When it came to playing the pivotal role of Robert Childan in the thought-provoking series "The Man in the High Castle," veteran actor Brennan Brown said the best way to approach the work was to not get too caught up in the dystopian world that surrounded the character, but rather concentrate on the character itself.
After all, the complex, layered source was written by legendary author Phillip K. Dick, and Brown was more than confident that story would come together properly.
"Phillip K. Dick was a certified genius. When you read a book like 'The Man in the High Castle,' you realize what he's hitting on and the themes he's covering, like identity and how we know what reality is, and what's true and what isn't. Those were all universal, transcendent themes that were being dealt with in 1962 as well as today," Brown said in a recent phone conversation. "As a person working on it, all those themes are givens and it becomes, 'How do I play this character in this specific circumstance?' As an actor you can't really be too worried about large thematic issues when you're playing a scene with a gun pointed to your face. You have to play the reality of what's happening in that moment, emotionally."
Streaming on Amazon Prime, "The Man in the High Castle" is set in 1962, 15 years after the end of World War II. However, the story takes place in an alternate universe that imagines a society as if Nazi Germany had won the war -- as the Nazis control the former United States east of the Rocky Mountains and Japan rules over the former states on the West Coast.
It's in the latter, in San Francisco, where one of the suppressed Americans in the new world order, Juliana Crane (Alexa Davalos), comes into possession of a news reel that suggests a different end to the war, leading her to join a resistance to fight the enemy where very few can be trusted. Rupert Evans plays Juliana's boyfriend, Frank Frink, who forms an alliance with Childan -- an antiques store dealer who specializes in American cultural artifacts.
Brown, 48, admitted he was a casual fan of Dick's work when production began on "The Man in the High Castle," so he's thankful for the love his brother had for the author's work to pursue the role.
"I had read 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' when I was younger and enjoyed it a lot after 'Blade Runner' came out -- I wanted to read the book since the movie was based on it -- but my brother took it and ran with it, and read everything Phillip K. Dick ever wrote that he can get his hand on," Brown recalled. "So, when I told him that 'The Man in the High Castle' was in the works, he said, 'You've got to do this. You have to read this book and understand that this is the best thing that he ever wrote.' After I read it, I said, 'He's right. This is something I have to be involved in.'"
While there are some differences in the series compared to "The Man in the High Castle" book -- as it relates to Childan, he appears earlier in the novel than he does in the series -- Brown said the original source material is far from being lost on the production.
"For us, all the casts and creatives, the book is the touchstone. We all take the responsibility of honoring Phillip K. Dick's work really seriously," Brown said. "Isa Hackett, who is one of the series' producers, is Phillip K. Dick's daughter, so believe me, we're all the aware of the larger themes of the book and want the series to fit in seamlessly with the world that he created."
Brown cited a major scene in Season 1 of the series as an example.
"In the first season, Childan doesn't show up until the fourth episode, but when he does, he's in a scene directly out of the book," Brown said. "The real joy of that season was shooting the dinner scene between the Japanese couple -- Paul and Betty -- and Childan, where Childan goes over to their house for dinner. That was one of the most complex scenes I ever shot in terms of all of the underlying issues that were going on. It was really a joy to shoot that scene."
Those who enjoyed Brown's performance of Childan in Season 1 will get a lot more of it in the recently released Season 2 of the series, as Brown has been promoted to a series regular and the role of Childan has been expanded.
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