Thunderbirds Are Go: Ring of Fire screened at BFI Southbank

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ITV launched Thunderbirds Are Go in style today at the BFI Southbank in central London to a packed house of fans and journalists, desperate for their first real glimpse of the new series.

The audience was treated to the opening two-part story, Ring of Fire, which had been edited together to make a single 50-minute episode. The BFI’s superb NFT1 screening room did full justice to the visual effects and soundtrack, which wowed fans of all ages and roused several rounds of applause mid-viewing.

It was an action-packed introduction to the series that, in terms of pacing, was reminiscent of the opening double-bill of New Captain Scarlet. Resoundly embedding all the major core elements of the series format, Ring of Fire introduces all the regular characters and vehicles during an exhilarating pair of rescue missions orchestrated by the Hood.

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A Q&A session followed the screening, featuring ITV Executive Producers Giles Ridge and Estelle Hughes,  Head Writer Rob Hoegee and voice artists David Graham, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Kayvan Novak. David Menkin, Rasmus Hardiker and Andres Williams were also in attendance. Hoegee re-stated some of the small reveals about the series that he made at a recent Q&A on Reddit, including further insights into the fate of Jeff Tracy and the return of a certain star vehicle from the original series…

The screening was organised as part of the BFI’s regular Fun Day event for children, and included a storyboarding competition and animation stands to help younger fans bring the series to life. 

The Thunderbirds Are Go Interviews Part 1: The Tracy Brothers

Thunderbirds Are Go! Tracy brothers revealed

In early March Fanderson was invited to ITV’s offices in Gray’s Inn Road, London to interview the voice cast of Thunderbirds Are Go. In the first of three full-length interviews, we grill the men behind the voices of the Tracy brothers:

  • Rasmus Hardiker (Scott and Alan) - RH
  • David Menkin (Virgil and Gordon) - DM
  • Thomas Brodie-Sangster (John) - TBS

 

How does it feel to have worked on the remake of such an iconic series?
What can you tell us about your characters?
Did you find yourself talking to yourself in some scenes?
Does John get to leave the space station?
Would you say there’s much difference between the original characters and the new ones?
Can you give any hint about some of the ‘easter eggs’?
How would you describe Thunderbirds to someone who knows nothing about it?
Is there a story arc?
What has happened to Jeff…?
Did you watch the series before you did your research?
In terms of the audience, do you think ITV are trying to replicate Doctor Who?


How does it feel to have worked on the remake of such an iconic series?

RH:

I’m totally a life-long fan of Thunderbirds. I’ve said this before and it really is the biggest honour to be involved in this series, to be a Tracy brother. It’s completely incredible – they’re rebooting it and I couldn’t wait to be involved. I can’t quite believe it’s happened again.

TBS:

It’s always been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember. I had pictures of me in the full uniform, saluting! It’s always been something I’ve dreamt about doing and I never thought it could possibly happen. When I found out I got incredibly excited and just became a little kid again. It’s just great to go into the studio and be like a kid, having fun, messing around being a Tracy brother. It’s a dream – it’s just great.


“I heard that supposedly a lot of people loved Virgil in the original series – especially women!”

- David Menkin


What can you tell us about your characters?

DM:

As a foreigner I was told by my agent that I’d been put up for this and not to mess it up! So I did a lot of research, and eventually ended up playing Virgil and Gordon. I heard that supposedly a lot of people loved Virgil in the original series – especially women! I realised that he was the ‘caretaker’ of the group, and is the one that makes sure that everyone’s ok. Then I found out that Gordon is this guy who thinks he’s maybe a bit cooler than he actually is, and gets to head off underwater. Virgil and Gordon are actually together a lot because Thunderbird 2 takes Thunderbird 4 all around the world on missions (I don’t think I’m giving anything away there?!). So the two work together quite well, and that informed how I played both characters.


“It’s important to have that reassuring voice in your earpiece that knows the timeframe and what needs to be done.”

- Thomas Brodie-Sangster



So did you find yourself  talking to yourself in some scenes?

DM:

Yes! There’s a behind-the-scenes documentary where you’ll see me say ‘can we do that again?’, and we’re having a fight between the two brothers, which is a lot of fun, but is also pretty scary at the same time.

RH:

And Scott’s essentially the driving force. He’s the one who’ll say ‘let’s do this – let’s go’. He’ll pretty much do anything to get the job done without always using his head. His passion will outweigh his intelligence for smart manoeuvres, so he needs the others, especially Virgil, to reign him back at times. Virgil matches him in terms of his ship, and is kind of the bruiser, but Scott is very hot-headed and passionate, and Virgil definitely calms him down and says ‘look, we need to approach this with a level head.’ In contrast, Alan is the youngest and he’s very gifted. In terms of his role as pilot of Thunderbird 3, he’s one of those kids who never studies but always gets straight As. He’s a lovely kid, but he’s very cocky – he’s good and he knows it! It’s really interesting when these guys – who are all studs – see Alan slip up because of that cockiness, and everyone, rather than saying ‘I told you so’, is there as a family. They guide him in the right direction.

TBS:

John is the guy up in the sky – he’s the one keeping an eye on everything that’s going on. He’s very good at multi-tasking, thinking on his feet and keeps a very calm head. And for the people that are on the ground doing these mad, crazy rescues, it’s important to have that reassuring voice in your earpiece that knows the timeframe and what needs to be done.

RH:

You’re the go-to guy when everyone’s panicking, aren’t you?

TBS:

Yeah, John doesn’t panic at all. He’s very relaxed, but he’s also very passionate – he genuinely loves his job, and genuinely loves being on his own! I don’t think he’s particularly jealous of the other guys who get to be the cavaliers and go on missions– he’s quite happy being up in the space station.

Do you get to leave the space station in certain episodes?

TBS:

In the original series he would pop down for a cup of tea every now and then, say hello to the family and stay for Christmas, but he’d always like to get back up again. So there is freedom for him to come back and forth in Thunderbird 3.


“If you were to say that the original Thunderbirds never existed, and this was the first incarnation, we’d hope that people would love it just as much.”

- Rasmus Hardiker


Would you say there’s much difference between the original characters and the new ones?

TBS:

It’s very much inspired by the original series – I thought this was very important when I first heard about it. I know it’s been rebooted a few times and this hasn’t worked so well, and I think the reason for this is that ‘essence’ that once made it great was missing. So yes, it’s been brought up to date for a generation that doesn’t know anything about the original series, but it’s tried to tick all the right boxes to ensure it has the same character that made the original successful in the first place.

RH:

People always want something different so long as it’s the same! That’s the case with everybody. If you were to say that the original Thunderbirds never existed, and this was the first incarnation, we’d hope that people would love it just as much even without the knowledge that there is this lineage. It doffs the hat to everything that’s happened in the past – lots of easter eggs – really well thought out easter eggs. But as the times have changed, so have these characters. We have the original – that exists and isn’t going anywhere – so let’s take the blueprint of that and drive it forward and make it more futuristic. But there’s definitely hints to the old stuff!


“The reaction will change in one week from ‘This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen!’ to ‘This is the worst thing I’ve ever come across – what have you done to my childhood!’”

- David Menkin


Can you give any hint at all about some of these easter eggs?

RH: I don’t know if I can give any hints to specific easter eggs…

TBS:

There are really subtle things that you wouldn’t even notice.

RH:

I haven’t watched the originals since I was a kid, but there were things that made me think ‘oh my god that really links back to the original’ and you have to be on your game to spot them all.

DM:

Be aware of names, be aware of dates, designations, things like that – things that aren’t necessarily in the foreground. Little ‘love letters’ to the fans who absolutely loved the show.

The pressure was kind of taken off us a little, even though we were told how big a deal this series was. When we first started recording we came in and we were almost told that we were set up to fail. There’s such a love for this show, and Giles Ridge – who’s pretty much running the ship – said that we have a lot against us, and so we’ve decided to actually run with the feeling that we are hopefully going to break through that. And you can see it from the beautiful drip feeding (the teaser campaigns) that are coming from ITV. And the reaction will change in one week from ‘This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen!’ to ‘This is the worst thing I’ve ever come across – what have you done to my childhood!’ the next week.

It’s the only job I’ve done in animation where I’ve not been able to pull myself back emotionally from it, because it’s so good. It’s unusual.

I’ve done stuff that’s really, really cool, and in the end you just never know how it’s going to be with the audience. I really hope that people love this series as much as I have, because I’ve fallen in love with Thunderbirds.

RH:

It’s phenomenal. And we’re not just saying that because we’re involved in it. I’m always a fan of original series – I’m a big fan of Transformers: I love the original. This isn’t one of those shows which has set out to ruin the original. We saw an episode – not the first one story-wise, but the first one to be edited and finished, and it’s just  breath-taking, absolutely breath-taking, from the sounds of the ships, to the visuals, to how the Thunderbirds fly. It’s got lots of camera angles that doffs the hat to the original. In the original, when Thunderbird 1 launches (I’ve always remembered this), there would be a close-up on the craft and here we’re using the same shots – really it’s the same edits in many ways.

DM:

And it’s a model – it’s not CGI. It’s an actual model.

RH:

Yes, so all the models are hand-built at Weta Studios. While we were recording they went over to New Zealand and they saw the building of it – so even then it was in its infancy. It’s phenomenal – the water is real water.

TBS:

They’ve made the ripples much more realistic. I don’t how they do it – they must put a pulse through it

DM:

Thunderbird 4 is actually going through water, and it’s fighting current – you can actually see it. Some awesome nerd in New Zealand decided ‘yeah, let’s make it fight the current!’ And that’s what I love because the people who are really working on this, they love it. Peter Jackson has a model of Thunderbird 2 in his office – that’s the kind of people we’re dealing with and working for. We don’t worry about who we have to deal with after it’s released – we had to make sure that they were happy. That was a big deal – and we had some ‘notes’! (laughter)

Children might not be as familiar with the original series. How would you describe it to someone who knows nothing about it?

RH:

It’s an action-packed drama in a world that maybe has not had as much of that as it should of late. It’s like 24, but for kids and adults. It had the cliff-hangers, it has the action, the comedy, the light entertainment. It has that ‘we’re a family, we love eachother, but we bicker’, so it almost has that sitcom aspect. But at the end of the day, even though you have these lighter tones and darker tones, lots of cliff-hangers, lots of intriguing twists and turns, it is an action series. People fall in love with the ships instantly, that’s what happened with the original. You think ‘oh my god, what are these beautiful sky-metal-sausages’, and we get to know the ships as much as the people. So Scott’s always been synonymous with Thunderbird 1, Virgil with Thunderbird 2, and that is no different. If kids had never heard of or seen the original Thunderbirds they will still be drawn to it instantly and visually. The storylines are phenomenal and it’s an action drama with a bit of comedy in it as well.


“ There’s not one Tracy brother that is the leader of the pack, everyone is a driving force.”

- Rasmus Hardiker


DM:

Teamwork, co-operation, family, it’s all about how – in this world as well as in Thunderbirds – you can’t always do everything by yourself. It shows the importance of co-operation, and that it’s very important to ask for help. It’s important to give help, it’s important to be kind, and it’s important to sometimes realise that you don’t always ‘win’ by winning the end game. It’s actually about looking at the bigger picture and it’s teaching people that it’s not just about having a ‘final victory’ because there’s someone called the Hood involved in this, and he might have an endgame that is different to the Tracys. It’s very much about working together.

RH:

And also, there’s not one Tracy brother that is the leader of the pack, everyone is a driving force. There are episodes that are heavy on certain characters, or a pair of characters, or the whole group, but it’s not predominantly Scott or John, it really is an ensemble piece with episodes that highlight certain characters.

Are there all standalone episodes or is there a story arc?

RH:

The season has a story arc. Within that there are standalone episodes, but ultimately there’s a pretty incredible story arc –

DM:

Which we can’t tell you anything about!

There’s been a lot of speculation about what has happened to Jeff…

DM:

We can’t say anything about that!

RH:

But please keep speculating!

DM:

We’ll just nod sagely at you.

Did you watch the series before you did your research?

RH: Well, it wasn’t a prerequisite for the job. I love the original Thunderbirds, I’ve still got my Tracy Island in the box, I’ve still got all the toys. I watched it again purely because I was excited and it was something I wanted to do. For me, there wasn’t any studying involved, trying to emulate an accent or style. I approached it with a clean slate, but the characters are already defined. On the page, even though they are intricate – they’re not one-dimensional at all – that baseline is always the same. So, it wasn’t research – I just watched them for fun.

TBS:

I wanted to watch them. All of my copies are recorded on VHS – my Dad recorded them because he wanted to introduce me to Thunderbirds, and of course now they don’t work, they’re all chewed up, they vibrate, jump around – I don’ think my VHS player even works any more! So I didn’t get to see the whole season again.

RH:

Have they been released again? I went on to the Fanderson website and I saw that someone had posted a new DVD…?

It was the soundtrack to the original series.

RH:

Ah is that what it was? Ok, that’s cool. Because the music is great.


“(The music) blows you away. You feel like shedding tears, but they’re kind of being pushed back by the warp (speed of the craft)!”

- David Menkin


How has the music changed for the new series?

DM:

Oh, man! Seriously the Foster brothers – Nick and Ben Foster – they were involved in writing music for Doctor Who. I realised while I was researching the series that the music was so integral and I was left wondering how they were going to do it. You kind of feel that it’s the same music, but something’s changed about it. It’s all about tempo and it’s paying homage while bringing it up to date just a little bit, and picking up the temp because we’ve only got half an hour versus the hour of the original. So we have the music and the sound – and the sound is like an extra character in the show.

RH:

It’s very cinematic, the whole sound.

DM:

It blows you away. You feel like shedding tears, but they’re kind of being pushed back by the warp (speed of the craft- ed ). But it is beautiful and I think it really does stand up, and I really don’t think anyone is going to be disappointed by it.

In terms of the audience for ITV, do you think they are trying to replicate Doctor Who?

RH:

I can’t speak for ITV obviously, but I don’t think they’re trying to replicate anything. I think they’re bringing back something that needed to be brought back in the right way because it’s so popular. Why leave it in the can? The original will always exist and nothing will change that, but I think it was the right time, and we had the blessing (of Gerry Anderson – ed), and I think it’s something fresh. I can’t speak in terms of ratings, if that’s what you mean…?

In terms of demographics – because Doctor Who is one of those series that gets the whole family watching.

RH:

It’s 100% that in actuality, yeah.

DM:

Thunderbirds are Go! Tracy brothers

It’s multi-generational TV, and that’s pretty much the only thing that brings the entire family together. Doctor Who is very much written to be multi-generational. It’s something that grandma can watch down to the smallest kids with a pillow in front of their faces, but I really do think that – and this is something that has been pushed on me – this is not a show necessarily for the adults, this is a show designed to introduce a new generation to a wonderful brand and show.

It’s a bonus, as far as I’m concerned, that this has multi-generational appeal. I really don’t think that they made it specifically for Grandma to sit down and watch it. I really don’t think they made it for that audience. I don’t think they did it for that purpose, but – rock on!