In CARNIVAL ROW, now streaming its second and final season on Prime Video, faeries and humans share a world that resembles eighteenth-century Europe. Many have settled in the Burgue, where some of the Fae and some of the humans would like to coexist in peace.
However, a lot of them hate each other. Jamie Harris plays virulently anti-Fae human police officer Sergeant Dombey, and Jay Ali plays the adamantly anti-human Fae freedom fighter/terrorist Kaine. Their personal animosity is particularly fierce, as Dombey killed Kaine’s wife.
In reality, Ali and Harris are good friends, which comes across in their separate but simultaneous Zoom interview about CARNIVAL ROW for ASSIGNMENT X.
Both actors are English. Harris has been in films including IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, PRINCESS CARABOO, A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, THE NEW WORLD, THE PRESTIGE, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, and recent WEST SIDE STORY, and recurring roles on TV series including MAGIC CITY, AGENTS OF SHIELD, and TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES.
Ali’s other credits include the films DARLING COMPANION and THE ILLEGAL, and the TV series SIGNIFICANT MOTHER, THE FOSTERS, DAREDEVIL, BLOOMERS, THE PURGE, and MAGNUM P.I.
ASSIGNMENT X: Your characters Dombey and Kaine are enemies. Do the two of you have adversarial scenes with one another?
JAY ALI: We do, yeah, quite a few. If you look at the extremist view in terms of the human side, the Burgue side, it’s Dombey, and when you look at it on the Fae side, it’s Kaine. So, when these two people get together, there’s quite a clash. Honestly, working with Jamie was one of the highlights of working on this show, so, for me, it was always amazing. And it’s always funny, because I love this guy. But when you play characters that hate each other, I remember doing the scenes, and going afterwards, “I have to give him a hug.”
JAMIE HARRIS: Yeah, we had a lot – the very first scene we did together, I shoot the love of his life. Then, the next scene, he’s trying to stab me in the back, and then, the next scene, he beats me up, he’s almost going to kill me. Our scenes – little dialogue, but a lot of action. Of course, we had the whole chase scene, which took days to shoot, but it was a lot of fun. It really was man against man.
AX: When you’re physically grappling with one another, how much of that is you, and how much, if any, is a stunt person?
HARRIS: It’s mainly us.
ALI: Yeah. I feel bad for the stunt guys, because you know what we’re like. We want to do it all the time. And they’re ready to go, but because we have such giant egos [laughs], we want to do it. But I think I ended up doing all of my stuff, and then Jamie – it was amazing. It was you.
HARRIS: Pretty much. Because also, actors are such divas. Every time a stuntman, who is really good at his job, would take over for me, I’d be like, “I don’t run like that.” [laughs] And I probably do, but in my mind, I run very Bond-like. So, we did a lot of our own stunts. And I think also, it makes it more real, it gets the adrenaline going, and therefore, it’s more natural, your response to the other person.
AX: The Fae have wings and can fly, which means the actors who play them have to be up on flying wires on occasion. What is that like?
ALI: It’s horrendous. It looks like a lot of fun. It’s not. It’s really uncomfortable. You need to have a lot of core strength and a lot of tolerance for pain, because you can be hanging up there [for long periods], because when you have to reset, you can’t keep coming down and unclipping everything. So, sometimes, they’ll call “Cut,” and you’re left hanging there. And you have these harnesses, with the clips, and they’ll just dig into … [laughs]. Honestly, when I first found out I was going to be flying, I was like, “This is amazing. This is going to be so much fun.” Taking off and landing is quite fun. But when you’re flying, and hanging there, they lift you up, and you’re just hanging, and the blood all rushes through, and the novelty wears off very, very quickly. That was one thing actually I didn’t mind the stunt guys doing [laughs]. I was like, “You can go and hang up there for a couple of hours.”
AX: Did you have to do anything comparably uncomfortable?
HARRIS: No. I was never hanging anywhere. My character could hardly walk, let alone fly. The chase scene was a lot of fun, but I remember it was brutal weather. It was raining for three nights solid, and you were having to run through cobbled streets, and it felt endless. As always, on camera, the scene looks amazing. You’re chasing us, Jay, in the air, and there’s me and [other police] running away, and it looks fantastic. It also looks rather quick. But actually, it wasn’t. It took days upon days to shoot that. But I was actually quite comfortable in all my scenes.
AX: Is there anything different you do to play a police officer of the past, versus a contemporary police officer?
HARRIS: Well, that’s interesting, because actually, right after Season 1, I played another racist cop in LOVECRAFT COUNTRY [set in ‘50s America]. And it was a totally different situation, again, based in reality, but if you watched LOVECRAFT COUNTRY, that went off into a real fantasy world, a very, very violent world. I think once you take the cop out of it, you’ve got to work on the background of that person to make it more grounded and more human. And you build up everything in the character, his history, his past, everything about him, until he comes into that moment as to what he does. I think playing a police officer, as in real life, I think it’s very easy to misuse your power when you’re given so much power.
AX: And do you play a faerie any differently than you would play a human?
ALI: Apart from physically, no. One of the big elements of this season is, what would you do to protect the people you love? And what I would go to is thinking about my son, or whoever you’re with at the time – your parents, your family, your brother – what would you do in those times? And I think that that translates, regardless of whether you’re human, whether you’re a faerie, whether you’re a puck. You can get very fantastical about it all, and make it all very big, but the thing that I think makes this such an amazing show is that it’s very underplayed, it’s very real in terms of the emotions that people go through.
AX: Before becoming involved in CARNIVAL ROW, did either of you before this have any particular opinions about fairytales? And if you did, does CARNIVAL ROW match those, or expand upon those?
ALI: You have what you read in your books about fairytales, but in this, even though it’s creatures, they’re all very, very human, and they all go through very human emotions and – I think Jamie said it well yesterday – you take off my wings or someone’s horns, it’s exactly the same as a human. So, even though there is a fairytale element to CARNIVAL ROW, it is a very humanistic show.
HARRIS: Yeah, and I love the seediness of it as well. Yes, it’s fairytale, but Season 1 was dealing with immigration, which was so poignant at the time, and it’s still so poignant. And now [in Season 2], you’re talking about oppression, which is endless, it’s worldwide. So, I think it’s beautiful, because it’s visual. But Jay’s right. The intricacies are so human, and so relevant, and so dark.
Related: Exclusive Interview: CARNIVAL ROW actors Caroline Ford and Arty Froushan on the second and final season of the Prime Video series
Related: Exclusive Interview: CARNIVAL ROW executive producer Erik Oleson on the second and final season of the Prime Video series
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Article: Exclusive Interview: CARNIVAL ROW actors Jamie Harris and Jay Ali on the final season