In the midst of the hoopla surrounding the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's fateful collision with an iceberg, Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes weighs in with Titanic, a four-hour upstairs/downstairs retelling of the ship's maiden — and final — voyage (airing Saturday at 8/7c and Sunday at 9/8c on ABC). Law & Order's Linus Roache takes back his British accent to play the fictional Lord Manton, traveling first class with his family.
TV Guide Magazine: What drew you to this Titanic retelling?
Roache: I thought the idea — to do a piece of event television to commemorate the centenary and to tell the story of the whole ship, not just follow one love story, which the Cameron movie did so beautifully and brilliantly — was a great way to remember the event.
TV Guide Magazine: Are you now or have you ever been a Titanaphile?
Roache: The phrase — Julian Fellowes has coined it apparently — is a Titanorak. [Laughs] As a child I was. I was fascinated by the whole story and the myth of it... where the wreck was, and what was down there. I was a big fan of the Clive Cussler novel Raise the Titanic. I learned a lot more doing this.
TV Guide Magazine: Such as?
Roache: How many small incidental, incremental things happened that led to the disaster. The captain decided to go too fast; the ice warnings weren't taken seriously; the iceberg ripped through five compartments of the hull, just enough to sink it. And a ship on the horizon ignored the Titanic's flares. It's like, wow, how does this all happen? Also, there was the hubris of the situation — that this ship is unsinkable.
TV Guide Magazine: Besides not having the humongous budget of James Cameron's Titanic, how does this version differ?
Roache: Cameron captured the whole romantic idea of the Titanic. The idea here is to tell multiple stories so that you would get an experience of all the different classes on that ship; a microcosm of the world in 1912. Also, Julian decided that we'd hit the iceberg in each episode, and so each tells the story from a different perspective. The effect is a very rich, deep, human drama.
TV Guide Magazine: Are you a fan, like the whole world seems to be, of Fellowes' Downton Abbey?
Roache: I'm a fan of Gosford Park [Fellowes script for the 2001 movie won an Oscar]. After I was offered this job, I watched the first few episodes of Downton and of course, the first episode starts with the sinking of the Titanic! I'm a big fan of his work, and I'm an even bigger fan now having worked with him.
TV Guide Magazine: You play a British earl. Do you really have such a posh accent?
Roache: No. I have to work quite hard to get the accent because I don't speak anything like an English aristocrat now or in 1912.
TV Guide Magazine: So is Manton a supercilious snob or an upstanding gentleman?
Roache: Julian created an accessible human being. Aristocrats can be hard to relate to, but we've made him warm and progressive in his thinking. He's also hiding a secret that comes out in the first episode that needs to be resolved.
TV Guide Magazine: His daughter is a rebellious suffragist but his wife seems very imperious and unpleasant.
Roache: His daughter is very progressive, but his wife is a beautiful study of someone who is a victim of her own class and society as a woman in that time.
TV Guide Magazine: Are most of the characters fictional like the Mantons?
Roache: It's probably 50/50. A lot of the major characters are fictional, but the captain and officers are real of course. And we include many of the more famous passengers like Harry Widener, Benjamin Guggenheim and his mistress Madame Aubart, Dorothy Gibson, and the Duff-Gordons.
TV Guide Magazine: Who are some of the second- and third-class passengers Titanic focuses on?
Roache: In second class, there's John and Muriel Batley, who are Irish; Mr. Batley works for Lord Manton and he's complicit in Manton's secret. Jim Maloney is the ship's electrician who has free tickets in third class to take his family to the new world. Then there's Lubov, a mysterious Eastern European man who's seems to be stalking Mrs. Maloney.
TV Guide Magazine: Where was the miniseries filmed? The set of the ship is pretty convincing.
Roache: We shot the whole thing in Budapest as far from water as you get! The set had a re-creation of the promenade decks, the lifeboat decks, the corridors between cabins and they built the largest water tank in Europe. Everything was designed to match the Titanic as accurately as possible.
TV Guide Magazine: What were the toughest moments filming?
Roache: It sounds a bit silly, but we were in Budapest in the summer pretending that we were hitting an iceberg. We're in heavy costumes with lifejackets running around in confined space under lights. Often we were just dripping with sweat while trying to look cold. That's a challenging thing to do.
TV Guide Magazine: Will you be back on SVU as Bureau Chief Cutter this season? And next year if it returns?
Roache: I don't know the answer to that. I did my four episodes for this season and I just finished shooting a pilot [Dark Horse] for Roland Emmerich for ABC. It's a supernatural thriller set in New York, a battle between good and evil. I play a New York senator with an eye on the White House. If it goes, I'll be very busy.
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