Imagine you’re a teenage boy. Life is confusing enough as it is. It doesn’t help that your parents still assign you to a curfew. The world is this giant, revolving planet. But you have no idea where you belong in it and what your role is. All you know is that you’ve got a knack for playing with technology — a deadly one at that.
Hold up! Let’s raise the pressure to its maximum limit. You’re now in the midst of the deadliest war in human history; a military man recruits you to be a spy; and you find yourself using your secret science experiments but on a more grand international scale. I know what you’re thinking: What did I get myself into? This is exactly the overwhelming scenario that Connor Price’s Harry James finds himself facing on CBC’s new series X COMPANY.
The series, which is brought to you by FLASHPOINT co-creators Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern, is set to introduce Canadian viewers to a part of our history that they most likely have never heard of: the top-secret world of World War II espionage.
Inspired by real-life stories, X COMPANY is set in Europe but is based primarily on Camp X, a training camp — that was once located on the shores of Lake Ontario before it was demolished in 1969 — that the Allies used to train British, American and Canadian spies.
It is in Camp X where our five heroes gather, plan and train before they head off abroad in deadly undercover missions. Along with James, they include Aurora Luft (Evelyne Brochu), Alfred Graves (Jack Laskey), Tom Cummings (Dustin Milligan), and Neil Mackay (Warren Brown) — five ordinary strangers placed together in one extraordinary mission.
I had the privilege of interviewing the Toronto-born Price last month to talk about his role on the new series. Check it out below!
Congrats on the show. I thought it was really interesting.
I wasn’t aware of this whole World War II espionage…And I didn’t know Camp X existed.
CONNOR: Me neither.
Was this a factor that made you want to join the show?
CONNOR: Yeah, it definitely sparked my interest. When I first read the script, when I first got the pilot, being a Canadian, it’s embarrassing. I didn’t know about Camp X. Not knowing the involvement that Canada had on World War II as well; they played a huge part. Being Canadian myself, to be able to portray a Canadian, Harry [James], in a situation where he is aiding the Allies as a Canadian in the war definitely sparked my interest, yeah.
I actually saw your tweet where you tweeted about your grandfather. Was he also a major reason why you wanted to do this?
CONNOR: To be honest, I didn’t know that until my dad brought over that information the day I tweeted it, so I didn’t know about his involvement.
And you also mentioned this interesting tidbit about him helping [Winston] Churchill transfer to Africa…
CONNOR: So the story was — I couldn’t fit it all on Twitter with whatever characters… He was told that he was transporting ground transportation to the airport [a] very important person. But he wasn’t told who it was. He was just told to get in the car when the person came in, just to drive…He wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone; he wasn’t allowed to turn around and look at anyone. He was just told to drive. And it wasn’t until two weeks later that he found out that it was Churchill [that] was the one he was driving.
Was there actually any information about the spies [from Camp X], or was it really secretive that you just had to create your own characters?
CONNOR: You couldn’t find a lot about the specific people in the camp. I just learned where it was — Whitby, Ontario — what kind of training they went through, how long they were there before they were shipped out to Europe, or some of their jobs were to stay there at the office, do the office work. Ian Fleming is a popular name that comes about in Camp X. He was the guy responsible for writing the JAMES BOND films. He actually trained at Camp X. That was really interesting for me to find out.
Your character is described as this tech genius who loves explosives and can do 51 words a minute…
CONNOR: Morse code, yeah.
Also, your character was placed in a position where he had to go against his morals, where he either had to do his assignment or risk killing his friends. Was it difficult to film those scenes that are not your normal experience?
CONNOR: It was definitely difficult to put myself in his shoes. Being young myself — I was 19 at the time of filming; I’m 20 now. I’ve obviously never experienced the war. I’ve never experienced chaos of that degree. To put myself in his shoes, where his job is to be technical. He’s responsible for the radio; he’s responsible for explosives. What he doesn’t really take into account is the people he’s affecting when he’s putting off these explosives and dropping air raids that innocent people might get hurt. So when it comes to that point where he realizes that work he’s doing does go against his morals…He thought he was doing it for good, but in reality it’s affecting innocent people. It’s killing innocent people, and I feel responsible for it. That’s a heavy load to have to carry, so as an actor it was an interesting journey to kind of find out what that might be like.
What I like about the show is that none of the characters are what you expect from a typical secret agent. So they don’t have the physical requirements you would assume. Obviously your character has the intelligence, but is he ever going to face a situation where he can’t rely on what he knows, and he has to be placed in the battlefield without those technologies to rely on?
CONNOR: Yeah, actually. Um, I’m trying to figure out how much I can give out here…
CONNOR: Let me think…Yeah, it definitely becomes a much different experience for him when he’s in a safe place, a safe house, with his radio, he’s giving out the coordinates to a specific area. He feels like he’s far away from it. He doesn’t really have to see the damage it’s doing. There’s a situation where he ends up being there firsthand, and seeing what his work has done, and seeing an innocent person getting hurt. He’s there without his radio; he’s by himself. He has to nurture this woman who’s hurt. To see it firsthand gives a completely different experience, so there is a situation where he can’t rely on being away from it and doing everything through his radio. He has to witness it firsthand. That becomes much more difficult for him.
This war is really popular, especially with films recently like THE IMITATION GAME AND UNBROKEN. Why do you think this period between 1939 and 1945 is still connecting with people? More than any other war I find.
CONNOR: That’s a really good question. Maybe part of it is — it’s closer to where we are, and the impacts of it are still around. I should say it’s something they can relate to, but it’s something that this generation wasn’t a part of — most of them. I know my grandmother was around during World War II, but the majority of people alive today weren’t. So it’s a way for them to experience that and see what that may be like. They don’t know of war, so maybe that’s why they’re kind of attracted to that. To see it on TV, to kind of put themselves into the shoes of these people is exciting to them in a way. Yeah, what do you think? I’m curious.
(laugh) I also think since [it’s] our grandparents’ generation… Wherever you were from, it affected you in some way. So their children’s lifestyles were affected by it.
CONNOR: That’s another thing, too. Same with my grandfather who was somehow involved in World War II. You hear stories, and you can only imagine it in your head what that must’ve been like. So to see it, not firsthand, but though a TV or through a film, even through reading it — I love reading about it. I was doing so much research when I got this role. Just to immerse yourself in that world is compelling.
Finally, for my last question. The show is basically paying tribute to these unsung heroes of these men and women who trained at the shores of Lake Ontario…
What do you want audiences to get from watching this show?
CONNOR: I think the beautiful thing about this show is that a lot of World War II films and TV shows revolve around the action, the chaos, the drama, the gunfire, etc… This revolves around the characters. It really paints this light of humanity, even on the Germans, who are mostly seen as the bad guys. The good guys kill the bad guys; you don’t feel anything for the bad guys. You want the Germans to die… But this show paints them, as I said, in a light of humanity. You see their back story, you see the reasons why they stand for what they stand for, and it almost gives them a reason of justification. So you are watching this, as a viewer, at certain points not knowing who to root for because you understand why this person is doing what he is doing. So it really gives everyone humanity. Watching it becomes a much more personal experience as you follow these characters, and you root for them, and you want to see them do well. I think that’s what people will take from it — a much more personal experience of the war, living it through these well-written, detailed characters.