The new series The Watch is inspired by the characters created by Sir Terry Pratchett in his famous "Discworld" novels and it follows an unlikely group of law enforcement officers called the City Watch. Given that much of the crime has been licensed, unionized and sanctioned, the Watch don't have much to do. That changes when a new menace threatens the city and the ragtag Watch is forced to figure out how to save the world.
The cast includes Richard Dormer as the drunken Watch Captain Sam Vimes, Lara Rossi as Lady Sybil Ramkin, Adam Hugill as the naïve but heroic Carrot, Marama Corlett as the mysterious Angua and Jo Eaton Kent as the ingenious forensics expert Cheery. Also, Wendell Pierce plays The Watch's own idiosyncratic depiction of Death, Samuel Adewunmi plays Carcer Dun and Matt Berry is the voice of Wayne, a talking sword.
I recently spoke with Jo Eaton-Kent by phone about the show, the challenges of taking on the role of a beloved character and the dangers of reading comments about your work.
The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Q: What was your first reaction when you read the script for the first time?
Jo Eaton-Kent: I thought..."what a crazy world." I just couldn't wait to get involved. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to get involved with something that is so magical.
Q: Were you familiar with the 'Discworld' books before you took the role?
Jo Eaton-Kent: It wasn't "Discworld," but my Dad was involved in the theater and he put on a production of Pratchett's "Truckers." It was way back in the day, around the turn of the century. So I've been familiar with Pratchett's writings for a long time. I hadn't really explored "Discworld" properly until I landed the job. And the first thing I did was pick up "Night Watch" and I was so excited about it. I would little bits of it and think "Oh, I'm going to bring that to life!" and that was such an amazing thing.
Q: As an actor, I would think this could be a challenge. You obviously want to be faithful to the material, but this is also television. It needs to be entertaining and you also want to bring some of yourself into the character as well.
Jo Eaton-Kent: Absolutely. I think it would be wrong to treat something as though it had never existed before if it had. I stand back. But if you look at movie's like "Howl's Moving Castle," which is loosely based on a great book that is set in Wales. The movie is done by Studio Ghibli and even though it's very different from the book, it's one of the best movies of all time. You take "Jo Jo Rabbit," which is based on a book that I ended up reading during lockdown. It's again, a beautiful piece of work, but very different from the book it's based on.
That's the thing about media. Even though it's a different medium and it might be a very approach to the material, it's still the soul of it that carries through.
Q: Now that the season is done, are there any specific moments or parts of the show that you can highlight and say "this is something I specifically brought to this. This part of it is me?"
Jo Eaton-Kent: Well, I know as a trans person, I know what it's like to be Cheery. Because I see Cheery entirely as a trans allegory. And Cheery was introduced to us back in the 90s, when politics was quite different. And I think as time has gone on, we are all very aware that things change. And you have to speak to the times that you are in. And I know that the things I am experiencing - the discomfort and some of the feelings Cheery has felt in the books - I am feeling now.
I wanted to honor that and of course, I did honor that during the filming. Cheery is very similar to me in that sense. And I was very good in biology in school. So seeing Cheery as a forensic expert kind of goes hand-in-hand with me.
Q: Speaking of representation and being true to the character, it strikes me that especially in the case of 'The Watch' that is a double-edged sword. There is an audience who can't wait to see their favorite characters brought to life. But at the same time, they have very specific ideas about how those characters should be cast. I know that in the case of your Cheery and Lara Rossi's Lady Sybill Ramkin, some fans have been very vocal about their unhappiness with the casting. There were complaints the casting wasn't represntative enough or representative in the wrong way. So as an actor, how do you deal with that type of criticism?
Jo Eaton-Kent: You don't read the comments. That's the number one piece of advice. Whether their positive or negative. I think that it's very important for one's mental health to stay true to yourself and to stay true to your conscience in all of this.
I mean, I can understand people feeling anxious it. I do think though, that what we have done as a show is really something special. I think it's really good TV. I think what we've done is keep the same heart and the same joy as Pratchett's works. We have the same spirit as the books. It's got the same whimsey, it's got the same madness. And we're doing it in the best way we know how, which is filled with love.
Q: One of the interesting aspects of the "Discworld" books for me is that there is a level of acceptance - or at least tolerance - of differences between people that you don't see in the real world. But that acceptance also brings it own problems.
Jo Eaton-Kent: That was one of the great opportunities about playing this role. You're dealing with a completely formed world of its own with its own backstory. Lara (who plays Lady Sybill) talks about this. She says that as a black person you often get cast in these roles where the DNA of the character is very much driven by the suffering of their ancestors. And that can be very limiting and frustrating for an actor.
And for me, it's a similar thing. For people who are like me, we have to undergo a lot of trauma and had to take risks in our lives not that long ago. And there is a lot of discomfort that we understand living in this world. But while things might be more accepting in this world of Moorpark, it has its own levels of discomfort. It's unpleasant, people are dying all of the time, there are dragons on the loose and there are maniacs on the loose.
And that's what I think The Watch is trying to do in their own world. They're just trying to make sense of it all. And that's not that different than what we do here. They are just banding together to try and keep the evil from overtaking everything. And that is part is a universal thing, I think.
Q: What was your reaction when you finally saw the finished episodes? I know that with a show like this, it can sometimes be hard to visualize the final results.
Jo Eaton-Kent: Well, I have only seen a couple of episodes, so I suppose I should have gotten on somebody about that.
But when you're working on the show, you don't know how it's going to turn out. Not really. It's funny, I have a habit of not thinking about what I'm doing. I just doing something and think "well, it will be okay." But it's funny to see myself in some scenes and think "Oh, it turned out okay." But also there were scenes where I would think, "wow, that turned out very different than I expected, " or "wow, I didn't know that scene existed." But I am very happy with what I've seen so far.
The Watch premieres Sunday, January 3rd, 2020 at 8:00 pm ET on BBC America.