Unless you’re a psychic or have some other way of seeing into the future, you have no idea what it may hold, and that is especially true for actors. A few years ago, Andrew-Lee Potts was experiencing a bit of a lull in acting work, and in-between auditions was pouring all his energy into making a short film of his own as well as developing a feature film project with a friend. “It was about vampires living on a council estate, and way before Twilight and all that sort of stuff,” says the actor. “I should have gone ahead and done it; it could have been a big hit.”
The actor spent an entire weekend shooting his short film, and on the following Monday morning he had an audition for the role of Connor Temple in a brand new TV series called Primeval. “I went in and shot out words at about a thousand miles an hour,” he recalls. “I told loads of jokes and was just excited about my film, so much so that I wasn’t even really paying attention to what audition I was doing. In the character breakdown, Connor was described as being a real geek, but he’s a genius, too. I thought, ‘They’re not going to buy that from me. I don’t sound like a genius.’
“So I kind of figured it wouldn’t work out, but apparently my excitement for my film and the energy to do what I was talking about impressed them. They [the producers] got in touch after the audition and said, ‘We really liked Andrew’s energy and enthusiasm, but we didn’t believe a word he said about the dinosaurs.’ I couldn’t even pronounce any of the dinosaurs’ names. I hadn’t done any research because I didn’t think I’d get the part.
“Thank God I was energetic on that audition because that’s why they brought me back. Obviously, once I knew they were interested in me, I knuckled down, did my homework and learnt how to properly pronounce the names of the dinosaurs. I went back for a second audition and got the job. At the time, though, we had no idea how big the series was going to be. I didn’t even know it was for primetime Saturday night. They didn’t tell us that. So I was reading the first script and thinking, ‘They can’t pull these effects off on British TV.’ Doctor Who had just come out and they were trying their [visual] effects, but nothing like this.
“Then, however, we found out that Primeval was being made by the same people who did [the BBC documentary miniseries] Walking With Dinosaurs and all the CGI [computer-generated image] dinosaurs. We [the cast] were then taken to Framestore, the company that does the visual effects for the Harry Potter films. They showed us a rough video of what our show was going to look like, and the five of us came out of there so excited and saying, ‘This is going to be wicked!’”
In Primeval, evolutionary zoologist Professor Nick Cutter (Douglas Henshall) is recruited by the British government to investigate the appearance of anomalies, rips in time that are allowing creatures from the past as well as future to roam in our modern world. Operating out of the ARC (Anomaly Research Centre), his team consists of Abby Maitland (Hannah Spearritt), a zoologist and reptile expert, Stephen Hart (James Murray), Cutter’s lab technician and “bodyguard,” and Connor Temple, one of Cutter’s paleontology students at Central Metropolitan University. Besides locating these anomalies and trying to figure out how to close them down, Cutter’s team must also contain any creatures that come through into our world. Despite being experts in their respective fields, wrangling dinosaurs took some getting used to, and the same was true for the show’s cast.
“None of us had ever done CGI before, so we all felt a little bit out of our depth,” explains Potts. “We thought, ‘What if we’re laughed off the screen? What if people hate us?’ At first, we were all looking in different directions when it came to doing the CGI. The thing is, though, even though the [visual effects] guys had done CGI before, they had only done documentaries. They hadn’t done stuff with actors mixing with the CGI, so it was new to them as well. We were all learning together, and starting out, we had a traffic cone on a stick with a face drawn on it and someone yelling, ‘Roar!’ That was supposed to represent our dinosaur or whatever. Of course, we were all laughing and thought, ‘This is ridiculous.’
“Over time, though, this became second nature to us. We didn’t realize just how comfortable we were getting with it, and when we came back for our second season, there were new actors who came onto the show and were petrified. They didn’t know what to do, whereas it had become natural to all of us. In the season two opener, these Raptors [Deinonuchus] are running loose in a shopping centre, and there’s a scene with me, James Murray and Douglas Henshall where we corner one of these creatures. It starts coming towards us and I shoot it with a tranquilizer gun.
“We had no eye-line whatsoever with this thing, and if you saw the episode you might remember that the Raptor kind of wobbles and falls down. Of course, none of that actually happened, but if you watch all three of our faces, we all have the same expression. Again, it became quite instinctive. Although we didn’t have that eye-line, we knew what was going on. We began to trust the CGI guys and they began to trust us as well, and as the series went on, everyone got braver and braver. When we first started, we weren’t allowed any physical contact with the CGI creatures. We could ‘hit’ them with things, but that was it. However, in later episodes, the were grabbing us and vice versa. Again, the type of CGI stuff we were doing was getting braver and braver.
“I’m still excited about it now,” enthuses the actor. “I’m a fan of the show and always have been. I guess that comes from being involved with something from the very beginning. When Doctor Who came back, that was something that had been revived. It had worked before, so it already had that going for it. Primeval, on the other hand, was completely made up from scratch, and I’m so proud of everyone because we pulled it off.”
When it comes to favorite moments in seasons one and two of Primeval, Potts especially likes his character’s relationships with both Abby and Cutter. “My [real-life] fiancee is Hannah Spearritt, and I always enjoyed doing scenes with her,” he says. “The thing is, Abby and Connor were never supposed to get together. When we started the series, it was going to be Abby and Stephen, and Connor was always meant to be in the background. Something happened, though, when they put Abby and Connor together in episode two of season one. Hannah and I didn’t even read together during the audition process, but the onscreen banter between us was just so natural. They [the writers] then began having fun with Abby and Connor, and Hannah and I did, too. Each season they gave us an Abby/Connor episode, including the one in year two where Abby is dragged into the future by these big seal creatures [Mar], and Connor goes through the anomaly to save her. That was a cool one to do.
“I also loved working with Douglas Henshall because he’s such a brilliant actor,” continues Potts. “Our relationship onscreen was very similar to the one we had off-screen. There was a great deal of respect there. Dougie was ‘boss’ and I didn’t mess around with that. There are plenty of things that worked about the show, but I think the big one was the fact that they didn’t go with your cliche leading man. Instead, they went with someone who you could actually buy and whose character knew what he was talking about and was obsessed with Darwin and all that sort of stuff. A lot of the show’s elements are so fantastical and you have to really use your imagination to go, ‘OK, I have to try to buy that.’ It’s Dougie’s solid performance that anchored the series and made it believable. Hannah and I always said, ‘If Dougie believes it, we believe it.’ If he’s chasing a future predator with a gun and looking like it’s the last thing he’s going to do, then we’ll be right behind him doing the same thing. So we all stuck together like that.”
Early on in Primeval‘s third season, Nick Cutter’s estranged wife Helen (Juliet Aubrey) uses a clone of Nick that she has created to infiltrate the ARC, allowing her and a small army of Cleaner Replica troops to take over the facility. She believes that her husband’s work with the ARC is what leads to the eventual rise of future predators and, ultimately, the fall of humankind. Helen detonates an explosive device that destroys the ARC, but she is caught in the blast. When Nick tries to rescue her, Helen shoots him, making sure he cannot carry on with his work. Connor discovers a dying Nick in the rubble and carries his body out of what remains of the ARC.
“I was really nervous about that scene because I wanted to do it right, and I really wanted to do it right for Dougie,” notes Potts. “I was so sad that he was leaving the show as well. During the cast read-through for this episode, we got to this particular scene and I got such a lump in my throat that when we finished the read-through I just left without talking to anyone. I didn’t want to show people that I was upset. I was really going to miss Dougie, both personally and for the show as well.
“On the day we shot that scene, I told Dougie how nervous I was, but we had such a good relationship and he had so much belief and trust in me as well, which was brilliant. I don’t think there are very many people who Douglas Henshall would let carry him like a baby. He’s not that kind of man, so the fact that he agreed to that was a big deal. Dougie thought it was very fitting that they chose to put Connor and Cutter together for his last conversation, and when I got the script and read it, I was honored that they chose me to be with him. I suppose it showed the growth in the relationship between our two characters, even though from day one, Cutter looked at Connor as if my character was a complete idiot,” jokes the actor. “So in this episode he passes the baton on to me, and I’m so glad I was given that opportunity.”
With Cutter’s death, ex-police officer Danny Quinn (Jason Flemyng), whose brother was killed years earlier by a camouflaging creature, is appointed as the team’s new leader. Season three of Primeval also sees the addition to the team of Dr. Sarah Page (Laila Rouass), an Egyptologist, whose job is to investigate ancient myths and legends involving creatures to see if any can be linked to anomalies. Also making his debut in year three is Captain Becker (Ben Mansfield), a Special Forces agent who is assigned to protect the team from potential danger.
“I’m really pleased that they brought the military back into it,” says Potts. “After we lost Captain Ryan [Mark Wakeling] and the SAS [at the end of season one], I think the program became a little less believable because our characters weren’t escorted to places. At the end of the day, they’re just a bunch of scientists, you know? We hardly had any military presence in season two at all, so I’m glad that they brought the Becker character in.
“Also, with the handsome one, Stephen, gone [he sacrificed himself to save the team at the end of season two], they needed someone for the ladies. I thought they could have used me, but apparently not,” he says with a chuckle. “I remember meeting Ben Mansfield for the first time and couldn’t believe how massive he is. He’s huge, and four or so years younger than me. I [jokingly] said to him, ‘Dude, you’re like Superman. I hate you.’ Ben is such a nice guy, though. He was straight out of drama school and booked one of the coolest jobs ever on TV. Ben was so excited to be doing this. You can probably see by the way that he handles a gun that he loves being the action man.
“Bringing Laila in as well was a great idea. They [the producers/writers] knew when Dougie was leaving that they had to switch things up and they put a lot more of the technical aspects of the stories onto Connor. I needed support with that, and I think that’s why Sarah Page was brought in, so that she and Connor could work together as a team. And the Danny Quinn character was more of a renegade in that he liked to act first and think later. He was very different from Cutter, but that was the plan. I thought the dynamic in year three was wonderful. We got to do more action sequences, too. Some people like that side of Primeval, while others like the theoretical and science side of it, and to me it’s important to play both because that’s what the show is.
“Of course, they were planning season four as well. They were going to introduce another new character that was supposed to kind of finish off the team dynamic. As you know, though, we never got to do that because the program wasn’t renewed for a fourth season. At least it wasn’t because of ratings, but because of finances as it’s quite an expensive show to make. It’s still sad, though, especially as all our characters were lost in time at the end of season three. That’s how much we thought we were going to be carrying on, but at least Abby and Connor are together, otherwise it would have been really sad. All I know is that they’re trying to keep Primeval alive in other ways, so never say never.”
Born in Bradford, West Yorkshire, Potts has been a professional actor since the age of seven. Having started out doing a variety of small TV roles, he booked his first series in 1995, The Biz, which was set in an English drama school and advertised as the Fame of the 90s. “I was a terrible actor when I was younger,” he jokingly admits. “I wasn’t one of those wonder kids who could do it straightaway. I definitely learnt on the job, and you learn pretty quickly because your mistakes are right there in front of you on TV or film, and you think, ‘I’m not doing that again.’
“One of the reasons I was cast in this particular show is that I play the drums in real life and they needed an actor/drummer for this part. It was my first time traveling to London and being away from home and having a bit of freedom from my parents. That’s when I began to realize, ‘Hang on, I could turn this [acting] into a proper job.’
“I never went to drama school, but I was very, very lucky. I met Pete Postlethwaite and he was doing his own stage production of Macbeth. Being a fellow Northerner and a down-to-earth guy, we really got on, and he cast me in his tour of Macbeth as one of the witches. I played the part as a male witch, or more like a child psychopath. That was the first time anyone had shown massive belief in my and that I could play something totally different from myself.
“We toured all around Britain, including Ireland, and the production went down really well. And because of Pete Postlethwaite, a lot of casting people came to see the show, and they saw me playing the psychopath. Suddenly, I fell into a pattern of playing really young psychotic characters and other very serious roles. I was 18 when I did my first movie, New Year’s Day, which went to the Sundance Film Festival. We shot it right after I did Macbeth and I played a guy who makes a suicide pact with his best mate and at the end of the film he tries to kill himself. Following that I did a movie [The Bunker] playing a Hitler youth, and then I did Band of Brothers as well as a lot of other TV and film dramas.
“It wasn’t until I was cast in an independent U.S. film called Caffeine with Katherine Heigl that I played a comedic role. I had never done anything like that before, so I was really nervous, but I enjoyed it so much. Then I came back to England and all of a sudden I began getting all these comedy auditions. I did a TV series called Ideal, which is full of comedians, and then Primeval, which allowed me to play another lighter character. So my career kind of turned on its head, really, when I found I could do something new and have fun doing it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve since played some serious roles, but I also enjoy the ones with a bit of humor. You can keep things light and lively on-set as opposed to playing a serious character where you often have to go quite deep inside yourself, concentrate and maintain a certain mindset.”
When he is not in front of the camera, Potts continues to pursue his passion for directing. “I’ve directed five short films so far, and because of those films, I actually got to shoot The Making of Primeval for the show’s producers after the second season,” says the actor. “Directing is always something that’s fascinated me. In fact, every set I’m on, I always end up sticking close to the director, like a little shadow, trying to pick up as much as I can because everyone has their own particular style. I’ve got a small production company called Keystone Productions that I work with very closely to do my short films. We’re not really answerable to anyone but ourselves, so you can have a lot more fun and creative freedom.”
A few months back, Potts finished filming the Syfy Channel miniseries Alice, in which he plays Hatter. It was also recently announced that an international financing deal has brought Primeval back from the TV graveyard. Main cast members, including Potts, Hannah Spearritt and Jason Flemyng, will soon be shooting season four in Ireland for broadcast in 2011. With many more years and roles hopefully still ahead of him, Potts is on the right track with his career and intends on keeping his nose to the proverbial grindstone.
“As actors, we get paid to dress up and pretend to be someone else, travel the world and see fantastic things, which I think a lot of people would appreciate,” he says. “Sure, there are some acting jobs I regret doing, but I’ve tried to do my best throughout my career. I want to keep developing myself as an actor and never stop learning. It’s important to come away from each job thinking, ‘I feel like a more well-rounded actor now.’
“I’m grateful for all of this. I’m this guy from a small town in England who’s being given these gifts of characters to play, so I’m going to keep working hard and never take that for granted.”
Keep your eyes peeled for a second brand-new interview with Andrew and his work on Alice that will be posted around December 6th, which is when the miniseries is scheduled to air over two nights on the Syfy Channel.
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