the version interview... Michael Socha on E4's The Aliens.
Scabrously funny, shockingly violent and at times positively hallucinogenic, The Aliens is a wry and riotous adventure.
Since they crash-landed in the UK 40 years ago, aliens have lived among us. Though they look and behave exactly like us, they are forced to live a segregated life, behind a huge wall in a ghetto called Troy. It’s a hedonistic and ramshackle town, unpoliced and filled with gangs who make a living smuggling alien hair out of Troy to be smoked as a drug by humans.
Lewis, played by Michael Socha (This is England, Being Human) is a border guard who mans the checkpoint between Troy and the human side of the wall, but when he discovers that he is the world’s first half-alien, he finds himself drawn into a world of divided loyalties, gang wars and a search for his own identity. Michaela Coel (Top Boy, Chewing Gum) is Lilyhot, an enigmatic and alluring alien who is deeply embroiled in one of Troy’s criminal gangs. When Lewis crosses her path, her fate and his become inextricably entwined along with fellow alien Dominic, played by Jim Howick (Horrible Histories, Yonderland), as they find themselves caught up in gang turf wars, prison breakouts, hostage situations and a fur trade unlike any you’ve ever seen before…
Michael Socha tells us more...
Tell us a little about your character, Lewis?
He’s a very loyal family man, all he wants is his weird family to get on. But they’re not a conventional family, they’re all drug addicts or alcoholics. In his life I think Lewis is a realist; he understands what’s in front of him, he’s not a dreamer and he sees the world for what it is. He’s also very anti-alien at the start of the series.
How would you describe the world of Troy to people who haven’t yet seen it?
It’s a place that’s left to its own devices. It’s so colourful because these people have made it their own - they’ve done what they can with what they’ve been given. The humans haven’t exactly helped them either as there’s no funding. Aesthetically, it’s a nightmare - it looks so rough. To an outsider it’s very scary. The Troy set was based on a studio in Bulgaria - I loved filming there. All the extras were amazing.
What was that made you want to get involved in the project?
I pissed myself laughing! It’s rare that I laugh so much at a script. I looked at the Dominic part and I loved that character too. I’ve never played this type of character before, but I loved reading the words that were written for Lewis. I go to a lot of auditions, but this one I really loved doing it - I really enjoyed the vibe in the room. I brought an element of myself to Lewis cause it was something that felt nice and natural too.
The three main characters share a very complicated relationship? How was filming with Jim and Michaela?
We hit it off straight away – there were no squabbles or disagreements at all. Jim and I remain friends and I became really close with Michaela – we’re always Snapchatting and texting . I was a big fan of Jim’s before working with him, from Horrible Histories, and I just thought “he’s incredible”. I love his sense of humour too. Michaela is so incredibly talented - I watched her stuff when we were out in Bulgaria and was blown away by how talented she is as an actor, a writer and a producer. It’s very rare that I get that bond with people. Michael Smiley was great as well. We all had a few god nights out too!
Any fun stories from your time filming on set? Or is it a case of what happens in Bulgaria stays in Bulgaria?
We always used to play pranks – I play a kissing game where I make people look away and then I kiss them. That became a big deal between me and Jim – we got fierce on that. There were certain people you couldn’t really do it too, like some of the Bulgarian crew were a bit stern and they were hard to get, but they were the best ones. If you had the bollocks to get them you’d get two points! We just had so much fun. Me and Michaela corpsed a lot! I’d love to see the gag reel!
There’s a lot of action in the series, did you get to do many of the stunts yourself?
My favourite stunts to do were the driving stunts as I got to thrash these cars down this grit road. But my least favourite are stunts to do with high buildings – I’m not good at heights. I thought to myself “I’m not going to say I’m scared to the AD (assistant director) cause I don’t want to look silly in front of all these people I’m just going climb that scaffolding thing I’ll be fine”. But when it came to it on the day I almost sh*t myself! I had to have the stunt man climb up with me talking to me the entire time saying, “you’re fine, it’s okay, I’m here”.So my favourite was the driving, least favourite heights, definitely!
Channel 4 viewers will probably know you best from This is England. How different was the experience of filming The Aliens?
I was part of This is England from the age of 16. And it’s an organic project - there is an initial storyline but there no real script. We know the basics of the scene but there are also times in This Is England where you make improvise and you make a storyline for your character as you go through. Shane will change bits because of a line that was said on or off set. He asks us at workshops, “what do you think Harvey would do in this situation?” And he’ll say “ok, let’s do it!” Shane’s all about capturing real life and filming bits of stuff that people will really relate to. Whereas in The Aliens it was a new project, filled with new people, so I didn’t know anyone that I was working with. A character is a character, so it’s not me, it’s me being Lewis. So it was a completely different character and job, but with that same sort of camaraderie within the cast which I’ve only had before on This Is England. I’m massively grateful for This Is England – a lot of actors I speak to are desperate to do a project like that.
Were you sad not to of been able to have work one of those shell suits that the aliens were dressed in?
No! But I was envious of the extras in a riot scene, they got to wear proper riot gear. But I was bouncing around in my massive helmet in the first episode and didn’t look half as cool as they did.
Other than Lewis, of course, who or what’s your favourite alien?
Superman – he’s a kind alien that helps people.
The Aliens starts 9pm, Tuesday 8th March on E4.