When Adam Rothenberg signed on to star in BBC America's hit crime drama "Ripper Street," he wasn't expecting to feel quite so special on set in Ireland.
"I was for once exotic, yeah," he said, laughing. "I never really thought of myself as having an accent and being different."
Set in London's rough East End in 1890, "Ripper Street" tells the story of H Division, the police precinct charged with keeping order in the aftermath of Jack the Ripper's reign of terror. Rothenberg plays American Homer Jackson, an ex-Army surgeon and ex-Pinkerton detective recruited by Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) to help the police, including Reid's right-hand man, Sgt. Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn), to solve crimes. (Read my review here.)
Just as Jackson's the only American working with H Division, Rothenberg was the only American on set during filming.
"I don't want to say [it was] totally life imitating art because I'm not nearly as interesting as Homer," he told me during a phone call from Gramercy, N.Y., where he lives. "But, yeah, there was a lot of that ... and that really helped in the flavor of the show. I actually kind of learned what being an American was all about by being surrounded by people who weren't. And, of course, that's part of what the show explores."
How Jackson, the consummate outsider, fits in with his new British "friends" has been one of the series more interesting aspects. Reid asked, then cajoled and then threatened him to remain at the inspector's beck and call to perform autopsies and use the burgeoning science of forensics to help solve cases. A fan of any vice you can imagine, Jackson's also gambled, gotten drunk (many times), been beaten up and clashed with the more straight-laced Drake, as well as Long Susan Hart (Myanna Buring), with whom he shares a dark secret.
An incident in their past led Jackson and Long Susan to hide out in the Whitechapel neighborhood, where she runs a brothel in which he lives. That past came back to haunt them in the latest episode, "A Man of My Company." The couple--who turn out to be married--overcame the threat, but Jackson isn't out of the woods yet. In the Season 1 finale, called "What Use Our Work" and airing at 8 p.m. CT March 9, he's suspected of being Jack the Ripper and put under arrest. (Watch the trailer below.)
Jackson may have had a rough time of it this season, but that's exactly the stuff of a great role, said Rothenberg, who hopefully will be back next season now that the show has been renewed.
"It's like a dream part. Early forensics, gun-slinging, card-counting, whoring, you know?" he said. "It's got everything kind of rolled into one."
Rothenberg talked more about the role, how working in period costumes with facial hair and speaking creator Richard Warlow's dialogue helped create the character. He also talks about some of his pre-acting jobs.
Tell me how it feels to be the guy developing modern forensics.
[Laughs.] I can't pretend to have anywhere near the amount of brains that Homer Jackson has. But no, it's cool. ... I got really, really lucky.
If you had to pick actors of a certain age between 25 and probably 45 and have them just write a ridiculous list of qualities for the kind of role they'd want to play I think Homer Jackson pretty much wraps it up. I love the fact that he's an incredibly capable person with seemingly no ambition in life.
His qualities are great but they're even made more kind of poignant and more viable in contrast to the other two guys, which I think is one of the great things about the show. It's really a triad of characters, and I think so much of the drama and the interest of the show is actually watching those three almost archetypes aiding one another and rubbing up against one another.
I love the dynamic between the three and I was wondering if you could sort of describe how that developed. Was it just in the script and it just worked out?
Yeah, it was how it was written but for some reason the stars were aligned. I do think "chemistry" is such an overused cliche, especially in movies and TV and all that. But, yeah, the chemistry was there. I think that that chemistry just had to do with a lot of respect, a lot love. It was a real feeling of fraternity on the set and I think that that really helps. And it especially helps scenes and events in the story where the characters are in conflict, because it's very hard to sort of throw yourself into conflict as an actor with people or other actors that you're very uncomfortable with. So we were able to sort of kind of go anywhere we wanted knowing that it was all done with a feeling of support and excitement and respect for each other. So I think it's both. I think it was definitely inherent in the script but then there was just a really nice happenstance--we all happened to get along so well and complement one another.