The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Clive Standen (“Vikings”)

Given the astounding success that History Channel found with its previous based-on-stuff-that-really-happened dramatic effort, “Hatfields and McCoys,” it’s no wonder that the network is throwing such a profound promotional push behind its latest endeavor, “Vikings.” Granted, the cast of this one can’t quite compare with headline names like Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton, but don’t be so hasty to dismiss it just because you don’t know as many of the actors off the top of your head. After all, at the very least, it’s got Gabriel Byrne, who’s quite good (as anyone who’s watched him on HBO’sIn Treatmentor any number of his many cinematic efforts can handily testify), but, seriously, there’s a lot of other solid actors in the ensemble as well…like, say, Clive Standen, for instance. Bullz-Eye had a chance to chat with Standen about his work on “Vikings,” but we also managed to chat a bit about his work on “Camelot“  and “Doctor Who as well as a slightly less fondly remembered effort called “Heroes and Villains.”

VikingsCliveStanden

Bullz-Eye: To start with the inevitable, how did you find your way into “Vikings in the first place? Presumably it didn’t hurt that you’d already worked with the creators.

Clive Standen: It was a long process for me. I was fighting them, kicking and screaming, to try and get seen for this. [Laughs.] I was filming with one of the producers of Vikings, Morgan O’Sullivan, when I did “Camelot,” and I remember him and Michael Hirst talking about it quite a lot then as a new, exciting project they’d been working on for ages. Michael had been invested in the Viking saga for a long time. Right from the beginning, I think they were looking for big names, and they had their kind of wish list, with people like Viggo Mortensen and…well, it was a completely different breed. And I was stuck in “Camelot,” and I was just so jealous. When “Camelot” was finished, I was writing letters and, as I say, kicking and screaming, saying, “Can I get seen for it?” And they wanted to see me for Rollo, which is the part that I played, but for some reason I went on this whole journey of doing screen tests and things for the part of Ragnar. At the very end, though, they offered me Rollo, which was the part that I wanted in the first place, so I must say it made me very happy.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Richard Hammond (“Top Gear,” “Richard Hammond’s Crash Course”)

Although the History Channel has done an admirable job of trying to bring “Top Gear” to America, there are many viewers who still view the U.S.’s take on the series as a pale imitation of the original UK version…and, yes, if you’re wondering, I am one of those viewers, thank you very much. Not that there’s anything wrong with Adam Ferrera, Tanner Foust, and Rutledge Wood in principle, but to my way of thinking, they can’t hold a candle to Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May. I mean, I’m not even a car person (and, boy, is that an understatement), but I’ve been enthralled by the adventures of Clarkson, Hammond, and May ever since I first discovered the series a few years back.

Indeed, I’ve found their presences so uniformly enjoyable that I’ve even followed them over to their various solo exploits. For instance, if you’ve never seen “James May’s Toy Stories,” head over to Hulu and check it out post haste…but, hang on, before doing that, perhaps you’d better watch “Richard Hammond’s Crash Course,” which actually makes its debut this evening on BBC America. I was fortunate enough to be able to chat with Mr. Hammond during this summer TCA press tour, and we chatted about this new series as well as the one which made him a household name amongst automobile enthusiasts, not to mention various and sundry other topics.

Bullz-Eye: You’re all but ubiquitous on UK television nowadays, but how did you find your way onto TV in the first place?

Richard Hammond: I started as a radio host 24 years ago, in 1988. Local radio, a small station in the UK. I stuck with that for the better part of 10 years and eventually started doing TV. Car-related TV, because that was always my passion. And that opened into other types of TV, but I stuck with the cars as well, and then eventually auditioned for and got “Top Gear” when they re-launched it.

BE: Being a re-launch, I guess it was both a proven commodity as well as an unproven one, since it was all new.

RH: Yeah, it’d become quite old-fashioned and, as happened, it was taken off air because viewers had dwindled, but then it came back as an entirely new thing.

BE: Presumably you were pleasantly surprised when it took off as well as it did.

RH: Weren’t we, though? [Laughs.] Yes, but it wasn’t immediate. We were very lucky. We were afforded the opportunity to grow organically over time, because it was only a small show, so we could be allowed to evolve. We never set out to create the monster we created. We set out to make the best car show we could. That, honestly, is all we ever set out to do. And it was what it was, and it grew to what it became, and it found the appeal it found. We were just lucky. It was a perfect storm. The perfect combination of event, context, characters, appetite…it all came together.

BE: It’s very much a car show for people who aren’t even car aficionados.

RH: Well, we kind of do that to save the viewer the bother. We’re car geeks. I mean, I collect cars. I’ve got…oh, God, dozens of them at home, ranging from pre-war to immediate. But it has to have that at heart. We occasionally…not in recent years, but there was a time when we’d be asked quite regularly, “Are you really a car guy, or is it all put on?” You couldn’t pretend! But you don’t have to be a car fan to watch it, because cars, generally speaking, are fascinating to everyone because they affect all of us. Even if all you ever do is get in one to get a ride to school, they’re still part of your life, be it as a symbol, a means of communication, a means of transport, even as self-expression.

BE: What would you say has been the most fascinating aspect of “Top Gear”? You’ve been to so many countries, done so many things…

RH: Well, I’ve grown up there! I was 30 when we started, I’m 40 now. That’s a big period in a chap’s life! [Laughs.] Both my daughters have arrived since then. Lots has happened. It’s been a part of my life for a long, long time. That’s probably the big surprise. No, the bigger surprise is what’s happened to it! It still takes our breath away how big it’s gotten. We can’t believe it.

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The Light from the TV Shows: Exploring “Hidden City with Marcus Sakey”

If Marcus Sakey’s name doesn’t mean anything to you…well, first of all, maybe don’t tell him. He’s a nice guy. I wouldn’t want you to hurt his feelings. But beyond that, it probably means that you need to pick up the pace when it comes to reading top-notch crime thrillers. His debut novel, 2007′s The Blade Itself, was featured as a New York Times Editor’s Pick was named by Esquire as one of the 5 Best Reads of the year, and he’s since enjoyed continued success with subsequent novels Good People, The Amateurs, and The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes.

But we’re not here to talk about Sakey’s books. We’re here to talk about his TV show.

On December 6, the Travel Channel will debut “Hidden City with Marcus Sakey,” a series that will, over the course of its 12 episodes, explore 12 different cities around the United States – caveat: for these purposes, we’re treating the Florida Keys as one big city – by investigating some of the more sordid (or at least less than cheery) parts of their pasts. For example, in Boston, Sakey explores the history of the Boston Strangler. In Chicago, he looks into the infamous protest riot of 1968. Neither is the sort of thing that’d pop up on the cover of a tourism brochure, but it is the sort of thing that fascinates Sakey. I’ve had a chance to screen the first two episodes of the series, which, not coincidentally, find Sakey working his way through Chicago and Boston, and I found it to be highly enthralling viewing.

Okay, so maybe Sakey doesn’t have the eccentric intensity of, say, James Ellroy. (If you haven’t seen Ellroy’s series “L.A.: City of Demons,” I highly recommend it.) But you can sense Sakey’s fascination with the material he’s discussing and the people with whom he’s conversing, which goes a long way. Plus, c’mon, it’s the guy’s first time playing host. Give him a chance to grow into the role, huh? And, anyway, the end of his adventures in Chicago, one thing’s for sure: he’s up for anything if it’ll help him get a better handle on the discussion at hand…even if it involves being temporarily blinded.

Bullz-Eye: So I checked out both of the episodes on the screener yesterday…

Marcus Sakey: Oh, cool! What did you think?

BE: A lot of fun, to say the least.

MS: Beautiful! Thanks, man, I appreciate it.

BE: In fact, I went on Facebook right after I watched it and said that my eyes were burning just watching the Chicago episode.

MS: [Laughs.] Yeah, I think part of the reason I ended up hosting this was that my friend and producer felt that I was dumb enough to get pepper-sprayed.

BE: It’s a good selling point.

MS: [Laughs.] Yeah. Sometimes not being that smart has its advantages.

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Top Gear prepares for a US debut this weekend

If you’re a car nut, motorhead, whatever you want to call it, you’ve probably spent hours digging up episodes of the internationally renowned series “Top Gear.” Search no more, auto geeks – “Top Gear” is finally coming stateside.

You can catch the US premiere of “Top Gear” this Sunday, November 21st, at 10/9c on HISTORY. The show will feature all of the super-cars, extreme stunts and challenges, car reviews and celebrity interviews that have made “Top Gear” the series of choice for car enthusiasts around the world. The U.S. version will be packed with high-adrenaline action entertainment as it tracks the colorful history of the automobile as well as the eccentric adventures of its hosts with “Top Gear’s” customary wit and humor.

Hosted by comedian and car enthusiast Adam Ferrara (Rescue Me, Paul Blart: Mall Cop), stunt driver Tanner Foust (The Bourne Ultimatum, The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift and The Dukes of Hazard) and car-obsessed NASCAR expert Rutledge Wood, “Top Gear” is pulling out all the stops for the US iteration. Of course, the show would not be complete without its own version of The Stig, a masked driver who will performing stunts and high-octane feats.

  

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