Thomas McDonell interview: The 100, The Hunger Games & more

Interview Caroline Preece 7 Jul 2014 - 06:45

To mark The 100's arrival in the UK, Caroline talks to Thomas McDonell, the actor behind Finn...

Thomas McDonell plays handsome, floppy-haired rebel Finn in hit US series The 100, which is due to return for a second season next year. As The 100 starts on E4, Caroline caught up with the actor to talk season one, Finn's role in the ensemble, and more. (Before we start, a gentle warning for the faint-hearted, Mr McDonell's language is tinged blue at points below...)

Congratulations on the show’s success in America, which has been huge – how have you found the reaction both here with the buzz that’s been building and in the US where audiences have already cottoned on to it?

Well, it’s pretty fun that people really seem to like it, and interesting that people are really watching it, following it and paying attention. I think that’s all really cool. And it’s good for us because now we get to make more of it, which is what I like to do.

Your character started off as quite unpredictable and a bit of a loose cannon, but over the course of the series Finn has evolved into the level-headed one...

Yeah that’s weird – how did that happen?

What side of the character do you most like playing, and would you like to see a little more of the old Finn come back?

Yeah, I definitely would but it’s a funny question to answer because I have two simultaneous and contradictory answers for you. It’s really fun to play an unpredictable loose cannon, as you say, because there’s a certain level of flexibility to that and that’s fun as an actor. But it’s also really great to play the part of a character that seems like they’re reasonable because it rationalises all of your actions and makes things make sense.

And that’s cool also. Sometimes I look at the end of the season of The 100 and I really think that Finn is the only one who’s really making any sense. Everyone is acting really, really crazy and even though Finn is the one whose often making all of these terrible mistakes, and fucking things up basically all of the time, what he’s thinking about makes sense and is right on.

So, really to answer your question, it would be cool to see more of the old, looser, wilder Finn return but maybe with the newer, wiser Finn remaining somehow. But that’s not what’s going to happen – things are just going to get all messed up.

Finn does take charge a lot, but the leadership roles are definitely occupied by Clarke and Bellamy, do you see him leading the group more?

I think that in a different universe that would have been in the cards for Finn but, it’s not that he’s blown the chance of that, it’s just that he was never really interested in that to begin with and by the time they were all embroiled in this new, terrible and crazy existence, as you say those roles were occupied and it’s slipped away from him.

If there was a moment when he could have stepped up and said, ‘this is the way that things should be and I will take responsibility and lead,’ that moment has passed. So now, he’ll have to lie in his bed, as they say.

Your character is involved in a lot of the love stories, more than anyone else really, have you enjoyed being in that side of things?

Well, it’s funny because you think sometimes working as an actor that you play the character – that’s the character and you’re over here, with that separation – but I do find myself feeling weirdly jealous of other characters’ interactions with people on the show sometimes, just because I want Finn to win. But that’s crazy, because he’s just a character in a story and you obviously want the story to be the best it can be.

The love triangle stuff is really great, at first because it’s great to play a character that everyone is in love with – two beautiful main characters on the show – and then, as he does with everything, he f*cks it all up. And it’s terrible now, because everyone’s mad at him. It’s supposed to be that they still love him, but he’s been making mistakes.

Can you tease anything about the outcome of that?

Their relationship, between the three of them, remains complex – it’s not over for anybody.

Do you think there’s a good balance between the love stories and the character interactions versus the action and more high-stakes stuff?

If there are two sides to making a thing, there’s storytelling through relationships and then action and stuff like that, and I think there’s a pretty good balance. I think it’s all about the execution. Filming a television show is complicated so you have to presume that there are complex relationships happening between these characters. What you make available to the audience is a different thing.

So, ideally what you wanna do is make it so that there is a very complex underpinning to the whole world and cosmology of the show, and then make available to the audience certain moments that insinuate the rest of it – like the tip of an iceberg. So I think the show is effective in that more often than not. There are parts where it’s a little ham-fisted but I think those parts where it’s not so effective are becoming fewer and it’s becoming more balanced.

Will Finn continue leading the charge against the Grounders and other threats to the group, or will he leave that up to the other characters?

I know that side of him is going to become more prominent, which is exciting for me. Finn went in a direction that wasn’t totally expected by the writers – it’s just kind of happened that way – which is strange because it would seem like everyone is in total control of what we’re making but in a way the story sometimes feels like it’s out of control. Finn became this peace-maker kind of guy who’s often reluctant to act. So it’ll be exciting to have that flip around again.

You’ve been compared a lot to The Hunger Games, why do you think these post-apocalyptic stories have become such a big thing for young people?

I think gross violence is attractive to young people, so I think that’s one big reason. And it’s relative to superheroes or other kinds of trends – it’s not something that’s new, we’re just in one of those moments.

We don’t know a lot about Finn’s past – have you been told or do you have your own ideas of you own?

Well Finn’s real name isn’t Finn, for one, its Finbar, which is interesting to me.

I think it’s one of the cooler things about the character, so I’d kind of like to keep it that people don’t know that much about him because just about all of the other characters – even characters that don’t appear as much as the main cast – even they have more backstory than Finn. In a way, that’s what’s great about him – it’s cool that it’s all left open so that there are possibilities to it and it can be mysterious in that way.

Will we find out more about some of the minor characters, such as why they went to prison in the first place?

Yeah, and all of that stuff gets dredged up again. When they got to Earth all of that was left behind so it was like, they’re not in prison anymore so they’re free. Sometimes people in the show remind each other – ‘that guy was a murderer’ – but most of the time it doesn’t come up. So if they are united again, if the Ark comes down or they go up – whatever happens – it’ll all come back to the surface again, especially for Bellamy.

All season we’ve been waiting for the people on the Ark and the people on the ground to reunite, how will the younger characters react to that?

In a whole load of different ways because, when that happens – or when that might happen – they might be in all sorts of states of disarray and different situations. So it’s a combination of relief, fear, anxious anticipation and guilt.

The 100 starts on E4 tonight, Monday the 7th of July at 9pm.

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