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Interview: Actor Ben Daniels Talks Becoming a Superhero in ‘Jupiter’s Legacy’

[Credit: Ben Daniels as Brainwave / Netflix]

Netflix is expanding on their superhero game with Jupiter’s Legacy. Their latest offering is a show based on Mark Millar’s original comics of the same name and centers on a family of superheroes who gained their powers in the 1930s. One of the most exciting dynamics to come out of the series is how each character deals with the responsibility of having these larger-than-life powers and the trauma of living through 100+ years of history.

Actor Ben Daniels is no stranger to the Netflix family. He’s appeared in House of Cards as Claire Underwood’s lover, Adam Galloway, and in The Crown as Princess Margaret’s husband, Lord Snowdon. In Jupiter’s Legacy, he takes on the role of Walter Sampson, aka Brainwave, the realist to brother Sheldon Sampson’s idealist ways. 

For Daniels, he found the deep dive into Walter’s psyche a fascinating experience.”It’s a treat to be able to play two versions of the same person, and they’re radically different,” said Daniels. 

“I always like to build a really strong vibrant backstory for a character…I think if you’ve done your backstory and you’ve worked out what makes a character tick…what he was like as a kid and how those insecurities he’s had as a kid have become something else because of his super powers.” 

Awards Radar spoke with Ben Daniels about becoming a superhero and his journey with Netflix.

Niki Cruz: You seem to have a great relationship with Netflix. Everyone has fallen in love with The Crown, House of Cards, and now you have Jupiter’s Legacy. How has the experience been with Netflix?

Ben Daniels: I really lucked out getting in with Netflix. When Jupiter’s Legacy came around, I was sitting in a field in the middle of nowhere. It was one of those days where we weren’t shooting, and my agent called and said you’ve been offered another Netflix show based on the Martin Millar comics. So I downloaded the comics. I didn’t have enough reception to download the script on my phone, but my kindle got a 3G connection, so I read the comics first. You have to hand it to Netflix because it’s so ambitious as a project. I wanted to do it before I even met anyone.

NC: I imagine taking on the role of Walter is more of a physical challenge than playing someone like Lord Snowden. 

BD: Yeah, completely. In drama school, I was taught by a woman named Jane Gibson, and she teaches historical dance. All of her lessons were about a physical body in space, and how the way your physical body is and moves can completely shift you away from your own center, so you can create quite extreme characters. There’s that awful cliche of “Oh, you’re going to drama school to learn how to be a tree,” but I think the people who do learn how to be a tree are the ones that are more physically diverse as actors and play a wider range of characters. I’m glad I went to drama school.

NC: I’m sure you didn’t think while you were in drama school, “One day, I’ll get to be a superhero.”

BD: No! I don’t think superheroes were really a big thing when I went to drama school — I think we had Superman, but not like it is now. I get obsessed with jobs as they come in, so there’s not one particular thing I go, “Oh, I need to do this.” But when this landed, I said, “Okay, this is something completely new.” And I loved doing physical work, so it was a kind of gift. The character is so complex and there was this whole superhero thing intertwined into it. I couldn’t resist it. 

NC: Right, when talking about how superhero stories are developed, it’s only been the last 15 or so years that we’ve seen these rich storylines. How has it been to tackle a superhero with that complexity?

BD: The thing that I loved when I read the comics was the family drama; it reminded me of that modernized updated reworked telling of those Ancient Greek dramas where you follow the families, where there are battles, conquests, Gods, and mortals. That’s what I’ve locked into when I read it — the scope of it is so huge, and to be able to play the same character who’s over 100 years old.

NC: Is it daunting to take on 100+ years of a character’s life?

BD: I absolutely love it. I started going, “How do I make these two similar?” And as soon as I started working out what young Walt’s insecurities are and how they’re still there in old Walt, I thought I’m going to make [these two versions] as far apart as I could, and I’m going to push them further than what’s on the page and I made him much more emotionally volatile as a younger man than what’s written on the page. It was fun.

NC: And you get a sense of that family dynamic, going back to what you were saying earlier, especially during those family dinner scenes. How was it putting that together with Leslie [Bibb] and Josh [Duhamel]? 

BD: It was great, and we actually filmed the dinner sequence early on. The five of us were sort of thrown in at the same time. We’ve had those private rehearsals, but when you’re working on something that’s this size, you don’t have much time to do that, so it often just happens in the room. So, there was lots of listening and responding. It took a long time to shoot that dinner sequence, but it all gels, and it’s so normal. 

NC: In this, the bad guys are modernized to our current villains that you can find on the regular news cycle; because of that, it compliments and grounds it amid the supernatural aspect.

BD: Completely. There are those Stephen Bannon characters. There are these shady figures behind the thrown the whole time, and you can never quite work out what their motive is. Do they actually want the power for themselves, or do they believe they’re bringing good to the world? It’s really hard to work out what they’re about because they change their story all the time. They’re fascinating creatures — we’re dissatisfied with the people leading our country, so it does feel very grounded in that respect.

NC: You have what I think is the best superhero suit in terms of aesthetics. How was it coming to work and getting to put something like that on?

BD: Awful. Of course, they look absolutely extraordinary. They take eight months to build, so we were scanned around Christmas time around 2019. It’s a full-body scan, and they take those measurements, and then it was 10 fittings, where I went back and forth from London to LA. They are just a work of art. Mine was made by a company called Iron Head…all the suits look completely different and they’re suited to our characters but they are intense to wear… They’re really hard to move in. They pull your body down because it’s a thick elastic, so you have to fight the suit to be in it. There’s a constant pressure, but I think it brings an energy to everyone because even just standing there, your body has to be energized to stand. It just changes you. 

NC: I have to ask because I’m curious if you had a superpower, what would it be? 

BD: I would want to fly. I don’t know — what would yours be?

NC: Probably mind reading, but that would be a blessing or a curse. 

BD: I’d like to be able to turn myself into a cat because I think they have a pretty good life — just to be cuddled occasionally, not to do the world any good! 

Jupiter’s Legacy premieres on Netflix Friday, May 7th.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

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Written by Niki Cruz

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