Noah Huntley is an English actor with huge films to his name such as 28 Days Later and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Now he’s adding one of television’s newest shows to his resume as he stars in the new CW show, Pandora.
As a lover of sci-fi and all things CW, I was pretty pumped about watching this new series. I got the chance to sit down with Noah to discuss how he got into acting, the show and so much more. Keep reading to check it out!
Tell me a little bit about how you got into acting originally.
I went to drama school for a year and a half at age 11 because I come from a very large family and my sister was there; I had to get back on the education register after being homeschooled for a year. We weren’t doing enough work at home and the education officer said, “you’d better get yourself on a school register or we’re going to consider putting you into social care!” My parents — who weren’t bad parents but certainly quite unconventional— sought out an alternative option: a theatre school that only had about 30 people. I got an agent a year later when I was 12. This agent hooked me up with theatre and commercials and not long after, I was doing a TV series that ran for two or three years, and that’s how I got started. I continued to work with that agent for about eight years.
Was there a specific person or experience that you would credit with helping you decide that acting is what you wanted to do for a living?
There were many individuals along the way who gave me good advice. But in terms of deciding whether I wanted to be an actor, I really didn’t decide for a long time. I was even pretty sure I didn’t want to be an actor. Generally, it seemed the more apathetic to acting I was, the more work I booked.
Conversely, when I really started to apply myself, I found myself not getting jobs that I would have otherwise aced. In terms of inspiration, it was the lifestyle of the creative people I was meeting and the actors I worked with -really interesting, cool people that seemed to be masters of their destiny; truly bohemian, which kind of kept on a theme that had begun in my family at a very early age. I think it was the industry as much as any one individual.
If you had to pick a past role to play for the rest of your career, which would you pick and why?
I’m loving playing Osborn in Pandora. There’s actually a considerable amount of ambiguity around the characters, which presents two options. The first is to throw your hands up in the air and go, “well there’s no context for this character so I don’t know how to evaluate the value judgements that he makes.” The other [option] is to go, “oh how amazing, this is a blank canvas. I can bring anything I like to this character.” So, from that point of view this has been the most exciting [character] to date. More than many jobs I’ve done, I feel like I’m somewhat the master of my own destiny. I think that is really what any actor wants in any role they play; you just don’t want to get bored. I remember Ian McKellen talking about being on stage, playing the same role hundreds of different ways over the course of a long run, and permanently reinventing, adjusting or adding. Maintaining enthusiasm and keeping things fresh is what you really want in any job you do as an actor — probably any job in life but certainly as an actor.
Let’s talk about your new series, Pandora. What did you first think about the project when you read the script and what was your audition process like?
When I first read the script, I just thought it was great. I’ve wanted to do sci-fi for forever. I’ve done bits and pieces of something that fits into the sci-fi genre, whether it was Event Horizon or even 28 Days Later to a certain extent. I love the landscapes. They’re uncharted and you get to create or be a part of the creative process, and you get to a different perspective to humanity as a whole. All ages and all types can key into something that is on the one hand fantastical though not indulgent per se because it draws from existing constructs that already exist and have existed in the universe for a long time. For example, we’re creating alien races with names and faces that look and exist in different ways than most humans, and that part of it really fascinates me – the coming together of science and fantasy. That’s what I love about science fiction and that’s what I loved about this script. There’s a lot of heart behind it; the characters are likeable, optimistic, powerful, and have enhanced abilities. There are all the cool effects and tech you want from it too. It’s not dystopian like a lot of sci-fi is, it is optimistic. It hits a youth audience who I think are so ready, particularly in the times we’re in at the moment, for a world that has more diversity and more compassion and is frankly more colorful and exciting rather than predictable or seemingly futile. I found a voice with this character that I think actors often struggle to find. Once you get the voice, you go, “that’s the character now.” I found the voice quite quickly with Osborn, and it became activated rather than just a “patterned” set of words seen on a page. So that was the process, and not long after they said, “we’d like to offer you the role and we’ll be flying you to Bulgaria in a week.” It all happened very quickly.
On the show, you play Prof. Donovan Osborn. What is he like? How does he fit into the show?
In many ways, he adds a sort of weight to the storyline. There are six key young characters that we follow. Jax and Xander are the two oldest, then there is Ralen ,who is a Spock-like character. Atria is our purple-haired clone emancipated from a cult-like Colony. Pilar, played by Banita Sandhu, is massively connected into what is known as the datastream. To bring it back to Osborn, Osborn is the kind of intimidating senior professor at the academy, the Fleet training academy for gifted students. He’s also embedded in the intelligence service in 2199, when the series is set. He’s a headmaster figure within the academy and has a greater political purpose within the intelligence service. Bearing in mind the context of this story, it’s a few years after a ten-year war with an alien race that will come to be known quite well through the course of the series. So, there’s a lot at stake in the world at large, and although we center on the academy and it’s the interrelationships amongst the younger characters, as one of the senior members in the cast, there’s a much bigger and ever present storyline that’s politically motivated and corporate money motivated. That money and power has a huge part to play in the context of the season as it unfolds over the course of the 13 episodes. My role in that is seminal. That’s my character “in a nut shell”.
I know a lot of actors bring a bit of themselves to the characters they play, but in what ways do you think you’re similar to Donovan and in what ways do you think you’re different from Donovan?
Well, it’s like playing baddies. Generally, when you’re playing characters that are not sympathetic, it allows you to get very comfortable with your own unsympathetic qualities! He doesn’t suffer fools gladly-not necessarily a bad trait in and of itself. He’s just particularly “a live and let live” person. I can find elements in my psyche where tolerance and compassion have been limited. I would hope not to be a carbon copy of Osborn, but I can certainly find those qualities in myself. And playing him allows me in some way to help exorcise those qualities. His major character trait is that he’s a very private person, and he’s very controlled in his own life. I think he expects that from his students. He is fairly wealthy, and there’s opulence about the way he lives his life, though never lavish. He’s not an indulgent person at any time. But, he certainly has wealth around him. He’s almost has a Batman-like quality to him: by day he’s a professor and by night we see the more private elements of his life. He’s kind of doing quite extraordinary things for the benefit of mankind; but I don’t think that’s how anyone sees it because they don’t see his private life. That’s, obviously, the same as me!!
You’ve never played any role quite like this. What have been some of the challenges you’ve had bringing this character to life?
In all honesty, I think we’ve all got the bones of it. We’ve got the world and are all invested in it as actors and the crew as well. The biggest challenge really has been the volume of work; there’s a lot to do. In the first week or two, there was an opportunity to research and look at similar films and sci-fi references to really get up to speed on that because I had been interested in sci-fi, but I never really had time to watch a million sci-fi films. So, it seemed to fit somewhere between a Stranger Things and a Westworld, and I was even finding relevance with The Remains of the Day. But those were all early references. Since then, it’s been more practical considerations really of being able to stay focused and concentrate and give yourself enough time to just relax enough to be able to sustain that focus, concentration, and that intensity. My character is – in a very understated way – a quite intense character and he knows everything that’s going on. There’s a depth that’s required – in terms of the approach of playing this character – like demanding not over the short term but over the mid to long term. It’s been quite challenging.
In addition to Pandora, what are some of your other current projects?
I was doing the Harry and Meghan: Becoming Royal film in Vancouver. It must have been about three to four months ago now, and that was a Lifetime Movie and I only had a small cameo in the film. I play a co-anchor on a fictional TV show known as “Good Day UK” and they were talking about doing a spin-off series with my character and Louise Bond, who played my co-host, so that was the most recent thing. And then I suppose the beginning of this year, I have been spending some time back in the UK because my father is not well at the moment. Prior to that I was in New York writing in the latter part of last year, and before that I was kind of extricating myself from LA. I had built quite a life in LA over the last few years. Then I decided I really needed as much as I wanted to be back in England. It was around March when I got the Harry and Meghan job, and in March we were filming it and around April/May, I started Pandora. So that’s been my last year.
Whilst home I’ve been gardening actually! I always find the important thing with these jobs and with fame generally – I’ve been acting since I was 11 so that’s over thirty years now – I think the important thing, the way to keep working and keep inspired, is to keep coming away from the Industry. Because the industry itself, if you get too embedded in it, is like living in “Neverland.” You potentially never actually have a grasp on reality. And for me, I didn’t really know what it was I needed until I kind of did it. But now having done it, I’m like, “oh, of course I needed to literally get back to my roots, get back to ground in terms of gardening.” I think these things are so simple and allegorical in a way. The more that I ground down and got away from the industry – the illusory glamour and the make-believe – the more able I am to step into it, so that’s been a really important lesson over the past few months.
Let’s end with a few fun questions. Pandora is set in the year 2199. What do you think the world will be like in 2199?
I suppose that’s why I’m doing this job. I usually feel like if I ask a question inwardly, I will get an answer in the world. And if I’ve got questions in my head that remain unanswered, they usually keep resonating until something comes forward conceptually or as a physical situation that brings some clarity or resolution. In Pandora, there’s been something called “The Great Migration”; humans have managed to ruin planet Earth so convincingly that we – for the good of the planet – had to leave in numbers. Not without casualties, we colonize exoplanets that we’ve got onto and we make that possible. Obviously, there is huge diversity there and as we come into contact with alien races, I wonder if that could possibly happen too.
Then there’s the nature of science and the way that we understand science. I think it’s the idea of having things like telephones. If you think about 100 years before the telephone, the idea of the telephone would’ve been absolutely magical, if not completely impossible. And I think those sorts of things are likely to be every 50-100 years when we’ll get another thing that completely changes the way we perceive life and reality and we can never really know them until they come. So if we’re projecting 150 something years into the future, I think the nature of science as we understand it will have changed so unrecognizably in that time.
Things like telephony and telepathy are really interesting to me. Apparently, the Neanderthal man was a simple creature – I like to imagine that the Neanderthal man may have been so advanced that they didn’t need to communicate with anything more than grunts and whistles because they were telepathically connected. And therefore, we could be the ignorant ones, not Neanderthal man. So, I like the idea that in a way, whatever it is that isn’t an advancement in terms of externalized tech, is actually just a crude form of something that’s internalized and I’d like to feel that that spiritual awareness and the potential sixth sense and similar abilities are things that can be developed in the future rather than simply the money-making tech that we all buy into at the moment and seem unable to do without in our lives.
Our website is called Talk Nerdy With Us, what is something you are currently nerding out about?
I mean, this is the nerdiest genre you could be in – the sci-fi genre. So, I’m totally nerding out at the moment about that. We don’t have time for our lives, so literally the focus here is we have another month to shoot and then the series will air soon and be on for the next three to four months. I’m with alien races and portal technology and zero-point gravity and things that inform a future world that I inhabit at the moment. Certainly in a slightly fictional way, but in a way where we are actually talking about this in a scientific, reasonable way. So I’ve been completely absorbed into that.
I have done a lot of travel. Oliver Dench who has been playing Xander in the show, he is sort of my protégé. We hired a car and drove from Sofia down to Thessaloniki, Greece. Once you hit the Mediterranean from Bulgaria, it feels like a very different world. I don’t know what am I nerding out about – Is it just culture and people? Is it travelling? It’s a bit of all of those things. But those are the current opportunities I’m nerding out about.
Photo Credit: Kenneth Han