Primeval series 4: Interview with Ben Miller – James Lester
What does series four hold for Lester? For Lester it’s a complete change of regime. He’s used to ruling the roost, but now he’s playing second fiddle. Basically, a man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly is made to do someone else’s bidding. This obviously doesn’t go down very well at all, so that’s really fun to play because he’s more sarcastic and bitter than ever before.
The ARC was destroyed in series three, but now he has a completely new leader, team and HQ. How does Lester deal with that?
When we rejoin them we meet them quite a way down the line. So there’s a whole new ARC and a centre of communications, and this new boss who’s kind of like Richard Branson. This guy thinks there’s quite a bit of money in anomalies and has decided to pay for this huge facility which is a much bigger place than the previous ARC. But at the same time Lester’s in this weird position. Lester is basically a civil servant, but now he’s in this awkward place where he’s not in charge anymore. He gets told what to do, and he can’t stand it. Not only that, Philip is personable and really smart and a difficult person to manipulate, so Lester can’t get any purchase although he desperately tries to.
Does this mean Lester exists even more in the shadows, or will he see some action?
You’ll never see Lester outside getting his shoes dirty; he’s just not the type of man who ever enjoys going out in the field. I think he’s a big presence in the series, but he’s power sharing now. Like a kind of coalition. I have to say that in the relationship he’s very much the Clegg and not the Cameron.
Has series four moved on a long way from series three?
Oh yes there’s a whole new team, there’s a whole new network of relationships and definitely a whole lot more going on. TV is really all about the survival of the fittest and, if you can get another series, you get to learn about everything that went before. What I’ve really loved about this series is that the action stuff is really well mixed in with comedy and drama, and it’s a classic family TV mix. There are genuinely edgy moments. I still wouldn’t let my four-year-old son watch this, it’s much too scary.
Ben Miller 'knew Primeval would return'
Ben Miller has claimed that he always knew Primeval would return to television.
The actor, who plays James Lester in the sci-fi drama, told SFX that the show's continued popularity meant that a revival was inevitable.
"I have to say I never really believed it was the end of it," he said. "It's got such a following around the world that someone was going to decide to step in and do something with it."
He suggested that the show's original cancellation was primarily caused by financial issues.
"The problems were so much not to do with the show and just to do with the banking crisis," he explained.
Miller also revealed details about the upcoming fourth series, explaining that new character Philip Burton (Alexander Siddig) would be "a thorn in Lester's side".
"It's horrible for Lester because before there was a fairly obvious hierarchy," he admitted. "He reported to a minister and everybody else reported to him, but now he has this slightly shadowy billionaire character to report to."
He continued: "Philip's agenda is very much to do with the anomalies and scientifically exploiting them. He's not really about protecting the public or worrying about what to do with all these creatures."
Primeval: Ben Miller Interview
Find out what Ben Miller had to say about Primeval V and his character James Lester.
What happens to Lester in Primeval V?
Lester’s brooding animosity with Philip grows in this series. There was a sense of Lester hanging back a bit in series four, but this time it’s definitely more out in the open. He genuinely can’t stand the man. The difficulties of operating as number two are really getting to him. The plot also thickens regarding the mystery surrounding Ciaran’s character – Matt. That’s a big story in series five – where exactly has Matt come from and what does that mean for the anomalies?
How does Lester react when he finds out Matt’s secret?
He’s typically blase about the whole thing. Lester, as ever, is interested for about 15 seconds before he moves onto something else. He has limited interest in Matt’s problems. He’s mostly worried about what this means in terms of filling out forms. I love the way Lester is always quite uninterested in everything. He’s more interested in the consequences for him.
It seems that Lester always has to lock horns with someone. Does he ever pine for a quiet life?
Yes, it does seem that way! I think away from it all, Lester does have a quiet life. I imagine in his home life, his wife completely runs the show. I often ask myself how a man like that takes time off, and I come to the conclusion he gets bossed around at home. Either that or he’s got some very spoilt children that make his life an absolute misery.
Lester comes to blows with the Navy in this series. What can you tell us about that episode?
It’s one of my favourite ever episodes actually. It’s set on a submarine and we discover that Lester has a deep-seated hatred of the military. Among other things. I think there’s some unfinished business there – I wonder if he failed to get into Naval college or something. Certainly he’s harbouring a pretty large grudge. A submarine gets into trouble with an anomaly and several creatures, and he has a head-to-head moment with the Navy.
Does Lester have any Rambo moments in this series?
Oh there are, yes! There’s a very big climax to Primeval V, which Lester is a very big part of. And that’s great, because I love it when Lester rolls his sleeves up and gets hold of some sort of semiautomatic weapon. Those are always the high points of Primeval for me. Where he suddenly goes from playing Tetris on his iPad to mowing down dinosaurs. It ’s a proper save the planet/world/ mankind finale.
Did you always want to get into family drama and adventure?
It’s not really genres that get me going, it’s the characters. It’s so much fun playing a character like Lester; someone who just sneers at everything that takes place. Someone who thinks that dinosaurs are an administrative inconvenience and the people who run the ARC are mental, have-a-go-heroes.
He’s so brilliantly flawed, it just makes him so fun to play. He’s a man with extraordinary self-belief, but the thing is he’s actually quite sweet underneath it all. He does care about the team, but he just can’t bring himself to show it. There’s a sort of contradiction at the centre of him, and those sorts of characters are always interesting. The other thing that’s fun about Primeval is that it’s such a huge show. It’s a really huge thing. The effects they do... it’s just like doing a movie. It’s a very creative environment, with a large group of actors that I have got to know.