The Welsh-hailing actor talks pushing the boundaries of the archetypal action-hero in Apple TV+ show Foundation.
Photography by Kim Hardy
The “pinnacle” of stepping into the role of Glawen in the second season of sci-fi smash Foundation was “the subversion of a very typically action-man archetype,” Dino Fetscher tells me.The 35-year-old originally broke out in Russell T Davies’ triumphant 2015 showBanana, part of the writer's Channel 4 triptychalso featuring Cucumber and Tofuthat offered a vignette of a then modern-day gay Britain.
Fetscher's turn was followed most notably by his role in the 2021 revival of Larry Kramer’s groundbreaking play The Normal Heart at London’s Olivier theatre, loosely documenting Kramer’s experience of HIV/AIDS in the ‘80s. The piece hadn’t previously been performed since 1986, and its re-incarnation attracted lauding from critics and an Olivier nomination for Fetscher. However, whether via stage, small-screen dramas or the blockbuster ambition of a streaming behemoth like AppleTV+, Fetscher’s making a habit of pushing queer conversations forward in his work.
“You very rarely see high-status, physically strong, powerful queer characters in Sci-Fi,” he says of his role in Foundation. “Those characters are almost always heterosexual, reserved for straight actors, but queer people are so fucking capable. We can kick ass just as well. We can save the day too. We can do everything straight people can - even if the world makes us feel otherwise sometimes. Glawen feels like a metaphor for that.”
Sitting down Man About Town, Fetscher talks Foundation, his role in the next Harlan Coben Netflix thriller Fool Me Once, those early days on Banana and his love of The White Lotus’Sabrina Impacciatore.
Congratulations on joining Foundation for Season 2! What were your perceptions of the show before signing on and what made you come onboard?
Thank you! I was actually asked to audition a couples of months before the release of the first series, so I didn’t realise it was being made until then. I knew of the Isaac Asimov novels, and I knew they were a big inspiration for George Lucas with Star Wars – so that in itself was really exciting! All I had to go on was the season 1 trailer and the books, which were both epic. The sheer magnitude and scale of the special effects were so impressive, and the depth and detail of the world within the books was utterly captivating. I was also told I would have to undergo a lot of fight training and would be filming all over Europe – that basically sealed the deal for me! I love physical stuff and I love to travel, so it was a no brainer. The fact that it was being spearheaded by David Goyer as well and on Apple TV+ were other massive draws. The thought of being a part of something so iconic being brought to screen for the first time, 80 years since its conception, was thrilling.
We heard you’re playing a queer master of martial arts who ranks highly in the Empire’s Military! What was the first thing about the character that drew you to the role?
Glawen is quite a classic, archetypal hero in my perception of him. He is wise, learning, courageous, sensitive and embarks on a thrilling literal and personal journey throughout the series. He is also, as you touched on, a lethal weapon in his fighting capabilities. An absolute badass! Glawen works for our story’s bad guy, Empire, and yet he is deeply morally conflicted. It was amazing to read this many-layered, queer character in a script in a genre where you wouldn’t usually find him. I really relished being able to step into him, he was so much fun to find.
You worked with quite an illustrious cast on the project! Talk us through a day on-set together - What were the dynamics like?
The cast were so warm and welcoming. They made us feel part of the gang straight away. We hung out a fair amount in-between filming (as much as COVID permitted). We went for lovely dinners and dances in cool bars, it was a blast. I really loved all the cast and creatives. We had such a lovely Irish crew as well, who were a dream. One day, whilst waiting to film, we proceeded to cast the entire un-conceived movie of Britney Spears’ life. They brought all the craic. Every day on Foundation was very different which was a big part of the fun. One day you’d be on a wire flying through space, hurtling toward a planet, then the next we’d be in all day rehearsing a big fight. David Goyer (showrunner) was also very present, and we spent lots of time with him in-between shooting, which was lush.
We’ve seen you in lots of different roles at this point, however, what’s a new side to you as an actor that fans might experience in Foundation?
This is definitely the most action I’ve ever done in my career. My role in Humans season 3 as Stanley had some awesome fighting, butFoundation takes it to a new level. The fighting is intense! We trained for months, every day! I do some jaw-dropping action sequences as well. I can’t say much more without giving anything away, but it’s thrilling and on a blockbuster scale. On the flip side, Glawen’s storyline is one that is wracked with trauma, complex love and very high stakes. That meant that I was confronted with some very intense emotional places, places that I’ve only ever had the opportunity to go to on stage.
Photography by Kim Hardy
Congratulations are also in order for your role in Harlan Coben’s upcoming Fool Me Once! His previous Netflix adaptations have been immense hits. When you got the call to say you got the part, what was going through your head?
I was utterly thrilled! I love a good crime thriller and Harlan is king of the genre, so it was so exciting to know I was on board. Plus, Nicola Schindler is the executive producer, who gave me my very first TV job and I adore her. I was very chuffed. My character Marty McGregor is also such a departure from Glawen Ker in Foundation, which is always fun. He’s a newbie detective who is always trying his hardest to impress his new boss, played by the phenomenal Adeel Akhtar, but just ends up driving him up the wall. I was really excited to get to flex my comedic muscles as well. Marty is such an awkward goof – I love him.
Coben’s dramas are renowned for being suspenseful – What was it like to read the script? Did those table-reads have you on tenterhooks?
The table read was a lot of fun! Hearing scripts being brought to life by everyone’s beautiful performances is always a favourite moment of mine, plus Joanna Lumley was there, who is just as lovely in real life, if not lovelier, as you’d expect. We film the series in blocks of two and three episodes, so there is lots of waiting around for episodes and they always leave you desperate to read on! My character isn’t actually in the book the series is based on, so I chose not to read it, and I’m so glad, because it’s been so fun uncovering all of the juicy plot points in real time as we have been filming.
You first hit screens in Russell T Davies’ Banana in 2015! When you look back at the Dino acting in that show, what do you remember?
Ah I look back at that Dino with a great deal of fondness. I was so excited to be working with Russell and in such a wonderful role on such a brilliant show.I was so grateful to be doing it – something I really think I’ve always held on to. Eight years on, I am still so chuffed I get to do what I do. I was doing some stunt stuff the other day forFool Me Onceand I just kept thinking “This is so cool!” “How is this my job?”. I always have those kinds of moments, whether on-set or in rehearsals and I hope I always do. Admittedly, back then I was pretty terrified. I really wanted to get it right. I think the biggest difference between 2015 Dino and me is that I am able to enjoy it all a lot more. I work definitely harder now, but I’m also much more relaxed and don’t take it all so seriously. I think that comes with experience and age though.
Finally, what’s the best performance you’ve seen recently by an actor? What have you been watching that you really, really loved?
I really love a plethora of actors, so it’s impossible to pick one favourite performance as they’re all so varied and equally brilliant in their own right. One I particularly loved though is Sabrina Impacciatore’s performance as Valentina in The White Lotus season 2. She had me laughing out loud whilst deeply feeling for her. I was with her every step of the way. I thought it was such a bold, yet nuanced performance. I just loved it. I’ve been watching a whole bunch of stuff. I always am. It comes with the job I guess, but something I particularly relished was SeveranceonApple TV+. I think it’s utterly brilliant – the premise, the acting, the direction. It’s so dark, quietly hilarious and clever. It’s instantly become one of my all-time favourite shows.
As you close out 2023 and look to 2024 and beyond, what’s the first thing you would love to tick off career-wise next?
One of the things I both love and hate about my job is that you really don’t know what is around the corner. It simultaneously gives me such a thrill as well as a fair amount of anxiety. But mostly a thrill. I’m really excited for the universe to surprise me! There are a few things bubbling away, but beyond that I can’t wait to see what appears. I’ve got a beautiful short film coming out very soon; Good Boy, starring myself, Ben Wishaw and Marion Bailey written and directed by Tom Stuart. I’ve not seen it yet but I can’t wait to share it with everyone. Now, I can’t go into detail, but I am also attached to a wonderful feature that is due to begin filming in October, in a role unlike any I have ever played. I am quite terrified, but that’s a good thing. Magic happens outside of your comfort zone. I’m also attached to another very exciting project that is in the earlier stages of development, and I’m in talks about another brilliant series, so watch this space.
Foundation is released weekly on Apple TV+