Primeval's Andrew-Lee Potts - Best of Both Worlds
For the past five years, Paleontology buff, techno-whiz and self-proclaimed geek Connor Temple along with his teammates have been working out of the British-based ARC (Anomaly Research Centre) and risking their lives to keep humankind safe from prehistoric (and futuristic) predators finding their way into our world via temporal anomalies in time and space. This is the premise for the hit Sci-Fi TV series Primeval. While the UK version of the show appears to have ended, the fight to safeguard the human race carries on with the Canadian-made Primeval: New World.
Set in Vancouver, British Columbia, this new series chronicles the adventures of a brand new team of anomaly experts. Filming began on its first season a couple of weeks ago, and in addition to the new faces in the cast, there is one very familiar one, Andrew-Lee Potts, who plays Connor in the original Primeval. Reprising his role as a guest-star in New World, the actor was thrilled when he first heard about this Primeval spin-off and, of course, excited when offered the chance to take part in its storytelling.
“I thought the fact that New World was being made was a fantastic idea and a compliment to Primeval’s success,” says Potts, taking a much-deserved breather after a day of shooting on New World. “Also, one of my favorite places I’ve ever been to is Vancouver, and because that’s where the new series is filming, I knew how visually strong it would be and all the amazing locations that the creators could use to tell their stories, from the water, to the city, to the forest, to the snow – they’ve got everything here in Vancouver. Most of all, I was just pleased about the continuation of the story and the franchise. I was really happy that everyone involved had managed to pull it all together, and obviously there’s still an audience out there for Primeval to live on, so it’s all cool.
“As far as my involvement, I had heard rumors that there might be some sort of crossover, but you never really know for sure until it happens. However, then I received a phone call from the producers telling me that they were interested in my character appearing in New World, and I pretty much said, ‘Yes,’ to being involved right there on the spot. I hadn’t played Connor for a year back home in the UK and it’s a character very close to my heart and that I really enjoy playing. So the opportunity to do that again, coupled with a whole new environment as well as cast was something I found very interesting and I wanted to do. So I’m glad I said, ‘Yes,’ and became involved.”
Created by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens and executive produced by Tim Haines (UK Primeval co-creator/executive producer) Martin Wood and Gillian Horvath, New World stars Niall Matter as Evan Cross, an enterprising inventor and visionary hero, and Sara Canning as predator attack expert/animal behavioral specialist Dylan Weir as well as Miranda Frigon as Ange Finch, Geoff Gustafson as Ken Leeds and Danny Rahim as Mac Rendell. While the series will be drawing upon the foundation already established by the original Primeval in order to help tell its stories, it will also add plenty of new twists and turns that will make the series stand on its own. Potts discovered the latter when reading his first New World script.
“The opening teaser is very cool,” reveals the actor. “It’s quite impressive and it grabbed my attention right away. I thought it was a strong way to start the show and something we’d never done in the UK Primeval, either. Obviously the writers are always thinking up ingenious new ways to bring the dinosaurs in and have the attacks happen, and in this case they came up with a real corker. So that got me into the script and I just flew through the rest of it.
“Without giving too much away, there’s a lot of stuff that kind of takes you back to the beginning. In the UK Primeval there was so much that happened over the five seasons, and New World sort of brings it all back to its bare bones again. Another thing I like is the fact that this new series will air in a different time slot than we did in Britain, so it can be a bit more graphic with the [creature] attacks and a little edgier with the storylines, too.”
It is no secret that most of North America, including Canada, has experienced an unusual winter this year, with many places being warmer than normal. Not surprisingly, Mother Nature did an about-face when the New World cast and crew ventured outside to begin filming.
“The first thing that sticks out in my mind about my first day of work on New World is how cold it was,” says Potts with a laugh. “I was just very grateful that Connor always wore fingerless gloves, because I thought, ‘Right then, I’m putting my gloves back on.’ I don’t think I actually wore them in the last [fifth] season of Primeval, but I needed those gloves this time around because it was freezing.
“One of the really big things that still sticks in my head about my first day was the director, Martin Wood, and his initial excitement about it all. Everyone here was just so ‘up’ for this piece of work. Obviously they had done their research into Primeval and knew who I was and seemed very happy to see me, which was quite flattering. Also, I know they’ve only been working together, I believe, for a week or so, but the chemistry with the new cast has already come together and they seem to be getting on extremely well. One of the strongest points about Primeval is the chemistry of the team. If it’s not there, then a lot of people tend to switch their TVs off. So if you can feel the love in the room, without meaning to sound too cheesy, then that’s a good thing and viewers enjoy watching characters get on like that. It creates good energy.
“I’m a sucker for someone who’s passionate about something, and if they want to care about it as much as that, then I’m right behind them and they’ve got my full support. That’s how I’ve always felt about anyone who’s been involved in Primeval. They give 100% and so do I. That’s the team effort of the show. I think the New World guys are in good hands and they’re going to have a fantastic time.”
Having been away from Primeval for a year, did Potts find it difficult stepping back into Connor’s shoes? “You’re always slightly hesitant when you haven’t played a character for a while,” he notes, “but Connor just came really easy to me. It was something organic that I discovered quite naturally with the character and everyone on Primeval allowed me to run with that. They gave me the freedom to work out Connor’s levels of humor as well as seriousness and hoped there would be a good combination of the two.
“I suppose it’s like riding a bike. You never really forget, and that’s been the case with Connor and New World. Once I spoke my first couple of lines, I was back on that bike. I’ve been quite lucky, too, in that they’ve always written Connor’s lines so funnily, warm and clever, which is a joy. So, no, I guess I didn’t find it difficult. It was enjoyable, and at the end of the day Connor is such a nice bloke, and it’s fun to play someone like him for a change. I’ve played a lot of baddies in my career, and I like that Connor is this good soul who just wants to do the right thing.”
Having firmly established working relationships with his ARC colleagues back in the UK, Connor has to do the same thing all over again when coming across the pond to Vancouver and meeting his overseas counterparts.
“I think Connor’s relationships with the New World characters are somewhat ambiguous, and a little bit spiky,” says Potts. “He’s never been the best at communicating with people who don’t know him, and that comes out a lot in the new series. My character is there for a very specific reason and kind of a personal one as well. Connor wants to get his point across in the quickest way possible, but without causing too much collateral damage, if that makes any sense.”
Fans of the original Primeval series know that Connor was once the student of Professor Nick Cutter (Douglas Henshall), and it was through his teacher and mentor that he became involved in the ARC. Together with Nick’s friend and colleague Stephen Hart (James Murray) and zookeeper Abby Maitland (Hannah Spearritt), they spent the show’s first two seasons investigating anomalies and fighting all types of prehistoric creatures.
Following Stephen’s tragic death in the second season finale, Special Ops Captain Becker (Ben Mansfield) joined the ARC team as did Professor Sarah Page (Laila Rouass). In the third season, Cutter was killed by his wife Helen (Juliet Aubrey), who blamed his anomaly research for causing future atrocities on Earth. An ex-police detective, Danny Quinn (Jason Flemying), later took over as team leader, and in the season three finale, he traveled with Connor and Abby into the past to stop Helen from eradicating humankind. They succeeded, but Danny ended up trapped in the Pliocene era while Connor and Abby were marooned in the Cretaceous period. Our latter two heroes managed to return home to the present at the start of season four, but not before viewers were given a good look at their prehistoric existence.
“It was a ‘crazy’ way to start series four,” recalls Potts. “I grew a beard along with my hair, and we made a serious effort to get really fit because our characters had been living in the past for a year and we felt that they would just naturally become leaner and stronger.
“There was also the fact that when Connor and Abby were in the Cretaceous world they admitted their love for each other and got together as a couple. Suddenly, things became very different with them. Prior to this, Connor was always chasing Abby in a sense, but now she turned around and was securely by his side. I think that helped him grow as a man and to believe in himself a bit more. So he had a great deal more ‘strength’ when they returned to the present and I think that showed. After he and Abby arrived back home, Connor was let go and sacked from the ARC, but he wasn’t about to take that lying down. Maybe the old Connor would have, but not this one. They had a fight on their hands.”
Upon arriving back in the present day, Connor and Abby found that the ARC had been updated and rebuilt. Its day-to-day operations were still under the supervision of government appointed James Lester (Ben Miller), and while Captain Becker remained a part of the team, Sarah Paige had been killed in one of the many rescue missions to the past in search of their lost colleagues. The anomaly team was now under the leadership of Matt Anderson (Ciaran McMenamin), with Jess Parker (Ruth Kearney) serving as field coordinator, and entrepreneur Philip Burton (Alexander Siddig) funding the ARC in a public/private partnership with the government. For Connor as well as Potts it meant growing accustomed to new working as well as personal interactions.
“The group dynamic changed quite a bit over all of Primeval, not just in seasons four and five,” says the actor. “The new characters that were introduced were always very strong, and the changing of the dynamic after Douggie Henshall left as Cutter was something we enjoyed because it really mixed things up. Working with new actors is always interesting as far as seeing their outlook on things, and it takes your story to new places as well. Because of that, Primeval never felt stale. It was constantly being reinvented, especially when it came out about Matt being from the future. Things like that opened more doors as opposed to closing them, and that can’t be a bad thing."
“Like I said before, the show was always a team effort and there were enough familiar faces there to make it the show we all loved and were used to, but enough newness to push it forward,” continues Potts. "I’m very proud of series four and five or Primeval. I think everyone did a great job. The dinosaurs looked fantastic and the new ARC that we moved into was brilliant. I really enjoyed the Connor/Philip relationship, too, and my character turning to the ‘dark side’ for a bit, even though he didn’t realize it. That was interesting for me to play, as was Connor’s journey mentally back to realizing what he’d done and trying to take responsibility for it and fix it.
“I’d played Connor for a few years and in a way he was always kind of the underdog and told what to do. In series four and five, though, he stepped up a bit and wanted to show and prove what he could do and what Cutter believed was in him from the start. I know that he got a little bit misguided, but that was down to his naiveté and the fact that he trusted a lot of people. Because of both those things, Connor dug himself into a hole that he couldn’t really get out of for a while. However, everyone still believed in him, at least I hope, and hoped that he would realize what was happening and ultimately do the right thing. I’m very grateful for what the writers gave me to do and I just hope that I did the material justice.”
Connor’s temporary shift to the “dark side” that Potts mentioned had to do with a project called New Dawn, which was spearheaded by Philip Burton. It was designed to draw energy from anomalies and use it to resolve the world’s energy crisis. However, given his knowledge of the future, Matt knew the project would end in disaster. It took some doing by him, Abby and Becker to convince Connor of that.
“Connor has always been very impressed and seduced by anyone who is on the same wavelength as him insofar as inventions and that sort of stuff,” explains Potts. “At the end of the day what Philip did was exploit my character’s ego. Connor had been longing for another mentor since he lost Cutter. He’s a bit of a puppy dog and someone who wants to aim to please. When Philip stepped into the fold, he seemed to have so much faith in Connor and I don’t think Connor realized that he was being used at the time. He was being given opportunity and responsibility that he’d never really had before. I supposed anyone in that situation might be blinded by that for a little while, but the important thing is that Connor eventually realized what was going on.”
Despite the strain New Dawn put on Connor’s and Abby’s relationship, it was not enough to break them up. “I think it was really clever what the writers did,” says Potts. “At the end of season three when Connor and Abby kissed and you saw that she had feelings for Connor as well, it was like, OK, where to now? It’s fun to watch a couple get together, but once they’re together it can get rather boring. So in true Primeval fashion they managed to write a convincing story arc where the difference between their beliefs was put to the test.
“Abby is a zoologist and from that kind of natural world, whereas Connor is from the science world. That’s where he’s grounded in his head, and as we know, in real life those two worlds tend to collide quite often. I love the fact that the writers used Connor’s and Abby’s moral compasses to break them up. We then got to watch their slow road to recovery, and in the end it just showed the strength of their relationship. They were in an adult relationship now and along with that came adult problems, even if it was a little bit extreme with the whole ending of the world thing,” says the actor with a chuckle.
When it comes to a favorite season four or five Primeval episode, the actor has more than one. “Obviously I like the Cretaceous one because it was just Connor and Abby living in the forest and we get to see how they survived Bear Grylls [Man vs. Wild] style,” he says. “I also enjoyed Episode Eight, where Connor is taken underground by the giant beetles. I think the last two episodes we did, 12 and 13, turned out really well. My favorite creature has always been Future Predator, and I thought bringing them into the ARC was a cool thing. We got to work as a full team in those episodes, and I always enjoyed it when our characters had to accomplish things together.”
In what ways does Potts feel his character has changed between the fifth season finale of Primeval and the Connor that viewers will see in New World?
“Connor has changed every year in terms of responsibility, which continues to grow,” says the actor. “However, after what happened at the end of series five and his misplaced trust in Philip Burton and creating something that could have caused so much harm, I think Connor is a bit more jaded and much more aware of the implications of his actions.
“He’s become quite knowledgeable as far as him creating a machine that could create anomalies. So Connor is pretty powerful stuff, and like that Spider-Man saying, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ I think he feels that he really messed up and let his original mentor Cutter down. That’s probably put a bit of a notch into his heart in the sense that he doesn’t want anyone else to make the same mistakes.
“Deep down Connor is a really caring guy who, again, just wants to do the right thing, but he wants to push himself forward and achieve what he can achieve as well. So he’s a little jaded, but you’re definitely still going to see the fun side of Connor in New World. He’s always been a bit of a big kid, especially when he’s nervous, and that resurfaces now that Connor is dealing with all these new people who don’t really understand how he communicates in his own unique way.”
Besides his work in New World, Potts has also been busy behind the camera with his filmmaking company, Keychain Productions. “I recently directed a new horror short called Monitor as well as my first music video, which I’m really proud of and it was fun to do,” he says. "As an actor you’re a tiny piece of a jigsaw puzzle that fits into a bigger picture, but the way I run the production company and the work I do within it is, I suppose, more of a personal thing and something I can really be proud of.”
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