Giles Panton on his eye-opening ‘The Man in the High Castle’ role
Giles Panton had already wrapped on the third season of The Man in the High Castle when he came across an old photograph that seemed to perfectly sum up his character’s place in the world.
Panton plays Billy Turner, the new Minister of Propaganda for the American Reich, in the third season of The Man in the High Castle, which hit Amazon earlier this month.
Unlike The Man in the High Castle, the photo that popped up in Panton’s social media feed wasn’t the stuff of fiction. It was taken at the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944 – and unlike the bulk of the photos that have emerged from that horrific place and time, the photo is disturbing because its subjects – Auschwitz employees on a lunch break – seem genuinely happy.
“They’re smiling and laughing, and [when I saw it], I was like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ because it suddenly made sense,” says the Vancouver-based actor. “If you disconnect enough and you just focus on feeling good, and you just focus on getting what you want, you can be complicit in horrific things.”
In this vintage photo, Panton saw the essence of Billy Turner, an ambitious party member very much focused on his own wants, needs, and pleasures.
“I think Billy represents the average person that doesn’t do anything until they’re actually affected,” says Panton. “Here’s this guy who’s enjoying the high life, and it’s basically, ‘As long as I’m getting mine, I don’t have to think about what’s happening on the other side of that fence.’”
The Man in the High Castle – which stars Rufus Sewell, Chelah Horsdal, and Alexa Davalos – is based on a Philip K. Dick novel first published in 1962. The locally shot Amazon Original series is set in an alternate reality where the Allies lost the Second World War and North America has been carved up by Germany and Japan.
The action takes place in the 1960s, when a resistance movement draws inspiration from newsreels that purportedly show an alternate reality where the Allies had won the war – newsreels that are curated and protected by a mysterious figure initially known only as the Man in the High Castle.
But Billy isn’t concerned about the resistance or the newsreels or the Man in the High Castle, according to Panton. He’s essentially “an ad man from the 60s, and I started to see the parallel between propaganda and advertising,” recalls Panton, adding that his challenge during filming was to “not get into the content, was to not get serious, was to play it light and play it fun and be like just a guy that’s having a good time and yeah, he’s always worried about his job and climbing the ranks and getting in trouble with the party and all, but for the most part, [everything else is] out of sight, out of mind. I just tapped into that side of being a person and not wanting to look at what’s going on.”
Although The Man in the High Castle is dystopian fiction, it’s hard not to draw parallels between the fictional world and our own troubled age, says Panton.
“When it first came out, we all went, ‘This is amazing,’ and then two years later, we’re saying, ‘Hey, wait a minute; this isn’t so crazy an idea anymore,’” says Panton.
Speaking of alternate realities: Panton would probably not be an actor today had he and his dad arrived 10 minutes earlier for a screening of Ernest Goes to Jail back in 1990.
“My dad and I were going to go watch Ernest Goes to Jail and we showed up and the movie had already started,” says Panton. That particular movie theatre had a total of two screens, and “the only other movie playing was The Hunt for Red October, and it started in 15 minutes.” Father and son (the latter of whom was not yet 10 years old at the time) made a split-second decision to watch The Hunt for Red October, and that decision changed the course of Panton’s life.
The film (which starred Sean Connery and was based on a Tom Clancy novel) “blew my mind,” marvels Panton. “It was the first grown-up movie I’d seen, and I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s when I started going down this path, because from that point on, I was interested in very different movies.”
“I still love Ernest, though,” he adds.
It would be a few years before Panton would commit to the actor’s life, however. First, there was music – drumming, specifically – and then a stab at forestry in university (“I didn’t know what to do after high school. I was like, ‘Forestry! This!’ I just figured you had to go to university”). But he has no regrets about attending university, because if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have enrolled in a university acting class, and ultimately found his calling at the William B. Davis Centre for Actors Study.
“It was there, and it might sound cheesy, but it was like, ‘This is the first thing that I felt right doing,’” says Panton.
Panton’s growing filmography includes a mix of voice and live-action roles in studio and indie projects like Chesapeake Shores, Tarzan and Jane (he’s Tarzan), Cedar Cove, as well as several upcoming Christmas movies: A Godwink Christmas, Christmas on Holly Lane, Christmas Pen Pals, and It’s Christmas, Eve.
The Man in the High Castle represents a career highlight for Panton.
“It’s unlike anything I’ve been a part of,” he says. “My first day on set, I was walking around my character’s office, and I picked up a phone, and on the bottom of the phone, imprinted in the steel, is the name of the manufacturing plant in this imaginary world that made the phone. There was such a commitment to the authenticity of it, and that permeated every single area, from set designers to costumes to the writing and production to the actors to the stunts. They operate at the same pace as a feature film, and I was so excited the entire time.”
Top photo by Liz Rosa