World on Fire: Blake Harrison on the series that delves into lives of everyday people on the European war front
It has been tough for Blake Harrison to shed the cult-image of the goofy schoolboy Neil Sutherland. But, somewhere between the hit British sitcom, The Inbetweeners and his latest outing in World on Fire, the 35-year-old actor is all grown up. Taking on the role of sergeant Stan Raddings in BBC’s war drama, the British actor joins names like Jonah Hauer-King, Helen Hunt, and Sean Bean in retelling the story of World War II through the lives of ordinary people involved in the global conflict.
We caught up with the actor — who shared with us some insightful experiences from the sets, what he best loves about his character and stories of the war that he grew up on. Excerpts from the interaction:
What was it about Peter Bowker’s script that attracted you to the part of Stan Raddings?
I love multi-character story arcs all playing out simultaneously. That’s always exciting for an audience to watch. Peter has written these really beautiful, intricate characters who are all linked together. We’re dealing with a time period that is relatively recent, which means the audience is going to always have a connection to those characters.
Who is Stan Raddings, and where does he fit into these different storylines?
Stan is a Sergeant and the right-hand man to Harry Chase (Jonah Hauer-King) who is a Second Lieutenant. Stan starts with being very respectful, and professional but isn’t quite sure what to make of Harry. Stan is the filter between Harry and the rest of the troops who aren’t too sure about him. They think he’s this posh boy that’s come in from Sandhurst and doesn’t necessarily deserve the rank he’s been given. As the story progresses, we see that Stan questions a lot of Harry’s judgement, but by the end, Stan has a lot of respect for him. They form a true friendship that overcomes their very different upbringings.
What sort of man is Stan?
Stan’s beliefs and attitudes towards things such as gender and race are very of his time, which makes him a divisive character. That is a difficult thing for an audience to watch, especially when they see a guy being very likeable one moment and then doing or saying things that they know is wrong by today’s standards. It was fun to be able to play the light and shade of a character in that way.
How was it filming the Dunkirk sequence?
It was very important to put aside our own knowledge of Dunkirk because these characters are mainly experiencing a huge amount of confusion, of chaos; no one really knows what was going on. As actors, we had to play that confusion and not get sucked into the deeper emotion of Dunkirk. How these men were rescued is such an amazing show of bravery and the human spirit, to put their own lives at risk to save these men that were stranded on Dunkirk. If you get sucked into that emotion, you might be playing it wrong, and therefore it was important for us to put that aside as much as you possibly can — to play the moment, the confusion and the desperation of wanting to get on a ship and get home.
What is Stan’s relationship like with the rest of his unit?
The unit has far more respect for Stan, as someone who’s probably earned his chevrons. That comes across in a lot of the banter that they have. Stan has an emotional intelligence, and he knows when things are going badly and when the morale needs a boost.
Do you believe that this story can be impactful in this day and age?
The beauty of this story and what Peter has done is to have so many perspectives on such an important moment in history. It’s not just Churchill or Hitler or a band of American soldiers coming in to save the day. We’re looking at it from so many angles, of both military and civilian, of Polish, German, British, American and French. Because of that, we’ve got a really unique story that’s going to be a great watch.
What was it like working with Jonah Hauer-King?
Jonah is brilliant. For such a young lad to be the lead in something like this, he took everything in his stride. He’s a really great actor and a lovely presence on set. Even though he’s got so much to do, so many lines to learn, and a lot of pressure on his shoulders, he’s constantly worried about other people, making sure they are okay.
What are some memorable moments from the shoot?
I loved the action sequences. They were so much fun. When these explosions are going off around you and you’re sprinting away from them, there’s always a slight worry that something could go wrong. It doesn’t take much to give you that fear and butterflies in your stomach — so there’s very little acting required. You genuinely are just in the moment, being that character, it makes your job really easy but also loads of fun.
Did you particularly research this or was it all in the script?
I did a lot of research into the time. I watched a lot of old documentaries about World War II, went to the Imperial War Museum to get a real essence of the chronology of how things took place and what was happening to regular people back home.
Did any of your family serve during the war?
My granddad was in the Navy in World War II. But, I never got a chance to talk to him about it. I have spoken to my great aunt who was a child during the War and had to be evacuated. The one aspect of the war that we haven’t touched upon in depth are the stories of parents who had to send their children off to strangers’ homes. How scary that must be for the children? Also, how heartbreaking that must have been for the parents as well, sending them off to someone they didn’t know for an indefinite period of time. That is what my family experienced in the war.
World on Fire premiers on SonyLIV today.