The drama series Fortitude is about a small mining town in the wild and savage landscape of the Arctic Circle, where polar bears could end you, any time you leave the house. What was once one of the safest places on Earth is rocked by a violent murder, which turns out to have much deeper and more horrific implications that ultimately threaten the future of the town itself.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actor Richard Dormer (who plays Sheriff Dan Anderssen) talked about what attracted him to the world of Fortitude, how exciting it is that the ground keeps shifting and changing, that everyone has a dark secret, getting along so well with his castmates, how amazing it was to work with Stanley Tucci (who plays former FBI agent and current DCI Eugene Morton), the job of a sheriff in on of the safest places to live, and what it was like to work in such amazing locations. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: What was your reaction to this script, when you first read it? Did it immediately draw you in?
RICHARD DORMER: I read the first two scripts and I was hooked. I’ve never been as excited, reading a script. Also, when you read something that good, it’s terrifying because you’re thinking, “Oh, god, what if I don’t get this?” I connected, immediately, with all of the characters, but especially with Dan Anderssen, the sheriff. What a great character study, with so many layers. He’s like an onion. You can keep peeling off different bits and go, “Who is he, really?”
What was it about this story and character that really spoke to you?
DORMER: I was fascinated by the world. I thought, “I just want to be a part of this world.” I read it and thought, “I want to see this. This is my type of TV.” It’s drama, but there’s a real intellect to it and an integrity to it. And where it goes is incredibly exciting. Viewers are just going to be taken aback, constantly. The ground keeps shifting. You think you know where you are, but then you go, “Oh, no, it’s not that show. It’s this type of show.” It just constantly keeps shifting. And I just loved the character of Dan. They all have a dark secret, and Dan’s is epic. I thought, “How could someone live with that and interact as if everything is okay?” There’s only one person on the island who knows his secret, and that person doesn’t even know the full story. That’s fascinating. Nobody trusts anybody. A paranoia spreads throughout everybody. They all want to know who’s going to die next.
Everyone on this show comes from such different backgrounds. Did all of the actors have very different approaches?
DORMER: It’s incredibly well cast, and we all got on so well. That’s unusual. Usually, there’s one bad apple, but there were no bad apples in this barrel. There’s no escape on this. You’re there and you’re stuck at a hotel with all of these personalities. But, every single person was just uniquely gifted with their own thing to bring to the table. The casting director did an amazing job. It was genius casting.
There’s such a great dynamic between your character and Stanley Tucci’s character. How was it to work with Stanley Tucci on this?
DORMER: They’re absolute exact opposites. He’s such a mercurial, liquid smooth guy, while my character is incredible stolid, inscrutable and intense. We hit it off immediately, but that antagonism is just there. It’s really interesting to watch. There’s was a lot of trust. We’d turn up and rehearse the scene sometimes, or sometimes we’d go straight into it. He was a joy. I loved watching him. When you’re working with really good actors, it raises your own game and you get better. He was amazing to work with.
How would you describe this show and this community to people?
DORMER: What people like to do is compare it to something, but I don’t think this is comparable to anything. Especially when you get towards Episode 9, 10, 11 and 12, you’re just going to be going, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” And I can’t tell you what I think it’s like because then that’s giving too much away. This world is a microcosm, and it’s a sociological study about how people cope in extreme adversity. Fortitude, in the dictionary, means strength in the face of adversity. I think that sums it up because these people are faced with the ultimate challenge that even the strongest person in the world would find themselves shaken.
When you’re the sheriff of a community that is supposed to be the safest place on earth, what did the job actually entail, before this murder happened?
DORMER: He works search and rescue. His job is mainly that, if anyone gets lost in the snow, he goes up in a helicopter and will find them and bring them back. I see him as a social worker. He visits people to make sure they’re okay. These people live with the threat that, if they fell over and knocked themselves out, they would freeze to death in 10 minutes. That informs how you behave. You’re constantly aware of the environment. As beautiful as it is, it could kill you, in 10 minutes. And he makes sure that everybody has got their hunting rifles. A lot of the time, because of the polar bears you’re not allowed to go outside the door without your hunting rifle, even if it’s to go to the local shop. The polar bears will come from nowhere, and you’ll be eaten alive. He’s the guardian of the community. There are fights. People drink in this town. He throws people into a holding cell, if they get out of order. The Russian miners come in and start fights. Every other night, there’s a fight. So, he had his hands full, but he didn’t have to deal with anything like murder. And then, when that happens, I think he’s excited. He’s like, “Wow, I could really prove myself.” He rises to the challenge, and completely resents Stanley Tucci’s character arriving. He’s this city guy who comes in, in his nice coat and fancy shoes. He’s going to blow his chance to prove that he could actually be a great sheriff.
Are there people that Dan Anderssen can rely on and trust?
DORMER: The only person he can trust in the entire community is Henry Tyson, who’s Michael Gambon’s character. They’ve known each other quite a few years. There’s a father-son relationship there. They’re best friends. Because of the wedge that’s driven between them, Dan finds himself completely alone, and Henry is completely alone. They were the only two people who could comfort each other.
What’s it like to work in these locations?
DORMER: It’s incredible. I actually wasn’t that cold. I had an outfit that was designed for minus 30 degrees, so I had to work with costume to strap ice packs all over me because I was boiling, even out on the glacier. I was constantly trying to unzip it and take off the hat. I was just sweating. I found it very hot. But when you get out onto a glacier that’s the size of Northern Ireland and it’s so vast, and you’re standing on top of it and you can see forever, it’s so pure and clear that you can see for miles and miles and miles. You really do think, “Wow, there is a god!” You feel very humbled.
What do you enjoy about getting to explore a character’s details and nuances so deeply, over the course of a TV show?
DORMER: This is the first big part that I’ve had, that I’m able to do that, and it’s an absolutely luxury. I can see why so many big-name actors are doing it. They get to do what they can’t do in film, which is to develop that character, to the extent where you start to live and breathe and think like them. You get mannerisms and weird ticks. It’s a real luxury to be able to develop with your character and to go on that journey.
Fortitude airs on Thursday nights on Pivot.