Interview with Ian Hart on Noughts + Crosses

Noughts + Crosses The much anticipated adaptation of book one of Malorie Blackman's award-winning young adult series

Noughts + Crosses starts Thursday 5 March on BBC One


Ian Hart plays Ryan McGregor in Noughts + Crosses.

What drew you to the role of Ryan McGregor?
You can’t grow up in England, especially during the 1970s and 80s, without understanding the notion of race and the part that plays in our society. I have grown up in an environment where you have access to that, you do know what it is like for people to get picked up by the police constantly, for people to be marginalised. It is not news that there seems to be a problem in our society. It is not just a simple question of black and white - there is always somebody who hates someone else, it seems to be a negative aspect of human society.

Noughts + Crosses is bringing these issues to the forefront and that is important. The whole nature of this story is a reversal, and reversing the stereotype is a very clever way to put a new lens on an issue. So there is an element of reverse racism within this drama, which makes you feel uncomfortable, but it has to be done.

Tell us about your character’s radical past and the dangerous journeys his sons embark on.
Ryan McGregor, in his youth, was very active politically, specifically within the Liberation Militia, an organisation fighting for the rights of Noughts, the inferior race. He was involved in many activities, but he reached a point where the activities became more violent than he was prepared to accept.

You also get the sense that as you get married and start a family those things become less important. So you begin to bite your tongue and disguise your feelings because your primary objective has become something else. That is Ryan’s journey to a degree when we meet him: he has grown up.

A French philosopher put forward the notion that youth have an obligation to rebel. That is the window of opportunity you get given in life whereby being radical is possible because the many things that tie a person down don’t exist to you yet. Ryan’s eldest son, Jude (Josh Dylan), definitely represents this idea. Ryan understands the feelings that motivate his son, of wanting to affect some change and the feeling of being impotent. Ryan has been there himself; he knows that world and where that ends up. He already knows the natural progression of that story, so therefore it is good advice to say don’t do it - but it is difficult to tell someone not to do something that you have done yourself.

On the other side of the fence, with his youngest son, Callum (Jack Rowan), there is an opportunity for him to join their armed forces -which is effectively what Mercy Point is, a de facto army. There is always a way for the working class to get out - you’re either going to work in a rundown factory or you get legitimised in the eyes of the authoritarian government, you get accepted, but by the same token the army are the oppressors so he is going over to the other side.

This is the first time they have opened up this opportunity to the Noughts, so you can see why that might appeal as the only other way out. It is difficult for Ryan or people from their background to see their kids in uniform though, because that represents the opposition.

How was working with your on-screen family?
You never really know how it will work out when you haven’t met anyone, and there is an element where you all have to feel comfortable and natural - and if you are lucky enough, which I was, then it all coalesces and becomes easier. They were all lovely people to be with and fantastic actors.

Until the events of the beginning of the drama one can imagine the McGregors lived a cosy life, there seems to be a lot of love there. It is not a dysfunctional family, they have not been bogged down and degraded by the environment, and they seem to be getting along with life. It is good to have a counterpoint because the physical events in the scripts are quite dark and you have a tragic loss of innocence, so you have to have somewhere to come from to make that journey believable or palpable to an audience.

Can you describe the alternate England in the world of Noughts + Crosses?
It's an alternate rendering of history. If you look at novels or shows that have attempted this idea they always end up looking like the past because you look to the past as a framework for your dystopian future, inevitably.

With the creation of Albion, this alternate England, you are looking at hundreds of years of occupation, so you retreat back to the past, you resist colonisation, you resist homogenisation and instead of holding on to 1980 you go backwards. So you would see certain aspects of old Albion, although it is an artificial construct, which would be dragged to the forefront. For example, you start to think about something like Morris dancing as suddenly being emblematic of a conceived notion of what your national identity is. If your oppressor is enforcing their culture then you seek anything that would allow you to identify as something other.

It's not difficult to come up with a comparative narrative that would give you an insight into this alternate future. You’ve only got to look at Ireland or Wales - the British government destroyed the Welsh language, deciding theirs was better. So to a certain degree, you look to the past to inform your fictional future. One of the best elements about being an actor is you are offered the opportunity to discover things, to learn a condensed version of a specific subject matter. You get opportunities if you take them, to study. It is a gift.

March 4, 2020 6:00am ET by BBC One  


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