Carnival Row’s first season is now officially available to stream on Amazon Prime, and the fae world is sure to cause quite a stir. But despite its heavy supernatural element, the human relationships and warring families on the show are just as complex to navigate. Absalom Breakspear (Jared Harris) holds onto his political power as best he can in the wake of his son Jonah’s (Arty Froushan) many scandals, while Sophie Longerbane (Caroline Ford) seeks to regain her own family’s power after a lifetime under her father’s thumb.
Both Breakspears and Longerbanes took some time to chat with Screen Rant about their respective characters, shedding light on the political and personal motivations of each.
I want to get into your characters a little bit. Can you talk to me about each one of your characters’ status in The Burgue?
Caroline Ford: Yeah, absolutely. Status-wise, my character is – actually, all our characters are – the top echelon. We are the upper upper class. I am the daughter of the leader of the opposition party, so that is super high status. The most powerful family in the city, with the two most powerful families in the city. Sole daughter.
But my character, specifically, has been kept away from the world her entire life. In that way, she is kind of, I suppose, lower status because of that. But as soon as she comes out, she tries her hardest to regain the place she feels he deserves to be.
And how about your character, Jared?
Jared Harris: Absalom is sort of watching it slowly, out of the way, I think. I mean, he's been in control for a long time, and he sees that it's going to be hard to hang on to it. I think he sees the end coming and doesn't quite know that it's coming in the way that it does. But he realizes that the tides are shifting underneath him, and he's not going to be able to shift with the times. They're going to change out of favor for him.
He's been outplayed by the Longerbane family; the bane of my life. There’s a pun there. So, I think he sees his powers slipping and ebbing away. And the future doesn't look great.
Arty Froushan: That’s harsh. It depends on which way you’re look at it.
Jared Harris: You’re spending your time shagging and getting drunk.
Arty Froushan: Now I feel like you’re really disappointed in me. Sounds like you when you were younger – Absalom, I mean.
So, being Absalom’s son, Jonah is at the top of the pecking order. And he's very oblivious to the fact that his father's empire or power is slipping away. I think he chooses to be apolitical, not as a great gesture, but just because he has no interest in anything other than worldly pleasures. He's been given everything on a plate his whole life, and he’s not really sober to the stakes that the Breakspears find themselves in. This kind of plight, I guess; this very fragile political empire and all sorts of circling wolves, if you like, from other political families and other forces. Jonah is at the top, and as far as he's concerned, that is a very secure place to be.
One of the most interesting relationships in the whole series is Jonah and Sophie. Can you talk to me about how those two characters parallel each other, at least on at least on the surface?
Caroline Ford: Yeah. On the surface, we are in very similar positions, because we are the sole heirs to these two political dynasties. But we are on opposing sides, so in that way, we're different. But I suppose we've been given a very spoiled upbringing in many ways. I mean, I haven't in terms of friends, but I haven in terms of material things. And we are the only people in the world who are in the positions that we're in, in terms of what we're going to inherit.
Arty Froushan: Yes, and Sophie's very aware of that, and Jonah really isn’t.
Jared Harris: Look at her, she’s ambitious. And you’ve got no ambition at all.
Caroline Ford: But she tries to spark your ambition. Because if we join together, we would be super powerful.
It feels like Jonah doesn't have any ambition when it starts, but as we see, there's a lot of people trying to either pull his strings or really get something else out of him. Arty, could you talk about that a little bit? Because Jonah is almost a pawn all this, but towards the end, there's a big shift in that character with a certain rise to power.
Arty Froushan: Yeah, he's a puppet. He's being played, and he doesn't really know who is playing him.
Even his parents.
Arty Froushan: Yeah. And he has very deep suspicions that, I think, begin before the story starts. His relationship with his mother and father, especially his mother, is very complicated. I was thinking, “Is Jonah a mama's boy or a daddy's boy?”
On the surface, in a way, his father is his pawn. That's the only person he gets the chance to manipulate. But, actually, his mother has this really vicious grip on him, which is like love that turns poisonous because she loves him so much and has such high hopes for him.
So, he's being kind of pushed in a direction that he initially doesn't want to go to. And then, because of the shift you’re talking about, he suddenly sees the future unfold and open up to him. I think he then thinks he inherits a position of power, whereas actually… Again, I don’t want to give too much away, but he's still in the grips of people who have even grander designs.
I want to talk about Absalom’s relationship with Piety a little bit, because she's pretty fierce in the show and there's a lot revealed about her later on in life. She's almost even playing Absalom to an extent. Can you talk to me about how their relationship is, on the surface?
Jared Harris: It starts out as a political alliance, and it's a useful marriage for him to make. I don't think that he's ever told her about the great love his life and his youth. I think that they have a very strong relationship, in the sense that they're extremely effective together. That combination of the two of them has effectively allow them to rule The Burgue.
She’s started to have different [ideas]. I think one of the things we’re talking about with the ground shifting underneath them, it's not just the external things that are happening, with regards to the waves of fae people coming over. She’s changed her mind, but he doesn't know it.
What are each one of your characters’ stances on the faes and thorns in this society?
Jared Harris: Largely, they've been it's been enabled by Absalom and people like him. It’s supposed to represent the Industrial Revolution and the idea that you needed cheap labor. The cheaper the labor was, the greater your profits. So, they've been encouraging the idea of accepting the ways of immigration because it's been good for business. But, you know, it didn't trickle down. It never does. And people are getting fed up with it.
That's the sort of shifting circumstances that he's not able to control, and resentment is starting to build up about it. So, I think he's an opportunist in that sense. I think that, in a sort of sad way, he probably had an open heart about early on. But that part of him has become closed off, and he doesn't have that same feeling or sensibility towards the fae people that he could have had when he was younger. And then it gets reawakened later in the story.
Caroline, can you talk to me about Sophie's relationship with her father?
Caroline Ford: Well, it's pretty bad relationship. He is really very abusive, and I think has been from a very young age. My mother died in childbirth, so he's brought her up. I think she definitely blames him for her mother’s death because she thinks that he abused her in the same way that he abused me. So, it's a completely fractured relationship.
I think she resents him. I think she, she probably hates him quite deeply, because he’s locked her away in this castle for her entire life. He has not loved her, and because he's the only figure she has around, she doesn't understand love that much. Because she's never experienced it from him, she just reads about it and books. So, I think he's shaped her completely, through a lack of caring and a lack of consideration. And I think he's quite physically abusive to her, as well.
For Sophie and Jonah, what does carrying on their family's legacy mean to each one of those characters?
Caroline Ford: Yeah. For Sophie, it's absolutely everything. Because her mother was from a royal line. Sophie sees herself as continuing that line, in that she has royal heritage and she should be a queen. That's how she sees herself. And her dad squashed her for her entire life, so I think that her whole goal is to regain status and power and fulfill her destiny as a ruler. I think that's what she sees it as: her destiny.
Arty Froushan: I think for Jonah, he starts from being very complacent about his family's legacy and sure that it will continue by its own accord. He doesn’t need to contribute, he will just – when the time is right – arise to a position of influence. And the ball will just keep rolling in the pleasing and easy way that it has been for his whole young life thus far.
Then he gets to a point – again, I don't want to throw in any spoilers – where his family legacy kind of dissolves in his hands. He's like, “What is my family? Where do I actually come from? To whom do I owe this? Who am I doing that for?” And I think he concludes, “I guess it's for me,” and starts to realize that he can make himself very powerful for his own benefit and for Sophie, as well.
I don’t want to go into it too much, but it's kind of a teenage to adult transition.
Something happens to Jonah very early on within the series. What is Absalom willing to do and where is he willing to go to get his son back?
Arty Froushan: He’s pretty lazy.
Jared Harris: What are you talking about?
Arty Froushan: Dad, you could have done more.
Jared Harris: I f***ing kidnapped and pounded the Leader of the Opposition to a pulp to find you, boy. Not enough?
Arty Froushan: I’m joking, I’m joking.
Jared Harris: Don't blame me; blame the writers.
Arty Froushan: No blame!
Jared Harris: Obviously, he’s prepared to do just about anything he can. I think there’s a scene in [episode] 2 where they're talking about if they should pay them off. It's supposed to be similar to things that happen, like in Mexico, where people get kidnapped and it's a business. If you pay them off, they'll return your loved one to you. That's the expectation at that time.
But once he realizes it's more serious that that, I think he’ll raze the city to get him back.
Sci-fi and fantasy are usually, for us, cautionary tales of things happening in the real world. What are you hoping audiences take away from Carnival Row?
Jared Harris: First of all, you don't want to be preaching, because that’s irritating. And they're not going to hear anything unless it's an entertaining story. So, the opening of the door is always a good story.
And then there's a lot of parallels to current events that they're using in the story. There are a lot of very big issues and big questions we're faced with at the moment about how to deal with these problems, and the way people feel about it.
Arty Froushan: I think prejudice is a huge element on it, and like how prejudice can lead to enormous cruelty and thinking of people as subhuman. Even though, in this show, they're not human. So, I think just confronting people with how poisonous prejudice can be. That's at the center of it.
Jared Harris: I don’t think there’s any bad fae characters. There aren’t, really. Humans are the sort of devious beings.
There’s a couple, when they show that group of them.
Jared Harris: The activist ones? Yes, but generally speaking. Because I think they have sort of a purer mentality. The human element is the venal element.
Caroline Ford: Yeah. I also think, because you learn so much about such a wide range of characters, it will help people to understand people on different levels. There's no such thing as good and evil. One person isn't just pure evil; one person isn't just pure good. You see all the middle grounds and hopefully, I suppose, it will teach people to a bit more understanding.