Starz’s Counterpart is just getting started. They introduced us to two very different Howard Silks (J.K. Simmons). One is just a desk jockey who doesn’t know what’s going on until the other, who’s a spy, comes over from a parallel world on a mission.
Last week we met Ian Shaw (Nicholas Pinnock), Emily (Olivia Williams)’s partner and lover in the other world. In our world Emily is in a coma. Pinnock knew he wanted to be a performer from age four, went to stage school at 12 and had stints in contemporary dance and music. From his early 30s he focused on acting and currently has the role of Shaw on Counterpart. We spoke with Pinnock by phone. Upcoming episodes of Counterpart air Sunday nights on Starz.
WLE: Since you appeared first in the second episode of Counterpart, were you hired after the pilot?
Nicholas Pinnock: No, I wasn’t hired after the pilot. It was always the case that Shaw was going to make an entrance I think. There’s another character, Claire, who also enters in episode two. I think there wasn’t space for all seven in all episodes so they spread it out a little bit. They wanted to tease the audience and introduce some new people later on. I was one of them.
Nicholas Pinnock: No, Shaw’s very much the gatekeeper of the two worlds. He wants peace between the worlds but he doesn’t want two worlds to mix. He wants whatever’s on that side to stay on that side, whatever’s on this side to stay on this side. He does everything by the book and he’s almost like the moral line between the two worlds. If anything gets out of step he makes sure he puts it back in step.
WLE: He didn’t like Howard to begin with in either world, did he?
Nicholas Pinnock: No. The storyline between he and Emily, obviously being Howard’s ex-wife, that was always going to be something. I think from Shaw’s point of view, all he knows of Howard is him in the office. They’re colleagues, they work together and they didn’t really like him much then. Even more so once he and Emily started having a relationship, knowing the type of guy he was to Emily, and Shaw being the just human being that he is. The way he treats women is not very good. Why would you do that to your wife? So he had a real thing about it. It’s kind of like two men pounding their chests and trying to win favor really.
WLE: Is there any chance Shaw might get along better with Howard’s counterpart?
WLE: In episode six you have a big scene coming with J.K. What was it like to do that big interview scene with J.K.?
Nicholas Pinnock: That was amazing. That was a real big day. That scene took quite a while because it’s so layered in detail. It was very technical but it was also quite tense because it’s a real defining moment for Shaw in some of the knowledge that he gains just from that scene. So we rehearsed it quite a lot and J.K. is amazing to watch. He’s amazing to work opposite. He’s, one, extremely generous and two, it’s like watching a master class every time you’re on set with him. It was just such a fun scene. We played around with it quite a lot and he threw some things in, I threw some things in. I think we bonded over that scene.
WLE: When do you think Shaw’s relationship with Emily became personal?
Nicholas Pinnock: That’s a backstory really. They’ve been together a good while but had to keep it secret because of work politics and the fact that he’s working with her ex-husband. I think it was something where her relationship was going badly for some time and he was there for her.
WLE: Has Justin Marks briefed you on Shaw’s counterpart, whether we ever see him or not?
Nicholas Pinnock: I can’t talk about that. We all know about our characters in both worlds. We’re very, very aware of that. When and how they enter the series or future series is all to be seen, but we know very much who we are in both worlds.
Nicholas Pinnock: Oh yes. It’s basically like a bible. I’ve read bits of the Bible. I’ve never read the whole thing. You read what you kind of need. There were things throughout the course of filming, depending on the scene and depending on where our characters are at that I needed to reference and I needed some information. Everything is in there. So you’d go in and choose what you needed. All of it’s relevant but some of it more relevant than others. So I didn’t read the whole thing. At the end of the day we’re buys learning lines and working out our approach to certain scenes. We weren’t given the bible until we started filming so unfortunately, it wasn’t like we could prep before we got any of the scripts either. There is an amazing bible but I haven’t read all of it.
WLE: The further along Counterpart gets, is there more action for Shaw?
Nicholas Pinnock: Oh, absolutely. There’s hints of it in the trailers when you see a lot more of a fast paced Shaw that really kicks in and becomes a badass James Bond type spy. I think from episode six, like you said, where you really see Shaw step into gear, from eight onwards you see a very different Shaw. The character develops in such a lovely way. I’m so grateful for the journey that Justin was kind enough to gift me in taking with Shaw.
WLE: We’ve already learned things are a little different over there. What else is not quite like our world?
Nicholas Pinnock: They’re like our world but 30 years ago. The technology, they just don’t have it. There’s a grayness about it as well. As you know, 20 years ago, there was a flu epidemic which wiped out a lot of the people in that world. So things like science and medicine, technology, there weren’t the people there to actually keep moving it forward, so it kind of plateaued. It’s literally just like our world but 30 years ago with a lot less people and no advancement in technology or medicine.
WLE: What have been some of your favorite roles or projects to work on?
Nicholas Pinnock: Top Boy was a great one for me. I think that was the first defining moment of my career. It’s like everyone went, “Oh, he’s still alive. Oh, he’s still acting. Oh, he’s still really good.” That was lovely. It was a great character to explore, Leon on that show. I played a version of Jack Johnson. It was a play called The Royale written by Marco Ramirez who wrote Daredevil. It was depicting a version of Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion of the world. That was amazing. The transformation I had to go through, I had to put on an extra stone and a half in weight. I was boxing four times a week. I was weight training six days a week and eating four meals a day. These are some of the challenges I want to keep exploring. It’s not all the time you get an opportunity to play roles that require such level of detail and work and transformation. So when you’re given them, I absolutely jump with them. That’s been one of my favorites. Another one really is Counterpart, Shaw in Counterpart. It really did put me in a position where I needed to up my game a little bit and I championed that.
WLE: When you do such extensive physical training like boxing and then you have to give it up, does it feel really unsustainable for anyone who’s not a professional fighter or actor to maintain that physicality?
Nicholas Pinnock: Oh, absolutely. Undoubtedly. I got to a point where I thought that I could actually become world champion. I honestly, honestly convinced myself that I could get into the ring, I could fight anybody and I could win. Because your body is trained for it, is tuned for it. Your mind gets into that space as well so you actually really do believe it. You have to believe it or else you can’t play it convincingly. Then when that journey’s over and you don’t have to be at the theater every day, and you’ve got other commitments because you’ve got another TV show you have to do or you have another film you have to prepare for and you don’t have time to box. It’s not sustainable at all and then you realize how hard these people work on a daily, hourly, minute by minute basis to keep up that level of physicality to do what they do. Actually, another one of my lovely roles I played was Bill in The Keeping Room. I spent 20 days on a horse because Bill and the horse were one. So I had to start horse riding. Again, the way that it moves your body and you have to physically adapt to that animal that you have to become one with, just really, really opened up my eyes to a world that I was never privy to before. But the great thing about that is I horse ride almost every week now because I fell in love with horses. I’ve always loved them before but I think when you’re put in a situation, you go, “I’m going to horse ride next week. I’m going to take lessons. I’m going to do this,” you never get around to doing it because there’s always something else to do. But when you have to do it and it’s a part of your work now, it becomes a part of you. In the same respect, I haven’t stopped boxing. I still go boxing every other week and I still train, because there are shards of your character that stay with you and will forever be with you. So I keep becoming, taking bits from all of these people that I play. It’s going to be really interesting when I’m finished with Shaw at some point in the future, what it is I take from him.
WLE: You got to play a S.H.I.E.L.D. in the first Captain America. Was that fun?
Nicholas Pinnock: That was amazing. I am a big comic book fan. I used to read those comics when I was a kid. To be able to get on a set and be the S.H.I.E.L.D. that found Captain America’s shield after all those years being frozen in the ice, it was a dream. I didn’t have to be one of the main characters. I’m quite happy being one of the agents but I’m actually technically a part of that universe. Who doesn’t want to be part of the Marvel universe?