Britannia is back, and it’s as epic as ever. Georgia Humphreys chats to stars David Morrisey, Sophie Okonedo, and Zoe Wanamaker.
A historical fantasy drama set in Roman Britain, there’s nothing else on TV quite like Britannia.
Filming of the third installment was delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but it’s finally landing on Sky Atlantic and NOW this month.
Wondering what the new episodes might bring to our screens? Think exciting fight scenes, larger-than-life characters and plenty of dark humour. Here, members of the stellar cast take us behind the scenes of the series, which was created by the multi-award-winning writers Jez Butterworth, his brother Tom Butterworth and James Richardson.
Joining the show this year is Londoner Sophie Okonedo, 53. The actress – who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Hotel Rwanda – plays Hemple, the wife of General Aulus (David Morrissey). A force of nature, she heads to Britannia to investigate why her husband has failed with a mission: to capture the chosen one, Cait (Eleanor Worthington-Cox).
Her character is also very “jealous”, says Okonedo, which is another reason why she wants to check up on Aulus. “She doesn’t feel that Aulus is really doing his job properly, so she’s come to kind of find out what’s going on and sort it out herself,” continues the star. “What motivates her is definitely power. She’s a lady with a very big appetite. She’s very hungry for lots of things in life; power, passion.”
Asked if there are any similarities between herself and her character, Okonedo suggests: “I’m always using aspects of myself in everything I do; that’s what I know best. I just make them bigger.
“I do a lot of work on the script; what’s driving her, what’s in each scene, how it happened, how did she get to this point? I do that quite seriously on every character I do.”
Another captivating female character in Britannia – which is set in a terrifying world of mythic Celtic tribes and psychedelic druids, and explores a clash of civilisations and religions – is the fierce Queen Antedia, played by Zoe Wanamaker.
Previously we saw her captured and held prisoner, and she has lost all her power as Queen – but in the third series, she goes on a very different and exciting journey. And British-American star Wanamaker – who’s known for TV series My Family and Shadow and Bone, plus Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – agrees shows like Britannia do a great job of having women of all ages in leading roles.
“When you get to over 26, you start getting older parts; you’re somebody’s mother or auntie,” notes the 72-year-old. “But more and more, particularly with American television, there’s been a big push for a lot of women producers as well now, which is fantastic.”
Discussing her long and fruitful career, Wanamaker reflects she’s “always been picky with parts, ever since I started”. “Sometimes decisions to do something cause me angst and I turn it down,” she follows. “So I’m very careful about what I do. But it’s usually it’s got to scare me a little bit. The play Constellations that I just finished, that scared the hell out of me.”
There’s a lot of action in the third series of Britannia; we’ve seen a teaser of a shocking big explosion, and the cast reveals there was one sequence that took countless night shoots to get perfect.
“It was a big battle scene,” recalls Liverpudlian Morrissey, 57, who has also starred in dramas like The Missing, The City And The City, and The Walking Dead.
“It was at night, it was cold, we were very exposed, we were in a massive field. You just have people rolling around on the floor, and I was looking at everybody thinking, ‘I can’t believe people are doing that’. Of course, all the crew is in their North Face [outdoor clothing company] and I’m rolling around him in my Roman skirt. It was absolutely freezing!”
Okonedo highlights how impressive it is that the team still managed to pull off such epic scenes considering, because of Covid-19, they lost filming locations.
“Suddenly you’re not in Wales, you’re in a studio in Wembley – changes like that just weren’t anticipated. You didn’t quite have the landscape that you wanted, but everybody was in the same boat, trying to accommodate.”
Many dramatic scenes in Britannia seem like they would be very challenging emotionally to film, and this series especially sees Aulus struggling mentally. How easy is it for Morrissey to shake off those aspects of the character?
“As an actor, I’ve often been asked, ‘Do you take your characters home?’ And I usually say, ‘Well, I take my hair dye home, but not much else’,” he quips.
“If you’re doing a scene again and again and again where you’re breaking down, and you’re having to tap into emotions that are very upsetting, then what I’ll take home is the fact that I’m knackered. I might take home the fact that I’m feeling a bit grumpy because I’ve had a tough day at work, but it’s not as highfalutin as the fact that I need to tap into this thing, and I take that home, and I have to be in it all the time, it’s just a case of being physically tired. Lots of people have that in their jobs; if you have a demanding job, then sometimes you come home and you don’t want to be frivolous or have a chat or whatever. People deal with it in different ways.”
Britannia season 3 will begin on Sky Atlantic and NOW on Tuesday.