The former ’24’ and ‘Little Mosque’ star discusses his role in the new miniseries
On Tuesday, September 4, Showcase will debut World Without End, an eight-part historical miniseries based on the bestselling novel by Ken Follett. A sequel to Follett’s Pillars of the Earth, a fictional tale focusing on the construction of a grand cathedral in medieval England, World Without End is set almost 200 years later to follow the lives of the descendants of some of the characters from the original. Produced by Ridley Scott and the late Tony Scott, World Without End is a sprawling, epic 12th-century tale of love, heroism, betrayal, power and intrigue, featuring a cast including Ben Chaplin, Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon, Miranda Richardson, Indira Varma and Canadians Megan Follows and Carlo Rota.
I spoke to Rota, known to TV viewers from such diverse roles as 24’s Morris O’Brien and contractor Yasir Hamoudi on CBC’s Little Mosque on the Prairie. Now based in L.A., the London-born actor chatted about role as World Without End‘s well-intentioned Kingsbridge merchant Edmund Wooler. We also spoke about his experiences during shooting on location in Hugary, his enduring fame from 24 and the temporary joy of a well-made wig.
How familiar were you with the novels and the previous miniseries before you got into the project?
I was semi-familiar with the previous miniseries. I was not familiar with the novels. You know, a lot of people read the novels before starting to shoot. I try and shy away from that. You’re not shooting the novel, and sometimes you read the novel and you have these expectations that very often get dashed because shooting a miniseries is such a beast. Even with the best possible intentions, it’s very easy to veer from the novel and I think that by reading the novel and getting attached to the novel, you can get attached to certain aspects of the story – in your character in particular – that actually have no bearing on the screenplay.
This is such a big project, epic in scope, with big battle scenes and hundreds of extras. What was it like to work with that kind of a massive production?
It’s really impressive to see the preparation for some of these larger undertakings. I was lucky enough to be out in Hungary for quite a bit. A lot of these larger scenes, particularly battle scenes, I’m not in because by that point my character’s actually been crippled, he’s been hobbled. But I would go and see the events because they were just spectacular. I mean there’s a reason why you shoot in that part of the world – there’s access to so much that it’s very difficult to get over here or other parts of Europe. Eastern Europe offers these amazing locations and on top of that, the people that participate — the people that played the background extras and the like — were just really brilliant. They are by far an equal part of the story because they really participated with great enthusiasm.
When I first saw you on screen, I almost didn’t recognize you.
Because I’ve got that wig on. I think I’ve worked in a wig three or four times in the last 10 years and that wig particularly was superbly made. I’m telling you, it was a work of art. You put it on and you really do transform into the character. You’re a different person. Walking across some of those fields with the wind going through your hair when you haven’t felt that in 20 years is a substantial feeling, and it does help you get into that character. I was tempted to take it out on a test ride in Budapest and see if my Saturday nights would be different.
In terms of the character, what can you tell me about Edmund? Who is he and what’s really driving him?
I think Edmund was a man who was incredibly passionate about his role in the community. His plan, if you like, was sort of destroyed by the times and by his sister. But he was very passionate about his role in the business aspect of the community, in providing the infrastructure of Kingsbridge, particularly the bridge. And he was a man who was incredibly attached to his daughter, particularly after he lost his wife under tragic circumstances and he has to deal with being thwarted every way he turns. You know, his sister was conniving against him, he has the church conniving against him and on top of that, he has both of his legs broken very early on in the story. So physically he was handicapped as well.
The last time I spoke to you, a few years back, we were in the CTU bunker on the set of 24. Do you still get a lot of people who recognize you from that?
Oh yeah, that was a huge show. And for some reason or another, that character, I don’t know why, he was quite memorable to a lot of people. What was hilarious about shooting in Hungary was that they were actually showing a dubbed version of 24 at the time — the season I was in. So we’d walk downtown around Budapest and I’d be with some fairly well-known British actors who had fair right to presume that they were quite well-known anywhere, but I’d be getting semi-mobbed because they’re huge fans of 24 over there. There was one particular really funny event where I was with a whole bunch of British guys, well-known actors, and people were coming up to me and going “Oh my god, Morris, Morris, Morris!” And these guys look at me and go, “Who the **** are you again?”
WORLD WITHOUT END premieres Tuesday, September 4 on Showcase