850 miles from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, is a dusty, dirty set. Filled with wooden buildings, old cars and conservative clothing, it’s 1943 in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
“It’s a frontier town, it feels like a Western almost,” says Harry Lloyd, who plays “Paul Crosley” on the show.
There are no cowboys here, instead, scientists, racing against the clock to build the first atomic bomb.
“This is a very different character for me and it’s a very different setting and the authenticity of our sets and our costumes and the whole feel of it is a genius thing to be a part of,” says actor Daniel Stern.
It’s quite a different character for him, known for his role as “Marv” the thief in “Home Alone.”
In “Manhattan,” he is physicist “Glen Babbit” who is mentoring one team of scientists.
Others in the cast are also branching out with these roles.
Rachel Brosnahan, who plays “Abby Isaacs” says,”This is different than anything I’ve ever worked, in every way, shape and form. The period, this ability to have this community that we’ve actually built here, I’ve never been able to do that really for this extensive period of time.”
Stern says, “The science and the authenticity and the realities of the sets and the science, that’s our base level, that’s to set the stage for the human story.”
That story revolves around the building and testing of the bomb, also the lies and gossip swirling around the town, which even the Vice President of the United States didn’t know about.
“Frank Winter” is a genius picked to help lead The Manhattan Project, he’s played by John Benjamin Hickey, with a number of broadway and television credits.
Hickey says, “I love playing him, I love playing somebody so politically incorrect who’s working for all the right things, he thinks, in order to save lives and end the war, I mean, what’s more heroic than that?”
His wife is strong-willed “Liza Winter” who can’t stand all the secrets and unanswered questions.
She is portrayed by Olivia Williams.
“She musn’t ask questions, and if she sees anything strange, she musn’t try to work out why it’s strange, and the act of doing that as we all know, if you suppress some part of your personality, it eventually makes you crazy,” Winter says.
There are lies told to spouses, colleagues, children; it’s hard to tell what is true in the town.
I wondered if Ashley Zukerman, who plays genius scientist “Charlie Isaacs” could be so secretive in his own life?
“I guess so, I think so, I mean if it was something this important, it would probably destroy me, just as it destroys Charlie, it would definitely destroy my relationships,” Zukerman responded.
It happened back then and even now. Many in the cast say this show is more present day than you might think.
Eddie Shin, “Sid Liao” on the show says, “It’s more relevant than ever, the sort of themes resonate as much today as they did back then, so even though chronologically we’re going back several years, there’s a lot that’s very applicable.”
Christopher Denham, “Jim Meeks” in the series says, “What surprised me about the script is the relevancy of what’s going on now, the topics that we’re debating every day, the limits of government power, what the government’s doing behind closed doors, the surveillance state, I think these are all topics that people will be surprised that this was sort of the beginning of all of this.”
Written by Sam Shaw and directed by Tommy Schlamme, “Manhattan” is exciting for any viewer, especially because the cast loves bringing their characters to life.
Hickey says, “Some of his methods are questionable as to how he achieves his end, but you know when you’re playing somebody, you’ve got to find the reasons why they do what they do and you’ve got to love them and I certainly love this guy.”
“Each week when I read a new script I discover something else about my character, so that’s really fun for us and I’m hoping the audience enjoys that too, but we’re not giving anything away at this point, no!” says Daniel Stern.
“Manhattan” premieres this Sunday, July 27th at 9 p.m. on WGN America. For Comcast customers, that is channel 21.
You can also see the first episode of the series in a special showing on FOX43 at 11 p.m. Sunday night, after our newscast.