WGN America will debut its second original scripted series, “Manhattan,” on July 27. In preparation for the 1940s period drama, which surrounds the scientists tasked with developing the atomic bomb in New Mexico — and their in-the-dark families — Zap2it caught up with the cast for a Q&A about their new show.
Up next is Christopher Denham, who plays brilliant scientist Jim Meeks, who works under John Benjamin Hickey’s Frank Winter on a top-secret project. (Check out Hickey’s Manhattan Questionnaire here.)
Zap2it: Which is more challenging: ’40s fashion or nuclear physics?
Denham: The pants are high-waisted. By “high-waisted,” I mean the pants come up to my sternum. And wool suits do not exactly breathe in the sweltering desert. But I do enjoy a good fedora.
What did you actually know about The Manhattan Project before you auditioned for the role?
I knew the basic bullet points. But what’s so exciting about this show — what’s so provocative about this show — is that no one really knows the real story. In the history books, they don’t mention how these physicists were basically prisoners. They don’t mention that the average age of the Los Alamos employee was 25. These guys were young grad students. In addition to building the atomic bomb, they were drinking and doing mushrooms.
If you could hang out with a real Manhattan Project scientist, who would you pick?
Richard Feynman was a brilliant young physicist — one of the youngest on The Hill — and would eventually win the Nobel Prize in quantum electrodynamics. He was a genius. He was also a consummate prankster. In his autobiography, he talks about breaking into military safes and planting whoopee cushions.
Marry/kiss/kick to the curb: Einstein, Oppenheimer, Fermi.
I wouldn’t marry Einstein. I’m already married and Einstein was an adulterer. I wouldn’t kiss Oppenheimer. But Fermi, I would keep around. Maybe he could clarify the Fermi Paradox.
What are your favorite and least favorite things about working on a period piece?
My favorite thing has been delving into the music. Glenn Miller. Count Basie. Jimmy Dorsey. My least favorite thing is drinking Schlitz. It’s not the best beer.
What’s one thing about this time in history — or The Manhattan Project, specifically — that you didn’t know before you started working on the show?
This show is not really about 1943. It’s about 2014. It’s about the same issues our country is debating today: The limits of government surveillance, what the government is doing behind closed doors. Whistleblowers. Espionage. Geopolitical chess. Treason and spies. Sam Shaw (the creator) calls this the origin story of the military industrial complex. The Manhattan Project couldn’t be more relevant.
“Manhattan” premieres Sunday, July 27 at 9 p.m. ET on WGN America.