If you’re familiar with Paul Blackthorne, it’s likely from his days as a biological terrorist. The 37-year-old Englishman threatened to unleash a deadly virus on Los Angeles as villain Steve Saunders on the third season of 24. Now Blackthorne’s back on TV, playing a good guy — at least, relatively speaking — as crime-solving wizard Harry Dresden in the new SCI FI Channel series The Dresden Files.
“He has an element of reluctance to him,” Blackthorne says of Dresden. “He’s not your out and out ‘let me save the world’ kind of hero; he’s more of the ‘well, I suppose I should save the world’ hero. He’d really rather be putting his seat up and watching a video with a nice lady or something.”
Blackthorne’s previous credits also include a recurring role as Dr. Jeremy Lawson on ER, a stint as Dr. Matt Slingerland on the short-lived hospital drama Presidio Med, and a turn as the malevolent Captain Andrew Russell in the Academy Award-nominated Bollywood feature Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India. He has popped up on episodes of such popular series as Deadwood, Medium and Monk, and was even the subject of a petition campaign by fans who wanted to see him succeed Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, before countryman Daniel Craig ultimately assumed the iconic film role. Next month, he’ll hit select theaters opposite Michael Rapaport in an independent film called Special. (“I’m playing a person not doing terribly good things in that one,” he says, citing a return to form, of sorts.) But it’s Blackthorne’s latest TV gig that should transport him into another realm of celebrity.
Executive produced by Oscar winner Nicolas Cage, The Dresden Files is set in a world of wizards, vampires and demons originally created in a popular series of science-fiction novels by Jim Butcher. The first episode, premiering Sunday, Jan. 21, is based on Butcher’s Storm Front, in which Dresden traces a gruesome double homicide back to a practitioner of the dark arts. But Blackthorne dispels the notion that the show will be all about spells and potions.
“I think what we’ve got here is a case of some good stories dealing with love, life, relationships with oneself [and relationships] with other people,” he says. “[The series is] set against a sci-fi fantasy background, but hopefully what we’ll really be showing is people trying to deal with life.”
He’s right. It’s fairly common for networks to send rough cuts of their projects to the press as advance screeners, minus any dazzling special effects that might be added in the later stages of production. It’s done out of necessity, due to time constraints, but in this particular case the practice only further illuminates Blackthorne’s point — the bare-bones drama of The Dresden Files holds up well, even without the digital flourishes.
“It’s not going to be a show about special effects,” he reiterates. “It’s a show about people, with some special effects thrown in there to enhance the fantasy context — but that’s not what it’s about. I think there’s a film called The Lord of the Rings, which is really good for that stuff.”
The finished product will, of course, include all the bells and whistles, so as not to disappoint SCI FI Channel regulars or longtime fans of Butcher’s novels. Producers have to take these things into account if they want to keep their ratings high and their shows on the air. Blackthorne, on the other hand, doesn’t want to focus on meeting the expectations of his new franchise’s pre-existing fanbase — which, while not as rabid as that of the other wizard named Harry, is still pretty imposing.
“I think I’d go a bit nuts if I started thinking about that sort of stuff,” he says. “I try not to think about that. You just get on with the job at hand really, and try to enjoy it as best you can.”
That might be the right approach — especially since, unlike Harry Dresden, Blackthorne possesses no magical powers that he could use to guarantee the show’s success. Nor would he want them.
“You don’t want to get yourself mixed up with this nonsense,” he laughs. “That’s the thing: Although [Dresden’s] imbued with these qualities, at the end of the day, when you just want a nice, peaceful life, it really just sort of creates a lot of drama in your life.
“It’s nice to keep things simple. I don’t think I’d want to have anything to do with this stuff. You get people with all sorts of different motives coming after you — using you for their own purposes.”
To be fair, Dresden didn’t choose his fate — it was thrust upon him. Faced with the same situation, Blackthorne knows just what he’d be doing.
“I would be sitting at home on the sofa watching a video with a nice lady.”