Season one of Man in the High Castle threw us into a gorgeously realised alternate reality where the Axis won World War II and the United States was divided into the east coast run by Nazis, the west coast run by Imperial Japan and a neutral zone between them. Since then, the real world landscape has exploded with people wondering about what other realities look like. With season two arriving on Amazon next week, we asked the cast and producers about rising popularity of alternate realities.
Image: Liane Hentscher/Amazon
“I think people just like the grand ‘what if?’ You know, it never gets old,” said executive producer Isa Dick Hackett. Star Luke Kleintak (Joe Blake) agreed, telling us, “You may grow up poor, you may grow up rich, you may think about a different life. I just think that’s essential to the imagination of a child, I think that’s the fascination.”
Hackett pointed out that the question of what reality would be better or worse depends heavily on who you are, which is obviously a central question of the show. There are characters who are successful within the system of the alternate universe who would be less important, obviously, in our own. And characters we like and respect might be better off in some ways and worse off in others. It’s not as simple as who won and who lost the war.
“It’s an interesting reflection on your own life and what your life could be. And it hasn’t been a very popular genre in term of adaptations, and now there are more and more of them out there, as I’m sure you’ve noticed,” Hackett continued. “People are fascinated by the ‘what if’. And, depending on who they are in the world, their own lives could be very different.”
Her fellow executive producer, David W. Zucker, also pointed out that the same questions apply to different points in time, not just timelines — which is one way to address “what ifs” within the show’s own universe. Zucker explained:
There’s also these references to other times in history and whether these times before would be something we’d revert to? Well, that depends on who you are. For many that time pre-war was not a better place. So who is determining what that future is, what and how we are meant to define the country we are is a very immediate question that is being asked. Not just in America, but around the world today.
The timeliness of a show that depicts America under authoritarian rule was another reason for the interest, said Bella Heathcote, who joins the season two cast as German filmmaker Nicole Becker. “I think it’s popular because in the current political climate it’s interesting to consider ‘what if’, what could have happened,” she said. “And I think it’s really valuable to look at that.”
Image: Brennan Brown and Rupert Evans in season two, Liane Hentscher/Amazon
Brennan Brown, who plays slightly shady store owner Robert Childan, elaborated on what the value of an alternate reality show. “I like to say it’s a fun-house mirror where it just refracts reality into an opposite land where everything is the opposite, but it helps us see the truth of our own real world by looking at this fictionalised alternate reality,” he said.
D.J. Qualls (Ed McCarthy) was adamant that any resemblance the show may have to reality is unintentional. “We’re not making political commentary. Journalists especially are asking what are the parallels from the show to what’s happening currently in the political climate,” he said. “And we’re only talking about it because it’s happening to us now. This is not new. These are basic human issues.”
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, the actor who plays Trade Minister Nobusuke Tagomi with such grace and compassion, said that he thinks the show stands at a meeting point of a lot of issues, and that’s what makes it work. “I think, in this moment, with this show, we’re looking at somewhere that has crossover from reality to fiction, from 17 years ago when the book was written, bleeding the past, present and future [together] and it’s exciting to be a part of.”
Man in the High Castle has gone from being an interesting “what if” thought experiment to a much more immediate feeling show. Brown’s summation of why this kind of alternate reality works was succinct and dead on: “It tells us the truth by telling us a lie.”