• Spoiler warning for Episode 2 of HBO's Chernobyl miniseries
• Creator Craig Mazin and actors Jared Harris and Stellan Skarsgård discuss how they made that helicopter crash come to life.
• The crash really did happen, but it's one of the few moments that got moved around chronologically in the series, Mazin says.
Sometimes, the best dialogue is silence.
The second episode of "Chernobyl" followed the early stages of the unlikely team-up of scientist Valery Legasov (Jared Harris) and government bureaucrat Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgård), as they do their best to understand and contain the disaster that went down at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
In an episode full of jaw-dropping moments, perhaps the most shocking came when Legasov and Shcherbina attempted to direct a Helicopter to fly over the plant. Despite warnings not to fly directly over, the helicopter does-and as a result, takes in a massive amount of radiation, hits a crane, and falls right out of the sky.
It's a moment that makes you do a double-take-did that just happen? The moment is sold even moreso due to the fact that neither Harris nor Skarsgård say a single thing. The horrified expressions on the two men's faces do 100% of the lifting.
Part of the nature of that scene comes from director Johan Renck's more restrained, Scandinavian approach, Skarsgård said (both the actor and the director hail from Sweden).
"If something horrible happens and the actors start screaming, 'Oh my god. Oh my god.' Then you steal that experience from the audience," Skarsgård added. "It's better to leave the audience with the reaction."
The scene is all the more impressive when you take into account the fact that the actors were, in essence, reacting to nothing-the crashing helicopter was added in post-production.
"It's something that's not there, but you both need to be doing it in synchronicity, so you have to be doing it at the same time, looking at the same thing, and you have to understand what's happening," Harris said, describing the complex process of both performers reacting to a moving object that isn't there yet. "You can't just go, 'Oh, the helicopter... and this is the way it crashes,' because everything is a series of events... it's A, B, C, and then D happens."
Skarsgård remembered his approach when planning the scene out. "The only thing was, don't react too much," he said. "That was the only thing we thought about."
This helicopter crash did happen-there's even footage on YouTube of it hitting the crane line, and falling right out of the sky, just like in the show. But creator Craig Mazin is transparent about it as well-it's one of the few events that got moved around, chronologically, to fit the narrative that the show was crafting. "I wanted people to know that this was one of the hazards that these pilots were dealing with-an open reactor-radiation was flying over it," he said.
Mazin continued to describe how this helicopter situation was anything but an isolated incident. There were hundreds of situations like this, and many of the times, the helicopters had to be open so the people aboard could "dump stuff out the side," in an attempt to contain the radiation that was spilling and permeating from the plant. These people aboard the helicopters were undoubtably pelted with radiation in what was an incredibly dangerous situation.
This also marks the first time in the series that either Harris or Skarsgård's characters send someone to their death, and dealing with that in real-time would obviously be an unsettling moment for anyone. "There is a shock of watching somebody die. There is a shock of watching a car crash," Mazin said. "But that's different than knowing you told them to do it."
The idea of watching somebody die, in many ways, becomes the emotional crux of Chernobyl. Due to this totally avoidable, man-made disaster, major decisions had to be made, and the people making those decisions eventually began doing something that Mazin called "counting lives"-evaluating the number of lives that one decision could save against the number of lives that the decision would potentially cost.
"I wanted to show what that felt like," he said. "What that must feel like to be a good, decent person trying to do the right thing, and knowing fully well that you just caused someone to die. And in fact, it's just the first of many."
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