Desperate times call for desperate measures.
In a matter of hours, Steven Knight’s latest World War II series Rogue Heroes will hit Epix. ComingSoon talked with two of the show’s leading actors, Jack O’Connell and Alfie Allen, about their roles and what it means to portray WWII veterans. Rogue Heroes makes its United States debut on Epix at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Sunday, November 13.
“Rogue Heroes is a dramatized account of how the world’s greatest Special Forces unit, the Special Air Service (SAS), was formed under extraordinary circumstances in the darkest days of World War II,” reads the synopsis. “Based on Ben Macintyre’s best-selling book of the same name, the series centers on David Stirling, an eccentric young officer who is hospitalized after a training exercise gone wrong. Convinced that traditional commando units don’t work, Stirling creates a radical plan that flies in the face of all accepted rules of modern warfare. He fights for permission to recruit the toughest, boldest, and brightest soldiers for a small undercover unit that will create mayhem behind enemy lines. More rebels than soldiers, Stirling’s team is every bit as complicated, flawed, and reckless as it is brave and heroic.”
Tudor Leonte: The series is titled Rogue Heroes even though your characters don’t behave exactly like heroes sometimes. How do you justify their actions?
Alfie Allen: They were all kind of fighting for the same cause in terms of stopping the spread of fascism. In terms of justifying their actions, I mean, Jock was singlehandedly trying to stop the war, and he genuinely believed that he could do that. They all had their own kind of techniques and methods of madness that maybe weren’t viewed as socially acceptable in those times. I think that’s also what kinda brings these unique outcasts of society together is that these men, in times of war, they possibly would’ve been falling out of pubs or in prison. Then, when the time comes, they kinda find their… not because there’s something they were searching for, it’s just that kind of heroic status was something that was that fell upon them because of them wanting to genuinely stop the spread of fascism.
Jack, would you like to add something?
Jack O’Connell: Just on a kind of surface level, it’s not pretty, is it? It’s not pretty what these men are being asked to do. I think in order to sway the eventual fate of the war, there needed to be a bit of creativity ’cause I think prior to this particular point that we picked the story up on, it didn’t look good if you weren’t German, basically. The spread of fascism was well underway and that’s what they were up against. It was a big, big ugly common evil that they took on and eventually won. Yeah, in that sense, I would say it is heroic.
Jack, I also know you are very proud of your Irish heritage. How was it to portray an Irish lead who made a name for himself all by himself?
O’Connell: I dunno if it did offer me any kind of better perspective. What’s interesting is he comes through the Artists Rifles detachment of the British military and he keeps one man very close to him, Eoin McGonigal, who is a Catholic, and Paddy is a Protestant. Throughout history, those two fractions of Christianity have been quite abrasive to one another. That was fascinating to me, and that was something that I could feel like I could treat with a sensibility, perhaps because of my heritage.
Alfie, your character doesn’t like to follow orders but prefers to take matters into his own hands. What is it that you love the most about him?
Allen: I like the sorts of the idea that he doesn’t like to follow orders, but then also, at the same time, he knows that for the good of the regiment they need to follow orders. Then, also, these men who are following orders should ask questions of the people that are following orders or the men that are giving orders. That’s something that I liked about Jock. I came across a book of published love letters called ‘Joy Street,’ and that really helped me get into the mindset of him and just if there was anything kind outside of the kind of military identity that he had in terms of his relationships and whether there was any kind spontaneity to that and any humanity to it. The book did definitely give me that. Yeah, I would say that I just loved his kind of aloofness kindness, but then also at the same time, after reading the books, knowing that there was a humanity to it.
Again, this one is for both of you. What is it that your characters, so rebellious in serving a greater cause — fighting against nazis and fascists — can tell us, modern watchers, about our times?
O’Connell: That’s a good question. Yeah, that’s a good question. I need to think on it. Alfie, if you’ve got something that’s leaping out, you might go ahead.
Allen: You should always ask questions, and you shouldn’t just be forced-fed what you’re given in terms of orders or information, always strive to uncover the obvious and ask more of yourselves as, I guess not really military figures that wouldn’t be appropriate, but, yeah, just to ask questions of your superiors.
O’Connell: A f**king good answer, that.
O’Connell: I won’t be able to talk that me. Fair play.
Jack, all the series looks good, but I was wondering if there is any episode or scene in particular that you are particularly proud of?
O’Connell: From a very selfish aspect, I just love the dynamic between Sterling and Mayne ’cause is combative, yet cooperative in a combative way. I just love that dynamic. I love that. I love where Sterling grounds Paddy like with a child, just grounds him from missions and leaves him back at base camp. I just love this almost petulance that seems to generate within Paddy. I’m referring to Episode 4, and I just love where that dynamic has got to by then from a very selfish, Paddy-based perspective.