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Rocket ships, sex cults, and South African connections - Peter Mark Kendall tells us all about his thrilling role in the true-life TV show that's stranger than fiction

2019-11-11 12:13
 
Jack Reynor as Jack Parsons

Cape Town - Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction, and in the case of Strange Angel the truth couldn't get any stranger.

Based on the true-life story of Jack Parsons, played by Jack Reynor, the gripping show explores how Parsons would build rocket ships by day and perform magic sex rituals by night in 1940s Los Angeles.

According to Vice, Parsons was a literal rocket scientist who invented the first castable solid-state rocket fuel in 1942. But he has mostly been written out of history due to his involvement in the occult movement, Thelema, which is a complicated set of magical, mystical, and religious beliefs formed by Aleister Crowley.

Ati reports that Crowley was popularly known as "the wickedest man in the world" and encouraged his followers to "Do What Thou Wilt". This meant mostly fulfilling individual desires, particularly sexual ones. Parsons reportedly used his rocketry business to buy a mansion in Pasadena which became a den of hedonism that allowed him to explore sexual adventures.

In Strange Angel rocket science and sex come together in the most explosive manner.

'CAPE TOWN IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACE I'VE EVER BEEN TO'

It's a Friday night in the office and I'm waiting on the line to speak to Peter Mark Kendall, who plays the role of Richard Onsted in the mystery drama. Onsted, a much more conservative and careful character, is the perfect sidekick to madman Parsons in the TV show which is currently available for streaming on Showmax in South Africa.

Peter - known for his role in shows like The Americans, Girls, and Chicago Med - is no stranger to South Africa at all. In fact, his whole family have their roots firmly planted in Mzansi's soil. "My family is from South Africa," he confirms over the phone from New York City where it's early morning. He adds: "They came to the United States in '85. I'm the youngest of four kids and I was the only one born in the States."

The 33-year-old star recently visited SA's shores with his family: "It was a wonderful trip we had this past summer and it was actually my first time to South Africa. Most of our family are still over there so we went to my cousin's wedding and I got to go with my mom, and my dad, and my wife. It was kind of their first trip back in a significant way since they left in '85 so it was really a wonderful and meaningful trip for my family."

I ask if he'd be keen on filming in South Africa, to which Peter immediately responds: "OMG, you know when we were in Cape Town and I could see some of the productions happening. I was just like gosh that's such a…it's the most beautiful place I've ever been to and I'd love nothing more than to work there, so if you could do anything to make that happen that would be great," he jokes before adding: "I think it's the most special place I've ever been to so I'm dying to go back."

Peter Mark Kendall as Richard Onsted in Strange An

'LIKE SOMETHING YOU WOULD READ IN A NOVEL'

We then turn the conversation back to the show and his character. "When I first got the script, I didn’t really realise that this was based on a true story. It was only after I had considered doing it that I found out it was very much based on the true story of Jack Parsons and the people that was kind of orbiting him in at that time in Los Angeles and it just seemed kind of stranger than fiction.

He adds: "It was like something you would read about in a novel. So, the thing about my character particularly was that I was struck and drawn to his brilliance in maths, and science, and aeronomics and all of that but then his inability to connect with people in the day-to-day real-life. It's a great kind of exercise as an actor to be so adept at one thing and then struggle in something that we all do every day."

Playing a rocket scientist is no easy feat and Peter had to rely heavily on his theatrical background and studies. According to IMDb, Peter attended McDaniel College, where he received a BA in Theatre and Jazz Studies. He then received his MFA in Acting from the Brown University/Trinity Rep Program.

"I think as actors we do our best, especially when we're working on characters who have a very extensive knowledge of one thing or one niche area, to understand the subject but when it's literally rocket science that can be quite daunting. Especially if you're trying to sound and portray it so comfortably and authentic.

"Sometimes you feel like a fraud because you have to say all these jargon mathematical and scientific language. The tough part for me was trying to make it seem like I know what I'm talking about. I did as much research as I can to have some kind of idea of what's going on to help the story go forward.

"Really, it's just repetition and getting your mouth around those words and those terms just well enough that you can say it with confidence. If you believe what you’re saying, then hopefully the audience would believe in what you're saying."

Peter Mark Kendall as Richard Onsted in Strange An

'LIKE A SNOWBALL GAINING SPEED AND GOING OUT OF CONTROL'

Strange Angel takes its time to unfold and goes from slow-paced to thrilling as the series picks up speed. Peter agrees, saying: "The first season is kind of a slow burn. It unfolds at a slower pace and sets up the exposition and who these people are and then there's a great tone shift from season 1 to season 2 where it feels kind of like a snowball gaining speed and going out of control.

"I think of that as great storytelling. I really appreciate shows that take their time and are a bit ambiguous in their storytelling and kind of makes you lean in. When the audience kind of has to do a little work too and try to figure out what's going on."

He adds: "It has a kind of film noir feel to it and there's like a danger in that there's so much at cost for all of these people not just in the personal world but in the natural kind of zoomed out world too.

"What these people are doing is going to affect the entire world and that's really significant."

Strange Angel is undoubtedly worth the watch if you're looking for something with a lot more meat around the bones. Stream it now on Showmax

Peter Mark Kendall as Richard Onsted in Strange An

(Photos: Frank W. Ockenfels/CBS/Showmax)

READ NEXT: British star Ed Stoppard on filming in South Africa, working with Rolanda Marais, and preparing for his thrilling TV role in Trackers

Read more on:    showmax  |  peter mark kendall  |  strange angel  |  tv

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