Rhys Ifans plays C.I.A. operative Hector DeJean in Epix’s new Sunday night espionage thriller BERLIN STATION. In the series created by Olen Steinhauer, Ifans’ Hector is struggling with a male asset who endangered by the station’s refusal to help, and who is also in love with Hector. Hector also has quite a few secrets of his own.
Ifans is currently on the big screen playing an even less scrupulous American intelligence officer in SNOWDEN, directed by Oliver Stone. The Welsh actor starred opposite his real-life twin Llyr in the crime black comedy TWIN TOWN. Other film credits include NOTTING HILL, HANNIBAL RISING, ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, ANONYMOUS and THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. Ifans also plays Mycroft Holmes on CBS’ series ELEMENTARY and recently appeared in ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, which also featured BERLIN STATION costar Richard Armitage.
ASSIGNMENT X: Did you and Richard Armitage cross paths on ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS?
RHYS IFANS: We had one scene that we both appeared in, but he was unrecognizable [under prosthetics makeup]. We certainly didn’t know each other then anyway. I only met Richard on this.
AX: Were you looking to do another series at this time, or is it just that the part was good and it came along?
IFANS: Well, the part was great, and the journey that Hector takes in this series is fantastic for an actor. For me to play, it’s really quite intense and expansive and right now, I feel as if I’ve excavated all there is to excavate from Hector DeJean, but, given Olen’s skill as a writer, I’m sure there’s more in that crazy mind of his. So let’s see. I’m very open to all outcomes.
AX: Were you looking to play an American?
IFANS: No. That wouldn’t have been a criteria, really. Not necessarily, no. But the character happened to be. I was looking for a good script, and this was a great script, and a very interesting character, who happens to be American. Any aspect of a character that’s different to yourself is always an appealing challenge, I guess.
AX: Did you have an opinion of the American C.I.A. before becoming involved in this, and has this affected your opinion, or has your opinion affected your performance?
IFANS: Well, the American C.I.A., to put it politely, has a checkered past. But like any secret service, the very currency of the secret service is one of lies, deceit, illusion. Regardless of being American or not, that’s the nature of a secret service.
AX: England has MI6 …
IFANS: Yeah, MI6, who, many would argue, are the worst of the worst, or the best of the best. It depends on which side you’re on. They are very shall we say dark entities in any society. What interested me with this project was how a human being with a moral fiber and an ethical fiber operate within a social structure whose very foundation is one of lies and untruths? How do you survive that as a “good” human being?
AX: Hector seems like he’s uncomfortable with some aspects of what he’s doing …
IFANS: Yes, he certainly is. Hector has a dark and checkered past, which I cannot reveal, but I think Hector’s take on it is similar to mine in a sense, in that there are some things the C.I.A. does which are good. There are some things which are suspect. Hector’s moral map, or moral code, because of his past, is very finely tuned. He joined the C.I.A. because he thought the C.I.A. was genuinely a force for good. Hector’s back story is that he was part of the Peace Corps in Serbia and he felt frustrated by his utter inability to stop, in this case, hundreds of thousands of Muslim men being killed through genocide. He felt powerless, and he felt, in joining the C.I.A., he would actually have some teeth, which is very true. So like everything, nothing is ever black and white.
AX: Is Serbia the back story how he wound up recruiting his asset?
IFANS: No. That would have been a back story from ten, twenty years ago now. That’s a back story that I invented for myself as to why Hector would – why someone of Hector’s ethics would want to be part of the CIA.
AX: Is Hector gay or is he just playing along to keep the asset cooperative?
IFANS: Hector is gay when it’s a matter of national security, let’s put it like that.
AX: What about when he’s off the clock? Or do we ever see him off the clock?
IFANS: Well, espionage certainly isn’t a nine-to-five job. But all shall be revealed, I’m afraid to say, on that question. I’m going to exercise my First Amendment.
AX: And are we meeting Hector at a point where he’s becoming disillusioned with what he’s doing, or he’s just at a point of particular complexity with what he’s doing?
IFANS: Well, I think the kind of work that these guys do is in constant moral flux, depending on what’s thrown at the Western world. More often than not, Western governments in retrospect don’t react mindfully to what’s being thrown at them. Sometimes there is an emotional response. And Hector finds that difficult. Although he’s an emotional animal himself, he’s not comfortable with his government responding emotionally to situations.
AX: Do you feel there’s sort of a thematic linkage between BERLIN STATION and SNOWDEN?
IFANS: Well, of course there is. That’s inevitable.
AX: They talk about Edward Snowden in STATION …
IFANS: Yeah. That’s how the showbiz cookie crumbles sometimes, more often than not. So yeah, there are crossovers thematically.
AX: Can you talk about what else you’re doing?
IFANS: I’m … in the theatre in London in a production of KING LEAR playing Lear’s Fool [which opened this past week and runs through December 3]. King Lear [is] played by Glenda Jackson, one of our great actors. She’s been a politician for twenty-five years and this is her first foray back into the theatre – a kinder audience by far I’d imagine than the House of Parliament. So I’m really excited to be working with someone who truly is a legend. I’m thrilled to be doing that.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about BERLIN STATION?
IFANS: That it’s a real exploration of what it is to be human in a sometimes inhuman corporation.
This interview was conducted during Epix’s portion of the summer 2016 Television Critics Association press tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
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Article: Exclusive interview with BERLIN STATION actor Rhys Ifans