Jack Donnelly takes on his first leading role in BBC America's "Atlantis." (BBC America )
Jack Donnelly jumped into his auditions for BBC America's fantasy series "Atlantis" using a few well-placed bluffs.
"I lied through my teeth," he said, laughing, during a recent phone call from London.
When asked by producers if he had a gymnastics background that could help him play Jason, a young man who sword-fights, rides horses and leaps from rooftop to rooftop, he dodged the question by telling them about his younger brother Harvey, who is a gymnast in Cirque du Soleil.
"And they're like, 'Amazing, that's great,'" the 28-year-old said. "Once I got the part they sent me off to a stunt coordinator … and I said, 'Listen, I don't even think I can do a forward roll.'"
After weeks of training, Donnelly was doing all sorts of stunts as Jason, the series lead character who is shot through a gateway to the mythical land of Atlantis, where minotaurs and two-headed dragons aren't that unusual.
Jason befriends Pythagoras (Robert Emms) and Hercules (Mark Addy) and the threesome cross paths with creatures and characters from Greek mythology.
In the series' third episode premiering at 8 p.m. Dec. 7 on BBC America, Jason and his friends are forced to jump over charging bulls to pay respect to the Greek god Poseidon. Donnelly actually jumped for the scene, but the bull was added to the shot later so there was little chance for injury.
He wasn't so lucky when filming a sword fight scene. He landed in the hospital after a mishap with what should have been a rubber knife.
"I blocked one of the knives that was being stabbed at me but it went through my elbow. We finished the take and it was all good," he said. "We were about to move on and I looked down and had this hole in my arm."
He's fine now, but if you see a scar on his arm it's likely real, he said.
Donnelly's looking forward to more action now that the series, created by Howard Overman ("Misfits"), Julian Murphy and Johnny Capps ("Merlin"), has been renewed for a second season.
Playing Jason is the actor's biggest role to date after appearing in British TV episodes including playing the White Rabbit in Overman's "Misfits," which led to another bluff from the actor during his "Atlantis" audition.
"I tried to make it seem like I knew him when I was auditioning, 'Yeah, yeah, I know Howard. I've been in his other shows,'" Donnelly said. He and Overman didn't meet until later.
Donnelly talked more about playing Jason, working with his costars and washing up naked on a cold beach in Wales.
Congrats, this is kind of your first big big role, isn't it?
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you very much. Yeah, it's the biggest thing I've done by quite a way. I've done little bits and stuff in England—episodes of stuff, coming in and doing a few lines and a few plays in like fringe theater just outside of the West End. But this sort of has taken on a whole new level.
I haven't gotten far enough in "Misfits" to see you as the White Rabbit yet.
No worries man. It's just me as a big white rabbit going around and killing people with a golf club.
We don't actually even see your face, do we?
You don't even see my face. Yeah, but it was a job and I wanted to do it. I thought, "Yeah, that's a pretty cool part to play. Who else can say they've played a giant killer white rabbit?"
The creator of "Misfits" is also one of the creators of "Atlantis?"
Howard Overman—the same guy who created "Misfits." He created this. And it was funny because when I met him for the first time at the "Atlantis" read-through he spoke to me and he said that he'd been told that I was in "Misfits" when I was auditioning.
And he was asking, "Who was he in ‘Misfits'?" He was wracking his brain trying to think who I was because he's seen all the episodes. And he goes, "I can't remember this guy. This is really bad." And then he ended up phoning and trying to speak to them saying, "When did this guy come in? Who did he costume as?" And then it dawned on him and he was like, "Oh, he was the White Rabbit. That's why I never saw his face."
But, yeah, I tried to make it seem like I knew him when I was auditioning, "Yeah, yeah, I know Howard. I've been in his other shows."
But you hadn't met him?
Yeah, that's right. I hadn't met him because I came into "Misfits" just doing the one episode. He's not on set the whole time because he's a creator and writer. And then, yeah, when I auditioned for this I met him once I'd been offered the part. I had like a first meeting and read through which is the first time I met Howard. But I'd met the other two producers, Johnny and Julian.
I was going to ask you if because you had been on "Misfits" that made auditioning for this any less nerve-wracking, but I guess not.
Not even a little bit, yeah. Not even at all. I thought it might help but, yeah, not even the slightest bit. But there you go.