A&E's 2001 Interview w/ Jamie Bamber
How does it feel to be back after a couple of years?
Lovely. It's been really good. I made some very good friends immediately the first time around, and we all got on very well. And I've kept in touch with most of the actors who are returning, all of them. It's like working with buddies, which is always the best you can do. The best fun you can have is to go on location and work with people you'd spend time with anyway. So it's lovely.
Who is Kennedy?
Funny thing about Kennedy, he really only appears in the books in a couple of paragraphs. Initially, when I took up the character, I don't think the intention was to take him as far as he's come. He was there as an introduction to the young Horatio Hornblower to life aboard the Justinian, which was the first ship he went on to. His background is something that I was pretty free to come up with. What I'm thinking, really, is he is probably fairly well off in terms of his background. My take on it was, he was the second or third son of some nobleman. Archie Kennedy is a Scottish name, so I thought he was Scottish gentry. His family probably wasn't terribly wealthy but was titled, and he went off to the navy to make his career. And he wasn't probably naturally suited to it. He's quite an enthusiastic, ebullient character at heart, but also sensitive. He became traumatized because he was bullied very early on by another midshipman who isn't actually his superior, just a more experienced midshipman of the same rank. The character went through all sorts of problems, and that manifested itself in a collapse. He had a fit during a battle sequence, which was meant to be covert. He was making too much noise because he had this medical condition, which was a result of all his nervousness and being bullied. And his best friend Horatio had to knock him on the head to shut him up. So that sort of sums up where the character comes from. He's had problems in dealing with where he is. But he learns and very much takes Horatio as his role model and his example as well as his friend.
How has Kennedy changed since the first go-round?
The character is more confident. He's promoted to lieutenant. He's a little more comfortable with his position, which is nice to start from. The relationship he has with the lead character, Horatio Hornblower, is picked up on and developed. It's much more of a working relationship, and they're equals, which they've always been on paper, but there's been a sort of tension. My character hasn't been quite as adept at being a naval officer. Hornblower, obviously, is about as good as it gets.
What about the new lieutenant, Bush? The other characters are not too sure of him at first, are they?
Well, this gets right back to the other kids at school. When there's a new kid in the playground, especially when they come in at a rank above you, you're going to stand back and watch them and assess them. And the first thing that Bush does is he takes the captain on the side and deals with the captain better than we have. We've been working with Captain Sawyer for what we take to be a couple years. So we know him very well, and we know that he's losing it. And suddenly this guy comes on all, you know, chummy, chummy with him and saying the right things at the right timesaying things that sort of at times contradict what we've said. We know the score, he doesn't. So, there's perfectly natural suspicion there.
Kennedy's relationship with Hornblower is interesting. They are such different people, but they get on so famously.
We get on very well anyway, Ioan and I, which is always helpful. We're always having fun on the set. But also, I think the fact that they are slightly different does help. In my role, I'm reacting on a gut level to what's going on aboard this ship, to the injustice that's being meted out by this captain. Horatio sees that, feels it, but he deals with it in a very different way. He suppresses it and does his job and is constantly working out how to react to it in terms of his duty as an officer. There are lovely moments when I say what he's feeling; I voice what he suppresses. He then tells me to be quiet and to do the job. I mean, it's not counseling, but it's that sort of feeling. We get different things from the relationship.
There are moments when Kennedy is wondering why Hornblower is the officer that he is. I mean, there's times when you just want him to kind of lash out, explode. He always maintains that discipline.
One of the harder things for a modern viewer to take about Hornblower is his unquestioning regard for authority. The law is that the captain is God aboard the ship. There's no other law other than that. He has power over life and death over every one of you. It's very hard for a modern viewer to really understand what makes Horatio tick, because there is that iron cast thing that you have to obey your superior officer. That's why these two episodes are intriguing, because there's a lot of black and white that gets turned into gray. I think Archie's slightly ahead of his time. Something in him just goes, "Why should I ..." He's not fundamentally suited to it, and he's learned to do it just through following Horatio's example.
These new episodes come at the story from a couple of angles. How do they differ from the first series?
Well, first of all, I think these two episodes are the best written and the best conceived, because they have all these different diverse sort of dynamics. The whole drama and conflict of these two films is this authority struggle that goes all over the ship, whether the captain is sane or not. And whatever happens, the objective is still the same. The objective is to get this ship back to Kingston or back to England with the authority structure still intact. Clearly, the power structure aboard the ship is falling apart, disintegrating with the captain as the figurehead. And so the dilemma is: How do you get rid of the captain, keep that power structure, and not commit mutiny? And whatever is happening, that's still the dilemma.
There are these different feuding groups, secret scheming, and complex relationships on board? What's going on the ship? Why is it in such disarray?
Well, the fundamental problem really is that Captain Sawyer is seen to be suspicious of his officers. He's suspicious of those directly beneath him, the ones that would ordinarily carry through the chain of command. He goes straight to the bottom end, to the petty officers. The officers are then made somewhat redundant, to be spied on by the men beneath. It's a terribly unfashionable thing. The ruling class is being left out of the whole power chain, and he's going right to the proletariat, as it were. And that's the problem really, because the well-formed structure of the navy has broken down, ironically, from the captain.
What's his motivation?
I think he's getting old and he's losing it. I mean, it's a mental thing. He's becoming paranoid. The captain is one of the great heroes of the fleet at the time, and so he commands tremendous loyalty from the men, because they've seen him do incredibly brave things. I think it's a perfectly feasible and sad manifestation of someone losing their faculties, losing their vigor.
At one point, he puts you on this extended night watch. Were there any late nights shooting?
Oh yeah, we had late nights. (Laughs) Late wet nights. We did one week of solid night shoots. It was mainly the opening sequence of the first part. We had rain machines on the whole time. The nights were long and they were hard and they were wet and we spent most of it shivering. Ironically, it was a hot country, but at night it always get cold, especially when you're wet through.
Have you had a chance to read the online postings from your most fervent fan base?
I have, briefly. I don't own a computer myself. So anytime I get online is either when I'm with my brother or someone with a laptop or something.
What is it about these stories and these characters that ignites such passion?
Well, obviously, I think you really have to ask the people who have responded in that tremendous way. I have an opinion. I honestly think it's good stories with good characters, played by nice actors and directed and written by good writers and directors. I think there's a romance to be with the sea. It has to do with the period. I think people think quite romantically about that period. Clearly, it was a grizzly time really. And life aboard that ship would have been horrible. But there's a certain romance to it, because it was so new, I supposethe whole idea of fighting in the water on that scale with that amount of weaponry. All that history before it as well, the explorers who created that whole empire situation. I think it just captures people's imagination.
What was it like to work with the weaponry? Any near misses or close calls or surprises, stuff like that?
Oh yeah. I mean, inevitably when you're doing stuff with guns and explosions, things take you by surprise. Sometimes the explosion is much bigger than you thought. I remember this time we were just sailing off in a little boat for the rainbow. We were never told a cannon was going to go off. And this cannon went off about ten feet away from our heads, and I was deaf for about half the day. And so there are moments like that when you just suddenly realize that's how loud it would have been. When you have 72 of those going off at once, it would have been just horrendous.
Do you see Kennedy as a hero?
Yes. Well, Horatio tells him that he's the bravest man he's known. You know, when you're playing a character, you get so close to him. He's had a harder time of it perhaps than others. He's had to overcome natural fears, suspicions, natural traumas that other characters in the series haven't. And he does come through them. But you know, I think Archie would deny that he was the bravest man, because he knows what's going on inside his head. He doesn't think of himself as brave. No way. He surprises himself sometimes, and he enjoys the fact that sometimes he lives up to his friend. But I think if you asked him whether he was brave, he would laugh.