Ben Chaplin, Amy Manson on female power, ‘being different’ and going down ‘deep rabbit holes’ | Inquirer Entertainment

Ben Chaplin, Amy Manson on female power, ‘being different’ and going down ‘deep rabbit holes’

By: - Entertainment Editor
/ 12:20 AM May 15, 2021

Ben Chaplin in ‘The Nevers’ —PHOTOS COURTESY OF HBO

While we all need to welcome the uniqueness of “being different,” it’s also something that quickly becomes a life-or-death situation for the women of The Touched, the group of female mutants led by Amalia True (Laura Donnelly) and Penance Adair (Ann Skelly) at the heart of creator Joss Whedon’s turn-of-the-century superhero drama “The Nevers.”

The series wraps up the first-half of its 12-episode first season on HBO (channels 54/168 on SkyCable; 53/210 on Cignal) and HBO Go at 9 a.m./10 p.m. on Monday.


In Episode 5, mutant psychopath Maladie’s (Amy Manson, in compellingy sinister form) reign of terror comes to a screeching halt when she’s caught by authorities and sentenced to a public hanging—a situation that drives a wedge between Amalia, who feels that the hate-sowing Maladie is getting her just deserts, and Penance, who sees the harsh “punishment” as a threat to The Touched as a group.


Helping investigate the series of brutal killings is “troubled” Inspector Frank Mundi, portrayed by Ben Chaplin, the seasoned 51-year-old thespian who’s known for his turns in Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line” and Barbet Schroeder’s “Murder by Numbers.”

Strong women

“Acting in a film dominated by women—that’s just like life, isn’t it?” quipped Ben with a smile when asked what it was like to be in a project with predominantly female leads. “Because we’re all surrounded by women, and they really have superpowers, don’t they (laughs)? Well, it’s great fun for me because I like being around lots of women.

“I grew up in a household of very strong women, so the situation is quite familiar to me. I find that, if you respect women, they pay you back in pocket loads. And it also takes the pressure off me a little bit.”

For her part, Amy was indeed feeling the pressure when she began navigating the complexity of her character.

Amy Manson

Amy Manson


“With Maladie, I just wanted to grind her to her truth and go into the psychology of why human beings behave the way they do,” she said. “So, for me, it was merely thinking about who she was before she went into the asylum—and that really piqued my curiosity as an actress.”

Ben interjected, “Amy’s character is more supernatural, to a certain extent. But it was much simpler in my case. Frank just turns up and wonders about what’s going on—he’s a bit like Commissioner Gordon dealing with Batman after big stuff happens. While it’s fun to be part of that world, it’s not so much of a challenge for me as much as it is for the actors who are part of The Touched.”


The show had to take a break halfway through its first season when controversial showrunner Joss Whedon (2017’s “Justice League”) decided to step back from the production in November after wrapping up the first six of its intended 12 episodes. He was replaced by Philippa Goslett, who’s now in the process of writing the final-half of the first season.

Shift in leadership

Asked if the shift in leadership has changed the dynamic of the series, Amy said, “No, the show will still be what it was when it initially started. The storylines are spectacular. We’re all having fun, and I think it will just progress the way that it would have [even without the change].”

The show is set at the tail end of the Victorian era. But there’s certainly more to it than its themes about class wars or its tale about superheroes and villains, cleverly reflecting man’s inability to deal with those who are different from who he is and telling the story of brave people struggling against that—which, Amy said, was something the world today can learn a lot from.

‘Stronger as one force’

“Absolutely, we’re stronger as one force,” she pointed out. “And the only way we’re able to adhere to that is through talking. Many members of The Touched don’t understand their powers, you know? Some are wilder and crazier than others, but they don’t immediately realize how powerful they can be if they join forces.” Ben agreed, “And that is how the series is nailing its main themes … about immigration or how it is to be part of a minority. If you like, you can extend the metaphor to any source of fear, suppression or subjugation. That is what they represent, and they’re coming to terms with their situation, which isn’t by choice.”

The series is a showcase for both actresses and their characters. But one of the “showier” roles fell on the lap of Amy, whose unpredictable thespic temperament was as thrilling to watch as the progression of the narrative.

How did Amy channel Maladie’s sinister side and manic moments?

“She wasn’t patterned after anybody,” Amy disclosed. “I just tried to understand the weight of what she was subjected to at the hands of the brutal Dr. Edmund Hague (Denis O’Hare). I mean I went down some really dark rabbit holes in my research and preparation that upset me so much, but it gave me a base level to start on … to understand exactly what this woman had gone through.

‘Godfather’ moment

“Maladie hates her former self. She detests who she was prior to the asylum and built this caricature of herself. She wants to inflict pain on society because she’s had it inflicted on her. So I tried to operate on that level and, at the same time, tried to enjoy it.

“To be honest, it was initially hard to snap out of it. We had a big break in between Episode 1 and the rest of the episodes. And I remember thinking about it like a ‘Godfather’ moment—how do I get back into this headspace?

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“You can’t just switch it on because it always has to be rooted in truth. So, I needed to keep myself fit to be able to consistently hit certain marks and find her internal rhythm. I’d go to the gym and shake off that excess energy, because sometimes, it did leak over my home life. I could feel myself getting quick-tempered at my family. But I’m glad there’s still some enjoyment in it for me—that’s what I’d love to explore going forward, as Maladie pursues her sinister crusade.”

TAGS: Ben Chaplin, The Nevers

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