Interview with Ryan Cartwright
Ryan Cartwright, who plays Alpha Gary Bell, talks special abilities, technology and life in LA.
For those who didn’t catch the first series of Alphas, could you explain what Alphas is about and tell us a little about your character?
Sure, it’s about individuals who are on the evolutionary cusp of neurological ability. It’s about the emergence of super hero abilities, and the government is really interested in anyone who has these abilities.
Dr Rosen, played by David Strathairn looks after us all because we don’t understand our abilities and they’re still emerging. Every ability has a downside and he helps us with that but he also puts us out in the field to catch other Alphas who are running a bit rogue.
My character Gary is a young autistic American guy who is a very funny, petulant young man and he can see electromagnetic wavelengths in his mind, so he can read people’s cell phones and computers. He’s the “computer guy” character, but it’s a very clever, original spin on that.
A lot of fans seem to connect with Gary and he’s certainly a popular character – why do you think that is?
Definitely because he speaks his mind, there’s no filter on him and obviously that’s a wish that a lot of people have. It’d just feel a lot better to say what’s on your mind in every situation and also he’s a really funny character because he has a different slant on the world and a different viewpoint on everything. His terminology is quite funny as well. Often we’ll be cracking up just trying to find a synonym, like, “how would Gary say this? What would his take on this be?”. He’s a really sweet guy, he’s not malicious, it’s just his take on the world is very funny.
How do you prepare yourself for a role when you’ll be playing a character with a condition such as autism?
You need to do lots of research so that you don’t offend anyone or embarrass yourself. I read lots of books by Daniel Tammet, Temple Grandin and Oliver Sacks, lots of neurology books and I watched lots of documentaries and spoke to specialists too. Just all the stuff you’d imagine you’d do – you just do everything you can possible. Thank god for the internet. but there’s still not that much out there. People are still figuring out exactly what Autism is and spectrums change. It’s all still early doors on the research so it was very interesting but it’s also fascinating how little is understood.
In the first series Gary’s mum was very protective over him. How has he evolved since then, is he more independent?
In the first season he was finding himself in a peer group who admired him for who he was and his ability. It was more pushing away his mother and becoming independent within his group, the Alphas. This series he’s actually realising that there’s a lot of grey amongst the decisions that the other Alphas and Dr Rosen, who’s his father figure, are making. He’s kind of realising that he’s not sure that they’re making good decisions all the time with his moral compass. He gets a lot more independent, he moves out of his house, he leaves his mum to move into the office. But then he finds out that Dr Rosen isn’t the perfect hero either, and he sees all of his Alpha friends and comrades doing bad things as well. He still feels kinship with the character Anna, who died in Season 1. He just wants to keep her message alive, that’s where his moral compass is, it’s pretty much set to where Anna was and her beliefs and idealisms.
You mentioned that Gary had left home – what else can you tell us about Season 2?
There’s a new character, Kat, who Gary hates. She’s a new girl who’s got this Alpha ability where she can learn everything really quickly. But she only has about three months of memory and then it wipes. Gary hates her a little bit because she’s like the new baby and people don’t have time to give him all the attention he demands.
There’s also a nice episode where they all go out to the woods and Gary is annoyed because his electromagnetic signals have disappeared, as he’s in a blind spot. But he realises that his ability can exacerbate natural electromagnetic signals in the stars and the plants, so if he pays more attention there’s a very natural electromagnetism.
Your character is quite tech savvy, how about you? Are you interested in a lot of technology?
I normally wait until I’m bullied into getting something! Xbox or recreational stuff, yeah, but the other side? I’m only just about to get an iPhone. Everyone has them! I’ve got a Pay As You Go Blackberry. It doesn’t even get email.
It’s great, unless you’re phoning me or texting me, I have no idea. So I’m relaxed, and when I get home, I check my email. But now everyone assumes you have it. I’m quite looking forward to it, I’m tech savvy, I just try not to let it impede me. I don’t want to be hit by a car because I’m checking Twitter.
How do you find living in LA?
I love it, it’s really nice, I’ve got lots of friends and it’s sunny and there’s pool parties. It’s as you’d imagine. If you’ve got a good circle of friends out here you’re fine. All the brits out here just laugh about how lucky they are to be here. I think they try and keep it a bit of a secret and just say “oh no, it’s really dangerous, it’s not just attractive people and pool parties – stay at home, stay in Birmingham!”
If you could have an actual enhanced ability, what would it be?
This year I settled on one, which is, I wish I could cheer people up, because I like making people laugh. If I could just look over a large crowd and smile, not my head or whatever and it just cheered everyone up and made everyone happy that would be really nice.