Berlin Station: Rhys Ifans (Hector)

Berlin Station: Interview with Rhys Ifans who plays Hector

Category: Interview

Who do you play in Berlin Station?

I play Hector DeJean. He works for the CIA on an operational basis. I guess you could call him a spy. He’s a principled moral person as best he can be. He’s a morally driven character in what is essentially an immoral profession.


What is his relationship with Daniel?

10 years ago Daniel and Hector worked briefly on an operation in Chechnya. He’s known him for a long time but they’re not necessarily friends. Hector doesn’t really get along with anyone he works with. He’s kind of a lone wolf in that sense.


Is there anybody Hector trusts?

No, I don’t think in this world nobody trusts anyone else. When push comes to shove you can trust these people with certain things, but with your life? I wouldn’t bet on it. I think that’s true for all of us. It reminds me a little bit of an Elizabethan court, where everyone you dance with is potentially your assassin.


What interested you in taking on the role?

Precisely that. The theatre that the world of espionage provides is a volatile one, and the stakes are high. Each of our human failings because of this profession are accentuated. Deceit and lying and manipulation become the main social currency.


How would you describe Berlin Station to people?

It’s a spy show set in Berlin, but it’s modern day. Berlin in the past has been associated with espionage but this is the first where it’s set in the present day.


When people say “spy show” they think of fantastical car chases and sexy stuff. In Berlin Station that’s there but it seems much more cerebral.

That’s what’s great about Olen’s writing and concept . What drew me to this is from the beginning of the show there’s a certain romanticism that’s attached to this genre, and that romanticism and epic-ness is appropriate given what I was referring to earlier, in that human failings and frailties are at their zenith in this world. To see it set in the present day, just to see the day-to-day drudgery of being a spy is fascinating to me. The questions we all ask: what do spies do when they have downtime? Do spies sleep with spies? Are you allowed to hang out with Russians? Is there a spy club? All these kinds of crazy questions. Olen goes somewhere to answering those. I find that interesting.


What does Hector do during his downtime? He’s very carnal, he loves drinking and partying…

He’s got a lust for life. He’s also very cultured. He’s well read. He’d be as comfortable in the opening of a street art exhibition as he would in a techno club and a shooting range. He’s an assistant to the Minister of Culture so he has a sensitive side.


One of the things we love about the show is Berlin is almost a character. How does modern Berlin contextualise the show?

There’s a great tradition of plays and films and TV shows of this genre where Berlin is the ubiquitous backdrop so it’s an interesting place to revisit. We certainly do that with this show. Berlin I guess more than any other European city is in constant flux because of its duality in the past and its coming together. I always see Berlin two teenagers who’ve grown up next door to each other, forbidden to have any contact with each other, and suddenly found the hole in the fence. Now they’re fucking in the sandpit.


Is there any one location you filmed in that stands out in your mind?

The interesting locations for me have been not the tourist spots, not the traditional iconography of Berlin. There are scenes in what appear to be old bomb sites or buildings that have been taken down and there’s a train in the distance… it kind of evokes a dystopic metropolis. It also evokes Brooklyn. I get Williamsburg vibes, Manhattan in the 70s… there’s all these kind of textures. When the sun does shine here it shines lazy, low and long. That has its own flavour. And the night in Berlin! It’s lit unlike any other city. It’s not a uniform blanket light, it’s lit in pools of light seemingly. City planning hasn’t gotten a hold like London or Paris. There are still dark, undiscovered corners which give it its own magic.


What’s been one of the biggest challenges playing Hector?

By ‘challenge’ you would assume something unpleasant, but actually the unpleasant things are what I relish. It’s nice to play a character that’s so fucked up and twisted. That’s always a joy. The challenge on a day to day basis is working at the pace television demands. But acting’s a muscle, and you get used to that. It’s actually been very rewarding material.


There’s a lot of parallels between acting and spying – spies have to improv, assume other identities. Do you think you or any of your other cast members could be a spy?

No I don’t think so. The difference between acting and spying is acting requires an audience and applause. Spying requires the opposite.


In the show there are a lot of colourful agent names like ‘Joker’ and ‘Swingset’. If you were an agent, what would your spy name be?

Given that I have agents in LA and they have agents in London, I’d call my agent “40%”.