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Interview with Jack O’Connell who plays Patrick Sumner in The North Water

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The North Water is a 5-part series that begins in the UK on BBC2 on Friday September 10 at 9.30pm with episodes then shown weekly on BBC2.

Directly after the first BBC2 episode, all five episodes will become available on the streaming service BBCiPlayer.

The drama has already been shown in the US, having arrived on AMC+ on July 15 2021.

Who is Patrick Sumner?

He’s quite enigmatic. He was discharged from the Army under quite questionable circumstances. Was it necessarily all his wrongdoing? Did he deserve his discharge? Did he deserve to have his career completely upended? By the end of it, he’s a man trying to find his balance, and the more the story unfolds the more he is met with the realisation and reality that there’s a little of what Drax represents within Sumner as well. I think that’s part of what Sumner has spent the majority of his life prior to this running away from.

What attracted you to the show?

Andrew Haigh is a great director, one of the best. That was very appealing. I learned that Colin Farrell was going to be included, which was again very appealing. The cast started to look amazing the more we went on. And of course, there was the opportunity to go to the North Pole, or a little south of it, was a once-in-a-lifetime feeling.

What attracted you to the role?

The character offered me a chance to do something that I haven’t really found much opportunity to work within before, in terms of who he is and where he regards himself in society. On the superficial basis, I’ve never played anyone within the medical profession before, and the idea of an ex-Irish patriot, an immigrant, coming into the world with all these complexities, as I understood it, gave him a sense of an imposter syndrome. That’s how I began to understand him.

How was filming in the Arctic?

We knew that it was going to be dangerous. There’s no way of completely eradicating danger. We had no signal, no internet. Everyone subscribed to it because of the personal challenges. We took an old-school sailing ship which had an engine but could also double as our mid-19th century whaling vessel, so we were very lucky to be able to do that, because we were pretty exposed to all the elements of that environment.

When we got on board our set, which was this old-school ship, the Activ, which we called the Volunteer, that was great, just to get on it and get an idea of what it was like to live on there. Colin sailed on her overnight, so we were all picking his brains to figure that out. We were all up for it, but I think the captain just wanted to be friends with Colin over all of us. That’s fair enough, isn’t it? He’s a cool guy!

So yes, we were all picking his brains and trying to imagine being on there for over a year.

How was the atmosphere on set?

It was a tight space, so any negativity would have been potentially contagious. We were all very fortunate that we were with each other, and fortunate with the crew on board the Activ, who were totally professional and knew what they were doing. We could watch them and sometimes we had to pretend to be like them on camera, and they were really good, really welcoming. Also, they were interested in what we were there to do, so there was this sort of trade-off between interests and all of that.

What were your highlights?

The highlights must be when we encountered wildlife in its natural form. Seeing polar bears cutting about. One night a polar bear came right up to the ship. It was three in the morning and we all had to be up at seven. I’ll quote Colin. He was up watching this bear and a couple of us were on the stern, and he said: “Look man, you can’t go to bed while this is happening.” The chances are we’ll never experience that again.