World on Fire: “It’s easy to try to make him a hero but he is really not”

Montecarlo Television Festival, we meet with two of the leading actors of the new BBC series World On Fire.They’re enjoying their first time in Monte Carlo even if Jonah Hauer King is stuck with a leg cast. They are so sweet and kind and pure and lovely you can’t help yourself from that feeling that you’re with two old friends instead of with two people you’re sitting down for the first time.
World on Fire is a heart-stopping, multi-stranded drama telling the story of WWII through the lives of ordinary people from all sides of the global conflict. The first season tells the story of the first year of the war, starting with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 and ending with the Battle of Britain.

C: Can you tell us something about your characters in World on Fire?

Zofia Wichlacz: I play Kasia, who is a young Poland girl, we meet her when she is very happy and in a great place in her life and she is in love with Jonah’s character Harry and then the war comes and a lot would change for Kasia… but I can’t really say anything about it…(she looks at Jonah) …may I?

J: I don’t know…

Z: Well I think you’ll see…sorry

C: I think it’s enough, no worries.

Z: Oh, ok. Great, thanks.

J: I play Harry Chase, who is a young man from Manchester and we meet him is in the British Embassy working as a translator. And when we meet him, we quickly release that he has found himself in a situation where he has a girlfriend, his first love at home in Manchester and he is also falling in love with Zofia’s character…so we meet him when he is at the beginning of a difficult situation.

C: What was the first thing that caught your eye when you read the script? What made you said: there are a lot of war-products but this is different, this is something else?

Z: I guess I loved the thing that it’s mostly about young people. A lot of characters are young people and they are just …young. They find themselves in a very bad situation: the war just starts, because we start the show in September 1939 and you know, they have to fight, they have to change, they have to fight for things they have lost like freedom and many more so… I guess it’s just very …a very great opportunity for an actor to play a character with this kind of journey.

J: Yeah, I agree. I think, also, sometimes when I think of World War II stories or any kind of war-stories, they are told from one side, or one country’s point of view; I think what’s special about this script is that it’s told from many different eyes. The script is told from the eyes of women, the eyes of different nationalities, different sexualities…so I think it’s a more well-grounded telling of a war story than many of others. And I think Peter (Bowker, ed), the writer has captured these points of view.

C: How did you prepare for the role?

J: I read … I mean, growing up in England you’re told so much about …

Z: Growing up in Poland I think you’re told much more and more than in England…

J: Yes, yes. I think it’s a big part of our history, for both countries, so… you have an inch. I went to Berlin and I went to the war museum there, and I just tried to read as much as I could about what would be like to be a young person in that period. Then I focused on language learning: I learned some French, a little Polish which I was only able to do because Zofia helped me…

Z: Hard job, very hard job. Actually, I think the very important part of the preparation was also like being together before shooting with the director and us; 10 days before the first day so we could really hang out and do some stuff together…and you know, bond because our characters have the bond.

J: Yes, because we had the script etcetera but this time together was really important when we were doing emotional or difficult scenes we had that kind of bond needed to make them realistic and to be comfortable with one another.

C: Which was the most challenging thing on set and the most exacting one?

J: The most challenging for me was …I think a lot. I mean, my character has so much humanity and compassion and love; I think when you have someone like that it’s easy to try to make him a hero but he is really not. He messed up on many floors, and it was hard to think that you were not telling the story of a hero but the truth so it was a massive challenge and hopefully we did it right. The most exciting was the set with the bombs, the running, …that was pretty exciting.

Z: For me, I think it was both: the big challenge and the most exciting was the kind of glow of my character. I can’t say much but she is going to lose a lot but she wants to win this back; she is fighting for what she loves, she is fighting for her freedom, so this character who is a fighter was both challenging and exciting.

C: So, Zofia, your character here is really different from the one you portrayed in Warsaw 44 (also known as City 44, ed)? You had the opportunity to explore another point of view.

Z: Oh, you saw it?!?! Thank you! Yes, of course, Kasia is really different from Alicja. The time is different, we are in 1944 all bad has already happened. In World on Fire we are at the beginning, we are in 1938 and we have all these happy young people and then it breaks.

C: Change of subject. Jonah, as an English boy, are you more a theatre person or a television addicted?

J: Mmm…definately both, definitely both,. Yeah, as you know there is such a rich culture about theatre, such a history in England. I was lucky enough growing up with my mum who really tried to educate me about the theatre all the time. Actually, as a kid, I was more at the theatre than in front of the television. Now, I mean, television is having such a renaissance, so…I love coming home and switch it on.

C: Through all evening…

J: Yeah, through all evening…

C: Which kind of series do you watch?

Z: Many. Just recently I discovered this series called The Man in the High Castle…

C: She really is into war…

Z: I know, but I was really impressed by the acting and the story; it’s pretty interesting, so lately I was binge-watching that.

J: I love watching Phoebe Waller-Bridge so I watched Fleabag season two recently that is probably one of my favorites and now I’m on Killing Eve.

C: When you started this project, did you think about finding yourselves at an international festival like the Monte-Carlo Television Festival with all these great American actors?

J: Probably not, no. I remember…because you know, the funny thing is that you audition, you meet for things and then, when you begin a project the only thing you think about is doing a good job. And you don’t necessarily think about what’s going to come after. But I remember that I said to Zofia when we just started, we were outside the studio and I said to her (you may not remember): this is hard stuff, don’t you think? And this was like 7/8 months ago and now it is like oh, look, we made the show!

Z: God, yes!

J: We did it!


World on Fire starts on BBC1 Sunday, September 29th


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