Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, who plays Bing Partridge in AMC’s NOS4A2, discusses working with Zachary Quinto, why Bing is so obsessed with Chrismasland, and more about the reveal of Bing’s harrowing backstory.
Q: What initially attracted you to the series and to the role of Bing Partridge?
A: Luckily enough, I read NOS4A2 about a year before I ever heard of the TV show, so I had read the book and absolutely loved the book. I thought it was really scary and fun. … So when I was sort of approached to audition for it, I really, really wanted to be a part of it, because it’s such a special world. It is horror and fantasy, but at the same time for me, it’s very deeply a family drama and I find that to be such an interesting blend. … The character of Bing Partridge, I always found him to be really interesting, and something Jami [O’Brien] and the writers did, which I really loved, was they managed to bring Bing even more into the narrative, like connecting him with Vic. That really sort of makes him all the more interesting, because he starts off having Vic as one of his only friends, and then after Charlie Manx enters the picture, that starts to change.
I read a tweet from Stephen King the other day where he was talking about NOS4A2, and he was saying how good horror comes from completely relatable situations, like Vic’s parents and how she’s grown up with them, and how they’re regular, normal working class people. I think that’s very true. One half of the story is just straight up family drama, and then on the other side of the story, you have this incredible fantasy story of Christmasland and Charlie Manx, and it’s kind of incredible to see those two things be brought together and be part of one narrative.
Q: How did you prepare for the role?
A: I’ve done that before, played a character in the book, and I didn’t reread the book again. I just wanted to approach it from the writers’ point of view. Sometimes when things came up of what was in the book and what wasn’t, and I read it more than a year ago, and I couldn’t remember everything, so when I approached it, I just approached it from the pages of the screenplay. But having said that, I know Jami and those guys stayed quite close to the source material. I think my preparation was just straight up. Bing is like we see in Episode 4. He comes from a very broken home, and he has that in common with so many other characters in this story. And then when you see Bing’s backstory, you hopefully sort of feel for him. I just loved when I had my first meeting with Jami and the director of the first two episodes, Kari Skogland, I remember that Jami said this to me, “We want to like Bing. The trick is to want to like him, but then when you find out more about him, it’s hard to like him. But you can’t help but want to go back to that,” and I think that’s really important. So I hope we can pull that off.
Q: Why is Bing so gripped by the idea of Christmasland?
A: I think there are many reasons, the most obvious one is he has fond memories of Christmas, and you kind of get the feeling that Christmas was the best time in his life. That’s where his fondest memories come from. And what Christmas represents for those of us that celebrate it, it’s such a beautifully weird thing. It’s supposed to be this cozy and nice thing, but there’s so much consumerism and it’s so manic and weird, and I think that play in the book on Christmasland is really interesting. I think what draws Bing to it is this idea of a 1950s Christmas, where everyone is really “happy” and everyone is really “nice” and lovely, and he wants to be part of that, but it’s hard to reconcile that image with his past. And I think when Charlie Manx meets him, he’s very vulnerable. And I think that’s something we see in our society again and again — people who are sort of on the outskirts of society, they can be very easily manipulated. And Charlie Manx is an expert manipulator. Bing is very easy to influence, and I think Charlie does the thing which is always the most difficult — he convinces Bing that what they’re doing is for good. And I think Charlie does that partly out of manipulation and partly because he believes in it. These children need to be saved, and you need someone who is brave enough to do that, and I think Bing wants to be part of something bigger than the life he’s leading at the moment when Charlie meets him, so I think that’s why he’s able to bring him on board.
Q: What was it like working so much with Zachary Quinto this season?
A: I just love Zach. I’d never met him before. You kind of get blown away with him as an actor, but then seeing him also in that heavy makeup, and him changing his voice and his walk, and he becomes this 130-year-old man. I remember a few times I was sitting with him in the car and looking at the back of his neck, and there was no way for me to see where Zach started and the makeup took over. It was so well done. If I had met him in the street, I would never have believed or known that it was him. There’s no way. It’s interesting that you can take such a handsome movie star and turn him into such a decrepit old man. But I loved Zach, I loved every minute of working with him and I hope I can continue to work more with him. It was fantastic. And I honestly have to say that about all of the actors in our cast. I feel like I was incredibly lucky. We loved it, and I have to say, spending fall in New England was beautiful. I’d never been to Rhode Island before, I loved it there. Watching the leaves change color in the fall was just gorgeous. I loved it.
Q: Bing starts to speak in rhyme in tense situations. What brings that on?
A: For me, I felt that it’s kind of an interesting thing. It’s a blend of talking courage into yourself, but at the same time, it’s also part of his humor. Some people just have a love for words and thinking about words that rhyme. You can use it in so many ways. You can make something that’s horrible sound kind of fun and weird. If I would have to put one word on it, or rather two words, I would say, “defense mechanism.”
Q: Bing tells Vic that “he’s a good person.” Do you think he actually believes that? And then do you think the rhyming is a way to disassociate himself from his evil actions?
A: I think it absolutely does, that’s why I think of it as a defense mechanism. You can take yourself out of something, and it’s sort of like going out of body. But does he believe he’s a good person? [Sighs] I think Bing doesn’t really believe he’s a good person, after he kills his mother. I think that shatters him. I think he could have believed it after he killed his father because his father was incredibly abusive, but it’s the business with the mother that’s really the toughest part for him. He wants to believe it, and I think part of him is trying to convince himself that what he’s doing for Charlie Manx is some kind of penance for what happened back in the day, which sounds absolutely horrible and strange, but I think honestly in his mind, he’s trying to make that association — that he’s fighting for good and doing good things because he’s saving children from having to go through what he went through. But that’s mostly something you want to believe. Does he believe it when he says it to Vic? I don’t think so, but who am I to judge. I’m only playing him. [Laughs]
Q: How do you think Bing feels when Vic, his only friend, starts to doubt him?
A: Completely heartbroken. … I think Bing’s relationship with Vic is kind of like the cornerstone of his existence. … But I think honestly he is completely shattered, he wants to be Vic’s friend, he really wants her to be friends with him, and it’s harder for him that she would think something bad of him. He doesn’t want anyone to find out, but the fact that she’s finding it out is so hard for him.
Q: Lastly, if you were a Strong Creative in real life, what would you want your power to be?
A: Oh wow, whew. I remember I said flippantly at some making-of that I would probably be on the sofa. [Laughs] That the sofa would be by knife. I would want it to be substantial. Like being able to find water in the desert, stuff like that.
Read an interview with Ashleigh Cummings, who plays Vic McQueen.
NOS4A2 airs Sundays 10/9c.
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