The BBC America supernatural drama Bedlam, premiering on October 1st, follows the 20-something residents of Bedlam Heights, a stylish new apartment building that is tainted by abuse, suffering and death. As the direct descendent of those who ran the asylum for generations, prior to its current use as luxury residences, Kate (Charlotte Salt) lives with Ryan (Will Young) and Molly (Ashley Madekwe), and it is her task to fill the remaining vacant apartments. When Kate’s adopted cousin Jed (Theo James) unexpectedly arrives, after messages to save her send him back into her life, his checkered past and mental health issues become increasingly difficult to hide, as he sees ghosts and visions from the past. Once he begins to uncover the terrifying secrets of Bedlam Heights, he must also attempt to retain his fragile sanity and keep his friends alive.
During a recent interview to promote the series’ debut in America, actor Theo James talked about exploring such dark aspects of a character, determining the physical effect that the ghosts would have, how he doesn’t really believe in ghosts himself, and what it was like to film in a location where some very horrific murders actually happened. He also talked about his role in Underworld: Awakening (out in theaters in January 2012) and the cool fights he got to do in the film. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
THEO JAMES: He has visions. He sees ghosts. What was interesting was looking at how he would have been perceived. The reason he’s a cool character is because of his complexities. He’s had a bit of a fucked up life. They thought he was insane and mad, and he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and given drugs. He in and out of mental institutions, shunned by a lot of friends, and just had a pretty shit past. He’s constantly having to move locations. He’ll do a job for six months, and then something bad will happen, or he’ll lose friends and lose trust. So, by the time you meet him here, he’s a little bit more settled mentally. He thinks the only way he can lead a normal life is to keep this to himself and not entrust stuff to other people, or tell them what happens to him. He probably went through a period of thinking, “Am I actually fucking mad?”
How much of your character’s backstory was given to you?
JAMES: We had discussions about a skeleton framework of it, but it was really important for me to know exactly what had happened to him. With a character like this, in a sexy, 20-something, supernatural drama, you need to find the realism. I wanted to make sure I knew every element of his journey, because he’s a fairly normal, masculine guy, but I wanted to find the origins of that and how that happened. When did this start? At what age? How did he end up being called insane? I figured he would have been diagnosed young. He has visions. They probably seemed something like paranoid schizophrenia. He was put in and out of mental institutions because he seems sane, but then he has these fits.
As a result, he has had various jobs that he couldn’t hold down for very long because things happen, and that changes his personal relationships. As a result, he’s quite a lonely, solitary man and can’t really trust people. By the same token, when you see him now, he’s gotten to a place where he knows that the only way of having a vaguely reasonable, normal life is to basically deny what he sees. But, I think he knows in himself that it’s truth.
Will the series explore your character’s past, throughout the season?
JAMES: Yes, hugely. It doesn’t reveal everything ‘cause there’s quite a lot going on there, but it goes into a lot of really fucked up stuff, actually. I was like, “This poor man!”
How creepy is this setting of a former asylum that has been converted into luxury apartments?
JAMES: The setting is so right for these kinds of stories because it’s based on this real asylum, and most of these stories are based on real things that happened. People were lobotomized without reason, or because they had a baby out of wedlock. Some of these people died in horrific ways. That’s the concept of these ghosts. They’re not just ghouls, out to fuck people up. They’ve left an imprint ‘cause they’ve died in a horrendous way and they’re angry and, as a result, powerful.
JAMES: What I enjoyed about the discussions with (show creator) David [Allison], and the writers and the director, was thinking about what affects the ghosts would have on you, physically. He doesn’t just see a ghost and go, “Oh, what’s up ghost?” They really physically affect him. It’s almost like a fit that he has. It’s not as strong as epilepsy, but it’s like that. We discussed how, the stronger the power of the ghost or the emotions of what was happening, the more it would affect him and the more pain he would physically feel from them. It’s quite cool. The other thing we wanted to do was make sure that he doesn’t have a super-power. He doesn’t have to dig the body up, or put a stake through something, or say some magic words. He has to deal with each ghost on a ghost-by-ghost basis, and work out what the hell he’s going to do. We go pretty dark, at times.
Do you believe in ghosts, yourself?
JAMES: I don’t think I believe in ghosts, per se. But, my nearest experience was when I went on a weekend away and was in a bar in England, years ago, with an ex-girlfriend. I heard this scratching. I was about to go to bed and I was thinking, “It’s an old ghost.” I could hear this noise, but I couldn’t work out where it was coming from. It really sounded like someone was brushing their hair. There was no way it was a referred vibration from a rat, or something. But, it was nothing, in the end.
JAMES: Definitely, yeah.
Does that help get your character some peace in himself?
JAMES: Yeah, exactly. He’s a bit reluctant, in the sense that it is a bit like a mental illness. If you’re constantly having that mental intrusion of visions and ghosts and stuff, it becomes very painful. He has a sense of duty because of the person he is. He’s essentially an orphan. He knows that his parents have died, and we find out some more about that and how that happened, later. But, death is quite close to him. Because of his mother dying, and not knowing his mother, when he meets these unrested spirits, he wants to give them some kind of peace. It’s also sometimes the only way of stopping them. I think he feels that, if he can do this, it might help him and people will be closer to him, but it’s actually the converse because people are freaked out and they end up being more scared of him and not understanding. He’s quite lonely, in that sense. His relationships always degrade because of that.
JAMES: Yeah. British shows, especially on a first commission, don’t get the cash that the U.S. shows get.
With this being a supernatural show, did you ever film in any scary locations?
JAMES: Yeah, there was quite a bit of stuff. We filmed in the Moors, where there were actually these very famous, horrific murders done by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. She has the best mug shot of all time. There’s something quite dark about the Moors. To be honest, there’s always so much crew and stuff around, but I tried to fuck people up, a couple of times. I hid in a cupboard for about 20 minutes, but I didn’t get the pay-off because no one bloody came in. I was just sitting there waiting, giggling to myself, but after awhile, I just got out.
What can you say about your role in Underworld: Awakening?
JAMES: I play David, who’s the younger vampiric generation. He’s at loggerheads with his father, Thomas, played by Charles Dance. There’s this whole purge with the humans trying to eradicate the vampires, and he represents the gung-ho, new, younger generation who want to actually step up to the plate and fight back.
JAMES: Yeah, he gets to do some cool shit, which is good. I actually managed to get quite a lot of training. I wanted to make sure I gave the impression that I was up for it. The stunt guys were great. I got free running training and boxing, which I had already done quite a lot before, and knife work, and how to kill someone in 30 seconds. No, I’m joking. I don’t really have a martial arts background, so it was working with what I’d done before. I’d done boxing for quite a long time, but I’m not that nimble when it comes to high kicks and stuff. It was about trying to combine my own natural skill set with what they wanted.
Where did your boxing training come from?
JAMES: I started young, and then I did it at university, and then I just took it up again. When I got back from this film, there’s a guy that I used to fight with and we started doing stuff again. I managed to semi-dislocate my shoulder, which was great, but it’s fine now.
How much of your own stunt work did you do?
JAMES: I did all of my own fight work. I didn’t drive the cars ‘cause I wasn’t allowed, but otherwise, I did my own stuff. I was up for doing as much as I could, just for the fun of it, and to make it as real as possible.
How much of a fan are you of the genre?
JAMES: I like the genre. It’s cool. I knew the first movie quite well. I had seen it with mates, years ago. I hadn’t seen the third one, but I watched them all again, lots of times. What I like about the Underworld thing is that it’s a mix of cool genres, as well as creating its own message. It’s also very dark, and that’s quite bad-ass really.