Matthew McNulty, who plays Lt. Edward Little on AMC’s The Terror, discusses his character’s unwavering loyalty to the Naval hierarchy, whether Crozier’s drinking had altered his judgment, and his choice to arm more men despite Crozier's decision.
Q: How much did you know about the real Franklin expedition before working on the show?
A: Zero. [Laughs] I didn't know anything about it. It's only from reading the script and doing the subsequent research that I realized how ignorant I was to such a big part of British nautical history. It's been a big education for me.
Q: Were you able to find information about your character in your research?
A: There's nothing! I couldn't find anything and I asked David Kajganich [to] point me in the right direction. There's little mentions of Little and the fact that he's there, but there's nothing personal about him and there's nothing about where he's from, so I couldn't really garner anything from that.
Q: How would you describe Lt. Little? Where do you think he falls within the hierarchy of the expedition?
A: He's the first lieutenant on the Terror, so he's second-in-command on the second ship. He's quite high up and he's experienced. You've got to take the fact that Crozier – the most astute naval officer in the whole expedition – he chose Little to be his first, so he's obviously a capable officer. He's also incredibly loyal and he's a good man. He's a good officer and he's very much in the mold of the naval hierarchy. He's rigid with it and I assume that he grew up with it. He's solid to it.
Q: How do you think it impacts Little, in the earlier episodes, when Crozier, Franklin and Fitzjames are all at odds with each other? How does he navigate taking sides?
A: He's like a kid in a divorce settlement. He's closest to Crozier, but he doesn't want the unit to break up and he doesn't want the hierarchy to break up. That's what's happening. Franklin's the expedition leader, but Crozier's challenging him – and rightly. He knows that what Crozier is saying is right, but at the same time, he just wants it all to work. Let Crozier say what he has to say, but he doesn't want to break the hierarchy. He probably does feel uncomfortable with that challenge.
Q: In Episode 3, Little worries that Lady Silence might do the men harm. Do you think he is simply afraid of what he doesn't know? Does he think Crozier overstepped when he has Hickey’s group lashed?
A: I suppose that's the first moment – and probably the only moment, really, because he stays tied to the seaman's code and the naval code throughout the series – where he also sees Crozier's demise with his alcoholism. That's coming to the fore in that moment, so maybe he questions the decisions that Crozier's making at that time. That's definitely one that's possibly too harsh in Little's eyes. Little does have that caution about Lady Silence. He doesn't trust her. He doesn't trust the spiritual side of the Inuit people. Maybe he does feel a little bit for Hickey in that moment because he's having the same thoughts as Hickey, but Little is so entrenched in naval life that he would quickly bury it. He would quickly find a way in his mind to just accept it or just bury it and never look at it again.
Q: In Episode 5, Little seems to be genuinely annoyed by Crozier's drinking and his behavior. Does he have a hard time taking orders from him at that point?
A: His drinking, at that point, has peaked. He definitely questions whether Crozier is capable of commanding, and whether his decisions are the right decisions and not influenced by the alcohol. He finds it hard to do it [get the alcohol for Crozier from the other ship], but he does it because he's not strong enough to break the chain of command. I think that's the thing about Little. He's aware of it all, but he just doesn't have the bottle to break it. He knows he just has to go with it and then hope for the best, I think. One of the bits of research that I got was that he had sailed with Crozier before, so they know each other well. Maybe there's a part of him that knows that Crozier wouldn't let himself get to the point where it was too far. It gets as far as it can go and then Crozier sorts himself out and that's what Little probably believes deep down – that he will do the right thing, but he has to go as low as possible.
Q: Little does voice reason about the excess of the carnival. How does he feel when it ends so disastrously?
A: Little knows that Fitzjames sometimes isn't as practical as Crozier. He has doubts about Fitzjames. Ultimately, Little is a practical man and that's why he has doubts about the carnival and whether it's a good thing. Little is probably not a people's officer. He's just a good officer who gets things done, but his concerns and his worries totally come home with what happens with the carnival. The fact that Crozier's not there would solidify his loyalty to Crozier because when Crozier's not there, look what happens. Maybe that would be part of his thinking.
Q: In Episode 7, Jopson is promoted. How does Little feel about that?
A: The way we played it was like a glimmer of lightness. Everything's going wrong and this was a positive moment. Little knows that, again, in a practical sense, there was a need for another lieutenant. So, he doesn't feel belittled by it. [Laughs] Easy pun! He probably knows that Jopson's capable and, in these circumstances, it's definitely unusual extenuating circumstances. He is understanding with why. I don't think it was a shot at Little’s capabilities. Hickey has feelings about Jopson being promoted because [Jopson] was kind of one of them and now he's not.
Q: In Episode 8, things really begin to fall apart. Why do you think Little allowed the men to distribute guns despite Crozier's order? Does he regret it?
A: He probably could have taken a stronger command. There's definitely a sense of him being played by the marines and by Tozer. He could justify it to himself that it was the only decision he could make because Fitzjames wasn't there. There's a bit of both, really, but he definitely could have been stronger. I think he regrets that. I think he feels like he's let Crozier down. He's definitely like a dog with his tail between his legs when Crozier comes back.
Q: When Tozer tells him about Crozier's lies, does Little believe them? Is he tempted at all to join the mutiny?
A: There are moments where Little could be pushed that way, but he doesn't. That's the strength of his loyalty. He's definitely in the position where he could be swayed the other way, but ultimately chooses loyalty to Crozier. The seeds of doubt have been sown early on throughout the series and they're there inside Little for a long time, but he's made so many decisions based on his loyalty.
Q: At what point do you think Little begins to give up hope/worry about survival?
A: I think Little's probably one of the most hopeful out of them all, simply because he has clung on to his humanity. I don't think he's compromised his morals up to this point, despite everything that's happened. So, I would say that he's still hopeful. He still thinks that humanity will prevail in this dark, dark world. There's definitely still a chunk of positivity in him.
Q: What was your favorite part about shooting the show?
A: There are so many highlights. I think, firstly, just the people. You don't often get to do a job where you're working with so many actors who are all in the same age group. The locations were unreal. The sets were just breathtaking. We got to Croatia and Pag to see parts of the island in ways that you'd never imagined. To experience the hot Croatian island as the Arctic is not something you can comprehend. We got to experience the Arctic in searing heat. [Laughs] The whole experience was mind-blowing.
Read a Q&A with Adam Nagaitis who plays Cornelius Hickey.
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