Mark Addy, Jack Donnelly and Robert Emms in ATLANTIS - Season 1 | ©2013 BBC America

Mark Addy, Jack Donnelly and Robert Emms in ATLANTIS - Season 1 | ©2013 BBC America

In ATLANTIS, now airing its first season on BBC American Saturdays at 9 PM, we’re in the days of the Greek myths. Jason (Jack Donnelly), who will eventually steal the Golden Fleece and marry Medea, is currently having adventures with mathematician Pythagoras (Robert Emms) and a tirelessly self-promoting, slightly out-of-shape Hercules (Mark Addy). We know the group’s female member by name, but aren’t used to seeing the character Medusa not as a snake-haired Gorgon, but rather with the lovely face of actress Jemima Rooper.

London native Rooper has split her work between theatre (including the recorded-for-National Theatre Live production of ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS), films (including KINKY BOOTS with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Joel Edgerton) and television. Much of her TV work, Rooper points out during a party thrown by BBC America for the Television Critics Association, has been for ATLANTIS’ creators/producers Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy.

JEMIMA ROOPER: Yes, amongst other things. In fact, ATLANTIS is my fifth job with Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy, who’s not here today. It’s my first job with [ATLANTIS creator/producer] Howard Overman. I’m a big fan of his work.

ASSIGNMENT X: Do you see a through-line in their writing, either in terms of theme or tone or the kinds of characters they like you to play?

ROOPER: Yes, but it may be more in the actual content of what they’re making, rather than my personal involvement. When we made HEX – I played Thelma, the lesbian ghost – we’d made a teen series [AS IF] together for about three years. That was kind of their first pet project, and there were six of us in the cast and it was their baby and it was very experimental and it was a pretty rewarding experience, but they then got their legs and became more ambitious. HEX was their first high-concept drama, and that was the beginning of them moving into that field. In the U.K., no one was really making that kind of television. They were a little before their time. And now, obviously, this genre is everywhere. ATLANTIS comes at sort of hopefully the peak of their being very well-practiced in their field.

AX: With Medusa, did you just say, “They’ve asked me to do something, I’m doing it,” and only then asked, “What exactly is it?”

ROOPER: Pretty much. I woke up to an email from my agent saying, “You’ve been offered this role,” but usually when he writes those kind of emails, it’s usually some kind of weird one-day workshop or something. And this was this big thirteen episodes, and then I saw who was making it. And to be honest, there weren’t that many scripts to start with, so there’s kind of a leap of faith that you have to make when you’re first signing on to something for a bit of time. But I love them and I love what they do, and as soon as I read the twist of Hercules [being a con artist rather than a conventional hero] in it, I was, “Okay, this is good news.” I love that they have such humor written into it, because I think fantasy drama can sometimes be a bit too earnest and take itself too seriously. And it’s great, because it makes the tense things more tense and the scary things more scary if you’ve got that kind of light relief and a bit of comedy.

AX: Now are you worried at all about dealing with makeup effects when Medusa gets to be the more famous snaky version of Medusa, or are you looking forward to that?

ROOPER: I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s really hard to say, because we don’t know when and how any of it’s happening yet. But I think there will certainly be room for her to evolve once the change happens. I think – who knows? But I love prosthetics.

AX: You said there was a scene where you were all running and Mark Addy as Hercules outran you. Do you get to do any other physical things, like hitting people or swordplay?

ROOPER: I haven’t had any swordplay. Again, I think that’s something that is definitely going to happen more and more down the line, because I think Medusa will have to evolve once certain things take place. She’s going to have to be able to defend herself and she’s going to be more an aggressor in the show, but that might not be for another series [season] or so. She’s a strong young woman, but there’s a sort of sense in Atlantis that there is a kind of unrest, and there is a bit of women being kept down and men ruling, but that’s about to change. There’s a tipping point and I’ve had a few little stunts, a few fallings-over – some of them not on purpose [laughs].

AX: Is the character Medusa a native of Atlantis?

ROOPER: No, she’s not. When we meet her at the beginning of the series, she is going there and so she’s new to the city. She’s trying to carve a bit of a life out for herself, and so her friendship with the three main guys is really important. That becomes her life, and she becomes ingrained in theirs.

AX: Before working on ATLANTIS, did you have any particular opinions about Greek mythology?

ROOPER: I did. I actually studied Classics at school and it became my favorite subject. I was always going, “I love English” and I did theatre studies for my A levels, which is when you’re eighteen years old, pre-university, but Classics became my favorite and I love ancient history and I loved all the literature. [The ancient Greeks were] so incredibly advanced and these stories, what was lovely about picking up the script for ATLANTIS, it’s not the myths as we know them and have been written down, but it triggers all the old memories and it’s made me pick up all the old books and, “Hang on, who is that again? Who is that again?” I was reading up on the stories. It just feels like this treasure chest of material that we’re just starting to tuck our way into [laughs].

AX: What sorts of characters or projects are you interested in going forward? You’ve worked a lot in the fantasy genre. Do you like it as a viewer?

ROOPER: To be honest, I’m kind of greedy, and I love all genres. Until ATLANTIS, during the last four years, I’d been doing a lot of theatre and that’s been great. Women have a tough time – they have a tough time in all industries, but in acting, you definitely feel that there are peaks and troughs of when there are a lot of parts around and when there aren’t. You want to be able to show that you can do other stuff, and I love that I am able to flip between mediums, and then also between comedy and tragedy. I did my first musical, ME AND MY GIRL, a couple of years ago, which I loved. The British stage for the last few years I’ve absolutely adored. I was doing a show called ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS for about a year-and-a-half.

AX: On Broadway?

ROOPER: Yes. Which was phenomenal. I adored it. But it was time to embrace something a bit different again and get back into filming again. I actually started filming when I was thirteen years old. Theatre is my first love and then there’s something magical to me always about a film set and working with a crew. In fact, none are as kind of wonderful and brilliant and I know as well as the guys we’re doing ATLANTIS with. We have a long history with everyone and they’re really an amazing team.

AX: And have you ever worked in the U.S. for film or television?

ROOPER: I did one day’s filming [laughs] on a film, THE BLACK DAHLIA, a Brian De Palma movie, and I had a few days shooting in Bulgaria and then one day in Echo Park, I think. I loved it. It was brilliant. I’d love to do more.

AX: Do you have any other projects that we should know about?

ROOPER: Yeah. I have two movies coming out. One is called ONE CHANCE, and it’s directed by David Frankel, who did THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA. It’s sort of an American film but an English story. And the other one, I’m playing Daniel Radcliffe’s sister in a movie called THE F WORD, which I think comes out next year. Both of them pretty tiny parts [laughs].

AX: Is there anything that you’d like to say that nobody’s asked you the leading question for lately?

ROOPER: If anyone wants to put on CABARET with me as Sally Bowles, feel free.

Related: Exclusive interview with ATLANTIS star Mark Addy on playing Hercules

Related: Exclusive interview with ATLANTIS creators Johnny Capps and Howard Overman


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: Exclusive interview with ATLANTIS star Jemima Rooper


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