An interview with Nathan Stewart-Jarrett of Utopia
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Nathan Stewart-Jarrett will be immediately familiar to fans of Misfits, the show he has starred in for the last four years. Now, inevitably, his character has died - and he's moved on to a show that, if anything, has an even higher body count, and is even more high-octane, tense and ground-breaking. Here, he talks through his work on the remarkable Channel 4 drama Utopia.
Can you try and sum up what Utopia is all about?
Oh no, no, no! Gosh. Wow, that's a big one. I suppose, if you go back to basics, it's a manuscript that is the star of the show. It's about a group of people, and a graphic novel manuscript falls into their hands. And it contains inter-governmental secrets, and we go on the run because we're about to be killed. And then people are popped off along the way, and we begin to work out the riddle ourselves of what is in the manuscript.
Who do you play?
I play an IT consultant called Ian who met the rest of the group on a forum. It's not something he would normally do, go on the forum, and he doesn't really know much about the manuscript. He's quite naïve about the whole thing, and is the newbie of the group, in a sense. He questions everything, and follows the others like a little lamb.
What was it that attracted you to the role?
I think it was the script, it's absolutely amazing. I read the whole series in one evening, which never, ever happens. I couldn't put it down. Dennis Kelly is a genius.
Are you into graphic novels yourself?
I wouldn't say I was a fan of graphic novels. There are a few that I have seen and heard of, and leafed through - mainly the ones that have been turned into films, to be honest with you. The artwork is so, so amazing in graphic novels, and that can really draw you in, but I haven't really gone out of my way to see them.
There are some quite shocking scenes in Utopia. Is that quite an intrinsic part of the drama?
Yeah, I think in terms of the mounting fear, the stakes, and what they're up against, you need to have that threat of violence. If you didn't you wouldn't believe them going through all this trouble, on the run, fearing for their lives.
It's also very funny in places, isn't it?
Yeah! I've not seen any of it yet, but on the page it's very funny. When we were filming there were some hilarious bits. I've heard it's funny. I did some voice work the other day, and I saw a bit of it and thought it was funnier than I'd expected.
It's also visually very striking - though having not seen much of it, you probably can't comment!
I can comment on that, because every now and then I leant over the Director of Photography's shoulder, if I wasn't in the scene, to see how it looked. Visually it is really, really beautiful - lots of tracking shots, lingering moments. They shot it widescreen as well , so a lot of the visuals are quite long and wide.
You were working alongside Alexandra Roach, who won plaudits for her role in Iron Lady. Did you enjoy working with her?
Yeah, I loved it. We worked really closely together. She's really funny - we just laughed for four months. There were so many people in this, and that was part of the fun of it, wondering who'd be in that day and so on. It was great.
How do you relax at the end of a day when you're on a such a fast-paced shoot?
A glass of wine, and sleep. I watched a LOT of comedy as well. A lot of American comedy, I watched Modern Family so much, and I've seen all of them. It's absolutely brilliant, and really good on a re-watch. I did a lot of that over the summer. And tried to re-watch Six Feet Under - that's really funny as well, but it was just a bit too heavy. So a glass of wine and Modern Family, and a lot of sleep.
Where were you filming?
In Liverpool. Though we weren't in the city centre much, we were out in the country for a lot of it. It was really fun though, we had great apartments.
When you're filming something like this, can you get a feeling as to whether you're filming something really special?
No, it's not really something I can tell. And to be honest with you - this will sound very pretentious - but it's not something I can really think about. Obviously I want it to be good and interesting and truthful in that moment, but thinking about the end product is always a bad thing if you're an actor.
You recently died on Misfits. What sort of a reaction did you get from fans?
A nice reaction - they were sad. The ones that have spoken to me seemed sad, anyway. So it was nice to be missed rather than not! And the manner in which he went was quite shocking as well. But it was time.
Were you sad to leave the show?
Yeah of course! It's been a huge part of my life for the past four years and has opened doors for me which I'm thankful for. But it was absolutely the right time to go off and do other things, and grow as an actor, which luckily I've been given the opportunity to do.
You've mentioned that you're a fan of Modern Family. What else have you been watching recently?
Predictable stuff, I suppose. Homeland, The Killing. What I'm trying to do is re-watch old series, maybe stuff that I started to watch but didn't complete. So I never completed The Sopranos, so I'm going back to watch that. You just have to make sure you steer clear of reviews and spoilers.
Which actors do you particularly admire?
I always go for Phillip Seymour-Hoffman. He's able to be really messy. He's absolutely amazing to watch, and it's very hard to do what he does.
Utopia is on Tuesdays from 15th January at 10pm on Channel 4