It’s late 1957 when BBC America’s critically acclaimed drama”The Hour” returns for a second season on Wednesday, Nov. 28, and not all is well in the world, nor the newsroom.
To recap, when we last saw the crew of the show’s fictional news program of the same name, volatile reporter Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) joined forces with producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) to expose the truth of their boss’s Soviet ties, while suave anchorman Hector Madden (Dominic West) made the bold decision to go back to his wife after several extramarital dalliances — most notably with Bel herself.
When Season 2 opens there is trouble afoot for all as a competitive new program on rival network ITV threatens to rob “The Hour” of its heard-earned glory. Even more troublesome is the fate that awaits Hector, who, while being tempted to join forces with the competition, finds himself embroiled in an enormous scandal which seeks to destroy the fame he has so cunningly crafted for himself. Dominic West spoke to XfinityTV.com about the downward spiral Hector takes this season and why, after his turn as tortured but beloved cop Jimmy McNulty in “The Wire,” no one wants to hire him to play good guys anymore.
Hector seems to be going McNulty Season 5 in the first episode. He’s off the rails.
I don’t know why people keep casting me as a troubled womanizer! I suppose the interesting thing for me this season is having thought about celebrity in those days, the anchor men on the news channels had at least 20 million viewers every night. They had the kind of numbers you could only dream of now because there was no competition. And so they were, I suppose, pretty huge celebrities, and not in the way we think of them. But I think [executive producer and creator] Abi [Morgan] has kind of injected a more modern sensibility into that. So he starts as a big hot shot, the toast of the town, and because he’s a womanizing boozer, he ends up in jail. So you get to do the kind of high and the low and that’s always great to do as an actor.
You may not know why people keep casting you in these roles, but you’re obviously attracted to them. What’s the appeal?
They’re kind of damaged goods. With Hector it’s his wartime past and what’s great about the period is that everyone in that period went through the same war, and he was in the military. That comes into the second season, his wartime history and his very complicated relationship with the head of the police who was a wartime friend. And you see what damage it did to people like Hector and how I suppose the lust for life and the damage came from.
Watch the Season 2 Premiere of “The Hour” Before it Airs On TV:
And that speaks to you?
That’s always more interesting to play. He’s got a history and he’s got a trauma and he’s got something that has a bit more depth than being a frontman of a news show.
Things were fragmented between everyone at the end of Season 1, but they’re all brought back together again. Can you talk about how that happens?
Initially it’s just Bel and Hector that come back because it was a popular show and Hector and Bel avoided being implicated in the sort of rebellion that Freddie was very central to. And Freddie is brought back by Randall Brown [Peter Capaldi], who is the new producer. He’s a serious war journalist who appreciates serious journalism and realizes he’s gotta have him back.
Last season Hector was avoiding his home life. Will he continue to stray or will he reconnect with his wife?
I always find it a bit difficult in the way he treated his wife [Marnie, played by Oona Chaplin] last year because I was skeptical as to why his wife would hang around. But I think in those days they probably would have done because there wasn’t much choice. What’s interesting this time is that she doesn’t. She clears off and that saves his marriage in a way.
So he realizes what he’s losing.
You can’t be in a relationship with someone who’s just constantly taking their punishings [sic] and being nice and worshiping and adoring, and I suppose he became contemptuous of her in that way and she refuses to do that this time so it solidifies their bond.
Marnie really wanted a baby in Season 1. Will she get one this year?
Oh! That’s a huge thing we find out. That’s a very big deal. That’s part of his wartime record is that he got his c–k shot off!
I don’t know how successful a womanizer he could be if that’s the case.
God, that’s the other thing! I completely forgot about it. Behind the womanizing, we discover he’s impotent. Not impotent — he’s got infertility. But to a man in a way I’m sure that’s a kind of impotence. That’s a very big deal. That’s probably a spoiler I suppose but it’s a huge thing.
Abi Morgan has said that we’re going to discover that these people are not who we thought they were. What does that mean for Hector?
There are obviously certain characters like the head of the police and the night club owner. Obviously last year, Anton Lesser’s part was that he was a spy and obviously he’s not there anymore. I think that was a major theme of that time that people…there was a lot of spying going on. There was a lot of people pretending to be a part of the establishment but actually trying to undermine it. And Hector, initially anyway, you see this sort of happy go lucky boozing star who then is accused of beating up a girl.
Does the audience know the truth or is the audience also questioning his innocence?
I think the audience knows fairly soon that he’s not [guilty]. I think it’s only one or two episodes before you know that. So initially Hector is not who he seems to be.
What was your reaction to reading that storyline? Did you think, I’d look good in prison clothes?
Well, there’s that, for sure. But it’s also about the most catastrophic fall that could happen to a character like Hector. This was as bad as it gets, therefore it was more interesting to play. But no, I had trouble with it actually. I’m not sure I can talk about the infertility thing in depth, but I couldn’t believe that he wouldn’t tell his wife, or that he wouldn’t let her off the agony of her thinking it was her that was infertile. But to see a woman in such agony and not to say, “Actually, it’s my fault,” that was a big thing.
But he’s a classic narcissist, right?
I suppose so. We resolve it brilliantly. It’s so underhanded. She has an affair and gets knocked up and says, “Darling, I’m pregnant.” And he knows it can’t be him so it’s great.
Last year Bel and Hector ended their affair. But are they truly done?
They’re done. I really lamented that! But if you’ve found someone and it doesn’t work out or it’s obviously not right and you have to work with each other – in fact their work quickly takes over but it’s not something that is there anymore.
Hector and Freddie didn’t exactly love each other last season. How does that relationship play out when Freddie returns?
I just wanted so much more because I just love working with Ben. He’s amazing to act with. It didn’t go quite as far as I wanted, but we become co-hosts and that’s obviously deeply humiliating for Hector. But actually it was really fun to do it. We didn’t have too many scenes where we got to spark off each other but he’s got so much else going on.
Is that what you mean by it not going as far as you wanted?
I thought we had quite an interesting relationship with the sparring and there was a rapport that we have, so I just really enjoy doing those scenes. So it was nice to have him come in as kind of the presenter of the news.
At the end of this season is there a redemptive element for Hector? Do we see it come full circle for him?
Without wanting to disappoint everyone, yes.
It has to be a challenge to play someone so contemptible on so many levels but still likable to the audience.
I suppose, yes. I’ve been offered a lot of evil men or bad guys. That’s great to play. It’s difficult playing good people.
Because it’s difficult to make them interesting. There are people like Jimmy Stewart who play good people and they’re amazing actors so they make them interesting. It’s quite easy to make the devil interesting but the angels are not.
So we shouldn’t expect to see you in any angelic roles soon?
Well I’m dying to now but no one wants me to do it. I keep getting offered these parts and I keep saying, “No, I want to play a nice guy!” I hope it happens soon.
Season 2 of “The Hour” premieres on Wednesday, Nov. 28 at 9/8c on BBC America.