Entertainment

'Avenue 5' star, director talk spaceship and sci-fi

'Avenue 5' star, director talk spaceship and sci-fi

People who love to look forward can do so 40 years ahead on “Avenue 5.”

The new HBO show is set when traveling the solar system is no longer the stuff of sci-fi fantasy, but a booming, multibillion-dollar business.

Onboard the interplanetary cruise ship, the Avenue 5, a massive systems malfunction sends the titular vessel far off course. It’s estimated it will take the ship three years to return to Earth, and with only enough supplies to sustain her many passengers for the intended eight-week long cruise, the crew must struggle to maintain order and return the craft safely.

Scenes from ‘Avenue 5’

At a press conference in Los Angeles, creator Armando Iannucci revealed where the idea for a space cruise ship set in many years away came from.

“I was interested in doing a science fiction story but I didn’t want to do a parody or a send up; I wanted to do something real. The sci-fi I like feels real, where they’ve either gone into the future and it’s an accurate depiction of where we might be, or where they’ve taken one thing and really ramped it up but everything else has stayed the same,” he said.

“Also, creatively, I’ve become fascinated with mass movements and the madness of crowds, leading to the more bonkers stuff happening politically and internationally at the moment. I wanted to capture the impending chaos and doom we have at the moment, somehow. I knew it would involve a big ensemble, it would involve people who are not quite who they say they are, but also have this undercurrent of 5000 other people who could all turn at any point. A pressure cooker.”

The series stars Hugh Laurie as Ryan Clark, the confident and suave captain of “Avenue 5,” a space cruise ship with luxury amenities like gourmet buffets, a spa, an observation deck and yoga classes.

As the series begins, Avenue 5’s eight-week journey around Saturn is underway and its systems are optimal. But when the ship suddenly encounters technical difficulties, it’s up to Ryan and his crew to calm the disgruntled passengers and find a way to deal with unexpected events onboard – though they may or may not be equipped for the task.

The cast also include Josh Gad, Zach Woods, Rebecca Front, Suzy Nakamura, Lenora Crichlow, Nikki Amuka-Bird, and Ethan Phillips.

Armando pointed out why Hugh is perfect for the role of captain.

“It’s that element of, in America they know him as this authoritative figure and in Britain we know him as this fantastic comedy performer and marrying the two. Hugh was involved very early on from the start. He’s this figure who looks authoritative, but inside he’s this bewildered English man going, I don’t know what I’m doing” and it gives him this range, these two personalities to have to juggle,” he said.

Having larger-than-life characters was no easy feat for the director. Everyone, he said, had to sink or swim a bit.

“Similarly, I want to push myself out of my comfort zone by not doing another political comedy,” he said. “When there’s lots of people involved, I always do a pass where the cameras are never at any time on the people speaking, where it’s just reaction shots. Sometimes the funniest thing can be the look on another person’s face as something is said. I had cameras dotted around so (the actors) never quite know what they’re performing to. Four on the go at any one time so they could never get away from them!”

Actor speaks

Josh is Herman Judd, a billionaire owner on “Avenue 5.”

The actor finds the show “unique,” especially in these times that he feels like he had seen and heard everything.

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“For me it was the opportunity to work with one of the greatest living satirists, Armando Iannucci, and such a gift to play a character as insane but rooted in reality as Herman Judd who represents the 21st century entrepreneur. There’s something very appealing about satirising that kind of archetype – Elizabeth Holmes (an American businesswoman) or Billy McFarland of Fyre Festival – right now,” he shared.

How was it working with him?

Well, Josh thinks Armando has that uncanny ability to look under rugs that nobody else is able to look under; and that he finds certain truths about humanity that others don’t necessarily see.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” he noted. “What I was expecting was an absolute master class in comedy and I got that, and much more. You have to have high expectations for a man like Armando who not only created one of the greatest TV shows of all time, but one of the most brilliant and funniest film satires of the decade in ‘The Death of Stalin’.

“Usually in TV or film there isn’t the opportunity to have a rehearsal, so to not only have a rehearsal process, but a rehearsal process so unbelievably tied into the development of the series, is unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of.”

Talking about his character, Josh said Herman Judd is a reflection of the many 20th century entrepreneurs who want to “sell a product before they’ve actually created a product worthy of selling.”

“He’s somebody who wears big boys’ pants probably before he’s ready for them; someone who has definitely benefited from sucking the teat of the family well and he’s somebody who is not great under stress,” he explained. “He’s a fraud. He’s trying to be something he’ s not.”

Josh watched and read lot of books as part of his preparations for the role.

“I was fascinated by what modern wealth and modern power and modern business savvy all means and how somebody who is not necessarily the brightest bulb in the box can become one of the wealthiest and successful people in the world. I really gravitated to a lot of content that helped me understand that type of personality,” he said.

(New episodes of “Avenue 5” premiere same time as the U.S. every Monday at 11 a.m. on HBO GO and HBO till March 16. The episode encores on the same day at 11 p.m. on HBO.)

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