Meet the Cast of Around the World in 80 Days
Recognize some familiar faces in Around the World in 80 Days? Curious to learn more about the talented cast? Get to know the lead actors from this rousing series—including David Tennant, Leonie Benesch, Ibrahim Koma, plus other notable denizens of British period drama. Find out who co-starred in The Crown together, who can pull off a one-armed handstand, and who you’ve seen on MASTERPIECE a few times before!
Character: Phileas Fogg, a Victorian English gentleman who has spent the last 20 years in a comfortable armchair at the Reform Club and is inwardly stifled by it.
On the Role: For Tennant, part of the role’s appeal was exploring a new backstory for Phileas Fogg—one inspired by Jules Verne’s personal history of early lost love. The actor tells MASTERPIECE that Fogg “chose not to go on an adventure once before because he was scared. In that moment he also wrote off his chance for romance and happiness. These things all come together as something that Fogg will [now] try and conquer.”
Where You’ve Seen Him Before: The Scottish actor is truly ubiquitous onscreen. His best known roles may be the iconic lead in the sci-fi series Doctor Who from 2005-2010, DI Alex Hardy in Broadchurch, demon Crowley in Good Omens, and villain Barty Crouch Jr. in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, among many others that he always seems to make memorable. MASTERPIECE fans may even recall that Tennant hosted MASTERPIECE Contemporary in 2009!
Did You Know? This series marks the first time Tennant works alongside his eldest son Ty, who plays a gang leader in the final episode. “It was a first for us as a family,” the proud father tells MASTERPIECE. “He’s been doing lots of other exciting things, but in this he was playing a bit of a thug. In episode eight he had to try to take down Fogg in a New York warehouse so there were lots of family dynamics being played out that day! It was a great experience as I’ve been really looking forward to working with him.”
Character: Jean Passepartout, Fogg’s French valet and a street-smart, rolling stone sort of man.
On the Role: Koma tells The New York Times he was intrigued that this adaptation imagined Passepartout as a Black man. “In the book, the characters don’t really evolve, but in our series, there are real evolutions. For Passepartout, the challenge is to deal with his life, to trust people, because when you are Black there are always presumptions. As he goes through that journey, he becomes more able to take that risk.”
He describes to MASTERPIECE how his character is a foil to Fogg’s. “He will always find a way to get what he wants. He is very smart that way. He can quickly gauge the measure of a man. Passepartout is not really an adventurer, but he has no choice. He’d love to stay put and take no risks, but he is always ready to move on. Fogg doesn’t really know anything about the world apart from what he has read in books. That’s the difference between them both.”
Where You’ve Seen Him Before: Koma is a familiar face in France where he’s been acting for nearly 20 years, starting at age 10. His performance in the film La Cité Rose (2013) earned a nomination for best male actor at The Césars Awards, the national film award of France. Koma’s most recent leading roles have been as Strahinja, an aspiring footballer in the film As Far As I Can Walk and as Promedi in the third installment of OSS 117, a comedic French parody of secret agent films.
Did You Know? Koma has a gift for language. Beyond his native French, he speaks English and two African dialects—Soninké and Bambara. In an interview with Teller Report, he says acting in English was a “pleasurable” exercise. “If I have learned English since I was little, it is to be able to have these opportunities. It also puts pressure because you have to be good. It’s a lot of work in pronunciation, in understanding. You also have to understand the spirit because we operate differently from the British.”
Character: Miss Abigail “Fix” Fortescue, fledgling reporter making a name for herself by covering Fogg’s global adventure for the Daily Telegraph.
On the Role: Benesch knew taking on the role of Miss Fix would be transformative. “I was nervous because it’s the biggest part I’ve ever played [in English], it’s not my mother tongue, and it’s David Tennant,” the German actress tells Radio Times. She describes her character as both unconventional and spoiled. “She’s definitely a Daddy’s girl who’s been given everything she ever asked for,” Benesch tells MASTERPIECE. “She thinks only of her career, which is also made possible by her father as owner/editor of the Daily Telegraph newspaper. She considers herself intelligent and knows a lot about the world in theory, but she’s never actually been outside of England.”
Where You’ve Seen Her Before: Benesch has already appeared in a dozen feature films, including some lavish period dramas. MASTERPIECE viewers may recognize her from Howards End. She and Jason Watkins were both cast in The Crown (2016), Benesch portraying Prince Philip’s sister. And she won the German Film Award’s top acting honors for her role as Greta Overbeck in the neo-noir TV series Babylon Berlin.
Did You Know? Benesch typically enjoys scenes that rely more on physicality than acting, but that wasn’t always true for this production. Turns out that “doing any sort of running action scene with David [Tennant] was not much fun,” she tells MASTERPIECE. “He’s very fast and much taller than I am so he had to keep slowing down for me. I was always quite panicky before any sort of running scene with David; I’m sure they will look funny on screen.”
Character: Bernard Fortescue, editor of London’s Daily Telegraph, loving father to Abigail, and dearest friend to Fogg.
On the Role: For Watkins, there was a lot to love about this new adaptation for TV. “One of the joys of our version of this story is that there are many things included that are not in the book. One of them is this great relationship between Bernard Fortescue and his daughter,” he tells MASTERPIECE. While the narrative involves “a journey around the world, it’s also a journey between characters. My character and Abigail have this amazing journey that they go on. He’s trying to let her follow her passion against all his better judgement. …[We] delve into quite deep, complex relationships whilst in this wonderful framework of an adventuring thriller.”
Where You’ve Seen Him Before: Watkins’ “everyman” appeal has led to a variety of roles, including a few on MASTERPIECE: He portrayed the out-of-work plasterer Mr. Plornish in 2008’s Emmy Award-winning Little Dorrit alongside Claire Foy, and as the ironically-named Joe Bland in a 2009 episode of Hercule Poirot. Watkins has appeared in numerous period dramas the likes of Midsomer Murders, 2018’s A Very English Scandal, and Call the Midwife. He and Leonie Benesch both were cast in The Crown (2016), he as Prime Minister Harold Wilson.
Did You Know? The actor describes himself as absolutely mad for sports. “I used to be able to run on my hands,” he told The Guardian. “I got quite close to the world record when I was 14. Running the length of a basketball court. Got within a couple of seconds.” These days, Watkins is into sprint bicycling and even one-armed handstands on Twitter!
Character: Nyle Bellamy, a childhood contemporary of Fogg’s and Fortescue’s at school who has always been a low-level bully.
On the Role: Working on this reimagining of Jules Verne’s original enticed Sullivan on a few levels. Nyle Bellamy is “an amalgamation of other characters from various different interpretations of the story,” he tells MASTERPIECE. “In this version he is a complete character with his own backstory and that hasn’t been done before. The other thing I particularly enjoy about this version is that there are inevitably going to be issues around colonialism, racism, and the position of women in society that the original novel is sadly riddled with—and not in a good way. What I loved about [our] version is that all those questions are addressed; not in a heavy-handed way, but beautifully done. So, a combination of the character and those elements lured me in.”
Where You’ve Seen Him Before: MASTERPIECE viewers may recognize him from 2021’s Baptiste as Michael Agoston, spouse of a right-wing extremist; Season 5 of Poldark, where he played slave trader Ralph Hanson; and, perhaps from his turn as oily British lawyer, Hugh Slater, in 2015’s Indian Summers.