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Interview: Actor Nicholas Pinnock on 'Counterpart,' 'Lock In' and How Representation Matters in the Film Industry

March 19, 2018Ben MK

Best known for his role as Ian Shaw on the Starz original series Counterpart, Nicholas Pinnock has been acting for most of his life. A familiar face on British television, the UK actor has starred alongside Anna Friel in the crime series Marcella and Idris Elba in the miniseries Guerrilla, but it's with Counterpart that Pinnock has been able to leave a mark on audiences on this side of the Atlantic, playing a government agent from a parallel dimension opposite J.K. Simmons and Olivia Williams.

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Pinnock to discuss not only what might lie in store for his Counterpart character in season two of the show, but also to chat about how he approached his role in the topical short film Lock In, as well as to get his take on how movies like Black Panther are championing the need for greater diversity and representation in the film industry.

You were in Captain America: Civil War, and the hot topic now is the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther. How important is it for you that there are not only roles for persons of color but also roles written specifically for persons of color? And do you see a shift happening in the industry now to indicate that, indeed, there is a conscious effort to encourage greater representation in film and television?

Pinnock: It's important to me because if there weren't, we wouldn't be having this interview!!!! I don't get bogged down with all that, to be honest. I just go and do my job. I don't let it bother me or I'd be too bitter and angry to function. It's an issue that needs solving and will always get my support and I'll do what I can, but if I spent too long thinking about it and focusing on what roles there aren't or what opportunities there should have been, I'd get nowhere but frustrated.

I've had great roles and opportunities and they're constantly getting better. Because things are getting better. It's slow but I've seen it change and see it changing all the time. For all who are underrepresented except the disabled. That's where A LOT of work needs doing and our full support. I think the important message that isn't being said loudly enough is that the white middle class male stereotype doesn't need to be erased. It doesn't need to be replaced. Because by doing that, you take a role model that that group of people identify with and look up to, thus creating the same problem but in reverse.

It just needs to make room for others to stand shoulder to shoulder with equal attention and in equal numbers, so it's fair and ultimately there's choice for all. And the proof with Black Panther is that the myth that there isn't an audience for a cast that isn't white, was a lie! There really is! It's what audiences across the board have been asking for.

It represents a world and a society they live in and identify with. And we need to just write good roles for good actors. Regardless of their demographic. Unless it's historical, it should be open to all as we all share the same human experiences just from different angles. If the role is written well, you shouldn't need to be of the same description as the character to understand and connect to it. We are all just people. #IAmAllOfYouWeAreAllEachOther

Lock In is one of those films that start out in one place and then ends up somewhere completely different, so that the audience's sympathies are with a completely different character by the end than they were at the beginning. As an actor, do you strive to find something unique about each project that you work on? And if so, what about Lock In spoke to you the most?

Pinnock: You've hit the nail on the head. That's exactly what it does. That's the power in short films. The gear change happens sometimes without you really knowing it. I love finding gems like this to get my teeth into, and when Lock In came my way, I was instantly engaged and knew what I wanted to do with the role.

The psyche of a successful man who I'm sure has dealt with this pain all his life is something I can relate to. I suffered PTSD so immediately got where he was at. Albeit different reasons, I still understood the mechanics and nuances in his responses. When his memory is spoken out loud for maybe the first time, it has a profound affect on you and those around you. And I don't often get cast in roles like this so it was great to explore and create in a way that I'm not usually given licence to.

And Nev Pierce was a gem of a director to work with. He was very open and collaborative but also knew what he wanted to achieve so he made what could have been, and was, really tough, just that much easier. I wouldn't say I was typecast but I do often play a "type" (if that makes sense). They're all men of authority but men of different types within it.

The short is also disturbingly relevant to current events, so it's also very timely that this is getting a worldwide release now. I can imagine it's more satisfying as an actor, but do you also feel a burden of greater responsibility when the material carries such weight? And how do you prepare for such a role?

Pinnock: It is timely but that's not important. Whenever it came out it would have been relevant to the people who can immediately identify. I feel responsible for every role regardless of the weight or size of the part or the piece carries because there's always someone somewhere who is like that or connects to every character I play. I'm an actor. A storyteller. If my part I'm telling that story isn't executed very well, I've failed the audience.

How do I prep? For this, I did a lot of reading and then just turned the focus to a place where I could relate and the rest, I just imagined what that might be like. I call it, Accurate Imagination.

Of course, you're also in the new sci-fi/espionage series Counterpart, in which you star alongside J.K. Simmons and Olivia Williams. Can you tell me more about what might be in store for your character, Ian Shaw, and where the show might be headed in its second season?

Pinnock: Ian Shaw is a slow-burning character in the first season and comes into his own from episode 4, then it drives right through to episode 10. You see him enter as this by-the-book moral figure that slowly reveals a harder edge as it goes along. In season two, there's a massive twist for Ian, and you understand his ways in season one a lot more and in a lot more depth. And that's all I’m saying. (He seals his lips)

The season finale of Counterpart airs March 25th on Starz, and Lock In is now available for streaming on Vimeo.

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