You would think a person who plays a gatekeeper for Channing McClaren’s (Ryan Phillippe) Wikileaks-like site knows more about technology than the rest of us, but as it turns out, John Hannah is no hacker. He does know quite a bit about acting though. You might remember him in hit movies Four Weddings and a Funeral, Sliding Doors, The Mummy saga, and, more recently, in the Spartacus series as an ambitious gladiator owner. So how did he like working on the fifth season of Damages? John tells all in an exclusive interview.
JOSH PAYNE: Why did you want to do Damages? What were you looking forward to?
JOHN HANNAH: I’d seen the first season and half of the second, and I really liked it. And after Spartacus I was looking for something completely different.
JP: Do you have any favorite performances over the seasons?
JH: Well, Rose and Glenn. And Ted Danson was a standout, I think, for everybody. Even when actors are very talented they can easily become yoked to their particular character if they’ve played it for a long time. It was so great and just a brilliant piece of casting.
JP: How does it feel being on a cast with Glenn Close?
JH: Great. Working with Glenn has been great. We’ve done a few scenes together, but most of the time I’m working with Ryan [Phillippe].
JP: How did you like working with Ryan?
JH: It’s great. He so super comfortable with it all. Very professional.
JP: Did you and Ryan talk in advance about the dynamic your characters would have?
JH: As one of the insiders on Damages, you probably know the possibilities of coming up with a backstory are fairly limited [laughs]. We knew the idea and the areas we were dealing with. So the lack of anything substantive was grist for the mill in terms of what we were doing, the kind of shadow world we’re in this season.
JP: You play Rutger Simon, the business manager of a Wikileaks-type site. Are you tech savvy in real life?
JH: Not to that level. I can email and mess around. But I think we’re at a tipping point now in the world where it’s only really everyone’s grandmother who doesn’t understand [technology] to some extent.
JP: As you alluded to earlier, Damages gives you very little in the way of explaining the plot or revealing character motives because so much is subject to change. Do you find that difficult or is it liberating?
JH: At first I’d have to say it’s a little bit scary because you spend 20 years as an actor and it kind of goes against everything that you’re taught and everything that anchors you in the storm. But, in fact, I found it incredibly liberating because I often find that actors—and maybe, especially, English actors—can often over-demonstrate what’s going on in their head. Because of our paucity of knowledge of where this is going, or who this character is, or of what your intentions are and all the things we might consider back story and motivation—because none of that’s there you have to simply play the truth of the moment, the absolute truth of the scene. If it turns out later that you were lying to that person and that person had to believe you, then it’s taken away any temptation an actor might have to be lying. You have to be truthful. The other character has to believe you were being truthful. When they find out later you were lying, well, you look like a very good liar, which is what these people are. It’s interesting as we come to the final episode. The audience may look at my character and think he might be trapped, or he might have a way out, or he might be the one who is laying the trap. So rather that play any one of those three things, you play the truth of the moment, in the moment, as your character believes it at this point. It’s been really interesting. I’ve spoken to a lot of other actors about this process and I quite like it.
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