On Torchwood, Gwen Cooper has faced down extraterrestrial threats to life on Earth and always survived. But Eve Myles, the actress who plays Gwen, shooting Torchwood: Miracle Day involved a terrifying new challenge: Driving on the right-hand side of the road.
Eve Myles as Gwen Cooper. Presumably Myles doesn’t drive with a gun.
“I’ve been petrified for I don’t know how long,” recounts the Welsh-born actress between takes on the show’s Burbank set. “And I thought if this is going to be like the first time I rode a bike, where I went straight towards a wall, so I covered my eyes with my hands and hit the wall, please don’t do this in the car.”
Torchwood, a spin-off of the legendary Doctor Who series, has enjoyed widespread popularity in the United Kingdom and a fervent fanbase in the U.S. With the show’s fourth season, premiering July 8, Torchwood becomes a co-production between the BBC and the American cable network Starz; as such, the cast traveled to California to shoot part of the ten-episode season on the Warner Bros. lot. Which is why Myles has had to learn to drive like an American.
“I’ve been called an a—hole more times than I’d like,” says the actress, but apart from that, she’s having a blast in Hollywood. “As soon as we were here, and I had the pleasure of coming to Warner Bros. for the first read-through, I mean, it’s been the best year of my life. It’s been incredible. California is the land of dreams. It’s beautiful, the people are great, the weather is fantastic, the facilities for our industry are just mind-blowing. It’s why you become an actor, to work in these kinds of studios, with all this history. And my family has just melted into it; they love it. My little girl is just thriving here. We love it; we’d love to make it a permanent fixture. If there’s a second season here, we’re packed bag and parcel, and we’re here, full stop.”
But while Myles is luxuriating in the sunshine, Torchwood: Miracle Day finds her character Gwen in somewhat more dire straits, coming off of the apocalyptic events of the show’s prior season, Children of Earth.
“We find Gwen absolutely bored out of her mind but constantly on alert, constantly looking over her shoulder,” says Myles. “She’s exhausted. You find her living, literally, on the edge of a cliff somewhere in the UK, overlooking the most fabulous beach.” And lest you think this kick-ass character has gone all housewife-y on us, Myles adds, “You start to look through the drawers and under the cupboards, and they are weaponed out – she’s got every rocket-launcher, gun, blade, explosive device known to mankind all hidden in this beautiful chocolate box. It’s a quite deadly house.”
For Gwen’s husband Rhys, played by Kai Owen, getting away from Torchwood and the constant threat of alien attack feels like a dream come true. “Rhys is in the most perfect place on earth, really – in a lovely cottage in south Wales, overlooking the sea, with a beautiful wife, a beautiful daughter. He kind of wishes that he wasn’t in witness protection, in hiding, because they have to keep a low profile.”
Naturally, this being Torchwood, Rhys and Gwen’s idyll can’t last for long, particularly when Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) comes calling. “You find her in limbo until Mister Bloody Flashy-Ass turns up,” says Myles with a grin, “and all of a sudden her life starts again.”
The crisis that calls Gwen (and by extension, Rhys) back into action is the titular Miracle Day, in which everyone on Earth suddenly stops dying. “Death stops. Death takes a holiday, big-time, permanently,” recounts the show’s openly gay creator Russell T. Davies, the man behind Queer as Folk and the immensely successful reboot of Doctor Who. “And we’re all left with a health care system that stops up. Because the world kind of depends on people dying – food and hospitals and assistance sort of depend on the regular turnover of death, so when that stops, you see what happens to the whole of society. And that’s what Torchwood have got to tackle.”
Davies adds, “The marvelous thing about it is that it’s sort of this intangible problem – the drama of it, which is they’ve got to investigate this massive, invisible thing. But that all sounds a bit conceptual, though. The truth is there are chases, there are explosions, kisses, all sorts of things, many of them happening at the same time.”
Taking Miracle Day to some darker places this season will be Oswald Danes, played by genre veteran Bill Pullman (Independence Day, Spaceballs). Oswald is a murderer and pedophile who was scheduled for execution, only to have that whole not-dying thing stand in the way. According to Pullman, it’s his character’s survival that tips people off to the fact that the “miracle” is anything but, “because people like me are allowed to run around free – they can’t kill me again.”
This criminal winds up becoming one of the keys to Torchwood’s mission, as do several new American characters, including CIA agents played by Mekhi Phifer and Alexa Havins, and Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under) as a PR genius. There are Americans on both sides of the camera, as Davies collaborated with several U.S. writers, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer vet Jane Espenson, about whom Davies raved, “We kind of made contact a long time ago because I wrote a book the making of ‘Doctor Who,’ and it turns out her partner is a Doctor Who fan, so he read it and passed it on to her, and in the book, weirdly, I mentioned her, which is just too coincidental for words. So we were destined to work together. And when I moved to Los Angeles, one of the very first things [the BBC’s] Julie Gardner and I did was to take Jane Espenson to lunch and say how much we loved her. She was so marvelous, in holding her schedule open to come work with us, and it was just a powerhouse.”
And if you’ve always meant to watch Torchwood but felt like it was too complicated a story to jump into, Miracle Day is just for you. Since the show’s going to be reaching a whole new audience via Starz, “you actually have characters on screen asking the questions that you are wondering about,” says Davies. “So we have a CIA agent called Rex Matheson [Phifer], and he actually goes, ‘What is Torchwood? How can I find out all about it? Who’s Captain Jack? Who’s Gwen Cooper?’ And you also have his assistant, Esther [Havins], and she does all the research – she goes and finds the history of Torchwood, which is mysteriously vanishing at the same time; there’s a virus that’s wiping all information about Torchwood off of computers. You actually get the process of that discovery – and there’s a joy in that discovery – on screen as a viewer alongside the characters. And then of course the moment that they find out what Torchwood is, there’s trouble, and things start exploding, and everyone’s running and screaming, so you get the fun of that as well.”
But relax, returning fans, Davies insists that Torchwoodhas by no means been Americanized. “It’s absolutely the same show; we’re literally a continuation of the same people and the same events in the same world, just starting a new chapter in their lives.”
Torchwood: Miracle Day airs on Starz Friday July 8