Stephen Moyer shot to fame following his role as Bill Compton in True Blood and, after taking some time away to explore directing and producing, he’s back on our screens as part of one of the biggest franchises around. We spoke to him about The Gifted, Safe House and more…
What made you take the role in The Gifted? How was it originally pitched to you?
I was in Toronto doing a directing job and I didn’t really have my head in acting at that point – not because I was stopping, but just because I was in my directing head. It kind of came out of the blue and, obviously because Anna (Paquin, Stephen’s partner) has a relationship with the Marvel and X-Men worlds, I gave it to her to read. I read it and was blown away by how prescient, topical and well written it was, and I really liked the idea of my character starting out as a bad guy in some respects. He’s a prosecutor of mutants, and I thought it was really well done because, for me, my arc is about education and learning more, and then realising that the people he’s been working for are slightly underhand and haven’t been so truthful about those things going on behind the scenes. Anna, having worked with Bryan [Singer] four times before, thought it was a really good new version of that world.
As you mentioned, Reed is a family man also tangled up in the shady government business – how do you play those two sides?
He thought he was doing the right thing. In our world, as we learn throughout the series, there’s been an event – a mutant uprising. We call it 7/15, and during that incident people died on both sides. It’s been since then that the rules and laws have changed; what mutants are allowed to do is different from the freedoms they had before. So ultimately he thinks he’s doing the right thing, upholding the law. It’s okay to be a mutant but you can’t use your powers in public, so basically anybody who does gets prosecuted by my character. He’s not anti-mutant or anti-anything, he’s just for upholding the law and doing his job.
So when things then start to change, specifically with his own children, he has to make a decision and he obviously chooses his family. In so doing he puts himself against his own superiors and finds himself on the run. Even though he has to change, he doesn’t change on a sixpence. A couple of episodes in, things happen that three weeks before he would have reacted very differently to. His instinct is to act as he always has, and he realises that he has, in his own way, been prejudiced. Just talking about it like that you get a sense of how well structured it is. It’s a very topical piece given the society we’re living in right now.
People have pointed out some of the parallels between that element of The Gifted and similar elements in True Blood – is that something you’re drawn to in scripts?
Yeah, I saw it as soon as I read the pilot. It has an interesting framework, this kind of genre work – specifically the X-Men universe, which has always been about civil rights and was obviously adopted very early on by the LGBTQ community – there is no question that True Blood had those parallels because of Alan Ball. We even said “We’re coming out of the coffin” – it wasn’t a shrouded metaphor. So I think I am drawn to it. I like the idea of the oppressed fighting back, and of telling the story of people who are struggling in society. I wasn’t looking for it, to do something so specifically about that again. But of course, when you read something that touches you it changes everything.
How much background reading did you do, given that Reed is an original character?
Matt Nix, who wrote it, and I talked a lot about who he was and the background he’d come from. I always do some research, going off and looking at what my character would have had to have done to get to where he is. When we first started we were shooting in Dallas, so I drove around and looked at the area, but then after the pilot we moved to Atlanta. But it’s that kind of middle class suburban life, and also I could obviously do a lot of research online. The internet is a great actor tool because you can go back and look at the Strucker line and what happens within the comic books. Marvel gave us an unlimited pass on the Marvel website, which basically meant that we could go in and look at how Thunderbird or Polaris, and obviously Baron von Strucker, played out. My children on the show have a comics run as well, so even though my character is an invented one, it’s very much within the world of the comic books. What I like about it is that our world feels real, and that’s one of the things we did really well with True Blood. It felt like a real town, a real place, and you didn’t feel like you were entering some kind of sci-fi universe.
Do you ever envisage a future where The Gifted crosses over with either Legion or the movie universe?
You can’t discount it because really these things are about making successful entertainment. However, Legion takes place in the 70s, so it’s very different. It would be awesome because I love Legion, but I can’t see that happening.
When it comes to the films, who knows, we’re playing at the moment in our story that the X-Men have disappeared. Matt and I talked about this quite early – if you throw a stone in a pool, there are ripples, and even though our story is not within a timeline that makes sense, if you like it’s somewhere inbetween X-Men 4 and Logan. But there’s no real parallel in our story, the X-Men have disappeared so, certainly in the first season we don’t mention what’s happened to them. If we get picked up and go again I’m sure it’ll be talked about along the way. But is there a plan for the crossover right now? No. We’ve got nine regular lead characters who all need stories servicing, so it is very difficult to keep adding characters. It’s really more about serving those we’ve already got.
You’ve spoken before about wanting to work more in the UK – is that part of the reason you signed on for Safe House?
Absolutely. I’ve worked for those producers before, and we always send each other stuff. That came up and it was such a joy to be back. It was really lovely for me because I knew all of those people, if not as friends then by reputation, and we had a ball last summer doing that. I’d love to work in Britain. I have a project which is in the process of being picked up that I’ve constructed with my production company. Whether I’d be able to do it as an actor I don’t know. And there’s another thing with Anna we’re hoping to do in the UK. I’d absolutely love to be there, and who knows – my daughter’s in school and when she finishes we might come home. With this business you just keep doing what comes in. But I’d love to find the right thing and be in London for maybe half the year.
Stephen Moyer, thank you very much!
The Gifted season one airs on FOX UK on Sunday nights.