The Chernobyl Podcast | Part Six: Bonus Episode With Jared Harris | HBO

The Chernobyl Podcast | Part Six: Bonus Episode With Jared Harris | HBO

Hi, I’m Craig Mazin,
creator of the HBO and Sky miniseries,
This is a follow-up podcast
to the podcast that we did for the series. And it is going to be
a terrific discussion between myself,
and again, Peter Sagal. And we’re gonna also be joined
by Jared Harris, who portrayed Valery Legasov
on the series. But before we begin
that conversation, I have a little prologue
to add because current events have taken a strange turn
and a reminiscent turn lately. I’m talking about
a nuclear explosion that happened in Russia, and just a few days
before I’m recording this now. On August 8th,
five nuclear specialists, employed by Rosatom,
which is Russia’s state
atomic energy company, as well as
two military personnel were killed. They were killed in an explosion
at a military test site in Northern Russia, the Nyonoksa missile test site. We believe,
here in the United States, that this explosion involved
a new kind of cruise missile that Putin
is particularly proud of. This cruise missile, apparently,
can reach any corner of the Earth because it is not
a typical missile that’s powered by liquid fuel,
like a normal rocket. It’s a cruise missile
that’s powered by a small, nuclear reactor. Well, it exploded. Now Rosatom did not confirm
that anyone died until Saturday, August 10th. So two days go by
before they say anything about anyone dying. And it’s not until August 11th,
three days after the explosion, that they come out and admit
that it was nuclear in nature. The words they used,
and these are fascinating, is that the failure occurred
in quote, “an isotope power source for
liquid-fueled rocket engine.” Well, isotope power source means
nuclear reactor. So, what happens next? Well, we’re trying
to cobble it all together. Because, the Russian government has not been particularly
forthcoming. We do know that in the city
of Severodvinsk, which is about 20 miles away
from the missile test site, that someone detected a rise
in background radiation. Even Russian news media
recorded that that radiation level had
gone up briefly to at least 200 times
normal background levels. Now to put that in context,
that’s not like Chernobyl, where you’re getting upwards of
7,000 times background levels, but it’s still not good. And then the reports sort of
began to disappear. There was a regional news site
that states that victims of the accident were not told
that they may have suffered from radiation injuries. Nor were the doctors
and nurses told, who were treating those people. After treating them, apparently,
the rooms that they were treated in
were sealed. And doctors were sent
to the capital for medical evacuations. Does any of this sound
sickly familiar? The point isn’t that accidents
should never happen again. The point is that when they do,
it is incumbent upon governments and people to be as open
and transparent about them as possible. Chernobyl happened 33 years ago. And here we are,
just a week later, and there has been
a nuclear explosion in Russia, that we were told about
days later, and there was a town called
Nyonoksa, which was told to evacuate
and then were told they’re not evacuating,
so we’re not quite sure. And there are doctors
whose medical scrubs apparently had been setting
dosimeters clicking, because they were contaminated. That’s what we know. That’s all they’ve told us. Hopefully, this doesn’t lead
to more deaths. It’s terribly sad
that scientists are still dying. It’s terribly sad
that first responders are still dying. And it is my great hope
that after this incident, and maybe in a little way
because of our show, people finally demand that their governments
tell them the truth. And I have high hopes
that people in Russia, who are currently protesting
Mr. Putin’s government, demand answers. This can’t keep going on. Thirty-three years ago,
and today, seems like not much has changed. And now, on with the show. ♪ (THEME MUSIC PLAYS) ♪ INTERROGATOR:Professor Legasov,
if you mean to suggest
the Soviet State is somehow
responsible for what happened,
then I must warn you, you are
treading on dangerous ground.
trod on dangerous ground.
We’re on dangerous ground
right now.
Because of our secrets
and our lies.
They’re practically
what define us.
When the truth offends,
we… we lie and lie
until we can no longer remember
it is even there,
but it is still there.♪ (THEME MUSIC PLAYS) ♪ PETER SAGAL: Hi,
this is Peter Sagal, sometimes known as the host ofWait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!
from NPR. But more recently
and gratifyingly known as the host
of theChernobyl Podcast,originally produced with myself and the show’s creator,
Craig Mazin, to accompany each episode
of the HBO miniseries. Well, some months after
the extraordinary success of that miniseries,
we have gotten the band together for a special aftereffects
episode of this podcast. Craig Mazin, how are you? CRAIG: I’m good,
Mr. Peter Sagal. How are you? PETER: I’m well, thank you. I’ve been enjoying all the undue
attention I’ve been getting for being on this podcast. We are also joined– and I am
extraordinarily excited by this, by the leading actor
of the miniseries, who played Legasov to such
extraordinary effect, Jared Harris is joining us.
Jared, hello. JARED HARRIS: Hi. PETER: As anybody who has seen
the miniseries or even has just been watching
the press, the miniseries kind of took over the national and international
conversation in a way that, even though I was a tremendous
admirer of the show, was frankly surprised by. I mean, it’s not, shall we say, what you’d expect
for popular entertainment. I wanted to start by asking you,
Craig, and you, Jared, if you were at all surprised
by the extraordinary response to this television show
you guys made? CRAIG: Jared, were you
surprised? I was surprised. JARED: (SARCASTICALLY)
No, not at all. -I knew it was amazing.
-(LAUGHTER) In my dreams, it went exactly
the way I dreamt it. No. You– You never… You can’t know what people
are going to be thinking about eighteen months in the future. And… it felt to me as though it arrived at a perfect moment
and it entered… part of the conversation,
part of the zeitgeist, and it started to articulate
what was on people’s minds if they just shifted their gaze
just two inches off the screen into the real world. PETER: Yeah.
Can you guys talk about any of the specific interactions
or reactions you’ve heard from viewers of the show
that stood out for you? JARED: I had a guy come up to me
at the airport recently, whose father was a liquidator. And he– He was a Ukrainian, and he was saying thank you,
thanking us for making the show, and for bringing the world’s
attention to that story. I met someone at the TCAs
who fled the Ukraine, um, and fled the fallout. So yes, there’s a lot
of personal stories that people come up to you
and they’re grateful for… for the story having been told
and for… the focus that Craig brought
to the heroism and the sacrifice that had gone unrecorded,
you know. They hadn’t been recognized in
their own country at the time. PETER: Yeah. There was a guy on Twitter
named Slava Malamud, who says that he grew up
in the Ukraine– He now lives in America– and he posted extraordinary
reviews of each episode, just talking about
the extraordinary accuracy of everything depicted. He talked about the clothing,
he talked about– down to the pins worn on
the party official’s suits, to the wall decorations– “Yes, we all had that
on our office walls!” And I recommend the Twitter feed
for those who are interested. CRAIG: Yeah. Slava’s threads
were fascinating and by the way, I learned things
that I didn’t know, because I’m not aware
of every single tiny choice that the production department
makes, so when… When he say, “Oh, my gosh! They actually knew to put
the wedding ring for Emily Watson’s character
on her right hand because that’s how it was worn
as opposed to the left hand.” Or, “Look, not only
is the license plate on this car accurate to being part of
Soviet, um– the Ukrainian Soviet
Socialist Republic, but they even got
the region code right.” Well, I didn’t know that,
so I just started thinking, “Wow, you know what?
Our guys did a great job.” I mean, they really did. There’s a word that,
I guess in Russian, translates to “cranberries.” But what it means essentially
is… it’s like a fake romanticization
of Russian stuff. You know? So… Cranberries are if you make
a movie about Soviets, and they’re all, I don’t know,
wearing those hats, even when it’s not cold out. You know, it’s like–
It’s that silly stuff. And we were rather
cranberry-free, according to most people
that spoke with us. And there was a lot of surprise
that we got it right because they have seen
the West– and by the way, they’ve also seen their own
media in Russia for instance– which is generally state-run
and state-funded– they’ve seen a lot of people
get it wrong. And I think they were surprised
someone kind of got it right. PETER: One of my favorite things
that he went on about was one of the characters
in episode four with the liquidators who are
taking care of the dogs, he talked about
the Georgian character, and how that actor actually
managed to get across not just the physicality
but the actual nature, like the soul of a Georgian. I was so amazed by how impressed
he was by that accuracy. CRAIG: Mm-hmm.
Well, we got a little– Some of that’s luck,
but some of it is… tailoring a part to an actor. So the actor there playing Bacho
is Fares Fares, who was born in and grew up
in Lebanon, and then moved to Sweden. So, he is Swedish Lebanese
or Lebanese Swedish, however you want to mix it up. And so, when we cast him,
I changed that part. That part was originally written
to be a Ukrainian, actually. And because of Fares’
physicality and his appearance, it was also a great opportunity
for us to represent the different parts
of the Soviet Union. We think of the Soviet Union
as Russia, and certainly,
by land and population, it was majority Russian, and then you have Ukraine
and Belarus, which are even closer to Europe
than Russia. But you have all this
Asia Minor area and you have all these
interesting other Republics that aren’t so blonde hair,
blue-eyed white people. There’s a certain ethnicity that’s going on there
that’s fascinating. And so, we kind of just
tailored it to him. We tailored his name,
his… But the Soviet-ness of him, that’s something Johan worked
really hard with everyone. I mean, I’m sure, Jared,
right off the bat, when you were talking
with Johan, he probably immediately
started in with… what he would call
the Soviet weight. JARED: Yeah. My recollection
of those conversations was… Well there was a movement person
that we Skyped with, but also, a certain about… underplaying and a kind of,
um… a deadpan quality,
rather than that sort of– You didn’t wear your heart
on your sleeve and you weren’t describing
situations that you were in… from a performance
point of view. Yeah. PETER: Jared, so tell me exactly
what a movement person is. JARED: We had a coach
who was going to teach us certain physical behaviors
that were emblematic of people from that society. And it was a certain way that
they carried themselves– The thing that I remember mostly
was the way they nod. That when we nod in agreement,
it’s a downward motion, but when they nod in agreement,
it’s upward, like that. That’s the big one I remember
but also, the certain kind of… like a Buster Keaton quality
in your face, where you don’t
give anything away. You’re concealing your emotions
and your reactions, which is always–
it’s interesting… because one expects that when you start to play
a scene that way, you’re going to get
the direction, “What are you doing? I need to see what’s going on
inside your character.” But Johan was completely
the opposite. He was about the stakes
are high enough. You can hold it as much in
as you can and make us look to see
what’s going on. CRAIG: One of my
favorite moments is, I believe it’s in the beginning
of episode four, Ludmilla has arrived
in this new apartment that they’ve given her in Kiev. And there’s a landlady
that’s essentially your building manager
that’s showing her the room, and she is
an Eastern European actor, and she’s holding her cigarette
and just standing there. And then,
Ludmilla looks back at her– Jessie Buckley turns back–
and the woman just goes, “Eh.” Like moves her cigarette like,
“I’m tired of standing here,” and just walks away.
(LAUGHS) It’s… It’s perfect and I don’t think
any British or American person would have ever done that
naturally. It’s just kind of this,
“I’m done here,” and walk away. Loved it. PETER: Jared, we haven’t had
the pleasure of having you on this particular podcast
before, so let me ask you, if you can, to talk about how you approached
the role. Every actor prepares
in a different way. How did you start with Legasov? JARED: Start with the script.
(LAUGHS) Um… Read that, and then go off
on a journey of research. And then, you eventually
surface from that. Come back to the script. Pull the script apart, which is
probably really annoying because then you start
asking questions. And then you sorta figure out
why it’s being put together the way it’s being put together. Of course, Craig has done
that journey himself years ago and he understands why– The interesting part about that
is the choices that weren’t made as opposed to the ones that
were made because obviously, he went through
that whole process himself. So when you understand why
things aren’t the way they are and why they are a specific way,
then you understand– You’re basically just trying
to understand the story you’re supposed to tell because you’re one strand
of the whole canvas. And you need to understand,
“What’s your responsibility?” “What story are you telling?” PETER: Well, it’s interesting
that you mention like, there were things
that didn’t happen, or things that weren’t there. One of the things that occurred
to me is this is not always a very heroic character,
for example. JARED: I love that about him,
yes. PETER: How so? There are places where he
could have done something brave or said something more truthful
but didn’t? JARED: One of the things
that appealed to me, as we started to do it,
about the role was… that he was a reluctant hero. He was not somebody who… Well, for example, the heroes in the first episode
are the traditional heroes. They’re the first responders
who go toward danger. And he’s not
one of those people. And he never– didn’t make
that choice in his life, and he never thought
he was going to have to be. Plus, when he gets dropped
into that situation, he’s still– it’s not a choice.
He can’t leave. But he’s aware of what staying
means constantly. So his journey
towards being a hero is a slow journey, if you like. And I like the idea of
he was afraid. And he was afraid because
he understood at every turn what the consequences were,
of just remaining there, and also, at a certain point,
trying to subvert the narrative. PETER: There are moments
in the miniseries where Legasov acts out of fear,
or even acts dishonestly. For example, the scene
where they’re asking for the volunteers
who would become the divers, to go there and go down there,
and the scene begins, and this is a brave choice,
I think, by Craig, to have the hero Legasov
stand up and basically lie to these guys. JARED: Lying to them, yeah. LEGASOV:Of course,
any volunteers will be rewarded
a yearly stipend of 400 rubles.And, uh… for those of youworking in reactors one and two,
WORKER:Why are reactors one
and two still operating at all?
My friend was a security guard
that night and she’s now dying.
And we’ve all heard
about the firemen.
And now, you want us to swim
underneath a burning reactor?
Do you even know
how contaminated it is?
I don’t know an exact number.
WORKER:You don’t need
an exact number to know
if it will kill us…
but you can’t even tell us that?
JARED: Stellan should have been
making that– Well, his character should have
been making that speech. But he’s had the wind
knocked out of him by me telling him that we’re
going to be dead in five years. He’s been sidelined
at that point. And I’m doing a really bad job
of lying to these people and of talking to them. And he steps up,
and of course, he understands
who these people are, and you have to tell them
the truth, so he tells them the truth. Probably not something that
he’s familiar with doing either. But as a party official,
he would be all along the lines of that party official
in the first episode, which is cut the phone lines and contain the spread
of information, so… But he suddenly steps forward
into that situation, and he tells them
what they need to hear so that they can make a dignified choice
at that point. WORKER:Why should we do this?
For what, 400 rubles?
because it must be done.
You’ll do it
because nobody else can.
And if you don’t,
millions will die.
If you tell me that’s not enough
I won’t believe you.
This is one of the reasons why Jared is so good
at what he does. He doesn’t just interrogate and understand
his own character. He also is interrogating
and understanding the characters that are
in the scene with him because that informs what you’re doing and how
you’re supposed to do it. You see, to me, character
is not in isolation. Character only exists
in relationship. And what I love when we’re cutting
these scenes together is finding those moments–
and this is where Johan and I, I think, we just had a lovely
philosophical convergence, we feel the same way– that these moments
are best delivered in reactions. And Jared would do these things
just beautifully all the time. You could see him looking
at Stellan and going, “Thank god he’s doing this,”
but also, “Oh, I’m starting to understand
something about him as a human being, and my relationship to him
has now changed. Because it was, ‘I’m going to throw you
out of this helicopter,’ and now it’s something else. I’m seeing a human in there
that actually is quite noble, and there is a beauty
to this man. He is not what I thought
he was.” And that is the beginning.
That moment right there is the beginning
of their friendship. PETER: Jared, I have
two more questions for you, and obviously I want to hear
whatever else you have to say. The first is rather specific,
the second is larger. In the final episode,
you deliver the most extraordinarily
lengthy and detailed– CRAIG: It wasn’t that long,
come on. PETER: (LAUGHS) Hey,
give me a second here, I’m trying to praise the man. CRAIG: It was a few lines.
What’s the big deal? PETER:
It was a lot of exposition about very complicated,
technical aspects. CRAIG: Used to be longer. PETER: Craig already knows
that I think it’s remarkably successful,
but I wanted to ask how much of a challenge
you found that scene, the courtroom scene,
in which you were– JARED: Craig, did you set him up
for this? CRAIG: I did not. Jared came to me and he said,
“Why so short? (LAUGHTER) -PETER: Oh, really?
-JARED: More words. Actually, there was more
but some of it got cut out ’cause I would say
it was probably about two and a half pages
longer, wasn’t it? CRAIG: Yeah, I think so.
I mean, we– I had been beating it up
from the point of view of just being terrified at
the amount we were showing the audience and demanding
their attention for. But also, just the… Jared kind of undersold,
a little bit earlier, his process with the script
because… he and I had a series
of conversations before we started shooting
that were really influential, particularly, on the way that
episode four turned into five, and how episode five worked
dramatically, in terms of what the stakes
were and what his goals were, and how that
was gonna function. And some really significant
changes came out of that, and then, just going through, there was
a very careful examination of– Look, it’s an enormous amount.
I mean, we had to figure– And unfortunately because
of the way our schedule worked in terms of both availability
and budget, that week, that–
(LAUGHS) So the one thing
that Jared was like, “Please put the trial at the end
of the schedule.” And our scheduling people
came back and said the only way we are going to be able
to make this show for this amount of money is if
that trial is on week three. (LAUGHS) And so… you know. JARED: And–
And the weeks before it were all the giant
Kremlin scenes with all that exposition
as well, so it wasn’t like, “Well, I can coast
for the first two weeks and spend that time figuring out
what’s going to happen.” No, that didn’t– PETER: So being able to talk
for ten minutes about xenon is an actor’s dream
or an actor’s nightmare? JARED: Well,
to answer your question, the challenge– the specific
challenge of this part was… a tremendous amount
of explaining… that he had to do in many,
many scenes, and the largest example of it
was episode five and what amounted to
a 24-page monologue. LEGASOV:Cool water takes heat
out of the system.
As it does, it turns to steam
or what we call a void.
In an RBMK reactor of the type
used at Chernobyl,
there’s something called
a positive void coefficient.
What does that mean?It means that the more steam
present within the system,
the higher the reactivity,
which means more heat,
which means more steam,
which means…
it would appear we have
a vicious cycle on our hands.
JARED: How do you make that
interesting? How is that more than just
I’m conveying information, because that’s boring to watch. So the biggest challenge
of playing the part was… a… finding a sub-textual journey
or narrative, so I was playing something else
other than, “Here’s this information.” And some of it was planned, but a lot of it,
we discovered in the room. And there were, um… And some of it comes from…
it was in Craig’s script. So, for example,
in that first– Well, it was all
in Craig’s script, but for example,
the scene in the first Kremlin, where he’s having to explain
why he feels that the situation is worse than it is,
and Craig had written that he describes the protons
as being bullets. LEGASOV:Every atom of U235
is like a bullet,
traveling at nearly
the speed of light,
penetrating everything
in its path–
woods, metal, concrete, flesh.Every gram of U235 holdsover a billion trillion
of these bullets.
That’s in one gram.Now, Chernobyl holds
over three million grams,
and right now, it is on fire.JARED: So then, you look at that
and you think, “Why does he…” “Why does he use that word?” I understand where Craig’s mind
was, and that was okay, he’s in a room full of people
that if I start describing it in scientific terms,
I’m going to lose them and they wouldn’t understand. I need to explain this
in a language that they do understand, and the language
that they understand is bullets to the back
of the head. But he only discovers that
at that moment. You know. So that’s useful
because you can plan that. There’s other stuff
that you can’t plan. There were versions of it
that we did that were really passionate. And I think the one
that they used that I like was where he gets carried away, and then he suddenly realizes
the room that he’s in, and he gets scared,
and he dials himself back because he understands
who he’s talking to. And he pulls himself,
gets himself under control. So, you look for little things
like that within a big narrative where you’re
having to explain stuff. And then, specifically,
in that last courtroom scene, Craig had set the whole thing up
so we’re watching it going, “Is he going to do it?
Is he going to tell the truth?” Then also that Johan and Craig’s
approach to that scene and the way
it was structured was… they didn’t want it to end up
with a… a giant, sort of, um… injustice for all,
Al Pacino– “You’re out of order.
You’re out of order,” like a big thing like that. But it kind of– it’s like
a balloon losing its air. It’s a kind of fart at the end.
That they… CRAIG:
That’s what I was going for. JARED: He lays out this thing
before them and there’s just no response
at all. It was a futile gesture
that at the end of the day, you can look at and say, “Well, why would you ever think
this could work?” CRAIG: Yeah, that’s
exactly right. I mean, the– Every chance we could,
we tried to avoid doing what it seemed 70 years of
television had taught us to do. And ending a trial
with an utter failure, I mean, just an utter failure, is interesting in and of itself,
and also, I think, very Soviet. The history of people
making brave stances and ending up with ice picks
to the back of their head is pretty long and glorious. And he tries something there out of just a sheer devotion
to principle, and it fails. And only then through
that failure, I think, do we imply that Legasov
gets the idea of what he’s going to eventually
need to do– that there’s really only one way
to win. And going through
everything that we did inside the Kremlin
and certainly at the trial, it was always about trying
to figure out what this explanation meant
to Legasov as he was telling it. It was through the lens
of his contempt and outrage for Dyatlov and the decisions
he had made. It is also sometimes powered by
his love of the science itself. I mean, when he starts talking
about the nuclear reactor, you see him getting lost
in the thing that got him excited
as a young man about all of it, which is that it is beautiful. When it works, it is remarkable. It is an incredible achievement,
and there you see reflected back a little
bit of what the Soviets had for their scientific
and industrial complex, this reverence, which,
as it turned out, was somewhat misplaced. PETER: Jared, you said earlier
that when thinking about say, the Kremlin scene,
it’s important to think what is the character doing other than simply
imparting information. What is he trying to do in terms
of his desires and motivation? So, what did you bring to that
final courtroom scene in that sense? JARED: I think that the idea
that he didn’t know if he was going to do it or not. Because there were several
choices where you could go, “Okay, well,
he makes a decision here. But okay,
what if we push it off, and push it off?”
And so, it was almost… It came down to the moment
when he’s looking at the judge. And he’s, uh– It was sort of in the script
that there’s a pause, and he’s– It’s right at
the edge of the cliff, and he pauses right before
the edge of the cliff, and there’s a moment
where he’s staring at him and the realization of what
he’s about to do hits him and then he goes over the edge. And I think from an acting
point of view, that you know that by the time you get to
this part of the story, the audience wants to know
what happened. Because again,
as part of Craig’s construction of how he put this thing
together, he starts with the explosion, and you see the immediate
aftereffects. And then, you’re dealing
with the aftermath of it, but always constantly talking
about it, and then the narrative question
is posed well, “Why did it happen?”
How did it happen? Which Emily’s character
starts to go off on… on this detective trail,
if you like, which is the political thriller
aspect of episodes 2 and 3. And then, by the time
you get to five, yeah, you want to know,
well, “What happened?
Why did it blow up?” So… that’s interesting. So you know that at that point,
you’re answering questions that the audience will have
in their mind. That relieves some
of the pressure off of you as a performer. Some things you need to juice up
and other stuff you’re like, “No, this is where I’m holding
these threads at the moment,” and that’s where the tension is. CRAIG: We had also, the benefit
of some circumstances that helped that mystery along
because if there was simply one thing that happened
that night, then you might run into
a situation where you’re faking a bunch of storytelling
to eventually reveal a fact. But what’s so bizarre about
the procedure of that night is that this thing that blew up
kept getting colder and colder and kept dropping in power. It was so counter-intuitive,
and that in and of itself, is a kind of gift because
it allows Legasov to tell the story knowing
fully well that as he tells it, it shouldn’t be making sense
for the people listening to it, which is interesting,
right? Now he has that going for him
in a sense, that he has to start to explain
to them, “Listen, what I’m about to say
makes no sense, but trust me when I tell you
this will make sense.” So, acknowledging those things
as he went along, I think helped a lot,
and also the fact that– and I completely agree
with Jared, that I don’t think
when he showed up, he thought he was going to tell
the truth. I think he was quite sure
that he wasn’t. PETER: One of the reasons
I’m so fixated on that scene is because it succeeds against
all the traditional odds. You don’t have
that much exposition. You don’t make the exposition
technical. You don’t make that the climax
of your story. CRAIG: You don’t shoot dogs. PETER:
Exactly, yeah, those things. But that scene in particular. Do you think, Jared,
that in that moment, after Shcherbina stands up
and says let him finish, that when he chooses to finish
the explanation– to talk about the graphite tips,
and the flaw in the reactor, the stuff he wasn’t
supposed to talk about– Do you think Legasov knew exactly what would happen
to him? What then does happen to him in that conversation
with the KGB guy. JARED: Yes, there’s a couple
of answers to that. I mean, just winding back
just slightly, one of the other things
that was keeping me going was understanding his sense
of culpability, which I initially found
quite confusing. But as you play out those scenes
prior to that, I started to understand where that feeling
of culpability was coming from. So, that was a big part
of what was happening. I think that he thought
he was going to be shot. I mean, the image that I had
in my mind was that I was going to be… up against the wall
at the back of the courthouse and shot within 60 seconds
of this happening. PETER: Yet, he does it anyway
and that probably, just trying to understand it,
is what gives that… supposedly dry technical scene
such extraordinary power. JARED: See, there was a paradox
that I enjoyed, that you and I discussed,
Craig, and that was that early scene
in episode five, where Khomyuk is trying
to persuade him to do this, that this is the right thing
to do. And on the one hand, he’s dying. It’s the same thing
that gives him the power to make the sacrifice
that he makes at the end of his life, for it to be
an instigating event. But on the other hand,
if three years you’ve got left, that’s eternity for you,
and they’re precious. So, you still have a life left
to live. So, in that moment, you’re dealing with this idea
of well, “I’m going to die anyway,
but on the other hand, this is all the life I have left
and even if it’s 60 seconds, it becomes even more precious.” And it was balancing
those two feelings as you are approaching
that choke point, if you like, of,
“Am I going to do this or not?” PETER: Yeah, I thought that
when you got to that moment, I think the best thing you could
have imagined would happen is that you’d look in the eyes
of those scientists, and you would see
their acknowledgment. That yes, what you had said
made an impact, and they were going to carry
this message forth, and these reactors
would be fixed. You would then get shot, but that something
would be carried on. And yet,
all you see in their eyes is, “Yeah, no.
No, nope, nope, nope.” JARED: I think there was also
something– because this is why–
this was something that again, that Craig and I talked about,
which was– it was the idea
of the culpability. And the culpability also ties
into the Dyatlov character. And Dyatlov was firmly
in the crosshairs as being responsible
for the whole event. But there was a bit
in the script– I don’t think
and it didn’t make it in, which is where the prosecutor
starts to dig into him about his history behind
the motivations– Why he did what he did. And in that moment… he– he– I felt
some compassion for Dyatlov. PETER: Well, Dyatlov–
When Dyatlov… even in the version that
we have in the show, which it is a shorter version, I think, at least my–
what I get away from it and what the intention was was that you are on the edge
of what you should do or say. You’re probably not gonna do it
and then Dyatlov… interrupts your moment
of hesitation, and essentially says
this is a bunch of crap, and you, Legasov,
know it and you’re a liar. And that… It’s a strange thing
to have a villain be the person that inspires
the hero to do the right thing, but that’s kind of
what happens there because the truth of the matter
is Dyatlov had no concept that what he was doing
could lead to an explosion. None, zero. And to that extent,
he is innocent. He’s guilty of a lot of things,
but… And calling out Legasov
in that moment, I think, is what inspires Legasov to say, “Okay you know what,
actually? That’s true.” JARED: Because he knows
it’s true about himself. Although, as an actor though,
I had confusion about it because then I would sit there
and go, “Well, practically speaking, what could he have done
ten years ago?” Because ten years ago, when you
were aware of this information, you’re still
in the Soviet Union. It’s still top-down control. They decide what the story
that’s going out there. They decide the narrative
that’s put out there. So how could he practically
have done something about it at that time
all the way back then? Yet, he still feels responsible
because that’s the story. CRAIG: Yeah, I mean,
he couldn’t have done anything. I think basically he has arrived
at a moment where he can. This is it. This is the one moment
where theoretically, he could do something, and this man has cut
to the heart of him and essentially said,
“You are a liar.” That’s why you’re not
doing anything right now when you could. That’s ultimately what I think
changes Legasov’s mind. JARED: And the idea that, again, you’re taking something
out of that scene with Stellan, that it’s got to all be worth–
It’s got to mean something. It had to be about something.
It has to be worth something. CRAIG: That scene also
is a moment– I mean… So I have this– we have our different theories
about how this works. Jane Featherstone,
one of our executive producers, her theory is that
it’s in the moment following that discussion
with Shcherbina on the little park bench there,
that Legasov decides, “I think I’m probably
going to do the right thing here and tell the truth.” So everybody has a different
kind of interpretation of it. -PETER: Yeah.
-JARED: Everyone. And we had– JARED: Even on the day
or leading up to the day, it was all swirling around and I’m sure there’s versions
of it where you could’ve– because it was, um– It was a fluid thing,
but there was no rehearsal, so you have to treat
every single take as though you’re in a rehearsal. You don’t know what’s
going to work and allow the editors to finally put
the performance together, because… in a play,
you get together, you rip–
you pull the scenes apart, you do them this way,
and… as many different ways as
you can through the rehearsal, and you finally,
with the director, arrive upon
a narrative structure, and that’s how you’re going
to do the play for the audience when they come in. Well, you can’t do that
in cinema. Nobody– They don’t pay
for rehearsal any longer. Back in the old days, you used to have three weeks
of rehearsal. That’s gone. I feel as though
you have to treat the takes– that’s why you keep begging
for takes, so that you can try
and put the story together a different way each time. And then let them decide
when they rewrite the script for the last time
in the editing room, which way works best. PETER: That’s something that
I think most people don’t know, that what we,
the audience see from an actor,
is one of many things– if they’re good and if
the production allows it– many different choices
they tried in the day, and that what we’re seeing
is the one that was selected, usually by the editor
and director, as best representing
what happened. That’s a fascinating aspect
of your craft that I don’t think
most people know. I said I had two questions.
The first one took a long time. Here’s the second one. And it reflects something
that I talked about with Craig which is I asked him
that as a writer, producer, what had he learned,
not so much about his craft, but about people
and about the world, having done this project. I wanted to ask you
the same thing. If you,
after playing this character, and maybe even after watching
the reaction to it, if you had learned anything
about people or the world, or how the world works? JARED: There’s a couple
of things that spring to mind. One is that I encountered people
who are nostalgic for that system. -PETER: Really?
-Who tend to be older, yeah. They feel that life was simpler
back then and– PETER:
Do you see what they mean? Can you understand
that perspective? JARED: Well, it was partly
to do with– The thing that struck a chord
was everyone had the same car, everyone had the same clothes,
everyone had the same phone. Whereas now, you have to worry whether your car is as good
as your neighbor’s car, and that causes dissatisfaction,
which they didn’t have before. Yes, there was no choice
but then there was a feeling of, that it caused– there was some harmony
that came about from that. I don’t know whether I agree
with them or not because I didn’t experience it. Um… What else? There was something else
that’s sprung to mind that’s just popped out of it. I can let you cogitate on that
as I move over to Craig. I feel I would be remiss
if I did not ask both of you what you thought about
how much this show has become an object of political argument. Do you guys have any feelings
about that conversation? Whether you’ve enjoyed it? Whether you think
it’s a worthwhile thing? Whether it bothers you?
Anything at all? CRAIG: I think that a lot
of people missed the point. Not all of them,
but a bunch of them. Anybody who looks at this show
and says, “You know… this teaches us something
about blank,” generally, they’re correct. The show is about people
and I wish I could explain that to those who think
it’s about politics. It’s not. It’s about people and it’s about
our weaknesses as humans and the way we think and process
the world around us. And so, of course, it can be kind of kaleidoscopic
in that regard. You can look at any
human failure and go, “This is quite reminiscent of
the human failure at Chernobyl.” PETER: Jared, do you have
any thoughts about that? Have you been amazed to see it
as it’s unfolded? JARED: Well, I think
that that question is in the DNA of the show, is in the DNA of what Craig
was interested in. I mean, it’s… from the very opening line
to the last line. I think that when people
sort of say, “Well, of course our cultures
or our system isn’t like that system,”
the closest analogy to me, to the way that
the Soviet system was set up, really is in corporate culture, and the way that corporations
are structured. And of course,
what’s happened in the West is so much of the way
that our lives are run, our governments are run,
are influenced and mandated by what is good
for the corporations rather than what’s good
for the individual citizens. And then, I remembered
the second part of that question you asked me before,
and it does relate to this. Because the thing
that I walked away with as being the biggest lesson
about this was… the biggest danger happens
when you become cynical towards your ability
to have a dialogue or to affect your government. And in this story, nobody believes any longer
that they are going to be able to impact what
their government does. And it takes something this huge for them to wake up and realize
that… they aren’t in control, and that their narrative
is being blown wide open. That’s the purpose of that joke,
isn’t it, about the apple machine? The Soviet machine that cuts
an apple into three pieces. They are all perfectly aware
of the system they live under, and they’ve become cynical
as to their role in it, and their ability in it,
and that’s the biggest danger, I think, is if you no longer
believe you can do anything, and then you just–
you give up. PETER: The show, of course, came out
to extraordinary acclaim, that seemed to increase, as more and more people
found out about it. Both of you have been nominated
for significant awards or won some, I think, already.
I’m assuming– I’m not in the industry, but I assume this means that
more opportunities will open to both of you in your field. So, I’ll ask both of you,
do you know what’s next? CRAIG: I do have things
that are coming next, and I can’t talk about them
per se. I will say at the very least,
the first one is also about our world and things
that happened, but they happened
much more recently and they happened
much more close to home. JARED: I was going to ask you,
Craig, I was going to wonder
whether or not people are basically
throwing comedies your way, or they know that’s
completely off the table, and now they’re throwing dramas
and historical dramas… because it seems like people
sort of tend to follow the pattern of the last thing
they saw. CRAIG: Uh… They sure do.
(LAUGHS) So, a remarkable stream of, “Oh God, look at this
depressing chapter in history,” has made its way to my inbox.
(LAUGHS) And– And listen,
I entertain them all. I mean,
I look through all of it. I consider all of it because
what you are looking for– And I am fascinated by history
obviously– what you’re looking for
are chapters in history where there are people
and relationships embedded into it that you think
are going to translate to now and offer some kind of
universal perspective and enlightenment
to an audience. A lot of these events are just,
they’re events, and so,
they don’t have quite that. I think about, for instance,
which is one of
my favorite movies, and how you can take something
like that and really make it
about human beings, that’s– That’s what you’re hoping for
when you’re thinking about these moments in history. But yeah, no,
they’ve definitely… I’ve stopped getting
the silly comedy offers, or the raunchy comedy offers, and now it’s a lot of that stuff
which is gratifying. JARED: Do you regret they’re not
giving me more jokes? CRAIG: I don’t regret anything,
Jared. -JARED: Are you sure?
-CRAIG: I regret nothing. JARED: Because I think
that was our first meeting. We went and had drinks at
the Chateau Marmont and I said, “You know,
can I have a few jokes? A little bit of a sense
of humor?” No! “But the Soviet’s do have
a really good, dark sense of…” -Nope. No jokes for you!
-CRAIG: Nope. CRAIG: Other characters did. JARED: Other characters,
but no jokes for you. CRAIG:
Legasov just wasn’t funny. He’s just not a funny guy. But see, you’re a funny person, so there were moments
where you created laughs out of your awkwardness. I remember the first time,
I think it was week two, it was the first day
of the second week, and I’m sitting with Johan
in an open field, watching the scene where Jared
and Stellan have arrived, and are meeting Bryukhanov
and Fomin to discuss, “Why did I see graphite
on the roof?” and all that. And initially,
Jared’s character, Legasov, has to hang back
by the helicopter because he’s been naughty.
(CHUCKLES) He got into an argument with
Shcherbina in the helicopter. And then Shcherbina waves,
like, “All right, come on over.” And Jared just has this thing
where he’s walking, and then he gets close, and then the guards
that are walking with him stop. He like, moves a half a step
in front of them and then just awkwardly
steps backward. And the two of us,
we honestly thought that was the funniest thing
we’d ever seen because it encapsulated a certain kind
of… Legasovian nature to us. This awkward scientist, who never really had to deal
with these things before, didn’t want to get something
wrong like how you walk and stop but had no problem
yelling at people and telling them that they
weren’t doing their jobs right because he just didn’t have
much of a filter in that regard. -So, um…
-JARED: Yeah. You made us laugh anyway,
so hats off to you. And– yes, once– I’m going to go back to comedy
and you’ll be justly rewarded. JARED: Yeah,
and you’ll bring me in like, “But you still don’t have
any jokes.” PETER: Yes, no you don’t have
any jokes. CRAIG: But you’re going to stand
here while they have jokes. PETER: Anybody listening
out there, Jared Harris wants to do
a comedy. Send him like,Hangover 4.
What are we up to? -JARED: Comedy’s hard.
-CRAIG: Tch. Tell me about it. -JARED: Comedy is really hard.
-CRAIG: Tell me about it. JARED: That is not something
that you should take on. There was that sort of famous–
I don’t even know if it’s true, about Edmund Keane as he’s dying
on his deathbed… Have you heard that thing? PETER: I have
but I want to hear you tell it. JARED: Well, so he’s dying
on his deathbed and then someone asks him
is he alright, and he looks up at the person
and he says, “Dying is easy.
Comedy is hard.” And I always wondered whether
or not he probably had thought those were going to be
his last words and then he survived
for three more days and he couldn’t say anything.
Like, “Fuck it! God damn it.” PETER: Perfect! He knows
his button. He’s an actor. JARED: (LAUGHS) “I’m still alive
three days later, but I can’t say anything because
those have to be my last words.” PETER: Speaking of last words,
I think we have arrived there at the end of this probably, I think we can say
final episode, bonus. Craig’s like,
“Yes, absolutely.” CRAIG: Yes,
we’ll never do this again. PETER: Of theChernobyl Podcast,
I am Peter Sagal. We’ve been here with Craig Mazin
and of course, Jared Harris. This podcast was made possible
by HBO, Sky, and Pineapple Street Media. It was co-hosted by myself,
Peter Sagal with Craig Mazin. Our team at
Pineapple Street Media includes executive producers Max Linsky, Jenna Weiss-Berman,
and Barry Finkel. This episode was produced
by Christine Driscoll and Barry Finkel. Our associate producer
is Melissa Slaughter. From Craig Mazin’s team,
we have producer Jack Lesko, and music by Con Erbe. Craig, it was
an absolute pleasure to talk to you again,
and a genuine pleasure to see you acclaimed
for this great work. And Jared Harris, absolutely
a joy to talk to you. And just peaking on behalf
of a few million viewers, thank you for your extraordinary
work in this series as well. JARED: Thank you. Bless you.
Thank you for having me. ♪ (THEME MUSIC PLAYS) ♪ ♪ (MUSIC CONCLUDES) ♪

46 thoughts on “The Chernobyl Podcast | Part Six: Bonus Episode With Jared Harris | HBO

  1. Sir, I'm a hug fan of Chernobyl miniseries, i listened to all of the podcasts. They helped me a lot. I also wanted to know how the research on technology and working of the power plant was done. I'm a writer and I've taken a project which demands a research and understanding of a certain automobile factory. In your case, was it really necessary to know the in and out of the power plant (technical aspects such as working principles, processes, equipment and their working etc.)?

  2. It’s so great that the end of the Soviet Union brought about an era of honesty within the Russian governm-.
    Oh wait, never mind.

  3. Just you know soviet bureaucrats system did not change a bit. This oldies still rule, corruption is on the most highest levels ever. And yes, former kgb agent have no fkin idea how to rule his country.

  4. у нас в рашке снимают "ответ" вашему сериалу… за то, что вы показали коммунизм в России как диктаторский, хотя он и был такой,… Впрочем, ничего не изменилось в современной россии . В сериале будет агент ЦРУ, который способствовал взрыву.

  5. The only thing that bums me out about the Emmy love this show has gotten is that When They See Us is up for a lot of the same categories. Both of those limited series were among the best media of the year for me, so it is going to be a real Sophie's choice in every category that they're competing in. But as long as one of them takes the prize in each category, I will be happy.

  6. Yeah. This explosion in Arkhangelsk reminds me "Radiation accident in Chazhma Bay" in 1985. I was very small and we where living close there. Of course we didn't know about this explosion.

  7. About Harris comment about people who liked "Soviet Union". He didn't get the reason. Let me quote a person born in 1925 in USSR (living in USA for 40 years now)

    "Some like life under Obama, some hated it. Who was right? The ones who hated or liked? If you want to start your own business and have lots of employees you would hate the Soviet Union. If you wanted to study hard and become top engineer at best schools and work on space technology, then Soviet Union was good for you because school was free and you get stipend. Even child of simple worker could do this.
    In Soviet Union you had guarantees. No risk of unemployment. This is big source of reduced anxiety. You would have reliance on this. Some people want more and more. Others want to live reflective life, be with family, community, slower pace, and be in solidarity with others.People say “Soviet Union had long lines.” There are worse things.

    Or “I had to wait 7 years for own flat.” ..It was free. "

    About Mazin Comment about "Cranberry". There was a lot.. just less pronounced or hateful than in most other western movies about SU:

    1. Constant vodka – appears in the memories "from under the floor", because in the zone was banned
    2. Minister of coal industry – was a stern person / former miner, no talk with miners at gunpoint

    3. "Cut off all telephone lines in honor of the party" "prohibit evacuation" – this did not happen, the evacuation was carried out with the guidance of the manager, carried out logically flawlessly, in a super-short time and is a labor feat of all involved. The decision was made quickly.

    4. Send the engineer to the roof with a machine gunner – he went there himself.

    5. To persuade people with bonuses and so on – the employees did everything themselves, were volunteers, according to the memoirs, it did not occur to them that this was not their job.

    6. Legasov did not hide his cassettes, openly praised the KGB in them for really and effectively helping with communications,, resources, etc., and striving with everyone. He hanged himself rather because he was physically in agony due to illnesses related to his "term in the zone", could not eat, sleep, etc.

    7. The evil Russian KGB did not steal secret documents stating that “our reactors are the most reactive in the world” – just a ** in the correspondence among the senior staff of the ministries / designers of RBMK after the 1975 accident and the lack of coordination between the ministries / departments, which I I personally observe in ANY large organization (for example, Gazprom, and Huawei for example .. this is from what I personally know.). See Boeing falling planes, the story of the creation of Bradley, etc., etc.
    I can go on..

    That is, a bureaucratic administrative system where people are afraid of "leaning out" (now in Russia it is the same because the same command-administrative system rules) was turned into the series "in the Soviet Union eternal 1937" in spirit, which is really not the case.

    I think Mazin sincerely thinks so, i.e. did not understand "from within" in the USSR having a typical-cold-war-induced look "from there"

    P.S. Also Chernobyl and Documentary induced global radiophobia is killing a LOT more people than any "atoms" themselves – due to inherent coal/solar farms etc. pollution en masse. See TEDx talk / research on the subject.

    Love to everyone from Russia.

  8. Hi from Russia, i'm so sick of this"goverment" of all propaganda shit they do, not just on TV anymore, hard to believe but recent events prove that putin's russia even shittier time than 80th in soviet union, they lie about everything, wage wars with another states and own people, and they don't particulary govern anything: it's took foreign reaction for them to lift a finger about anything, for exapmle, siberia fires, do u know what response they give beforehand to locals who demanding to do anything about it? that "it's economicly unprofitable to put out these fires". All they do, is keep stealing all the taxpayers money they can lay their hands on to keep buying houses and palaces in European countries, while their propagandists keep sayin how terrible is out there on the west.

  9. Thank you for this podcast…loved listening as much as i loved the show! This was a great surprise today…with the addition of the incredible Jared Harris!!!

  10. This series does a phenomenal job of teaching how to treat dialogue and exposition right and not simply make it as meaningless info dump for viewers. It treats each piece of information with importance and care, each time a new piece of information is revealed we get more and more interested and when done incorrectly it wouldn't really affect us. It's also how even when there are scenes of people talking there's so much tension. It also helps that they're dealing with something as horrifying and surreal as Chernobyl. Information and truth is terrifying and I think the series has done a tremendous job in showcasing that.

    Seriously, Craig's career trajectory in writing is so damn inspirational and I hope this series wins every nomination under the sun!

  11. actually in Moscow were buried radioactive waste near the park Kolomenskoe, which at this moment still radioactive and dangerous

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