Returning to the small screen, just in time for its 50th anniversary, is the much-loved television series, Thunderbirds. Under the moniker of Thunderbirds Are Go!, the puppets have been replaced by computer-generated realisations of the original characters but the model and standing sets remain – courtesy of WETA in New Zealand (The Lord Of The Rings).
Den of Geek sat down with the voice cast who were all very enthusiastic and excited to see their work finally hit screens across the world. Taking part in the interviews were: Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Game Of Thrones) who plays John Tracy; Rasmus Hardiker (Lead Balloon, Black Mirror), Alan and Scott Tracy; David Menkin, Virgil and Gordon Tracy; Sandra Dickinson (The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy), Grandma Tracy; Angel Coulby (Merlin), Kayo; Adjoa Andoh (Doctor Who), Colonel Casey; Kayvan Novak (Fonejacker, Four Lions), Brains; Andres Williams (M.I. High), The Hood; and David Graham who reprises his role as Parker.
How easy was it for you to say yes to this project?
Kayvan Novak: “Very. in a word [Laughs]. I was very excited when I first heard they were remaking it. I got in contact with my agent and said, ‘Please get me seen for this!’”
David Graham: “Giles [Ridge, Thunderbirds Are Go! executive producer] took me out for lunch – I think to see if I could still deliver. [We should point out that David will be 90 years old later this year] Fortunately, I still can. [Laughs] It’s great to be on board. The character is still very real to me, I didn’t have to dig him up from the past. I’m always ask to do the voice over the years, it’s in my DNA”
Was it daunting, from an acting perspective, taking on beloved characters in such an iconic show? Is it scary to think about the fan baggage that comes with Thunderbirds?
Kayvan Novak: No, because it’s new and it’s an update. It’s not like I’m replacing someone from last month or last season. I’m not Ashton Kutcher replacing Charlie Sheen! [Laughs]
Angel Coulby: You just don’t think about that. I didn’t watch the original, I was more interested in the new scripts and how I was going to interpret this role. Didn’t occur to me to go back and watch.
Adjoa Andoh: You want your performance to be as good as it can be. As new characters there’s not so much of that as it’s brand new.
Sandra Dickinson: It’s not something, as an actor, you want to do – look at what somebody else has done. It’s more exciting than scary.
Rasmus Hardiker: As a lifelong fan, the biggest honour to be involved. I couldn’t wait to be involved.
Thomas Brodie-Sangster: It’s always been a dream of mine. I have pictures of me in full uniform. I got incredibly excited and became a little kid again. It’s fun messing around being a Tracy brother. It’s great!
What can you tell us about your characters?
David Menkin: I heard a lot of people loved Virgil back in the day, especially women. He’s the caretaker of the group, the one who makes sure that everyone’s okay. Gordon is the guy who thinks he’s a little cooler than he actually is. Gordon and Virgil are together a lot and they go around the world, so the two work together quite well.
Rasmus Hardiker: Scott is essentially the driving force, he’s the one that says, “Let’s do this!” But he’s so passionate that he needs the other brothers to rein him back because he will pretty much to anything to get the job done without always using his head. His passion outweighs his intelligence for smart manoeuvres. Scott is very hot-headed.
To the contrary Alan is the youngest and very gifted – he never studies and gets straight As. He’s a natural. He’s cocky – he’s good and he knows it. For me, I play two polar opposites.
There’s not one Tracy is the leader of the pack; everyone is a driving force. There’ll be episodes heavy on certain characters, or a pair of characters, or the whole group. It’s not about sole characters, it’s an ensemble piece – with certain episodes highlighting different characters.
I think people will fall in love with the ships instantly. We get to know the ships as much as we do the people.
Thomas Brodie-Sangster: John is the guy up in the sky, he’s keeping an eye on everything going on. He’s very good at multi-tasking and keeping a calm head which is useful for having that reassuring voice in your headpiece, whilst people are on the floor doing all these mad crazy rescues. He genuinely loves his job, and being on his own – I don’t think he’s jealous of the guys that get to save the day. He’s quite happy in his space station.
Adjoa Andoh: Colonel Casey is a new character [with no first name, as of yet, she reveals], she’s the head of the Global Defence Force. She was a friend of the family, of the father, and she’s sort of the world’s “good guy” leader on the military front. When she has stuff that can’t be done in a military way, that needs a bit more sneaky, cheeky, innovation, she gets in touch with the International Rescue gang. Or she’ll back them up when they’ve gone in – sometimes she has tor rescue them but generally it’s the other way round.
Angel Coulby: Kayo is also a new character, she’s been adopted by the Tracy family. She’s head of security at International Rescue so she’s pretty tough. She doesn’t like rules and regulations.
Why do you think these two new characters came about?
Adjoa Andoh: Because we live in the 21st century, women do stuff. And that needs to be reflected in the stories because girls will be watching as well. Boys will be interested in what the girls are doing, I hope.
Also, we’re a racially diverse group, we’re of different ages – we’re ticking all those boxes as well because you want an audience to be engaged as possible on all fronts. The audience is global, of all ages and genders.
Novak, who also voiced the Cyberhead companion Handles in Matt Smith’s Doctor Who finale, The Time Of The Doctor, plays Brains in the new series. Being a nerd or a geek back in the Sixties, when Thunderbirds originally aired, wasn’t cool, but is now…
Kayvan Novak: Keep telling yourself that.
… Is that reflected in the “new” Brains? Is he cool?
He’s not as cool but, in the world of Thunderbirds, he has a very definite strong place and I think that it all balances out. Everyone plays their part. He just doesn’t go out on spaceships or go to the moon.
But sometimes he does! [Laughs] There are times when he’s forced to put on a spacesuit and prove he’s not a coward.
He meets an old flame that he’s got a crush on at university, so he gets all kind of shy around her and stuff. He’s really sweet and endearing like that. Brains has that archetypal feel [of a “nerd”] – he’s got a speech impediment, he’s short-sighted. I think kids will watch this and look at the short-sighted stammery kid in their class in a different light after this.
David Graham also played Brains in the original, did he share any tips with his successor?
David Graham: I wouldn’t presume… [Laughs]
Kayvan Novak: Well, he was kicking off [laughs, points at DG] ‘I want to play Brains! I played him in the original’ [laughs] I actually didn’t realise until the read-through that he also played Brains. Parker is so iconic, as is Brains. I didn’t get any tips, when I auditioned, I auditioned for a few character. My characterisation of Brains seemed to win them over. They begged me to do it [laughs].
David talked about the instantly-recognisable role of chauffeur Parker in the new series.
David Graham: He’s the same. [Bursts into character to much laughter.] He hasn’t changed in my mind, I had no difficulty recreating him because he’s been so good to me. The character is basically the same and I think to alter the character would have been to alter the series, in a way. If it works don’t mess with it!
David explained he spent most of his time recording with OSCAR-nominee Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) and described her take on Lady Penelope.
David Graham: It’s a modernised version, it’s not the same. You wouldn’t expect it to be but it’s totally valid. the relationship is the same [with Parker], her trying to keep me on the straight and narrow. She was lovely to work with, I think she’ll be very popular.
What are the differences between the original and the new Thunderbirds?
Thomas Brodie-Sangster: It’s very much ‘inspired by’, which I think is important. They’ve tried to reboot it a few times and I think the fact that it didn’t work out so well is that they didn’t captured that essence that made it great.
It’s been brought up to date and it’s been for a generation who don’t know anything about it but at the same time, tick all the right boxes and capture that same character and what made it successful in the first place.
Rasmus Hardiker: People always want something different so long as it’s the same [laughs]. If you were to say Thunderbirds never existed and this is the first incarnation, you would love it equally knowing there is a lineage. It doffs the hat to everything in the past – lots of easter eggs; really well thought-out easter eggs. In every episode. Some that you wouldn’t even notice, really specific.
And there’s lots of camera angles that doff their hat to the original, like when Thunderbird 1 launches – it’s the same shot!
David Menkin: There’s lots of little love letters to the show in there.
We were told we were set up to fail because there is such a love for this product. Giles [Ridge, executive producer] said we have a lot against us. One week it’ll be, “This is the best thing we’ve ever seen!” and the next it’s, ‘What have you done to my childhood?!’
It’s the only job in animation that I’ve not been able to emotionally pull myself back from, it’s so good. I really hope people love it just as much I have.
Rasmus Hardiker: It’s simply breathtaking. The storylines are phenomenal. It’s like 24, but for kids! And adults and everyone. It has the cliffhangers, the action, the comedy, sitcom aspect [he explains they are a family that bickers] – It’s an action/drama with a bit of comedy as well.
Adjoa Andoh: It’s The Waltons meets The Dukes Of Hazzard. You’ve got those kinds of family dynamics going on.”
Sandra Dickinson: Or Bonanza! [Laughs]
David Menkin: Nick and Ben Foster [the show’s composers] have done an amazing job. The music is integral. You kind of feel that it’s the same thing but something’s changed about it. It’s paying homage and bringing it up to date. I think the sound is an extra character. It blows you away, it’s beautiful. I don’t think anyone will be disappointed by it.
Does the series have an arc, or are they stand alone episodes?
Rasmus Hardiker: The season has a story arc, a pretty incredible story arc. But within that there are standalone episodes.
Adjoa Andoh: Angel’s got a dark secret that obviously we can’t tell you about…
Sandra Dickinson: [In Series Two] The women go from strength to strength from what I hear.
What worldwide locations are visited in the series?
Angel Coulby: Mexico…, we go to lots of hot places! [Laughs] They’re constantly dealing with the whole global situation. But they have the entire world and outer space to play with.
Adjoa Andoh: There’s underwater. And caves. Lots of caves.
Does it reflect contemporary issues like terrorism?
Andres Williams: It’s so far in the future that perhaps there’s no terrorism. Korea isn’t mentioned.
David Graham: It’s basically an adventure story about the good guys getting the bad guys, that’s the basic theme of every story.
Kayvan Novak: There’s natural disasters, there’s kind of an environmental feel running through it as well. Earthquakes and stuff, it’s great!
Original cast member David Graham spoke about the updated nature of the show (the computer-generated characters).
David Graham: The special effects are mind-boggling and is true to the original. It’s updated but true to the original. It’s the same but its made for the old fans and a whole new generation.
The whole thing is so iconic that to make it totally differently would be a betrayal in a way. But it’s not. it’s an updated version of the original with new technology and CGI. I hope it’s the best of both worlds.
Regarding the updated style, were they worried that the feel of the original show would be lost?
Adjoa Andoh: You get a sense of the original still, when you see those rockets launch! It’s a really clever mix actually, the blend is really fantastic.
Sandra Dickinson: The characters are much more lifelike now, of course because not everybody is moving like that [imitates beloved Thunderbird puppet movement].
It’s done with huge reverence and fondness for the original. its not in any trying to make you forget about the original, it’s really embracing it. It’s classy.
Kayvan Novak: The impetus came from those making it, they loved the original. It’s made by people who wanna see it again on the screens rather than someone buying the Thunderbirds trademark and trying to make some quick cash out of it. The elements that were wonderful about the original remain. The handmade feel of it remains.”
Adjoa Andoh: There was screening on the big screen and I was absolutely gobsmacked. Giles, our producer, said he wanted the ear to lead the eye. The sound of it is fantastic, it’s a totally immersive experience watching it. It was much more impressive than I’d imagined it would be.”
Rasmus Hardiker: It’s very cinematic.
Obviously there’s a young market that it’s catering for but I sat there very happily engaged and wondering what was emceeing next. And not in a patronising ‘children will love this’ kind of way.
Angel Coulby: It really is genuinely gripping. I was watching it on the end of my seat! They really manage to recreate drama and jeopardy in the show which is quite exciting. People will love it.
Other cast members chimed in on the “cross generational” appeal of Thunderbirds.
Sandra Dickinson: The fans won’t feel like we’re treading on any toes, I think they’ll embrace it the way we have. I think it’s exciting to move it away from the marionette feel. I think it’s going to appeal to more than just the kids.
David Menkin: This is not a show for the adults, it’s to introduce a new generation to a show. And it’s a bonus that it’s multi-generational. Grandma can sit down and watch, though I don’t think they did that on purpose.
Adjoa Andoh: I was one of the voices in Captain Pugwash when it came back [1998’s The Adventures Of Captain Pugwash] and I was in Doctor Who – these things can come back and have a new life. They can speak to audiences in a new way – not disrespectful to the old ways – with the urgency of a new century. It’s darker and it’s faster and its 21st century.”
David Graham: People who watch it grew up. It’s a generational thing – they passed it down whenever it’s been repeated, and it took on board new fans. I think this will be repeated with the new series. It’ll be seamless.
Thunderbirds Are Go! starts on ITV1 on Saturday the 4th of April at 5pm. The first series is expected to comprise 26 half hour episodes.
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