Exclusive Interview: Ripper Street‘s Adam Rothenberg on the Mysterious Jackson and His Fiery Attraction to the Madame

March 8, 2013

Photo credit: BBC America

It’s 1889, six months after Jack the Ripper’s last killing stained the grey streets of London with blood. When more women are discovered slaughtered on the streets of the Whitechapel district, the men of H Division begin to wonder if the killer has returned.

Ripper Street, BBC America’s eight-part crime drama, comes to an end this weekend. To get ready for the finale, we talked to Adam Rothenberg, who plays the mysterious Captain Homer Jackson, a former Pinkerton agent hired to investigate the killings. Rothenberg shared his thoughts on his enigmatic character, his favorite episode of the season, and his on-screen chemistry with MyAnna Buring (she played maid Edna Braithwaite in Downton Abbey).

Don’t miss the season finale of Ripper Street on Saturday, March 9, at 9/8c on BBC America (Ch. 264).

What drew you most to the character of Captain Homer Jackson and the desire to play this role?
Adam Rothenberg: I think Jackson is like a dream character for anybody to play. All of his qualities are basically on the wish list of probably every actor. He’s very morally ambiguous. He’s just a mysterious guy. I think the challenge and real pleasure of playing him is how do you inhabit someone who’s seemingly so iconic.

So how do you inhabit this kind of character?
AR: As an actor, it begins with the writing, and the head writer Richard Warlow really does most of the work for you. For me, it’s just about not shrinking back from the language and size of the conflict. Growing a mustache was really helpful [laughs]. Looking at yourself in the mirror with the mustache and side burns, you kind of drop into it. The costuming is another thing. So much of the work is kind of done for you when everyone is doing their job right. I felt like all I needed to do was show up and invest and play with the other actors on set.

How did you prepare for the role?
AR: I got the job very sort of last minute so there wasn’t a whole lot for me to do. I read a couple books about Americans living in London during that time but I didn’t, by any means, have enough time to become an expert in ripperology or early forensics. For me, it was just a lot of work on the text, making sure that my mouth could get around that really muscular and specific language. It really came out of the blue for me. I didn’t know what to prepare and I think that was probably pretty good because it was such an intimidating project and such a great role. I probably would’ve worked myself into a hole or overthought it.

What was the production like?
AR: They moved at lightning speed. The amount of pages we would do a day was amazing. What I’m used to in American network television, you’re lucky to get maybe three pages a day. They were shooting seven or eight on a very tight schedule, very disciplined. We’d end at seven every night, no matter what happened. You really had to throw yourself into it.

Did you go out for pints at the end of the day?
AR: Yeah, I would go out for beers, the rest of the guys with families had other things to do. I got to know a lot of [Dublin’s] locals, a lot of people on the crew.

What was your favorite episode to shoot?
AR: It’s a toss-up between six and seven. Episode six was when Jackson started to get the feel back of what it is he used to be good at and I loved that. I loved working off of this great actor Peter Ferdinando who plays the villain, and [episode] seven of course, because it’s just a good old-fashioned west gruff. I’d say the episode probably to watch though would’ve been five because “The Weight of One Man’s Heart” is the episode that focused on Sergeant Drake. That makes me cry every time I see it and I’ve seen it maybe four times. It’s just brilliant — he’s brilliant in it, Jerome [Flynn].

Was there someone you had looked forward to working with on the show?
AR: I was sort of ignorant of everyone on the show. If I had known who they were, my terror level—instead of nine—would have been 150. Those guys are definitely some of the best I’ve ever worked with so I was blissfully ignorant.

Of all the characters you’ve played during your TV and film career, which one has been your favorite?
AR: Jackson is definitely one of the coolest. I did a guest spot on the show Alcatraz, a movie called Tennessee that I’m really proud of. I think Jackson blows them out of the water. In theater I’ve done more roles that pop out of my head that would come close challenging Homer.

Are you currently hooked on any shows?
AR: Not at the moment, to be honest, I haven’t been watching much TV. But like everyone else, I would stick to Homeland, waiting for Breaking Bad to finish out. I don’t want to admit to Honey Boo Boo [laughs].

How did you manage to create such good chemistry between Jackson and MyAnna Buring’s Long Susan?
AR: I don’t know. She’s such a beautiful person inside and out, I think you just kind of luck out with that kind of chemistry. It’s like falling in love with someone — you think you know the reasons why, but sometimes you just fall in love and you create the reasons after. I think the chemistry on set between everyone was just kind of like divine intervention. It just sort of clicked. I think it worked because everyone was first and foremost interested in moving the script and the story forward.