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‘Boom’ was the sound of doom

Many people consider the Stellan Skarsgard-starrer series ‘Chernobyl’ a horror story in the guise of a historical docudrama

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“It was not trying to put strength and sugar on everything. It’s like vitamin injected straight into your brain.”

“Chernobyl” is not “entertaining” in the same way rom-com or drama shows are. The HBO series is hard to watch because it’s about a nuclear accident that’s become one of the worst human-made catastrophes in history.

The story centers on the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, Soviet Union, the time it suffered a massive explosion that released radioactive material across Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, and as far as Scandinavia and Western Europe, going on to kill hundreds of thousands and affect millions more.

Bulletin Entertainment recently spoke with one of the lead actors, Stellan Skarsgard, who plays Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Boris Shcherbina.

STELLAN SKARSGARD

STELLAN SKARSGARD

“‘Chernobyl’ is not an ‘easy’ show and I think it should never be one,” he began.

Beyond the harrowing facts and eerie footage of the effects of radiation on the Chernobyl plant workers, Stellan hopes viewers would see in the story the painful possibility that government oversight and corruption may have contributed largely to the tragedy.

Several reports claimed that the accident simulated a station blackout power-failure, in the course of which both emergency safety and power-regulating systems were “intentionally” turned off. A combination of inherent reactor design flaws, as well as reactor operators arranging the core in a manner contrary to the checklist for the test, eventually resulted in uncontrolled reaction conditions.

“Figures are not really important here. Whether it just killed one or thousands, the important question is what made it happen,” he said.

Stellan was in Sweden when Chernobyl happened. Describing himself as someone who is old enough to remember every detail, the 67-year-old recalled how shock they were. For years, they were not able to eat mushrooms, berries, or reindeer meat from the northern side of the country.

Still, the actor didn’t think twice in accepting the project.

“It is a well-written story. It’s all based on fact, it’s not romanticizing. It doesn’t try to become appealing for the pop culture audience. It goes to show the reality can be brutal and interesting at some point,” he said, enumerating its merits.

“It was not trying to put strength and sugar on everything. It’s like vitamin injected straight into your brain.”

“Chernobyl” also allowed him to have a reunion of sorts with English actress Emily Watson. The two starred in the 1996 drama film, “Breaking Waves.”

“I’ve always wanted to work with her again. It’s really amazing to be with her…,” he said.

That man

Stellan is Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Boris Shcherbina, the Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers and head of the Bureau for Fuel and Energy on “Chernobyl.” He is assigned by the Kremlin to lead the government commission on Chernobyl immediately after the disaster occurred.

His character was a real person and is considered a villain on the series.

In an article on Bustle.com, Ukrainian-American historian Serhii Plokhii said Boris had been on a business trip in Siberia when the nuclear accident occurred in the early morning of April 26, 1986. The Ukrainian statesperson arrived at the site of Chernobyl in Prypiat, Ukraine, 18 hours after the explosion. After some convincing, Boris finally ordered the evacuation of Prypiat due to the radioactive contamination. But this delay meant that the citizens were exposed to the radiation for 36 hours after the nuclear power plant’s explosion.

SCENE FROM ‘Chernobyl’

SCENE FROM ‘Chernobyl’

Although his Soviet government official role is said to sit on the wrong side of the radioactive debate, Stellan said he finds portraying Boris rather interesting.

“I don’t know but I find it interesting to play a character who is representative of a faulty system. It quite mirrors the life of some government officials in a way that they keep defending their wrongdoings even if it means to sacrifice other people,” he said.

Also in the cast of “Chernobyl” are Jared Harris as Valery Legasov, a leading Soviet nuclear physicist; Paul Ritter as Chernobyl deputy chief engineer Anatoly Dyatlov; Jessie Buckley as Lyudmilla Ignatenko, a Pripyat resident married to a firefighter on the first response team; Adrian as Chernobyl chief engineer Nikolai Fomin; and Con O’Neill (“Harlots”) as plant director Viktor Bryukhanov.

The series is directed by Johan Renck, and is written, created and executive produced by Craig Mazin.

According to a press release, Craig began researching the Chernobyl disaster in 2014, using a wide variety of materials, including several books and government reports from inside and outside of the Soviet Union. He spoke to nuclear scientists to learn how a reactor works, and interviewed former Soviet citizens to gain a better sense of the culture in 1986.

He also read a great number of first-person accounts, which helped bring an additional layer of authenticity and humanity to the story. He explained, “When you’re reading the personal stories of people who were there – people who lived near the plant, people who worked at the plant, people who were sent to Chernobyl as part of the effort to clean it up – in those individual accounts, that’s really where the story came alive.”

New episodes of “Chernobyl” premiere same time as the U.S. every Tuesday at 9 a.m. on HBO GO and HBO.

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