On July 16, 1945, in the desert of New Mexico, the U.S. Army tested a weapon of mass destruction. Less than a month later, that weapon was used to end World War II after six years of fighting.
Many of us learned in school about the creation of the atomic bomb, but most history classes don’t concentrate on those who built the bomb and the secrets they were forced to keep. That’s the plot line for “Manhattan,” a new series that premieres this Sunday on WGN America.
For some of the actors, it was business as usual.
“We read a bunch of books and documentaries. I approach it as any other character and see what’s going on between people,” Katja Herbers (“Helen Prins”) said.
But for others, “Manhattan” forced them to go above and beyond.
“This is incredibly difficult material. It’s really challenging – the amount of homework we’ve had to do,” John Benjamin Hickey (“Frank Winter”) said.
“The physics is obviously very complicated, but we have advisors that can sort of walk us through the thoughts and make sure the equations aren’t just random numbers,” Christopher Denham (“Jim Meeks”) said.
Olivia Williams (“Liza Winter”) says the challenge was leaving her family in London for a five month shoot in New Mexico.
“If I’m going to be in a desert in a high wind, I want Tommy Schlamme directing, I want Sam Shaw writing the words and I want John Benjamin Hickey opposite me,” Williams said.
Michael Chernus plays “Fritz,” a scientist who provides the occasional comedic relief. But being funny in a show that’s so serious is no easy task.
“For me, it’s just about trying to live the moment as truthfully as possible, and I think there are times when Fritz himself is trying to make his friends laugh or trying to lighten the mood. That’s easier because that’s what he’s intending to do,” Chernus said.
For Daniel Stern (“Glen Babbit”), the hardest part is keeping up with the plot twists.
“There’s a challenge as an actor to keep that flexibility and to have the intelligence to incorporate what you’ve already done with the things that keep coming at you, and to make it all ring true…so that when you go back, you see the logic and weave it together that way,” Stern said.
Remembering that this takes place in the 40’s has also created a challenge.
“There’s a difference, I think, in the way Abby grew up and in the way I grew up,” Rachel Brosnahan (“Abby Isaacs”) said. “I was told to voice my opinions all the time and in a very modern way. For me, it’s often challenging to find where that is in Abby, but also find how Abby reacts to some of these secrets and lies, because it wasn’t as uncommon.”