While HBO’s Chernobyl is as dark and challenging as television dramas come, the series’ stars saw it as an opportunity to learn.
A five-part miniseries created by Craig Mazin and directed by Johan Renck, the show centers on an infamous explosion, which rocked a Soviet power plant in 1986, killing many, while exposing countless more to toxic radiation. Even as it depicts one of the worst man-made catastrophes the world has ever seen, Chernobyl’s focus shifts toward what happens next—toward the fallout, and the brave men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to combat it.
For Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, Emily Watson and Jessie Buckley, Mazin’s scripts were an instant draw. Based entirely in fact, they thrust the reader into the action of Chernobyl, tapping into aspects of the disaster that few understand in depth.
“It was a page-turner, and I was just gripped by the story,” Harris told Deadline, in conversation with his co-stars. “It’s one of those things where you think you’ve got an idea about what happened, but when you dive into it, you realize it was so much more complicated and gripping than one realized.” Growing up in Ireland, Buckley recalled that some children of Chernobyl were sent to her home country, to be fostered by families, but knew little else about the incident. “The script was so ruthless [in] showing the truth that it was scary and exciting,” Buckley said.
Did the cast research the events of Chernobyl, prior to arriving on set? “We all wanted to go to Chernobyl, but they wouldn’t let us,” Harris joked. “No, Craig went, but it’s still dangerous there.”
The actor thought back to a “great episode” of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, for which Bourdain did make the journey. “They go walking around in Pripyat, and they’ve got these Geiger counters, and they suddenly go, ‘Oh, we should turn these on and see if they do anything,’” Harris remembered. “They switch them on, and they go crazy, and they’ve wandered off the safe path.”
Filming Chernobyl, the cast found themselves in various parts of Lithuania and the Ukraine, which Watson found to be a mixed bag. “Lithuania is a country obviously that has a very strong sense of the presence of the Soviet Union. Their history is very much part of that. So, that was a great place to be to make it,” she said. “But also, going to Kiev, [there] was that sense of the proximity of Russia, and how scary that is, and how volatile the whole region is, with this sort of world-ending time bomb just sitting there.”
Entering Deadline’s studio, Skarsgård joked about all the depressing projects he’s undertaken, before stressing that Chernobyl isn’t one of them. “I find it dark, but not depressing, and that’s a big difference,” the actor said. “When you do it, you don’t feel depressed. Doing it, you deal with a physical and emotional reality of the situation.”
To take a look at our conversation with the stars of Chernobyl, click above.
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