Whatever you’re expecting from Carnival Row, it probably is that and a lot more you couldn’t see coming.
Take, for example, the storyline involving Imogen (Tamzin Merchant), Agreus (David Gyasi) and Ezra (Andrew Gower). At first, I thought, well, I know this story and I absolutely know where this is going, so why invest in them?
How very wrong I was.
But then again, expectations are a tricky thing, as I discussed with Tamzin Merchant, David Gyasi and Andrew Gower as we talked the upcoming Carnival Row, and both what they hope people take from it, and also their possible reaction, to, well, other people’s reactions.
Especially on social media, which, as Tamzin so aptly put, is “like having friends who can’t keep any thoughts to themselves,” aka the absolute best, and also the absolute worst.
That aside, though, Andrew was very philosophical about the whole thing, saying “People are gonna like the show, and people are not gonna like the show. But that in itself is the show.”
Let it be known that I just paused here so you could read that again, because that is not just very true, it’s actually very deep. It deserves a paragraph by itself.
But that general acceptance of the fact that artists can’t really control the reaction to their art, Andrew made a very good point about how many more stories the show has to tell. “I think it hasn’t even started yet. The world, I believe, is so much bigger.”
Tamzin and David agreed, and I think, once you get a chance to screen it, you will too.
Of course, for David, it’s also a personal thing: “I say, from my point of view, on a very selfish level, I really enjoy playing Agreus. I really enjoyed playing him. I’d love to do it more and hope people deeply enjoy it. And if people enjoyed it, that’d be really helpful.”
As a reminder the show has already been renewed for a season 2, but if I’m being honest, it feels like the kind of show that can go on for five, if not more.
It’s message, after all, feels way more poignant than it should in a world that seems to increasingly fear and reject what is different. But the actors weren’t really trying to play to the message, they were just trying to inhabit a character.
“I think that if you start trying to play a message, it can get quite preachy, and it can get quite general.” Tamzin shared, about this very idea. “But if you kind of have the melting pot of the world, in the back of your mind, that will kind of inform the features of the show, without me kinda trying to play this archetype.”
Andrew also agreed, and added “playing something with conviction, I think that really allows those themes you’re talking about to sing, to shine. But if you have to kind of try and play it thinking of that or your character, I don’t think you necessarily land the scenes that you’re in.”
To which Tamzin then explained “The more specific you get. The more character driven it becomes like that. For me, that is no fun for me to play that instead of playing, “I’m a small cog in a wheel.”
Ironically, Andrew had the perfect example to this, in the way he approached a character like Ezra, who is very much not the hero of this tale. “I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t read anybody’s storyline other than my own because I was like: That’s what Ezra would do.”
And indeed he would. Why would he know about how others live or think? That’s not what’s expected of a man of his station.
Of course, David was playing the other side of that coin, and his perspective is quite different. There was a lot more to think about there, because “Mr. Agreus, this character, from the day that he was born, he’s kind of given a limit as to what he can rise to within the world, and then all of a sudden we sort of join this world, and this house is in the poshest area, despite who he is, so the truth is they very much work hand in hand, message and character.”
Sometimes the character and the place he occupies are the message.
Talking to these three it also felt like the story-line gained a lot from a group of actors who were committed to bringing nuance to their performances. As David revealed: “we would often spend most of our time talking about what actually happened, actually the subtext, and about what was going on, which actually, is the most interesting thing.”
As a viewer, and as a critic, I gotta say, that’s what you want to hear. You want to hear this character, who you might have connected to, who might mean something to you, means something to the person playing him, as well.
David continued explaining “when we first got the script, for arguments sake, for spoilers’ sake, let’s call our little threesome here a business arrangement… it sort of happened quite epically. And I think we all sat down and we were like, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to explore this a little more?”
Look, I not only say it is, I’m pretty convinced this is why people write fanfic and create fanart. This same desire to explore a world, a character, a little more.
Because, in the end, the same question David asked, that these actors asked themselves, is what us, as viewers, are asking of these characters as we consume the show:
“What happens when you’re so landlocked in this idea of what relationships look like, what work looks like, what business looks like, investment looks like? What happens?”
We’ll find out when Carnival Row premieres, later this week.
Are you excited? What are your expectations? Share with us in the comments below!
Carnival Row will be available to stream in its entirety on August 30th, on Amazon Prime.