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A&E's Interview with David Warner

Who is Captain Sawyer?

Captain Sawyer is the captain of the ship that Hornblower joins in this particular miniseries. A man who has been a hero. A man who is highly regarded. But that's all before the story starts. Even Hornblower and all his friends say what a wonderful and great commander this man was. What happens is, he's starting to fall apart, and he's starting to make the wrong decisions. He's starting to get paranoid. He's starting to make everybody very uncomfortable. (Laughs)

What was the most difficult part to play? I mean, he does really go off the deep end.

Once it's there in the script, you know, it sort of comes quite naturally. I really didn't like having to order the flogging of a young mid-shipman. (Laughs) When I read the script, I said "Oh, it's plenty of flogging," you know? I mean, he's not a cruel man, or anything like that. He's, as I say, falling apart. That was the most difficult thing for me to do, because the man isn't a villain as such. Although he is a heavy, because our heroes have got to try and find out how to deal with this man. Over the course of the four hours of the two episodes, they do.

The character I play makes some bad decisions. It hasn't been difficult, because the script has been so well written, and because the rest of the cast is so wonderful. I mean this quite sincerely. I've never really come across a group of people to work with that I've so really, really enjoyed being with. That's made it so much easier, as I am playing a kind of ... you know, hard man.

When we first meet him, we don't have the benefit of knowing his past. So he's just a villain.

But then it's explained by Hornblower and everybody. How could this have happened? And there's no real explanation as to why. It's just a kind of an illness, a paranoia, or whatever. I mean, he's ill. Don't forget, in those days, captains were quite likely to be screaming and shouting and ordering and doing things. I don't think that's particularly out of the ordinary. It's just when he goes a little bit too far you start to question. They were quite ruthless in those days.

How do you reveal these slight aspects of that sensitivity?

Well, I can't explain it technically. You've just got to get those little kind of things in. Not necessarily in the writing or the dialogue, but just in little moments on his own. Little looks he has. And then he has to snap out of it and be the Captain. Then you realize that he's got a vulnerability. He's also got two characters who have served with him for a long, long time before this, who are really dedicated to him. That couldn't happen unless he did have some really decent qualities, which unfortunately, you don't actually get to see too much in this. Maybe later on, you understand.

Tell me about the Captain's relationship with the ship doctor, Dr. Clive.

Well, he served with him, he's a friend. Because he's ill, Dr. Clive has been looking after him medically as well as serving with him on the ships. And then we have Hobbs, who's a gunner, who's been with him too.

You know, this Captain Sawyer prefers really the men to the officers. So, without getting into some kind of deep character thing, he may have had problems when he was a lieutenant that's made him this way. Because with ordinary seamen, he's absolutely fine. It's the officers he has a problem with. Which is quite interesting.

There's a scene where Captain Sawyer actually confronts Dr. Clive. He says something like, "What are you doing? Why are you doing this?"

Well, by then, I am ill. By then I am in a straight jacket, and I've been confined to my cabin. There's a kind of mutiny there. So you know, he says, "Why are you doing this to me? Why aren't you helping me?" And of course everybody's doing it for the good of the ship, and the good of him too. I mean nobody's trying to kill him or anything like that. But he doesn't know. So Clive, his doctor and friend, is doing it for his own good. He can't understand that.

And Hobbs remains extremely dedicated to his Captain. He's ready to execute his every wish in keeping things out of control.

I think this is what's so wonderful about this particular script. There are about 10 major characters, all of whom have interesting character developments. Apart from the battles, which are very exciting, and all the sword fighting, and all that's going on, we also have human stories, which is absolutely wonderful. You mention Hobbs, who you think is a bit devious and all that. As you realize, at the end of the script, whatever he's been doing, he is heroic. It's about honor as well as adventure and character development and people changing. Even the most unlikely people turn up to have honor. I think even maybe Captain Sawyer, has a bit of honor. (Laughter)

What about Wellard?

Captain Sawyer, you see, he's using Wellard as an example to keep the officers in line. Because he can't have the lieutenant flogged. That's just not allowed. But midshipmen can be. I assumed Sawyer was flogged when he was a midshipman. I mean, I'm sure they all were. I think that's the way of keeping the other officers in line -- saying, "I have the power of this young man." It's terrible. I really feel bad having to do that.

It seems like every character goes through these incredible changes over the course of the story. No one is strictly villainous.

Absolutely. Hobbs, as I say, turns out to be a hero, but you wouldn't have expected that right at the beginning. We know our regulars are going to be heroes, sort of. Oh, I must emphasize, English heroes. It's a very rare commodity nowadays. (Laughs)

These stories are seafaring adventures, classic English pictures. Why do you think they still so popular?

Well, they're really popular in the States. Which is quite all right. I tell you why there's an audience for them. It's quite simple. There's an audience for this, because somebody has taken the challenge, of making them, and putting them on A&E. That's why there's an audience. If people are given quality stuff to watch, they'll watch it.

Buckland is another interesting character. He's a threat to your character, but then you sort of turn him into an ally.

I'm at him all the time. But then, I'm at all of them all the time, except Mr. Bush and Kennedy. Hornblower and Buckland are the ones I go after. Buckland's development is a whole other wonderful art for the character. I mean he goes everywhere, that character. And Nicholas Jones, he's wonderful in it. They're all great. And I mean that. They're all wonderful.

Here's a loaded one: Is there a real Captain Sawyer on the set?

Oh, not to my knowledge. (Laughs) No, no, no. No, I don't think I could be happy as an actor if there was a tyrant on the set.

We didn't talk about your relationship with Hornblower? What do you think about that?

Hornblower and Sawyer hardly have any scenes together one on one. We have about two or three scenes where we're on our own. And those tend to be more gentle scenes, believe it or not. We have a scene where he's on watch, and it's in the middle of the night, and I'm slightly crazy. But that's a kind of low-key. There's another scene where he comes in and says, "You were a great man once." That's a low-key scene. The others, when I'm kind of at him, are when there are a lot of people there. So it's really a question of trying to put people down in front of other people, do you understand?

Captain Sawyer does seem to recognize that Hornblower is his adversary, or potential adversary.

Oh, absolutely, because he taunts Buckland in saying, "This boy is just fantastic." He can admire qualities in other people. So he's not blind to all the qualities that Hornblower has. But he does put him down in public a lot, which a lot of people do. You know? On film sets, people get put down in public a lot.

Talking about film sets, you've been in more than 30 films, Star Trek included. How does this fit into such a truly illustrious career?

How does it fit in? It's another kind of a different genre, you know? Two Star Trek films, and then two of the episodes with Patrick Stewart. I've done a couple of sea pictures, you know, The Titanic, was a sort of sea picture. So, this is my sea picture genre. (Laughs) I've been in horror movies, I've been in silly comedies. Actually did a musical years ago. Kids' films....

You know, the last ship you were on -- The Titanic -- didn't fare too well at sea.

No, it didn't, did it. Did well at the box office, though. (Laughs)

Would you consider doing more of these sea faring pictures?

As long as I didn't have to go to sea. (Laughs) Let the camera do the rocking.

One more question about Titanic. What was it like meeting up again with Ioan Gruffudd, who was in Titanic with you? And, here you two are again at sea....

Well, in Titanic, I only saw Ioan as we were waiting endless hours through endless nights to do our bits. And Ioan was of course charming and lovely, because all the girls were just sort of standing there looking at him, you know, because he was just so beautiful, and gentle and charming and lovely. Didn't talk much to Ioan then. We were all sort of in our own little kind of boxes waiting to go on. But it's just so wonderful to see him now, having seen him there, which was a relatively small but memorable role. The guy who saved Kate, doing so well. He's a wonderful actor. A smashing young man.

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