all do. Isolation breeds a kind of insanity, and I think Greg’s determination to be on his own would’ve led him to be insane eventually, as anybody would, so he needs Abby.
BE: I don’t want you to spoil it any more than I want it to be spoiled for me, but…are you in it for the long haul? Or, at least, as long as they’ll have you?
PJ: Yeah, I mean, as long as he survives. Very traumatic things happen to Greg during the series, and whether he survives them is in the balance at some point.
(At this point, a waitress comes over to our table and sets down a plate containing olives and nuts.)
PJ: Did you order these?
BE: I did not.
PJ: Well, they’re here, so let’s eat! (Laughs)
BE: Fair enough!
PJ: So, anyway, yeah, as an actor, I want to fulfill everything that Greg has in potential, because I think that his story arc is very interesting, as sort of a reluctant leader. The reluctant part of the group at some point becoming a de facto leader…but extremely reluctantly…and then finding a way to deal with his relationship with the people in the group, some of whom he has a moral and ideological major difference with.
BE: You mentioned “Doctor Who” a minute ago. How much truth was there to the rumor that you were under consideration to play the Doctor?
PJ: (Hesitates for a very long time) Uh…a lot.
BE: Really? I wasn’t sure, because you never know about these things.
PJ: Yeah, a lot. But I can say no more.
BE: (Laughs) Oh, yeah?
PJ: (Laughs) No, seriously! You know what it’s like. I did the last two episodes of the first new incarnation, with Christopher Eccleston. They’re called the “Bad Wolf” episodes, and, y’know, we were up there on the space station. And I have to say, I’ve never been involved in anything so secret! I mean, scripts coming to me with my name embossed on every page…which, of course, I kept, because it’s amazing. But if you lose that in a taxi, they know who you are and they know where you live. (Laughs) So everything is very hush-hush, so I wouldn’t dream of giving away any of the “Doctor Who” secrets. I can only say that, yes, there was some truth in the rumor.
BE: I’m sure that would’ve thrilled you to no end.
PJ: I…I mean, I can’t think of any actor in the world who wouldn’t be completely flattered by that. Well, maybe not in the world, but certainly any British actor, because we know what “Doctor Who” means for us.
BE: One of the series that you’ve done that I wish had gotten more love in the States was “Jekyll.”
PJ: Oh, yeah!
BE: I loved it…in fact, I was here at the TCA tour when they pushed it…but it kind of flew under the radar.
PJ: Yeah, I thought it was very good. How they would’ve done a second series, I don’t know. It was such a complete story in some ways. But Jimmy Nesbitt was terrific…James Nesbitt, who played Jekyll, was fantastic. And it was very operatic in some ways. It was a massive theme, wasn’t it? I mean, what is within us all? As it was in the original Stevenson novel. And I think that we did a really good job on it. I think Steven Moffat, quite rightly, was given the “Doctor Who” mantle because of his work on that.
BE: I spoke with Nick Frost a few months ago, and we were talking about “Hyperdrive.” I haven’t seen it, but I’d heard about it, so I asked him how he thought it worked as a series, and he said that the big battle was writing vs. improvisation.
PJ: Hmmm. Interesting.
BE: I can’t recall his exact quote, but he more or less said that they’d been told they could improvise, but whenever they did it, it seemed to be frowned upon.
PJ: Right, because the writing staff…they wrote very tightly, and they’d been known as a very tightknit writing partnership. It’s like with “Peepshow,” which I’m sure you know, too. You seem pretty knowledgeable. (Laughs)
BE: Heard of it, but never seen it.
PJ: You’d love it. (Laughs) But it’s a writing duo, and it seems, when you see the guys doing their stuff, that they’re just improvising. But they’re not improvising. This is tightly scripted stuff. And it’s the same with the writers of “Hyperdrive”: they wanted it to be tightly scripted. But Nick’s skill, and the skill of a lot of the actors who were working on it, is improv. So I would agree with him that they were characters that were perfect for improvisation, because they’re a group that’s dysfunctional. There are moments where they don’t know what to say to each other…but if someone decides to play Tiddlywinks on the controls, and then the ship plunges? It would be a fantastic moment, but you could only do it if you rehearsed it for a long time, and I don’t think it was set up that way. It was set up as more of a straight sitcom. But I loved my character in it. I’d go in for a day, and I’d do all of my episodes. It was great fun.
BE: Do you have a favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
PJ: Yeah, I think “Neverwhere,” as you mentioned.
BE: It’s funny now that I have it on DVD, but when I first heard about it, the only way I could see it was via someone’s PAL-to-VHS transfer. Not the most legitimate copy, but…
PJ: (Laughs) In terms of quality, it wasn’t shot on film. I think it was shot on video, and as I say, they didn’t spend a heck of a lot of money on special effects. But the actual story of the underground of London being people…the Blackfriars, the seven sisters, stations describing the people on them. (Sighs) It’s a shame. It’s a real shame. I don’t know how you’d ever do it in an American scenario. I don’t think your stations have the same ring to them.
BE: Yeah, I mean, maybe in New York, but…
PJ: I mean, for Knightsbridge, having a knight, and you have to cross this bridge to get through to the other side…? It’s just fantastic, creating a mythology with the underground map. And then the idea of the people who fall through the cracks in society, and once they’re there, that’s it, they never get to climb out of it, but they get to live this amazing underground life.
BE: It’s pretty mindblowing.
PJ: Yeah. And being a 200-year-old Marquis was pretty cool as well. (Laughs)
BE: When my wife and I went to London on our honeymoon, she was all but gasping at every stop. “That one’s from ‘Neverwhere,’ and that one’s from ‘Neverwhere,’ and…”
PJ: Yeah, I mean, conceptually, it’s unique, and it’s a damned shame that they didn’t pump more money into it and promote it a lot better.
BE: It would be nice to see that as a feature-length film.
PJ: Yeah. Unfortunately, I probably won’t be in it, so I’ll be bitterly jealous when Jamie Foxx takes on the mantle of the Marquis. (Laughs) But there you go. He’s a movie star, and I’m not.
BE: Well, appropriately, since I noticed it on your IMDb page, I just wanted to close by asking you about “In the Name of the Father.”
PJ: My first film, yeah!
BE: What do you remember about that experience?
PJ: I remember being in awe of Daniel (Day-Lewis). One of the greatest actors, certainly, of my generation, and a real craftsman. I loved the way he was on set, I loved the fact that he was aware of what was happened technically and around him but was still deeply immersed in his own craft. I’ve taken that lesson from him. He was very cool yet very centered. Yeah, I remember it fondly. I met my wife on it.
BE: Well, there you go.
PJ: And we’re still together! It’s a major episode in my life.
BE: Anything else going on for you at the moment, aside from “Survivors”?
PJ: Well, there are a couple of things I may do in the future. One of them’s a theatre thing, but the other is…they’re about to show it, but it’s about the Nigerian oil industry, with Naomi Harris, called “Blood and Oil.” I don’t know if it’s coming to BBC America, but it’s about us all and how implicated we are in it. So it’s not a comedy. It’s a deep and hard-hitting drama.
BE: Well, it’s been a pleasure talking to you, Paterson.
PJ: Thank you. Now go see your daughter! (Laughs)