Set in present-day France and England, War of the Worlds, now screening weekly on FOX on DStv Now, was written and created by BAFTA winner Howard Overman and based on HG Wells’s timeless story about humankind being wiped out by extraterrestrial attack.
When astronomers detect a transmission from another galaxy, it is definitive proof of intelligent extra-terrestrial life. The world’s population waits for further contact with bated breath. They do not have to wait long. Within days, mankind is all but wiped out by a devastating attack; pockets of humanity are left in an eerily deserted world.
Léa Drucker plays the scientist Catherine Durand, who works in an observatory in the mountains, studying other planets. Here, she tells us about doing sci-fi for the first time, lets us in on her character’s background and struggles, and shares her thoughts on why War of the Worlds has relevance in the real world in 2019.
“The aliens are making us ask ourselves, ‘what are we as human beings?’ This is very shaky and very interesting.”
Can you tell us about your character? Who do you play?
My character is Catherine Durand. She’s a very smart woman, a little self-protective, quite mysterious, she’s a loner. She is passionate about discovering something extraordinary.
Can you tell us about her journey throughout the series?
The journey to this character is what is happening to the all the other characters. They are living in an extreme emergency. Like war. We travel through war and suddenly life gets extremely tense and extremely passionate in a very negative and very positive way. Catherine is someone who is not very opened up to emotions and suddenly she is totally overwhelmed by the situation. She must find a way through relationships she has had difficulties with before.
What first appealed to you about War of the Worlds?
First, I saw the work of [director] Gilles Coulier. I saw his movie Cargo and I was very interested in how he was filming characters. I also like the idea of doing this adaptation of War of the Worlds, which is something very famous in France but is something very new for me. I have never done sci-fi. I like that there is a very realistic feel happening. That is what the directors, Richard Clark and Gilles Coulier, are trying to do.
We are not superheroes battling against aliens, we are people like you and me having to deal with it, and the challenge is to connect to this situation, but not as a superhero or an action movie. Of course, there is a lot of action, but there is something very deep and very profound about the way it’s going to be told.
I have never experienced working with an English crew and it’s very different for me, everything is new, so I am very happy about that. Everything is challenging, the story and the way of working. It is very exciting.
You’ve been filming in a lot of different locations. Do you have a favourite one?
I like the crash site. There was something very dreamy about it. The site, the location was perfect. You didn’t have to use a lot of imagination, it was there. Although we have been working in the rain and the mud, so it has not been comfortable, but anything that is uncomfortable in the series is good.
Are you looking forward to seeing the finished series?
Yes, of course. I’m not watching anything as I’m shooting, but sometimes I just take a little look and it is very good. I’m very excited to see how the others did, like the English crew, the English cast, because we haven’t worked together yet, but we meet sometimes and we talk. It’s very funny because there are two units as we’re working, so one is the French cast and the other is the English cast and we have not crossed paths yet. I’m very intrigued about how they are doing.
The series is about human relationships under immense pressure. How do you think you would cope in the event of an alien invasion?
I would be terrified. There is a link to things that are really happening in our world, which is the brutality of an invasion, it also means the brutality of people who have been colonised, for example. Those things are very real in our world and we are still living through those things and trying to repair those tragedies of history.
Unless you really go through this, I’m not sure you can know what you will do. I’ve been working with a lot of historical photographs to inspire myself, like from the Vietnam War. I went to Tate Britain and saw Don McCullin’s photography. For War of the Worlds I have nothing to rely on but war.
How does War of the Worlds differ from other alien or sci-fi shows?
The series deals a lot with difficulty in relationships. These are very ‘human’ things that we all go through … difficulty in sisters’ relationships … problems with a mother and son or a mother and daughter. These are universal. All these characters have grounded stories and those particular relationships are described in the series, and they are going to be shaken up by what is happening.
I haven’t seen every sci-fi series, but there is a psychological element here in War of the Worlds. There is an intense violence that you don’t see too often but it is there and it is very deep and it is very grounded. It is about how you get attacked by something, by something so unimaginable. It is also about the difficulty of being human. All these characters are totally blown away by what is happening and so they have to reconsider a lot of things.
Describe what we can expect from War of the Worlds.
I would say that there’s something very universal in this story, something that I feel very concerned about. It’s not just a sci-fi. For example, the character of Karim, who is a migrant in London, who is in a very dark situation with no food, no family and nowhere to go. Suddenly we, everyone in a modern country, are totally in the same situation as a man who is coming from Africa and who is having difficulty surviving.
I would also say there is a lot of humanity. It is very humane but very rough, because the world is rough and it is not just the aliens who are making it rough. The aliens are making us ask ourselves, ‘what are we as human beings?’ This is very shaky and very interesting.
The ensemble cast of War of the Worlds also includes Gabriel Byrne, Elizabeth McGovern, Natasha Little, Daisy Edgar Jones, Stéphane Caillard, Adel Bencherif and Guillaume Gouix. Gilles Coulier directed the first four episodes, with Richard Clark directing episodes five to eight.
Catch new episodes of War of the Worlds every Wednesday on DStv Now at 20:45.