The Stars of X Company Discuss this Unique Take on the WWII Story

The six-part miniseries X Company debuts tonight on CBC, telling a story of the Allied spies who helped end World War II and their connection to Canada.

I’ve checked out the first episode, and I can’t recommend it enough. Oscar nominated film The Imitation Game has shown us a bit of this story from the British perspective, and there have been so many portrayals of WWII in film and on TV, but this series brings a new perspective and gives us the lesser-known story of Canada’s place in ending a war. I see hints of Code Name Verity in it, which is one of my favourite novels. Also, if you’re really enjoying Agent Carter, you’re going to love the women in X Company!

Before you head inside Camp X, the spy training facility on the shores of Lake Ontario that worked closely with Bletchley in England and gave birth to several CIA directors, we have this interview with some of X Company’s stars: Jack Laskey (Alfred Graves), Evelyne Brochu (Aurora Luft), Warren Brown (Neil Mackay), and Connor Price (Harry James). They shared their experience in bringing this story to life, and why this is a unique and fresh take on how the Allies won World War II.

Given the abundance of World War II stories that are out there on film and TV, including the current theatrical release The Imitation Game, what did all of you know about the spy world, and specifically about Canada’s role during WWII?

Jack Laskey: I don’t think any of us knew about Canada’s role in the Allied victory in WWII, so we were all really surprised, and I think the viewers will be, too. It’s great to be putting Canada on the map in this way.

Connor Price: When we first got the script, the title was “Camp X” that was and that was the spy training facility that existed in Whitby, ON. I thought it was made up when I first read the synopsis about a spy training school for WWII in Ontario. And sure enough, it was real.

Warren Brown: As you said, there are a lot of things out there, various incarnations and stories told with this backdrop, but giving the Canadian perspective on this particular facility that not a lot of people know about, we hope that it will make it stand out from the others that have come before.

Evelyne Brochu: I think a lot of the angles are quite new. A million movies and TV shows have been made about WWII, but there are a lot of special angles to our show. One of them is the character Alfred’s condition, synesthesia, When I read the script, that was something that really drew me in. It gives you a very sensual, intimate, intense personal angle to experiencing it.

Jack Laskey: I think that’s something the show is really brilliant on in general, understanding the war from multiple perspectives. I think a lot of dramas and films about WWII or other wars are much more black and white. Everyone has a distinct and very different reality to any situation, particularly one which is really extreme, where you are having a moment to moment discussion with your own mortality. These moments in the series are really welcome, where time sort of slows down and changes, and you see things or hear things from Alfred’s perspective. That really opens up a dialogue of what that means for all of these characters who are all really distinctly drawn by this beautiful cast.

They’re all really strong colours that all somehow complement each other, and each colour affects the other colours. I’m talking in that way, in terms of colours, because my journey was a lot about understanding this different perception of what it is to see the world through the eyes of a synesthete, or more through the eyes and through the touch and through the smell and the taste of a synesthete, because Alfred has five-fold synesthesia. All of his senses are cross-wired, meaning any one sensory stimulus can result in a response in all five senses. I would love to experience the world like that, even for a day. 1 in 2000 people approximately have some form of synesthesia, even if they don’t know it, and it’s an amazing condition to people who don’t understand the different wiring. Alfred’s father encouraged him to keep his difference hidden, and the work with this team brings this reclusive character out into the open and you see Alfred’s confidence growing through his relationships with these unique and talented individuals.

Jack, was there any type of extra preparation that you had to do to play this character, or was all of that covered in the script?

Jack Laskey: The scripts were very thorough. They were really brilliant. Mark [Ellis] and Stephanie [Morgenstern] are talented writers who write with a lot of humanity and understanding of every individual in the series.

Warren Brown: We were all given a really great blueprint or template of our characters to begin with.

Jack Laskey: But then it was our job to fill it up as much as possible with our own truth and emotions. I loved the exploration of my senses and what it means to touch a table and imagine what that might be if it was a piece of music. That was a really glorious part of the journey.

Evelyne Brochu: I think that separate from this genius actor that we were lucky to perform with, we had genius post-production people, creators that so delicately, with such a modern and compelling angle, that created these moments that are well-balanced and give the show a certain edge. I wondered how they were going to do the numbers lifting off the page, or the colour that [Alfred] hears, and I think it’s so magnificently done.

Jack Laskey: It’s done with a really fine brush. It’s not sledgehammered in there. Each time, it’s slightly different, but you can understand that it’s part of the same language. It’s really sensitively done. I really hope that synesthetes, other than [co-creator] Stephanie Morgenstern who is a synesthete herself, enjoy this portrayal and the voice it gives to them.

There’s been one gripe that I’ve noticed regarding The Imitation Game, in that it downplays or minimizes the role that women played in the WWII spy world. After watching just one episode of X Company, I can already see the role women played in this world. The way these female characters are written, particularly Aurora, it really recognizes and celebrates them. Evelyne, was this something that intrigued you about this project, that it’s a story not often told about the women who played such an important role in ending a war?

Evelyne Brochu: I have a friend who’s in Feminist Studies right now in university, and the term for it is “invisible work”. I think women throughout history, not only in wars but in intimate and social and political and economical situations are kind of always the invisible workers. A good metaphor for that is the men doing the showoff-y BBQ fiery job while the woman spend seven hours making salads and cleaning up everything afterward. This is a total cliché and it doesn’t happen in every family, but it still happens a lot, and when you paste that concept onto history, there’s something really frustrating to think that half of humanity is being ignored and those stories are always being told last.

The beautiful thing about our show, not only through my character but through a lot of the guest stars — I’m thinking of Karen LeBlanc, an amazing Canadian actress and singer who is in Episode 4 that did a crazy job playing Hallie DuVernay, who is inspired by Josephine Baker who was a resistance fighter, and Juliet Stevenson who plays a mayor in Episode 5 — the care that Mark and Steph put into making these women a part of the storytelling in our show to me is the specific angle that makes me so proud to be a part of it. It’s important to young women, and for people who don’t know much about WWII, to have this story be told because it never is, or not told enough. As a woman, I love getting to play things that you don’t necessarily get to play [in this type of story]. Sometimes you’re the love interest kissing the boy after he wins the game, kissing the hero after he goes on a mission. It’s good to be on the mission and in the plane and in the situation, and not just be the person who gets to hear the story and pat the back.

Jack Laskey: She wears the trousers in this group and that’s really refreshing to see, and is actually is more often than not the case, and that’s a part of society that’s not talked about enough. Traditionally it’s the men that are held up as the victors and the heroes, but there’s always a woman there.

Warren Brown: It really does deal with unsung heroes, the spies that sacrificed and put their lives on the line that not a lot of people know about, or the women that were playing a major part.

Evelyne Brochu: And the resistance fighters, the civilians.

Warren Brown: The people who were trying to make a difference without it being well-known that they are making a difference.

This world is pre-CIA, too.

Warren Brown: It stems from that, this was the very beginning of it, the foundation.

Evelyne Brochu: I think the first six directors of the CIA were trained at Camp X, if I read correctly.

You got to travel to Europe to film this, to Hungary and Serbia. Being in an actual place that looks and feels as if you’ve stepped back in time, what kind of effect does that have on your performance, rather than being on a sound stage somewhere in Canada?

Jack Laskey: You’re actually in a place where the fabric of those buildings has witnessed those times.

Warren Brown: It was often like stepping back in time. Yes, you act and you pretend, but our job is made a hell of a lot more easier when everywhere you look, you feel like you are in that era, because of the clothes you are wearing and the things that are surrounding you, and the props and the vehicles. Everything you see, you’re there.

Connor Price: I think that was the most amazing thing about the show for me, those moments when you’re in a scene and no matter where you look, there’s a prop car, or a sign that’s made to look like a street in Paris, and the real sound of gunfire. The moments in those shootouts, you forget [you’re acting] and it feels real. That wouldn’t have been possible unless we were in Europe, on those cobblestone roads.

Warren Brown: We were fortunate enough as actors to have been given this opportunity to do our work, but to also have worked with super talented people from every aspect. We’re here today talking about this, but talking about the unsung heroes again, there were so many people behind the scenes that are not at the forefront and may get overlooked, but without whom we couldn’t do our job. Every member of this crew was at the top of their game, believing in this project and putting their all into it, and that really helped.

Jack Laskey: Since we’re talking about the locations and stuff, Michael Fleischer, our production designer, has such an exceptional eye, and we’d go into these new spaces and you don’t quite know what they’ve done, but the fabric of it always felt real and told a real story,. The less you have to imagine [about the setting], the better it is as a performer so you can focus on the human interaction.

Evelyne Brochu: In terms of watching the show, there is something very rich but also very true because sometimes with period productions in Europe, you see a very flat image, whereas our show, and this may be because of the camera work, you’re inside it, there’s a quality that really draws you in.

I was completely drawn into this world. As a viewer watching the first episode, I felt like I was right there with your characters.

Evelyne Brochu: You’re part of the team.

Jack Laskey: And there are a lot of plates spinning the whole time. There’s the action, the thrill, the us being spies, and very rich character relationships that develop delicately over the series.

Warren Brown: I really enjoy the fact that yes, we’re the good guys, and you’re on this team, but the enemy isn’t painted as just evil. You get a chance to see their lives and that they are human. They’re also mothers and fathers and children of people. Going back to them when the war started, these men and women had no choice but to go and fight, whether they believed in it or not. It all depended on wherever you happened to be born. You have to go and fight against someone who mirrors your life and family.

Jack Laskey: And you see the effects of war on everyone’s countries, on both sides, which doesn’t often happen. That is such a fresh and positive and humanist perspective.

Photo Courtesy of CBC

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *