Published: Sunday, 03 January 2021 | Written by SciFi Vision
Tonight, BBC America premieres the new series, The Watch, inspired by Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. The fantasy series, which is only loosely based on his works, follows a group of misfits who have come together under the command of Sam Vimes (Richard Dormer) to form a ragtag police force in the town of Ankh-Morpork where crime has been legalized.
Jo Eaton-Kent stars as Constable Cheery, the first dwarf who identifies as female, who after being ostracized by her own kind, is hired by Vimes to lead the forensics team.
Eaton-Kent recently talked to SciFi Vision in an exclusive interview about their time working on the series and what fans can expect.
SCIFI VISION: So, first, how did you become involved in the show?
JO EATON-KENT:Well, I got a call from my agent, and she said to me, “Oh, we got this thing happening in Cape Town. You’ll be gone for six months.” Ooh, that sounds exciting. She said, “Yes, you'll be going up for a dwarf.” And I said, “Are you sure?” And she said, “Well, they've said they are looking far and wide.”
And I went to the audition, and they liked what they saw, and that's the beginning of it, really.
For people who haven't read the books and haven't seen any of the show, can you describe your character a little bit?
Cheery is, as I said, a dwarf, who has come from a mine where they live in quite a patriarchal monoculture. It's very cynical; there are very oppressive structures in place, which means that all masculine and everything to do with masculine and being a man is the only thing that you can be. Anything feminine, even calling yourself with feminine pronouns or describing yourself in a feminine way, that's bad, and it gets you in trouble. And cheery, being a person who identifies with the latter, who is very feminine as a being, actually says, “I can't be this way. I can't be the way you want me to be.” And she has to leave, essentially.
So, when we meet her, she has escaped from her mine, and she's made her way to Ankh-Morpork, which is the city where The Watch takes place, and she has met Sam Vimes, and he's given her a job as the lead forensics expert.
Have you read the books at all, either before or after you got the part?
Yes, once I landed it, actually, the first thing I did, was I bought Night Watch, and I gave it a good read through. I loved it. It really got me into the world and the whimsy of it, but also, my dad, because he was involved in theater back in maybe the beginning of the century. He actually did a production of Terry Pratchett's Trucker for the stage. So, I've had Terry Pratchett in my life for a long time, actually.
I was reading some of your Twitter feed recently, and it seems like a lot of people - I don't mean just your character, but just in general - a lot of people seem to be not really happy that they've changed the story from the books so much. What's your response to that? What do you tell fans, to say, you know, “Watch this, and you'll enjoy it?”
I think what we have as a show, is everything that Terry Pratchett probably would have stood for. I think what we've done has the same whimsy. It has the same madness, the same passion, anarchy. It has the same life to it. We have created something that is, of course, a different world now. I know when Cheery was introduced back in the mid 90s, the world was a different place. So, when you have an ever changing world, politics change as well, and you have to answer the call.
Other than reading the books, did you do any other preparation or research into things, like, I don't know, forensics maybe, or was there any other kind of other preparation, just in general, that you did?
I suppose my life had been leading up to it. I was very good at biology at school, and I am also a trans person, so I understand what Cheery is going through to some degree…But no, I really think that Cheery, as a character, is quite - the warmth is something that really drew me to her in the first place. She was this character who was willing to help everyone around her, and who has such a strong relationship with the people that she has made her family. That's something that I hope kids can see and go, “Oh, that's the thing that is good, and I need to aim for that, or at least I should cultivate that in my life.” I think Cheery is worth admiring, and I think she is also worth being being like, I suppose.
Yes, I know at one point she is nice to someone and it helps them later.
Can you talk about Cheery’s friendship with with Angua (Marama Corlett)?
[Their] relationship that we established, it's kind of like they’re the young ones of the group, aren’t they? So, of course, they're going to get on well. What I quite like about their relationship, is that dwarves are all about gold. Gold is very much an integral part of our culture as a species, and that's just as well for Angua, because she can't have anything to do with silver, because she's a werewolf. So, the fact that this gold loving person and this silver allergic person have come together and made something work, is really nice. [laughs]
Can you talk about working with Marama?
She was great. It's funny, because when people are [acting], it's such a strange thing, because you don't realize how different they are. When you're in the scene, you don't realize how different that person is, until they come out of it, and they start to act like themselves again. You go, “Oh, yeah, I forgot.” [laughs] It’s a strange kind of relationship that you have with your fellow actors. You kind of forget who’s who, [laughs] but Marama was a joy to work with.
You mentioned gold, and, I think, it was episode three that you guys joined the the Music Guild, and you got to sing on stage. Can you talk about filming that performance? Just kind of the logistics of it?
That was so fun, but I was exhausted by the end of it. We prerecorded the song, because there's a song in the scene, and what we did, was our director, Brian [Kelly], he just got us to perform it over and over and over and over. I was in these platform heels [laughs] with my hair kind of swept back into these two plaits, and it was exhausting to do. I think we did it for at least three hours. So, it was fun, because it's such a great song, but by the end of it, I was shattered.
I wasn't sure, so I just was curious, but when you're singing that, is the beginning of it made-up words, or is it in another language? [laughs]
It’s Dwarvish. We had a go at making our own song based on the words that represent gold. So, in the Dwarvish language, all those words, they kind of amount to the same words. You know how in some languages, in Arabic, I think, you have close to 100 words for “love?” It’s similar to that, but for gold. They have so many words, and each of them depicts a different type of gold. So, this love song, this ode to gold, that’s what we wanted to do. [laughs]
Well, it definitely looked like a lot of fun. Do you have a favorite memory or scene you can talk about?
Oh, one of my favorite memories, I think, was coming onto set for the first time, because most of it is practical effects. Maybe we've got like 5% CGI in the whole show. It's mostly all down to our amazing production designer, Simon Rogers, who's made this world. Entirely what you see on screen, is really what we got to see in real life. It was quite amazing. Me and Lara [Rossi], who plays Sybil, we went to go see it for the first time, and it was magical. It was like going into Harry Potter World. Well not Harry Potter world; it was much better. [laughs]
Talking about the practical effects, you just made me think about it. The library set, was that real? I don't know how to describe it. They showed like that upshot of what I guess was glass. That was a real place?
If only we could afford a set that big. I mean, that was one of the CGI moments.
Oh, that was CGI, okay. I thought maybe it was a real building.
For the most part, what you see is all real. We went to a soundstage to do it, and it was all created. All the books were there. The guy coming down from the rafters, he was there. He was really on a bungee [cord]. He was hanging in the air. It was all real. [laughs]
Sounds like fun. [laughs] Well not for him, maybe. I don't know.
So, what what has been the most challenging for you just overall?
I suppose, being away from home was really hard, and actually, the fact is, we didn't get to finish filming, initially. We had one week before we were forced to fly back to the UK because of the pandemic. So, it goes from leaving home in September, spending six months in this new country with with all this different culture and with all these people that we we don't know, and then going straight into a pandemic, where we're not allowed to see anyone for we don't know how long, and it turns out, it’s been a long time. So, I haven't seen a lot of my friends since last year, September, even before that. That's been one of the hardest things in general, I think, being away from people for so long.
So, what have you done to keep busy during all this? I mean, I don't know if you have the same protocols as we do in the United States, but I'm sure things have been different.
I don't know what what the differences are, but just before my birthday, like a couple of days before Christmas, the city of London and some of the southeast of the country, they went into a higher tier. They were doing tier systems, and we got put into sort of a mini lockdown. So, all the plans of going to see family at Christmas, that was kind of [a shock], but in the meantime of playing board games, I've been writing a bit. I quite like my poetry. I haven't really taken up any new hobbies, unfortunately, I probably should have done that. I've taken up reading a bit more, just in general, I suppose.
Looking at Internet Movie Database, it seems like you haven't done a lot of television or movie work before this or anything. So, what's it like to all of a sudden be one of the leads in an ensemble?
Ooh, it’s daunting! [laughs] I mean, it's really great. I know how lucky I am to be doing what I'm doing. I think Adam [Hugill] probably feels the same. Adam plays Carrot, and we’re in a similar position. We've only just come out of drama school, and we're just kind of doing what we do, but I've been very fortunate to be able to get the gigs I've gotten. Everyone on the team has been so so supportive and so caring and has just kind of guided me through when I've needed that. I'm so appreciative of that. Can you hear me, BBC? I'm very appreciative!
[laughs] With the pandemic, maybe you don't, but do you have anything else that's coming out, any other projects or anything?
I did actually have some stuff planned, [laughs] and it got cancelled. No, at the moment, everything’s quite quiet, which is scary, but at the same time, it's fine. I'm just happy to see the show coming to kind of, not the end of this journey, but it’s almost like we've reached the first checkpoint, I feel, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens with future seasons, actually, to see how crazy it gets.
Yeah, it's definitely a different show. When I watched the first episode, I wasn't sure at first what to think, but it's really a lot of fun.
You know, even though it is quite - I don't know if it's polarizing. I don't know if that's the right word, but I do think for sure that it is for everyone. As a show, I think, you've got the people who love fantasy; you've got the people who love kind of sarcastic humor, and you've got the British twang to it as well. I think anyone who loves good TV is going to love this show.