Hank Schrader is in his past, a third season of Under the Dome is in his future, and this weekend — on Jan. 25, that is — Breaking Bad's Dean Norris will bring to life the man he calls "America's first rock star": Benjamin Franklin, one of the titular Sons of Liberty in History's three-night miniseries.
Norris talks to Yahoo TV about donning the wig and specs to play the revolutionary Renaissance man, who, it turns out, had a thing for truly revealing himself to people.
What made you sign on for Sons of Liberty?
A couple of things. One, I'm continuing to try to do stuff that's the opposite of Hank in Breaking Bad. That's my guiding principle for the first few things I get to do. And doing a period piece where I get to wear a wig and funky clothes is something I've never done before, so that was fun. It was really a cool script.
Did you do a deep dive on researching him for the part?
Definitely. Once I signed on to do it, I bought books and read his full biography, and 1776. I knew basic stuff about him through college history courses and things like that, but when I started to look at him a little more closely, he's an amazing American figure. He was like a rock star in his day. He really was. When he went to Paris, he was the equivalent of Justin Bieber — except he was smart. People lined up to see him. He loved to drink. He loved women. He just invented all these crazy things, in addition to the ones that we know. He had a really active, interesting mind.
We think of our founding fathers as these staid, old-fashioned guys, but they were crazy. They were rebels. What they did was insane. They were guys who, today, are revolutionaries by definition. At the time, what they did took so much balls and so much craziness that you forget. They were tough guys. And all that stuff is shown in the miniseries, which is cool. They weren't afraid to show that element of Ben Franklin, which I think people are going to find funny.
Producer Russell McCarroll says there's a great scene at the beginning of the miniseries involving Ben Franklin and a bathtub, and Franklin getting ready to go to a meeting. You're laughing, so it must be a pretty great scene.
Yeah, it was great. It's a great introduction, because he was also a bit of an exhibitionist, which is something I didn't know before. He wasn't afraid to let it all hang out. The introduction is, he's taking his bath... he wasn't afraid to be naked in front of people. Whether he did that out of fun, or to throw people off their game... but that's your introduction to him.
You mentioned the costume and the wigs. How much fun was that process, to look like Ben Franklin everyday, versus how time-consuming it was?
I thought it was fun, and we had it down to just an hour each day. I had a tremendous wig maker, and they had a great costume maker. We shot this over in Romania, and they had these people from London who came in. It obviously helped me find the character. We got to go in and work with all of them and help decide on the whole look. It was great to come in the morning, and slowly — with the wig, and makeup, and costumes — start transforming into Ben Franklin. It reminded me of working in theater.
Would you consider doing a project focusing on just Franklin?
Oh man, I would love it. We talked about that, [me] and producers and the director. It's just chitchat at this point. But the more we all got to know this character, the more we realized he's really a quintessential American character unlike any other. He is American values. He came from nothing, with 10 kids in his family. He had to work his way up. He's like the first American dream. A lot of those guys, like John Hancock, came from money and had family connections that helped them attain the positions they attained. Ben Franklin was one of the first self-made successful men in America.
Sons of Liberty premieres Sunday, Jan. 25 at 9 p.m. on History.