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To the Ends of the Earth

Interviews with the Cast

Benedict Cumberbatch on his role as Edmund Talbot
Sam Neill on his role as Mr. Prettiman
Jared Harris on his role as Captain Anderson
Victoria Hamilton on her role as Miss Granham
Charles Dance on his role as Sir Henry Somerset
Joanna Page on her role as Marion Chumley

Benedict Cumberbatch Benedict Cumberbatch on his role as Edmund Talbot

Benedict Cumberbatch sums up To the Ends of the Earth very succinctly: "It is a sort of 'rock and roll,' 1812 period drama about a young man's gap year! It's full of filth, dirt, discovery, sex, drugs, dancing, love, spiritual awakenings and massive sweeping changes!"

Taking on the role of Edmund Talbot was a huge undertaking for Cumberbatch, who received critical acclaim for his performance as cosmologist Stephen Hawking in the BBC's drama Hawking, and a Best Actor BAFTA nomination in the process. He appears in virtually every scene in To the Ends of the Earth and was on set every day, throughout the four-month shoot on location in South Africa.

"Every day was different and, ultimately, that was the greatest gift of this job. The hours were exhausting but each day was a new challenge. I loved hurling myself round that boat on ropes, bits of rigging falling around me in flames, with the contrast of filming the intimacy of the cabin scenes.

"Edmund Talbot has a massive learning curve throughout the three books. I always brought the books on set as a reference point. Edmund is incredibly confident, a little bit arrogant, vulnerable and always open to learning. He's very much a product of his time and class. An establishment figure, he has all the airs and graces of his social position. He's full of ambition, willful, always thinks he's in control and he's permanently confounded. He's moody and neurotic but he's got a good sense of humor."

Edmund Talbot's social position is something Cumberbatch can identify with, having been sent to Harrow, one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the UK. "The upbringing I had was a privileged one, but by default. My grandmother paid for two-thirds of my fee, so I was a middle-class kid by most standards. I was surrounded by Lord Rothschild's son, Prince Hussein's son, dignitaries, princes and peerages, left, right and center. That is not to be critical of it, but the assumption of authority and position that these people are born into was something I immediately identified in Edmund.

"I was very keen to make him sympathetic. I didn't want him to be just someone who was a product of his class, but more a fully rounded, three-dimensional human being. Golding's books expose him at every level as a fallible young man."

Golding's books also provided source material for Cumberbatch to get under the skin of his character to the degree where, by the end of the shoot, his fellow cast members were calling him 'Edmund' and not Ben.

One great challenge he had to face during filming was the shooting of his first-ever on screen sex scene, with actress Paula Jennings playing Zenobia. "My on-screen sex technique is not perfected but I hope it worked! In the book, Edmund knows what he's doing and maybe that's him writing himself up in his journal as a bit of a lothario, but I imagine that rather like others of his ilk his father had probably given him a chambermaid or prostitute to initiate him."

"He behaves with Zenobia like a sexual animal, he's very avaricious and knowing. He's charming and flirts with her from the very first day he sees her and he goes straight for the kill."

Filming in South Africa proved to be as much of a boy's own adventure for Cumberbatch as life was for Edmund on his way to the New World. "Outside of the filming we had the most extraordinary time. The cast had great fun together. We had poker nights, beach parties, dune buggying, horseback safaris. One weekend we went to a game reserve called Phinda, where we were treated like royalty and had our own cook. It was really posh and the most expensive treat I gave myself during filming. I then learned to scuba dive in one of the most beautiful places on God's earth, about a 3-hour drive from where we were filming. I'd already been whale watching, but on my second dive I swam with a whale, who was about 10 feet away from me. It was magical, the most beautiful sight; there was a baby whale swimming by its head.

"When I finished filming in Cape Town I went swimming with great white sharks. I was in a cage and they were fed just beside us. It was terrifying and wonderful; they are such a potent force of nature."

As with Edmund Talbot, when Ben was at school he enjoyed his own gap-year experience. "I was very lucky. Even though I wasn't as rich as other people, there were loads of boys in similar positions to me at Harrow. There were those who were super rich and went off on their holidays to Aspen, and I'd go and see my grandmother in Brighton. There was a disparity on what we could afford to do on our holidays.

"I had a real yearning to make use of the opportunities I had at school. When I heard about a gap year teaching English at a Tibetan monastery, I knew I had to do something about it really quickly, otherwise it was going to get allocated. I was very decisive. I worked for six months to drum up the financing as it was voluntary; there was no income. I worked in Penhaligon's, the perfumery, for almost five months and I did waiting jobs. The monastery was a fantastic experience. I lived by very limited means, although I was given board and lodgings. While I was there some of us went to Nepal for two weeks and did white water rafting and we camped out under the stars."

Family is very important to Cumberbatch. His parents, actors Tim Carlton and Wanda Ventham, were not keen on their only son following in their footsteps. "They said, 'don't do it because of us,'" says Cumberbatch. "I was lucky to see the best and worst of the world, how it wasn't a secure profession, how it depended very much on age, sex, and fashion.

"I did lots of acting at school. My first part was as Titania, queen of the fairies, which, being at an all boys boarding school was a bit embarrassing. Luckily I was on the rugby team, so I was macho at the same time!"

A turning point came for the Cumberbatch family when Carlton went to see his son in the play Glengarry Glen Ross while he was at university. "My dad said 'I think you could do better at this than I've ever done and I'd really love you to.' We were both crying; it was an incredible thing to say."

Hailed as a rising star with a BAFTA nomination under his belt, Cumberbatch looks set to succeed. "I've been very lucky at what's happened in my career to date, but playing something as far from me as possible is an ambition of mine, anything from a mutated baddy in a comic book action thriller to a detective. If anything, I'd like Gary Oldman's career, he's the perfect example. I've love to have a really broad sweep of characters, to be able to something edgy, surprising and unfashionable."

Cumberbatch has roles in two major upcoming films -- The Other Boleyn Girl, with Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson and Eric Bana and Atonement, with Keira Knightley, James McAvoy and Romola Garai.

Sam Neill Sam Neill on his role as Mr. Prettiman

Sam Neill's distinguished career has spanned more than twenty-five years, and included blockbuster movies, numerous television series and award-winning independent films.

An actor, director, writer and producer, Neill travels the world for his work, but returns home to New Zealand, to the house he built 15 years ago and to his vineyards.

Neill has notched up roles in over 73 films and television dramas, as well as eight stints as a director, three as a writer and two as a producer. It takes a lot to lure him these days from the beautiful mountains and lakes of his hometown of Queenstown, but the opportunity to play Mr. Prettiman, the radically thinking Republican in To The Ends of the Earth, was too good to resist. "I don't think I've ever quite played anything exactly like this before," he says. "It was probably more the project than the character which attracted me to the role. It is a rich and interesting piece of writing and to be part of that fabric, that very colorful tapestry, is a nice idea.

"Personally, I have nothing in common with Mr. Prettiman. He is cantankerous, idealistic, blinkered, thin-skinned, romantic, a man of the 'enlightenment,' but curiously unenlightened himself. A funny character. I don't think he's got much of a future in the New World.

"I hadn't read the Golding books previously and they are very beautiful books. Surprisingly hilarious. Golding is a very funny writer and it's an extraordinary sort of ship of ill-sorted people. It's not unlike isolating people in a country house, although this for nine months rather than weeks. We see what happens to those characters given that there's no escape. All sorts of things, wonderful, terrible, murderous and extremely funny."

Neill bottles his own brand of Pinot Noir wine which he grows in his three small vineyards in New Zealand, close to where he lives.

"It's a huge commitment and an equally massive investment to start a vineyard. Much more than a hobby, but far less of a profitable business concern, at least for the time being." Asked what inspired him to start producing his own wine, he exclaims "Terrible, terrible thirst! I liked the idea of it, I still like the idea of it. The reality is more banal, but lots of fun. We do three different Pinot Noirs. I make a little white wine, but only for drinking at home. My father's firm imported and exported wines and spirits. I just developed an interest in wine and the interest got out of hand."

Neill's wife, Noriko Watanabe, is a make-up artist, whose credits include Kill Bill, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Memoirs of a Geisha. He regrets that his chosen career means sporadic separation from her and their daughter Elena, although they travel together when they can.

Jared Harris Jared Harris on his role as Captain Anderson

The family resemblance is there -- the lanky frame, the face, the eyes -- Jared Harris is clearly the son of his late father, Richard. However, whereas the latter was as famous for his allegedly wild private life as for his acting, his middle son appears to have resisted the temptation to follow so literally in his father's shoes.

Jared was shielded from the wilder elements of his father's character by a stable childhood and a very close family, despite his parents divorce. "I was very close to my father when I was growing up," he explains. "He was great fun. He loved kids and enjoyed being with us; he was a free spirit. There were no rules, which is great fun as a kid. He made an effort when we had our holidays -- his rule was that he wouldn't be working and if he was, we'd go see him.

"I didn't grow up with a burning desire to be an actor and I didn't act when I was at school. I was very shy -- no one thought it was something I would gravitate toward. I began acting when I went to Duke University in America, in North Carolina. I think, at that time, I was narrowing it down to working as an actor in film and theatre, or as a director. Those were the things that excited me.

"When I was at boarding school in England I thought I was going to be a lawyer. I was very argumentative. I never lost. Like my father, who was also argumentative."

A fearsome temper puts Jared in good stead in his role as Captain Anderson, the gruff, solitary master of the old war ship in To The Ends of the Earth. Harris accepted the role because, he says "I liked the script, I liked the fact that all the characters were ambiguous in terms of how the author wanted you to feel about them. Each character was presented with flaws and virtues.

"Captain Anderson is a crusty old seadog. He's not particularly imaginative, he's an isolated loner who isn't good with people, socially inarticulate. There is an interesting ambiguity in all the characters. Since it's a first person narrative, the characters aren't necessarily as Edmund sees them."

Harris moved to New York in 1990, when he finished training at London's Central School for Speech and Drama. At the time, work in UK television was scarce, even for experienced actors, so theatre roles were also at a premium. "I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to work in America," he says. "I guess there's that old romance about the land of opportunity. There aren't quite as many glass ceilings and you don't confront class issues. They have stereotypes of their own, but it doesn't seem as restrictive as in the UK."

A turning point for Harris was the London revival of the play Les Liaisons Dangereuses, in which he played arch seducer, the Comte de Valmont. While not garnering the best notices of his career, it proved to be a life-changing experience nonetheless. The actress Emilia Fox (who has appeared on Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! in Henry VIII, Miss Marple: The Moving Finger, The Virgin Queen and David Copperfield) played Madame de Tourvel, one of the women Valmont seduces and unexpectedly falls in love with. Harris and Fox, who had never met before rehearsals, were married in Dorset in July 2005.

Victoria Hamilton Victoria Hamilton on her role as Miss Granham

"When I left drama school," says Victoria Hamilton, "I told myself that what I wanted to do first was five years of classical theatre, because the actors I admire -- Judi Dench, Ian Holm and all that incredible generation of actors -- started in the theatre."

Hamilton, who has been compared to a young Judi Dench, spent 18 months with the Royal Shakespeare Company, a year at the Old Vic with Peter Hall's company, and a year at the National. She has worked with many of the most acclaimed theatre directors, including Richard Eyre, Michael Grandage and Trevor Nunn.

Her many awards include a nomination for Broadway's 2003 Best Actress Tony Award and the Laurence Olivier Theatre Award for Best Actress of 2001 for her performances in A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, the 2000 London Critics Circle Theatre Award (Drama) for Best Actress for As You Like It, and the 1995 London Critics Circle Theatre Award (Drama Theatre) for Most Promising Newcomer for The Master Builder.

"When I have done television, I've always done what I think is quality -- where the script is good and the part is interesting. The scripts for To the Ends of the Earth are some of the most beautiful scripts I've seen. In Miss Granham, I could see a development in her character. She is one of the strongest people on the boat, she has a very keen political sense and she's almost a feminist. I think she is aware that her fellow passengers initially see her as a dried up spinster, but I love the way the character progresses. She's terrifying in the first episode, but as time goes by, you see her being incredibly vulnerable, shocked by things that happen and caring for people. The bits of her that you don't expect to see are the ones I enjoy playing. She falls in love, she gets married and her life changes completely. She has an incredibly strong set of moral principles and she sees herself surrounded by what she regards as weakness, cowardice and debauchery.

"I read the part and thought, I sympathize with you, and I admire you. Miss Granham also made me laugh because she takes absolutely no rubbish from anybody, she's so rude on occasion and I thought that would be great fun to play. I thought it was a fantastic project with real integrity... it leapt off the page. A real, pure piece of storytelling."

As with the rest of cast, filming in South Africa was an adventure both on set and off for Hamilton. "I went on safari and it was the kind of life-changing experience people say it is. I spent a weekend at the staggeringly beautiful Phinda game reserve with some of the other cast, where we did two game drives, one at dawn and one at sunset, and a night-time cruise along the river with lots of hippos."

Victoria also went whale watching on the Indian Ocean with Benedict Cumberbatch, Jared Harris and his then fiancée, actress Emilia Fox. "The sea was very rough and the captain of this small boat had a gruff personality and looks that were the spitting image of Robert Shaw in Jaws, but with a South African accent. On our way out to sea we hit a shark and were called back into land, where chunks of shark flesh were pulled out of the propeller. We looked out and saw loads of blood and lots of other sharks coming in to eat it. I have a real shark phobia and so does Emilia. However, once we were out at sea, it was so calm that she and I dangled our legs over the boat in the water, where dolphins were playing. We suddenly both looked at each other, thought, 'shark!' and quickly got back into the boat."

Hamilton has been seen previously on Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! in King Lear and Goodbye, Mr. Chips.

Charles Dance Charles Dance on his role as Sir Henry Somerset

Handsome, debonair, charming -- the matinee idol good looks and the twinkling blue eyes are still there, despite the fact that the man who has been making hearts flutter for over 25 years on screen has a ruthlessly honest and self-deprecating attitude towards his advancing years.

"When you get to a certain age," says Charles Dance, "the work begins to thin out. I'd had a career playing mostly romantic leading men and there is an optimum age for those characters and that's around 40, tops. There are one or two exceptions -- there is just a handful of older romantic leading men -- Sean Connery, Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford. Most mainstream films are written and made with a hero around 35, or even 25."

While he may no longer be first in line as a romantic lead, he is still as busy as he ever was. "I just like working. Sometimes it's work that is really fulfilling and enjoying and demanding and stretching and furthers my career. And sometime it's just work! "

What attracted him to the part of Sir Henry Somerset in To the Ends of the Earth? "Sir Henry is rather comic, a bit of a buffoon. He's described as being 'a wide man, ample girth' and I thought it would be interesting to play a fat man. The scripts are excellent and even though it's only a cameo, it's hopefully a telling one. I thought it was something I'd like to be part of."

"It's hard to go to South Africa and not feel politicized in some way," he says. "There's such an undercurrent in everything you do in a country that's finding its feet... you're not quite sure where it's going. Even though it's had this miraculous, peaceful revolution, there are still things happening that could go either way.

"I didn't feel completely at ease because the country hasn't stabilized itself yet. South Africa has enormous potential. It's going to take a while for the vile system that was in operation there for so long to completely disappear. I don't believe all of the people who maintained that system have suddenly turned into liberal human beings overnight. Their prejudices have gone under ground but I think they still exist. It's going to take a couple of generations, but the young generation working on To the Ends of the Earth were a great bunch of people."

Dance originally trained as a photographer and graphic designer, but left art school when he realized it wasn't what he wanted to do. He decided to learn the craft of acting from "two wonderful old men," near his home in Devon, who had coached some of his friends for their drama auditions. Two years later, he got his first theatre job -- as a stagehand and a dresser. "I just basically wanted to be inside a theatre, rather than driving mini-cabs," he recalls. "I could be around actors and smell what the business was like." Eventually he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company.

His Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! credits include roles in The Jewel in the Crown, Rebecca, Murder Rooms, Foyle's War: The White Feather, Henry VIII, Miss Marple: By the Pricking of My Thumbs, and the role of Mr. Tulkinghorn in Bleak House for which he received both a Royal Television Society and a Broadcasting Press Guild Best Actor Award as well as an Emmy nomination.

Joanna Page Joanna Page on her role as Marion Chumley

Welsh actress Joanna Page had a great time filming in South Africa, the only downside being that she desperately missed her husband, actor James Thornton. "I was filming for three weeks and it was the longest we'd been apart. Every night we were on the phone for hours!" she laughs.

Page and Thornton both starred in Masterpiece Theatre's David Copperfield, but they didn't have any scenes together. It wasn't until they saw each other on screen that the attraction developed. "I was watching David Copperfield at home when I saw James playing Ham Peggotty. I said to my mother, 'Oh, my God! I want that man to be the father of my children!' I thought he was absolutely lovely."

The pair actually met three years later. "A friend asked me to come and see a play they were in because there was an actor in it who said he was in love with me. When I got there, I realized that the actor was James, the same guy I'd fancied for the past three years!" explains the bubbly actress.

Page's real-life love story is reflected in To the Ends of the Earth when Edmund Talbot falls madly in love at first sight when he meets the demure Marion, an orphan who is the ward of Lord and Lady Somerset (Charles Dance and Cheryl Campbell).

But Marion had to behave within the social constraints of the time. "Marion is swept off her feet by Edmund but she contains herself," explains Page. "She is a very innocent young woman, but also feisty and strong, and she tells Edmund that he can't behave the way he does and he needs to pull himself together."

Wearing a heavy period costume in the South African heat might be some people's idea of torture but Page found it helped her get into the role: "I love wearing corsets because they make me feel feminine and sexy! In a corset you really feel that you don't have to do too much acting, once you've put the costume on, that's it really. The only downside is that you can't eat as much when you're wearing one and if you want to go to the loo it's a bit awkward with so many petticoats and having to use those awful portaloos."

Page was born in Swansea and has worked ever since leaving RADA in 1998. She starred with Johnny Depp in the film From Hell and was in the film Love Actually, playing a sweet porn star stand-in alongside Martin Freeman. She also played the role of Zoe Cazalet in Masterpiece Theatre's The Cazalets.

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