Carnival Row Cast Interview: Orlando Bloom, Tamzin Merchant and David Gyasi on Amazon’s Fantasy Series

Amazon Prime Video had a huge presence at the 2019 San Diego Comic, setting up elaborate activations and hosting panels promoting three of their shows: Carnival Row, The Boys, and The Expanse. The Expanse was picked up by Amazon after being canceled by Syfy, but Carnival Row and The Boys are new original projects.

Carnival Row season one stars Orlando Bloom, Cara Delevingne, Tamzin Merchant, and David Gyasi. Amazon offers this description of the first season:

“The series set in a Victorian fantasy world filled with mythological immigrant creatures whose exotic homelands were invaded by the empires of man. This growing population struggles to coexist with humans — forbidden to live, love, or fly with freedom. But even in darkness, hope lives, as a human detective, Rycroft Philostrate (Bloom), and a refugee faerie named Vignette Stonemoss (Delevingne) rekindle a dangerous affair despite an increasingly intolerant society. Vignette harbors a secret that endangers Philo’s world during his most important case yet: a string of gruesome murders threatening the uneasy peace of the Row.”

David Gyasi plays Agreus, a wealthy faun who bucks the social order by buying a home in a wealthy human neighborhood. Tamzin Merchant is Imogen Spurnrose, “a young woman who sees in Agreus an opportunity to turn her aristocratic family’s fading fortunes around.”

Bloom, Merchant, and Gyasi joined writers/executive producers Travis Beacham and Marc Guggenheim for a press conference at SDCC. Season one of Carnival Row will premiere on Friday, August 30, 2019. Amazon has already greenlit the series for a second season.

How does something that’s so socially relevant but set among a fantastical premise affect how you play your character?

Orlando Bloom: “First of all, the great gift and opportunity of stepping into this show was because it was so timely, and it did feel like it spoke to a lot of the issues and with relevance to what’s happening in the world today. And alongside that, because we’re in this fantastical world created – this remarkable brainchild of Travis Beacham – we are able to examine with real humanity some of the really tragic and desperate situations that are happening in the world, but with an objective and empathic view, I think. Because we’re are looking at fauns, we’re looking at the fae folk as we call them, it enables us to sort of step outside of ourselves and look at this situation and think around it.

It was so beautifully handled by both Travis and Marc in the writing, that it was a gift for all of us. And, of course, I think as actors we sort of feel a certain sense of responsibility to deliver on that. But, that’s really down to the showrunners and the writing, and that was the great good fortune we had with them.”

David Gyasi: “I have two kids and I’m of African origin, and they’re showing signs of wanting to get into this business. So, there’s the African side of me that’s like, ‘Well, you have the option of being a lawyer, doctor, or engineer.’ And then there’s the other side of me that I think when you want to get into this business the best advice I give people is go out and talk to people and listen, because that helps you to get a perspective on life and how humans work. And so, as an actor when you get an opportunity that feels like this, speaking about our world and a world that we recognize, it’s just a real gift – like Orlando said – and an honor. That’s how we approached it.”

Travis Beacham: “I think the thing that art has a chance to do is get people to look at issues and discuss those issues. I don’t know if it necessarily needs to do more than that.

I think a lot of the problems that we have as a society stem from the fact that we don’t talk about things anymore. It’s considered rude to discuss politics. As a result, we all have placed ourselves in these bubbles. And the nice thing about art is it can maybe, hopefully, jumpstart some of those conversations. And having those conversations is ultimately healthy for our society.”

Marc Guggenheim: “I think in writing this and shooting it, one of the adjectives that comes up a lot is Dickensian. And, usually that’s meant on a superficial way, like, ‘It’s Victorian. There’s a lot of characters.’ But I have always been a fan of Dickens and it got me thinking what he’s really good at. And what I tried to aspire to in the writing of this show was wrestling with the issues of the times but in a way that’s very personal, very connected to character, and tells the story of the struggles people are going through through the specific struggles of an individual character and really takes that human perspective.

That’s how we’ve always tried to write this is that storytelling in general, I think it’s an act of empathy. And in dovetailing social issues with the actual story of this, it’s just finding what is the story. What is the story of the ‘other,’ whoever that is, whether it’s by gender or by race or by place of birth.”

Carnival Row Poster

What was your reaction to the set, and do you have a favorite detail fans should watch out for?

Orlando Bloom: “I was so excited when I first walked down the Row. First of all, I’m blessed. When I was on the set of The Lord of the Rings, it was like a mind-blowing experience. The bar has been set so high. But I was overjoyed to walk down Carnival Row and see the level of detail.

When you walked into this shop of Haruspex – a witchy oracle fairy – she’s got these potions. There are these creatures in these jars. You couldn’t even imagine that. I couldn’t imagine that. And it was the thing that was so exciting about when I first read the script. I was like, ‘Wow, I don’t think I’ve seen this before.’ I love this fantasy world because I feel like you can explore and go places with it. But to see it physicalized and created…like the Tarot cards that were created with like snakeskins on the back…it was just like I geek out over stuff like that. I really geek out over detail, and the jars with creatures that you could never imagine put together and created.”

Tamzin Merchant: “There was like a fish-monkey. Very strange.”

Orlando Bloom: “Exactly.”

Tamzin Merchant: “You knew that Travis had a backstory for it, probably.

I’ve done lots of period drama, lots of corsets and bustles and all that, but I’ve never done one where I’m having a full-blown tea party with a man with horns and hooves. That to me, it felt like this fully formed playground that had come right out of Travis’ head that all of us actors got to dive right into. And this whole world that we all got to play in with its own conventions, with its own traditions, own mythology, history, and you’re kind of just coming into this story at this point where we don’t usually come into a fantasy story at this point. You usually come in a lot earlier in the timeline. But now we’re like in this post-Industrial Victorian age with all its social conventions that are quite refined and quite complex and byzantine. And the audience is also just plunged right into the middle of that. I think that’s really cool.”

David Gyasi: “I would add similar to what everyone said. For me, It’s the detail. […] They put so much into it; it’s big and it’s vast and it’s expansive. And then you could be walking down the street and see a bit of graffiti.”

What are you excited for the audience to see with your character?

Tamzin Merchant: “I’m actually really excited for people to see me being difficult. I think as myself, as most of my life, I’m quite English. I’m quite polite, generally. I loved playing Imogen because she just kind of comes out with this stuff that maybe’s not okay to say. That’s such a treat.

So, yeah, I’m excited for people to see Imogen Spurnrose being kind of awkward in her own skin and not this conventional period drama like ice queen or anything like that. I think she’s so much more than one thing. And, actually, I think that the female characters, the actresses that we have on the show are all amazing and all really complex characters and performed beautifully. That is a massive treat for me as well to be in a cast of wonderful actors and so many wonderful women. I’m really excited for people to see very complex, multifaceted female characters.”

Orlando Bloom: “I kind of wear my heart on my sleeve quite a lot. I sometimes can be guilty of over-communicating and it was really wonderful to have a character that is guarded, holds secrets. That has an immense amount of empathy for his environment which we don’t explain away, which isn’t just thrown away. And to sort of embrace that sort of masculinity that is really well-balanced with a sort of feminine quality to it in a way of openness and empathy.

It was really special to have that shadow self explored a little, like the darker sides of the shadow self of a character and why is behaving that way and then not explaining it away which was really fun.”

(Additional reporting by Kevin Finnerty.)