Richard Dormer Talks Hunting Killers in Time-Bending Series ‘Rellik’

Richard Dormer is an actor traversing genres and eras on television and film. An actor from Northern Ireland with credits including HBO’s “Game of Thrones” where he plays Beric Dondarrion, Dormer is now the lead in the limited drama series “Rellik.” Originally produced by BBC One and debuting in the United States on Cinemax, “Rellik” is a baroque experiment in which its plot is told backwards, hence the title. Dormer plays Gabriel Markham, a U.K. police detective obsessed with catching a serial killer who left him horribly scarred in an acid attack. Because the narrative flows from end to beginning, the pilot opens with the killer himself being cornered. The trick of the show is to entice the viewer into wanting to see how it all came to this point, and what forces shaped the killer. This is the kind of experimental series where raindrops may begin to move upwards, answers are given ahead of events, and suspense comes from seeing results before discovering their origins. The series also stars Jodie Balfour as Markham’s colleague on the force.

Dormer took some time off from filming to sit down with Entertainment Voice and discuss his work on “Rellik.”

This is a very original show, the work you do in it is unique. Let’s get started with how you first reacted when you were given the idea.

I was kind of taken aback by the first two episodes because I thought this was such a damaged man, the character of Gabriel Markham. How did he get this way? Why is he such a nihilistic, hard-drinking, womanizing kind of guy? But as we go backwards we realize why that guy is the guy we find at the beginning, which is the end. That kind of pulled me in.

What kind of research did you have to do to prepare for this role?

I actually didn’t do that much. I researched acid burns. I spoke to dermatologists and asked them how you treat that kind of physical discomfort. Other than that I didn’t do any real research. I just jumped in because I’d been working 17 months nonstop, which is not the norm for an actor to work that long. I had just done “Fortitude” and “Game of Thrones,” then I went straight into “Rellik,” which was a four month shoot. So I was very raw. It was a weird experience because I kind of lost myself a little in the part. That character’s pain became my pain and it’s weird. I had a very rough emotional time filming it. It was in my own accent, I never act in my own accent. I was playing a guy my age from Belfast, so he was very like me. At times I didn’t like the similarities.

How did you adjust to the makeup and prosthetics for this role? And how does that affect the way you create the character?

I didn’t get used to the prosthetic at all. It was an absolute nightmare. It took two hours a day being smothered in this silicone, it was absolutely horrible. But it also further led to my dark kind of mood that I went into when doing the part. I really did feel the irritation, the constant smarting of my skin and the sweating. I could take it off after 11 hours but I dreaded working those 11 hours with that face. It was just a very horrible experience. I’m not really selling it, am I? (Laughs)

There’s a difference to how these kinds of shows are done in Europe and the U.K. as opposed to how you would have seen this same story done in the United States.

I do know what you mean. Of course there are so many European directors in the U.S. but I think director Sam Miller, who is from the U.K. himself, really had a lot to do with the creative concept of the piece. That very edgy, gritty, very still camera work, very dark, lots of reds, browns and greys. It’s always raining, of course. But the nature of the city itself is also the nature of six episodes. It’s East London in the 21st century. Some of it isn’t pretty, and there’s a lot of crime. As we know, there was more crime in London this year than there was in New York. There’s been quite a lot of killings and murders in the last few months. So London is not always the safest place to be. There was actually a slew of acid attacks when we were filming. It was horrendous. It happened where we were filming in East London. It was very edgy and very dark.

Was there a moment during filming that stands out in your memory?

All the sex scenes! Can’t hardly forget those. But also the car chase scene, when I’m driving the opposite way of the M3 motorway. That was thrilling. It was driving at 100 miles per hour with other cars coming at 60 miles per hour on the opposite direction. That was pretty cool.

Are you a pretty good driver? Are you a total pro?

Oh no, no. It was in a thing called a pod car, which means there’s a stunt driver on the roof. So I’m basically reacting to what he’s doing on the roof. So I’m pretending to drive, but he’s doing all the work.

Is there a favorite scene of yours in the series? Without spoilers, of course.

It’s a weird one. It’s a scene where I’m talking to my therapist about my life and the acid attack. It was one of those moments, and I’m very proud of it, where I wasn’t really acting. I kind of just disappeared for four minutes. I think it only took one take. Sam was so happy with it he just said “we can’t really do any more with this. That’s the character right there.” A lot of that was just me and where I was in my life. It was a cathartic experience. It’s actually very difficult for me to watch. I can see real pain in it.

So the other big show you’re on is of course “Game of Thrones.” Was it a blast shooting the final season? What can you tell us?

I can’t say anything! But you can expect huge things. It’s going to be the biggest thing ever in television history. That’s all I’m going to say.

Rellik” premieres April 13 with new episodes airing Fridays at 10 p.m. ET on Cinemax.