'The North Water' star Colin Farrell felt 'death was around the corner' shooting harpoon drama

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·4-min read
Programme Name: The North Water - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows:  Patrick Sumner (JACK O’CONNELL), Henry Drax (COLIN FARRELL) - (C) See-Saw Films - Photographer: Katalin Vermes
Patrick Sumner (Jack O'Connell) and Henry Drax (Colin Farrell) in The North Water (See-Saw Films/Katalin Vermes)

You’ll want to wrap up warm when you sit down to watch new BBC drama The North Water.

The new big budget show, about the crazed adventures of a 19th century whaler boat, is reportedly the most northernly filmed drama in history – and it certainly looks like one of the coldest and most dangerous.

It's the gripping and dark story of the broken men aboard a busy working ship as they make one of the last voyages of a dying whaling industry. And it’s being brought to life by one of the best top line casts of the year.

The troubled leading characters is spearheaded by Jack O’Connell as disgraced army medic Sumner, who takes employ on the Hull whaling ship captained by Stephen Graham’s Brownlee. But the biggest presence on the boat is Colin Farrell’s hulking, brooding and psychotic harpooner Drax. While the support cast includes the likes of Peter Mullan and Tom Courtenay.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 31/08/2021 - Programme Name: The North Water - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: (L-R)  Webster (GARY LAMONT), Joseph Hannah (STEPHEN McMILLAN), Mckendrick (PHILLIP HILL-PEARSON), Otto (ROLAND MØLLER), Henry Drax (COLIN FARRELL), Cavendish (SAM SPRUELL), Jones (KIERAN URQUHART), Patrick Sumner (JACK O’CONNELL), Captain Brownlee (STEPHEN GRAHAM) - (C) See-Saw Films - Photographer: Nick Wall
The North Water cast (See-Saw Films/Nick Wall)

It’s a riveting edge of your seat drama and it seems like the shoot was just as exciting.

The series shot on the sea and ice around Svalbard in the Arctic circle, and was the toughest shoot most of the actors had endured.

Skins star Jack O’ Connell admitted: “We knew that it was going to be dangerous. There’s no way of completely eradicating danger. We had no signal, no internet. Everyone subscribed to it because of the personal challenges.

Programme Name: The North Water - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows:  Patrick Sumner (JACK O’CONNELL), Henry Drax (COLIN FARRELL) - (C) See-Saw Films - Photographer: Katalin Vermes
The North Water (See-Saw Films/Katalin Vermes)

“We took an old-school sailing ship which had an engine but could also double as our mid-19th century whaling vessel, so we were very lucky to be able to do that, because we were pretty exposed to all the elements of that environment.

“It was a tight space, so any negativity would have been potentially contagious. We were all very fortunate that we were with each other, and fortunate with the crew on board the Activ, who were totally professional and knew what they were doing.”

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He added: “The highlights must be when we encountered wildlife in its natural form. Seeing polar bears cutting about. One night a polar bear came right up to the ship. It was three in the morning and we all had to be up at seven. 

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 31/08/2021 - Programme Name: The North Water - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 1) - Picture Shows: (L-R)  Patrick Sumner (JACK O’CONNELL), Joseph Hannah (STEPHEN McMILLAN), Jones (KIERAN URQUHART), Otto (ROLAND MØLLER), Captain Brownlee (STEPHEN GRAHAM), Henry Drax (COLIN FARRELL) - (C) See-Saw Films - Photographer: Nick Wall
The North Water (See-Saw Films/Nick Wall)

"I’ll quote Colin. He was up watching this bear and a couple of us were on the stern, and he said: 'Look man, you can’t go to bed while this is happening.' The chances are we’ll never experience that again.”

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Farrell himself loved sinking his teeth into the part, and the world: “I did feel that death was just around the corner at any given time, that we were just one mistake away from someone falling into the Arctic sea and either very quickly getting hypothermia or sinking under the weight of the waterlogged costume.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 31/08/2021 - Programme Name: The North Water - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 1) - Picture Shows: *Behind the scenes*  Henry Drax (COLIN FARRELL) - (C) See-Saw Films - Photographer: Nick Wall
Behind the scenes with Colin Farrell on The North Water (See-Saw Films/Nick Wall)

“There were also polar bears around, who were beautiful and elegant and majestic but also apex predators. It was a very profound experience for us all to share.

“We all went through whatever we went through individually, missing our children, our lovers, our wives or husbands, because we had no communication, no email… it’s only three or four weeks but three or four weeks in a world in which we’re so used to having such accessibility at our fingertips.

“I found it really hard not to be able to be in contact with my guys, but it certainly created a bond between us all.”

The North Water launches as a box set on iPlayer on Friday, 10 September. It airs weekly on Fridays at 9:30pm on BBC Two.

Watch: Colin Farrell and crew go whaling in North Water clip

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