Like ‘Band of Brothers’ before it, ‘The Terror’ promises to be one of the defining shows of the decade for British and American casting directors.
Every fan of film or television should already be a fan of The Terror. Our own Meg Shields, never far off the mark when it comes to genre-tinged film and television, lavished praise on the show when it first aired, calling out everything from its production design (“It is a wasteland, a collision of villain and atmosphere, and it is unnervingly beautiful”) to its performers (“There cannot be enough praises heaped upon The Terror’s cast”). Even then, her frequent compliments may not quite do the show justice. The cast that AMC has assembled for The Terror isn’t just great; it’s the sort of cast that echoes shows like Band of Brothers, a breakout opportunity across the board for the plethora of young actors comprising its ensemble.
Back in 2013, former Film School Rejects editor Kate Erbland wrote a piece for Mental Floss recalling the embarrassment of riches present in HBO’s Band of Brothers. While most fans will remember Damian Lewis and Ron Livingston in lead roles, the series also included minor parts for actors such as Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Tom Hardy, Dominic Cooper, and Simon Pegg years before they all broke through as Hollywood stars. A few years later, Hanks and Spielberg would follow suit with The Pacific, a series that brought Rami Malek, James Badge Dale, Jon Bernthal, Anna Torv, and more actors into the limelight. The pedigree of these shows — and the plethora of talent available to casting directors — made Band of Brothers and The Pacific the perfect breeding grounds for the next generation of Hollywood talent.
And be honest: doesn’t The Terror seem like the perfect format for future casting directors? On the one hand, the show accurately captures the upstairs/downstairs (above decks/below decks?) classicism of a bygone era in maritime exploration. On the other hand, it operates as a pure genre thriller, giving its actors a wide variety of emotional beats to try on for size. With a story that unfolds across multiple years — multiple rifts with Jared Harris‘s Francis Crozier over that timespan ensures characters will pivot between protagonist and antagonist and back again — The Terror also provides its cast with a perfect audition tape for a variety of film and television roles, be it period drama, horror film, or prestige Hollywood drama. This is not Game of Thrones, where most of the actors are already approaching the middle portion of their careers; this is a starting point for many actors, a place where their career can begin to gain some serious traction.
Led by casting director Kate Rhodes James — who showrunner David Kajganich praised in an email to Film School Rejects for “her prescience and creativity and exquisite taste” — the creative team behind The Terror has admitted that they didn’t have actors in mind for the roles. Instead, James was asked to find actors that had “intriguing nervous systems” and were willing to share the spotlight with each other over the course of the movie. This is the show’s biggest strength, almost to a fault. Given the breadth of young British talent on display in The Terror — and the fact that most characters end up bearded, unkempt, and scabbed over by the end of the series — there are times where the cast blurs together into one human-shaped mass of fear and creeping dread. Despite this, the emotional weight of the show never wavers. We learn to recognize actors as much by their eyes as by anything else; each actor prepares their version of a thousand-yard stare, and the nuance of their trauma is often the focal point of the show. It is a foregone conclusion that these men will die, and die badly. All that’s left to find out is how.
For the actors of The Terror, these performances are merely the next step in a slow evolution towards bigger and better roles. Aforementioned actors like Fassbender, Hardy, and Bernthal are strong examples of the work that casting directors will put into slowly nurture a client. In 2013, casting director Lora Kennedy spoke with Vulture about her work on Man of Steel and the fact that she had been trying to get Henry Cavill cast as Superman for years. Many times, the smaller and secondary roles allow actors an opportunity to build up their portfolio, and casting directors who become convinced of an actor’s star power will often find excuses to cultivate their career. “Get them in a movie in a smaller role,” Kennedy explains, “bring them back, bring them back, and then just slowly move them up.” None of the actors in The Terror are exactly neophytes; they’ve all put in years of work to get to this point, and for most of them, The Terror is the big move their careers have been waiting for.
And with repetition comes even more opportunities for success. Veteran producer Gavin Polone has previously written about the casting process as a reason why some of Hollywood’s best actors don’t always end up finding the right television role for their talents. “[If] a casting director is challenged for time, he or she will sacrifice auditioning new people and just stick to the familiar,” Polone explained in the article. “This is one reason why we end up seeing the same actors in so many shows.” This implies that there’s a certain threshold at which actors become bankable in Hollywood auditions; actors who have put in enough work to catch the eye of dedicated casting directors will become regulars for certain types of roles, and this, in turn, increases the likelihood that they’ll move from the ranks of the supporting actor to a name character or series lead.
Hollywood has already taken note of The Terror‘s talented cast. Tobias Menzies was announced as the new Prince Philip in Netflix’s The Crown a mere two days after The Terror aired on AMC. Adam Nagaitis, the show’s memorable non-bear villain, was added to the HBO miniseries Chernobyl just this past week. Liam Garrigan booked a series regular role on a sci-fi comedy by the iZombie crew. Dig through the majority of the cast credits on The Terror and it’s not hard to see the next generation of leading men and character actors poised for success. So make note of the cast of The Terror and keep an eye out for some of the cast. I wouldn’t be surprised to see us writing a similar article on the show’s quietly brilliant ensemble in a decade’s time.
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