Jimmy Doherty has taken over from Kevin McCloud as host of Channel 4 series Escape To The Wild, the new series of which debuts on Thursday 2 Feb at 9.00pm. Here he tells us about the series and how he has managed such a varied presenting career.
You’re the new presenter of Escape to the Wild. For those who haven’t seen it, explain a bit about the show.
It’s basically travelling to the far-flung regions of the world where British couples have decided to up sticks and go and set up a new life. It might sound like an idyllic thing to do, and a lot of it is, but I think, for me, the interesting aspect of the series is seeing how difficult it is, and what people have to do to survive in these regions. Even more than that, I’m interested in why they wanted to move. It’s about the psychology behind wanting to move and set up a brand new life, and the challenges it takes to do that.
Did you find a common thread between the people you met, as to why they wanted to start a new life?
There was definitely an element of not wanting to live with regret. You go to every pub and there’s always a guy sitting at the end of the bar saying “I could have been this, I could have done that, I could have played for England.” I can understand the mentality of not wanting to live with regret, of preferring to fail, in trying to achieve something, than never do it at all. That’s the common thread in this series. And also not knowing about everything – maybe a slight naivety, and having the faith to leap into the unknown. If you knew all the whys and wherefores you probably wouldn’t do it! So not having the full picture is really helpful.
Where does the series take you?
I feel like my feet haven’t touched the ground! Uganda, on the banks of the Nile – that’s an impressive river, and it really dominates this story. The couple that live there really depend on it. Jenny is obsessed with the river, and a lot of her work and research is around the river. And you can see how the natural beauty of a place is quite hypnotic, and just draws you in.
There is the Yukon in Canada where I’d never been before, and then Indonesia. I suppose out of all of them the Yukon felt like the most remote. Not necessarily in terms of distance, but in pure isolation it felt really, really isolated. It took me three flights and then a two-hour boat journey to get there. It was in the middle of nowhere! If I’d gone in one direction for two days, I would have hit Alaska, and still there would have been nothing. There was no electricity, no running water. You fall into the illusion of thinking you’re in the woods at home, where you may not be able to see any signs of human life, but you know if you walk in one direction for an hour you’ll hit a road or a house, or hear an aeroplane. But there, you suddenly realise there is nothing; there are no people or footpaths, and just round the next corner there could be a bear or a wolf.
It’s a bit of a departure for you, presenting-wise. Why did you want to do it?
Well, my presenting career has been quite varied – I’ve done everything from science stuff all the way through to more populist programmes like Friday Night Feast. I think this is much less of a presenter-led documentary, and more me being followed on a journey. It’s always interesting to test yourself. When I made the leap of setting up my own farm and leaping in to the unknown; I felt like I was building my own destiny with my own two hands, putting in the fencing, putting in the water, getting the electricity and the sewage system going, building my farm from scratch. In a very similar way, what these people have done is along those lines – much more grandiose, but comparable. It was a bit like a busman’s holiday, but with mosquitos! I really wanted to understand why people wanted to do this. What is it about normal society that you aren’t being fulfilled by? What do you need to make yourself happy? I know if I hadn’t done my farm, I wouldn’t have been truly happy.
How long do you spend with each family?
Around the best part of a week. It doesn’t sound that long, but when you’re staying with them, you get to know people very fast. Like in Uganda, Charlie and Jenny were in their house and I was in a small tent next to them. In the evening, we all sat and ate together, and then the camera crew would go off to where they were staying, and I’d stay with Charlie and Jenny. You don’t want to be the unwanted guest, so you’ve got to make yourself useful, but you are living with strangers. You’ve only just met them, and you’re staying with them for a week and eating all your meals with them. It’s like staying in those B&Bs where you all end up sitting watching TV with the family!
One of the couples has a small baby, don’t they?
Yes, both the couple in Uganda and the couple in Indonesia have babies. It was an interesting one; it made the idea of the dangers suddenly more real – Malaria, schistosomiasis, diseases that come out of the River Nile. And things like crocodiles and leopards or, in Indonesia, there were loads of pythons. Actually, when we arrived on the boat, a ten-foot python had just been captured because it had swallowed a pig. You think about this tiny tot running around, easily smaller than a pig… There are stingrays in the water and there’s cobras and poisonous centipedes, where if you get bitten, the only way to get rid of the pain is to Taser yourself.
In Uganda, the idea of malaria is ever present, and you’re so far from hospital. And you think, “How could you have a baby put here?” and then you realise how protected we are. People have been having babies in these environments since day one. Living in those conditions, it makes you move the goalposts slightly in terms of what is dangerous. Those kids are going to grow up like Mowgli. The jungle is their playground, the River Nile their swimming pool. And you look at kids back home who are playing on their phones all the time, and are constantly stimulated. There are dangers in every environment; it’s just the ones there seem much more alien to us.
How does your presenting style differ from Kevin McCloud’s?
I’m not as posh, that’s for sure! I think there’s probably not a great deal of difference – it’s hard to comment on your own or other people’s styles. I suppose the only difference is he’s much more from the world of architecture, and sitting in offices looking at drawings, and I’m much more visceral in terms of being out and about in the wilderness and doing stuff. I quite enjoy the element of the wilderness – I’d probably forget what I’m meant to be doing there, in terms of asking the right questions, because I’m enjoying the experience too much!
Did you have a favourite place?
That’s difficult. I loved the Yukon, because it reminded me so much of so many films, like Last of the Mohicans. The landscape is epic, you feel like you are in a movie, on an amazing set. It’s a huge expanse of wilderness, it was tremendous. But Indonesia was fantastic too. I got to go diving, where they have some of the best diving in the world; seeing the array of different invertebrates and fish. So Indonesia will definitely stay in my mind. You’re really struck by the environment and the conflict between the local population’s need for subsistence fishing and the destruction of the coral reef, which is so important for tourism. The nets the local people use are so destructive to the coral, but they need to fish to survive. It’s two worlds colliding.
Is it something you could ever do, relocating to a remote outpost like that?
Well, we always discuss this. If we hadn’t done the farm in Suffolk, then we would have done what we’ve done somewhere else. We always talk about setting up a tea plantation in Sri Lanka. I think the element of adventure is always there – if I hadn’t started the farm, that aspect of my life wouldn’t have been fulfilled.
If you did do it, what would you miss most, apart from people?
I think I’d miss the seasons, the changes in the British countryside throughout the year. And my dogs as well!
Throughout the filming of these programmes, were you scared at any stage?
Yes, there were definitely moments of it. In Uganda my tent was on top of a safari ants’ nest, and they were slowly drilling through it. There were just big columns of black ants. They attacked us whilst we were eating dinner one night as well. I somehow had a bad chest whilst I was in Indonesia, coughed very violently and managed to partially dislocate my jaw. I was in agony trying to put it back, and I nearly fainted twice. I was quite scared then. Every time you went to the loo in the Yukon, you were not sure you’re going to come back because of the bears. I think sometimes in these environments you overplay the dangers, but sometimes you forget them as well, and I know which one is worse.
Escape To The Wild premieres Thursday 2nd February 2017 at 9pm on Channel 4
The Miniaturist Interviews: Romola Garai
Romola Garai plays Marin Brandt in The Miniaturist, premiering soon on BBC-1, here she talks about what drew her to the drama and being in a costume drama where she pretty much only gets to wear one costume.
What attracted you to the role of Marin?
I’d read the book shortly after it came out and I thought it was a really surprising novel, really interesting and with very strong feminist themes in it, so I was very excited about it. Time passed and then an email popped into my inbox with the subject, The Miniaturist. I thought it was fantastic they were making it and I was really excited to read the script.
It’s a very genre-bending novel; it appears to be like a costume drama we have seen before, but very quickly we realise that it’s not that. It’s about a woman coming into her own in a society that’s very patriarchal, it’s about a love affair, it’s about discrimination, and it’s about people trying to survive in an incredibly controlled state. It’s a thriller and it’s also a story about political and emotional awakening.
Marin is a particularly interesting character, I think she has one of the best arcs. When I first read the book, she was the character that stayed with me, and when I read the scripts I immediately remembered everything about her. She’s told in beautiful detail in the novel, which John has retained in the script. Marin is just a great character to play, it was a real treat.
Tell us about Marin.
When you first meet her, because the story is told through Nella’s perspective, you meet a woman who seems very cold and intimidating. Then gradually you get this drip-feed of information about her; you see she’s been helping Johannes run the business and you learn that they were orphaned at a young age. She’s very intellectual, she’s very well read, and she’s not married, which is very unusual at the time.
One of the reasons I found her such a fascinating character is that she’s full of secrets and she’s layered; very conflicted and has great faith, but also passions. The house they live in is essentially a tinder box of secrets that Marin has been sitting on to try and stop the secrets exploding out. However although it seems she is trying to keep a lid on it I think she believes that they could subtly break all the rules and be free within the house at least, if only her brother stopped acting so recklessly.
Hopefully audiences will question what is driving her hostility towards Nella. Marin needs Nella a lot to maintain the appearance of being a normal household but it’s also very important that Nella is afraid of her so that she doesn’t try digging and discovering the secrets that they are all trying to keep – because if anyone finds out then their futures are ruined.
What was it like doing the scenes between Marin and Nella?
I loved working with Anya, she’s an incredibly accomplished actress. She’s got a difficult job in this, because Nella has to be very innocent at the beginning of the story, which is always difficult for an actor to play, and also more innocent that a woman of that age would be now. She’s constantly making discoveries, she doesn’t have the information that the rest of us do so she’s always learning new things, and she’s done that with real beauty and subtlety. I really enjoyed doing all our scenes together.
Tell us about Marin’s costume.
Marin only had one costume until a very late stage of the story. Her costume is typical of the puritan values of the period which rejected anything that smacked of luxury or louche values. They also didn’t wear make-up in this period at all, certainly not women of this class and station, and the hair was very simple and scraped back. Her head would have been covered at all times, so I had a black cap that I wore, but to be honest when I wore it I couldn’t really hear what anyone was saying and also talked incredibly loudly because I couldn’t hear myself, so essentially I was shouting at the other actors!
What makes The Miniaturist stand out from other period dramas?
I’ve done lots of historical pieces but there’s something very unusual about this. When you do contemporary novels set in the past the writers are able to do a lot more, and tackle complex themes which writers writing at the time weren’t able to do. More than that, it’s interesting in that it explores a number of different genres. It has elements of a thriller and then it becomes a family drama and then it becomes a polemic about what happens in societies that are so controlling.
I hope people will sit down to watch the show because it’s a pretty costume drama and will be surprised that it is actually rebellious and constantly bringing up important issues – and that they’ll be so engaged they won’t be able to look away.
Trust Me Interviews: Sharon Small
Interview with Sharon Small, who plays Dr. Brigitte McAdams in new three part psychological thriller Trust Me which airs this August on BBC One.
What attracted you to this project?
I liked the character and the premise of the piece – I don’t think we’ve seen this before. And everyone is like an armchair detective, everyone is an armchair actor or doctor, so I thought that people would get off on that and think, gosh what would I do in that circumstance? The audience are the people who are privy to the truth and not us. With my character, Brigitte, I like her neediness, her sassiness – she’s fun and quick-fire talking – and quite honestly I rather fancied myself as a doctor [laughs].
How would you describe your character?
Brigitte is a good person; she’s sassy and is a really good doctor. She has got some issues, but she is trying her best to run this ward and with great intentions, which I think a lot of NHS doctors are.
How did you prepare for the role?
I grew my hair so that I could tie it up – normally I have short hair. We had a fantastic medical training day with Dan and got to do airways and cannulas and stitching and things like that, I loved that. The most important thing for me was to go around the actual A&E department (or ED department as I now know it’s called) in Edinburgh. We met this fantastic doctor – just watching him and really getting to observe what goes on in a ward, the dynamic, what people do and noticing that people are always looking at folders, everyone’s always collaborating and talking to each other. Everyone is always moving around, a lot more than you think and not that quickly. It’s less dramatic than you think.
Is your character challenging to play?
She was. Similarly in something that Jodie mentioned, I had quite a lot of medical jargon to say quite quickly, but I had less of the procedural stuff to do in terms of operational things. As the character is more and more revealed I had to make sure that I took care of how that happened, and that it was subtly done.
What makes a hospital a good arena for a drama?
It’s an ever-changing landscape, a hospital. Every new sort of event that you’re presented with means that you’re having to make life-saving decisions. People’s lives really are at stake, and honestly, my little taste of pretending that I was an ED doctor made me feel quite powerful. If I could fix people so that they survived, that would be an amazing ability.
What are the biggest challenges that you have faced so far during filming?
Saying the medical words Metronidazole – Met-ron-ida-zole, Metron-i-dazole – and trying to make scrubs look even remotely interesting, I don’t rock scrubs like Jodie does, I’m way too curvy for that!
What do you hope audiences will take away from this drama?
I hope that they’ll find themselves in that dilemma of wanting Cath/Ally to succeed, because she’s a good person and she ironically is brilliant at the job. I’m hoping that they’ll see the dilemma that she has, and as you want her to keep succeeding, it means she’s going to keep compromising people as she goes, as well as herself.
Trust Me Interviews: Jodie Whittaker
Jodie Whittaker plays Cath in three part psychological thriller Trust Me which airs on BBC One this August.
What appealed to you about this project?
I was sent the script for the first episode and it fascinated me because it went in a completely different direction to how I thought it was going to. Particularly at the beginning when she’s suspended for whistleblowing and loses her job. It could have gone so many ways, and the fact that she takes on this new identity isn’t the way that I thought it would go. I love the fact that her choices are quite morally dubious – they certainly aren’t black and white. She makes decisions that are quite challenging to justify, even though we know her reasons. I’ve never acted in anything medical before, so it felt completely new.
How does Cath’s lie come about?
Cath starts off by having a conversation with her best friend, Ally, who is a middle grade doctor in A&E and is giving it all up to emigrate to New Zealand. Ally is packing up the life that Cath would have loved to have had, leaving it all behind to go and do something completely different. Suddenly there is an opportunity for her to take on the identity of her friend and in that panic, not necessarily the clearest thinking moment in her life, she does it. Once you set off on a path of lies it’s very difficult to undo it without bringing everything crashing down.
Did you receive any training on medical procedures?
Yes! The writer, Dan, who is also medical consultant and a doctor outside of TV production, showed us a load of stuff that he used when he was training people. He brought in the CPR dummy and showed us how to do a cannula and he, very bravely, let me put a cannula in his vein. I did it right, thank God! Also, YouTube is amazing. The genius of the internet is that you can basically sit at home and Google medical procedures, and TV shows such as 24 hours in A&E, which I watched hours of.
How else did you prepare for the role?
With regards to the technical stuff, we had an on-set consultant so that there was always someone to help when we had to do the procedures. The best thing for me was that my character was also out of her depth and didn’t always know what she was doing, so it kind of covered my own personal fumbles. I’m not someone who likes to over prepare for dialogue scenes, because I think that makes me not listen to what the other person is saying as I’ve already decided how I’m going to do it. It immediately makes it interesting and new and you can’t plan for that, which is great. You can’t ‘wing’ the medical stuff so I had to do my research for that. One of my friends is a Sister in A&E and I sent her a lot of messages asking ‘how do you pronounce this?’ and ‘what does that mean?’, so basically she was my personal medical coach even though she works full time!
Is it challenging playing someone who leads a double life?
Yes, but no more challenging that playing someone who has had something happen to them that I haven’t personally experienced. What’s hard is trying to gauge how good a liar she is, or how in a panic she is. You’ve got to be careful, because you can’t make the other actors seem stupid. These are intelligent, fully formed characters that you’re working with, so it was a fine line of being able to deceive and it not being something that comes easily to her. However, it can’t be that it makes everyone around her feel a bit like an idiot for not working it out. That was tricky, but the director is there to help guide you through it.
Did the uniform help to get you into character?
Yes. It feels odd when you put it on. I did five weeks of studio filming, back to back – all the medical stuff was contained so everything started to become a bit like second nature. The first few times I had to put on an apron, the ‘take’ ended up being about 15 minutes long. Then I worked out that you shouldn’t put the gloves on before the apron! There was lots of daft stuff like that, but you then get into a rhythm. It’s good because it makes you immediately feel like you look the part and then all I had to do was make sure that I knew the lines!
What were some of the challenges that you faced during filming?
I’m not very good with learning dialogue when there are lots of medical terms! I enjoy the adrenaline of being on set because I’m quite good at choreography, I respond well to being taught something physically. That’s why I was terrible at school, because they talk you through things rather than physically show you. I enjoyed doing the different types of surgery as it was fascinating, it’s nerve-wracking but you realise that you can do it. Also, the team who created the props put in so much hard work to make sure we didn’t mess up our bits. I struggled with having massive speeches that involved these medical words. I don’t have a brain for that!
Did you enjoy working in Scotland?
I absolutely loved Glasgow! The crew were phenomenal and the city is wonderful. I could move my family up there and we had a great time as there were loads of brilliant restaurants and everyone was lovely. It was brilliant and I would snap up another job there very quickly, although it does get very dark and cold over winter!
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