Interview with Sam Spruell who plays Cavendish in The North Water



Tell us about your character Cavendish.

I play Michael Cavendish who is the first mate of the ship. He, like a lot of the guys in the series is an alpha male, but actually Andrew and the story of The North Water seem to be more interested in things about these men that aren’t alpha - the more emotional side of these characters or the more obvious psychological flaws in their armour, so to speak. I love my character actually. I think Cavendish is funny and optimistic, but he’s also cruel and self-centred. One thing about him that seems very clear is that he really wants the character Henry Drax to be his best friend.

How did you prepare for this role?

For the most part, I prepared through quite a lot of reading. Andrew Haigh sent out a brilliant pack of stuff: a reading list, music to listen to, images, a whole series of things to read about whaling ships themselves and all the tools on board, how life would’ve been, where people went to the toilet, what they ate, how they washed or not, the different levels of the hierarchy at play on a whaling ship. A lot of the stuff which was useful in preparing for the role and series came really from talking to sailors. We were working with and shooting on a boat that was used in the show, and with that boat came the people who knew how to sail on it.

How are you able to relate to your character?

I really relate to his affection toward Drax. I think as a younger man or boy, I remember wanting to get to know the cool lads in my class who weren’t interested in knowing me. I think my character really admires Drax. He has that sort of manliness and that direct action; he’s able to execute that direct action that Cavendish would love to be able to do but he can’t. I don’t think he has the ability to marshal either himself or other people to make things happen.

Tell us about what it’s like to film in the Arctic.

Just going out to the Arctic in itself felt like a complete rarity. I think the technical difficulty of finding ice to film on, and then when you do find that ice, that ice staying long enough for you to finish your set-ups for the day without it breaking apart in two - which did happen actually.

What was the working environment like?

We were on a ship for three and a half weeks together. There’s nowhere else to go really besides the observation deck or your cabin, so, it was very close quarters. I think everyone wanted to make sure to treat people well and make sure everyone was alright to ensure this epic project was a success. I actually loved the isolation of it. There were no phones, no Wi-Fi, so we were actually quite focused on the work, which I thought was great and it felt quite good to think about stuff without the distractions of everything that is modern life.

What’s it like working with Andrew Haigh?

I really, really enjoyed working with Andrew. I think you can have a good chat with him, not necessarily about work, but usually about work. He’s very open. He’s very sensitive to the nuances in human behaviour, which is what you need to be to be a good director. I think he’s also written an ensemble piece and he’s been really keen to, even with small characters, to make sure that they’re featured and to create a full dynamic, interesting world. You can only do that by bringing everyone on board, by getting everyone to commit to that. I think he’s really good at selling his aspirations for the film or for individual scenes or shots or whatever and getting everyone on board. That’s the mark of a good leader and a good communicator.

What are some of the production values that made a difference on set?

What sets The North Water apart is the raw experience you get from shooting in the Arctic, I think it’s just really special. All the scenes have a sort of theatrical quality to them, they are almost literary without being pretentious. The North Water is a different type of period piece as it’s about working-class people who, I guess, have a poetry about them. I don’t think we see that enough and I think that’s really exciting. For me, a really great experience has been a lot of my scenes with Colin. It’s been pretty magical working with him, not just because he works really hard and prepares fully, but he’s generous and he wants to be challenged in the scene and outside of it as well so that we can find something magical.

What was the Polar Plunge?

There was a point where we all jumped in the water in our boxer shorts, which obviously was awesome and totally terrifying because it was so bloody cold. To know that you’ve accomplished a shoot in that environment felt unique and special, and to remember your lines at minus 25 feels pretty satisfying.


The North Water is a 5-part series that begins in the UK on BBC2 on Friday September 10 at 9.30pm with episodes then shown weekly on BBC2.

Directly after the first BBC2 episode, all five episodes will become available on the streaming service BBCiPlayer.

The drama has already been shown in the US, having arrived on AMC+ on July 15 2021.

Source BBC TWO

September 6, 2021 10:00am ET by BBC TWO  


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