Nicholas Pinnock – Counterpart
By: Jamie Steinberg
Q) What are the recent projects that you have been working on?
A) Apart from “Counterpart,” I’ve been working on a TV series for Netflix called “Marcella.” It’s set in London and it is a detective-investigatory type of piece. We’re in our second season now and hopefully moving into our third by the end of this year. Then, I finished a feature called where I play Terry, who is a social worker to a young boy that he takes back to the south coast in England where his mother gave him up as a child. It’s a really nice human-interest drama.
Q) How was your character Ian Shaw on “Counterpart” originally described to you?
A) Ian was pitched to me as a James Bond type of spy who is a love interest with Emily Prime, played by the amazing Olivia Williams. I was also told that he had a very moral angle on the two worlds. He wants to keep things very, very separate. He’s a peacekeeper in the whole thing. There is a scene in episode three where he says, “I think we should build a wall and never come back.” I think that’s really, really telling about the type of person that he is. But he’s an Enforcer. He kind of makes sure everything is done by the book. That’s who he is in life and who he is at work.
Q) Was there anything you had to do physically in order prepare to portray this role as an Enforcer?
A) Not really. We had some gun training and that was it. Touch wood, I’m a dancer and I’ve kept myself (I hope) in pretty good shape. The physical work wasn’t difficult to tackle. I think Season Two gets a lot more physical. I kind of try to do as much of my own stunts as possible, but there weren’t any major ones in Season One. In Season Two, my fitness level is going to increase as it is more action and action packed.
Q) Ian is so strict in his beliefs in what he feels is morally right and wrong. What do you think it is that has made him so rigid?
A) Well, if I told you that then I’d be telling you lots of things I’m not allowed to talk about. [laughs] On the surface, it really is just about keeping peace between the two worlds because this is such an unnatural situation that they’ve found themselves in. The whole idea of the Office of Interchange is that when two worlds mix there is always a problem because one world will want what the other one wants. Seeing your Other off-sets a domino effect, a chain of events and a ripple effect that inevitably is quite destructive from one side to another. On the surface, that’s what he tries to stay away from because he’s come across it first-hand. Below the surface, there is a whole lot more going on with Shaw that we don’t yet know about.
Q) Is there something about Emily that draws Shaw to her?
A) Yeah. I mean, they work at the same level. And I think it’s the fact she is strong, intelligent, a go-getter and a leader. He sees much of himself in her and I think that’s what really, really attracts Shaw to the type of person she is and I think that’s equal measure. I think that’s the same thing she didn’t see in Howard (J.K. Simmons). Howard had all of those things, but he wasn’t compassionate. The Prime that we see was maybe too much of those things and there wasn’t that softness and warmth there that she finds in Shaw.
Q) Did you and Olivia spend much time together to develop the chemistry between Shaw and Emily?
A) We just found that there was chemistry. Her and I have become very, very good friends and I’ve become good friends with her family. Her and I had never met before, but I was aware of who she was. I think she was aware of who I was. It’s one of those things where if you have mutual respect for someone as an actor that warmth is already there because you already like them as an actor. Then, when you find out they are lovely people (which I did with Olivia) we just sat and bonded and talked about life. As people, we were able to bring just a little bit of that chemistry onto the screen in the guise of Emily and Ian Shaw.
Q) Talk about working alongside J.K. Simmons.
A) J.K. is an absolute master of the craft. He’s been acting as long as I have been alive. He has twenty years on me. He has some twenty-five or thirty more years of experience because he’s been acting that much longer than I have. Every day was a master class. Seeing him being the two different Howards was so interesting to watch. You go, “I’m not going to try to compete with this level of craftsmanship. So, I’m going to do the absolute best that I know how to do and hopefully it will be able to compliment the major work that he is doing on screen.” It was just wonderful and he’s very generous and warm and giving. And there is no ego. He’s quite open to being told, “Can you try it this way” or “If I do that…” He’s like, “Yeah, let’s try it.” If it works, it’s in. There is no, “Who are you telling what to do” or “Why are you suggesting that?” He’s very open to collaboration. There is absolutely no ego. He listens and is engaging. He will suggest things as well, which are absolute gems. That was the thing with the whole cast, it was very, very collaborative and very supportive. No egos were involved. It was a really warm, family environment and a safe environment, which is the most important thing. It’s a very safe place for us to explore and we were allowed to suggest things not being quite right without feeling that your contribution was dismissed or ridiculed in any way. It was wonderful. And he’s very, very good at that. As a leader of a show, he has the right temperature. Absolutely!
Q) We’ve seen you play such intense, dramatic roles like in “Counterpart,” “Marcella” and “Fortitude.” Is there something about these physical and serious roles that draws you to them?
A) You know, it’s one of those things. Do you choose the part or does the part choose you? And what I’ve found with a lot of these roles is that every time they come to me it’s just like a kick in my gut of fear that I don’t get with other roles that come my way. When ever I get that feeling and that fear factor, which is “can I actually pull this off” or “can I bring this to life in the most believable and plausible way” – if I have those questions and I’m not sure that I can, I kind of have to go with them because that then allows me to be in a position where I can grow and learn something. Also, I find that for whatever stage in my life that I’m at these characters come along and teach me about stuff that I’m currently going through. It’s really, really strange, which is why I go back to saying, “Do they choose you or do you choose them?” I think it really is a mixture of both. We find each other. So, I’m just really drawn to them. It’s just so coincidental that they are these big, heavy dramatic roles. But I love playing them. I really, really find the process so interesting and cathartic and engaging for me that I hope it translates to the audience.
Q) Earlier you mentioned Ian being for this wall between the worlds and it is quite similar to our current political landscape. What do you hope “Counterpart” viewers take away from watching?
A) I think in the current climate politically that we are globally, it’s really given people a chance to wake up, see what’s going on and think about things – rather than walk blindly through their lives, not taking notice and tripping up and making a few mistakes along the way. There is so much television and so much content now that we kind of do that from one drama to the next, but every now and then a drama comes along that really makes you sit up and listen and has a profound effect about what you get of your television experience that translates into your life. I’m hoping that somewhere along the way for a great portion of people that “Counterpart” does that.
Q) You are a part of social media. Are you looking forward to the fan feedback you’ll receive to episodes?
A) Definitely! Episode three shifts gears. We started in high gear anyway, but it just keeps shifting and by the time it gets to episode seven it shifts again. Then, when it gets to episodes eight, nine and ten it has another shift and it has a fantastic finale. So, episode three really does lock into that political stance and the parallels. Justin Marks is so stupidly clever and he geeks out about this world he’s created for us. He’s an absolute master at what he does. He’s given us such interesting roles to play that none of the lead cast, and even the supporting cast, could actually take their foot off the pedal or their mind off the prize at any given point because it’s so intricate and thoughtful. We had to go through such a thought process to be able to deliver our own marks of the story and make all of those marks work as a complete section. So, one and two were exactly what you say – one starts on one side and two focuses on the other side. Then, when you start mixing the worlds it goes into another speed. Right now, Shaw wasn’t in episode one and was in episode two as a (possible) love interest for Emily, but you don’t really know that he’s going to continue and what his role is. So, it’s interesting to see what the audience do when they realize he’s more than just the guy that Emily was having sex with half way through episode two. Then, it is seeing what he’s all about and figuring out and working out how and why these two people came together and what that is all about and how that shapes and cements certain aspects of the show.
Q) We’re also seeing you in “Marcella.” What drew you to be a part of this series?
A) That’s another interesting one. Jason Backland is a very morally conflicted character. His intentions are just and his actions kind of speak a different language. The way I approach him and the way that he speaks to me is he’s in one of those spaces where good people can sometimes do bad things. He does these things with good intentions, but you think, “Why would you choose to do it this way when you could have done it that way?” He’s conflicted because he knows he’s skating the line of possibly going into territory of this evil displaced husband. But it’s all about his family and his kids. Again, he’s a lawyer. He’s methodical and does things in a certain way. He knows how to manipulate for what he believes to be the greater good on one level. On another level, what he’s doing is so morally unjust that it’s unbelievable. And he’s conflicted because I think he’s a really nice guy deep down. A really nice guy. I do like him, but sometimes you have to put your hand on your forehead and say, “Why did you do that, Jason?!” And I find that juxtaposition between the two sides of him really interesting to play and skate by the side of the middle ground that he quite clearly has throughout the whole of the story that we’ve created so far.
Q) What can you tease is in store for Jason Backland in Season Two of “Marcella?”
A) We have some new cast members. Jason has a new girlfriend, which causes a lot of controversy with Marcella who he is living with. Again, he shifts gear in as much as the stakes are much higher now between him and Marcella (Anna Friel) because now they are definitely separated. If you remember, at the end of Season One he almost died and that really changed his perspective on his life. So, he has a lot more let’s say risky attitude with how he approaches things that have to do with Marcella.
Q) What would you like to say to everyone who is a fan and supporter of you and your work?
A) I hope that the audience can enjoy it as much as I (and the rest of the cast) enjoyed making it. We’re really blessed and privileged with the jobs that we have and everything that comes with it. The boss basically for me is the audience and I’m so grateful to all the people that write in and all the people that approach me in the street and are interested in the show and are supportive of the work. As long as I can keep making television and keep creating characters and films that they respond and like, I’m really happy to keep doing it. So, I just want to thank them for their well wishes and support throughout my career so far.