World on Fire is finally back on our screens!
Joining the cast of the BBC’s epic World War II drama this season is Gregg Sulkin.
Since making his acting debut in ITV’s 2002 adaptation of Doctor Zhivago, the London-born actor has appeared in the likes of The Sarah Jane Adventures, Pretty Little Liars, and Marvel’s Runaways.
Now the 31-year-old star is playing Jewish fighter pilot David in the brand new run of World on Fire.
Four years after Season 1 launched in 2019, we return to World on Fire in 1941, and the true reality of war has arrived in Britain. With RAF pilots being sent to destroy German bombers prowling the skies above Manchester, rescue operations are underway on the streets below.
Season 2 is airing now in the UK on Sunday nights at 9pm on BBC One and streaming on BBC iPlayer.
The new episodes of World on Fire will premiere in the US later this year on Masterpiece on PBS.
Here, Gregg Sulkin chats about how he researched playing a 1940s fighter pilot, filming David’s romantic scenes with Henriette, and his character’s friendship with Gregor:
How did it feel to join World on Fire?
“I was very excited to be join such a talented cast, and I absolutely loved the first series. I think the show is so complex and nuanced.”
How important is it to tell stories like these?
“Being Jewish myself, I know the importance of continuing to share the reality of what happened during the war. I do feel we all share a responsibility to make sure that never happens again.
“What’s so beautiful about this show is that it does that in such a clever way and is an interesting watch. The war is a backdrop to you falling in love with these characters, and gaining a little bit of insight into what lives were like during that terrible time.”
Tell us about your character?
“David is a Jewish fighter pilot who’s brave but reckless. I love playing him because he keeps everyone’s morale up during missions, when it’s a matter of life and death. It’s pure bravery.
“I have so much respect for all the World War Two pilots because what they did was pretty remarkable, going up into the skies and fighting for their country, knowing it may not end very well for them.”
What research did you do into the life of a 1940s fighter pilot?
“The first thing to say is that I can’t actually fly a plane, so I used a lot of imagination and did lots of research. Thankfully, the internet is full of first-hand accounts of what it felt like and I also have a friend who served in the Israeli Army as a fighter pilot.
“I spoke to him at length about what that entailed, how he trained, the feeling of coming down from the adrenaline rush that obviously happens.
“I also read a book about the Holocaust called Life Lessons, which is a very personal account of what happened in the war. That helped me get into the right mindset.
“As a child I read a lot of books and being Jewish, you learn about the Holocaust. I’ve visited Holocaust memorials both in Berlin and in Israel, so I’ve been brought up with that knowledge about just how tragic those conditions were.”
Tell us more about the jovial side of your character and his friendship with Gregor?
“The friendship between David and Gregor is unexpected, but we had lot of fun filming those scenes. I grew up playing sports and I sensed that team spirit with all the RAF boys on set.
“Because at the end of the day you had to rely on each other and have each other’s backs. Everybody’s lives were in danger and they were more than friends at that point – they were your brothers.”
Had you sat in a Hurricane before?
“I hadn’t, but I’ve sat in a chopper Cherokee, have been in helicopters and love aviation – I’ve just never got the chance to actually fly plane. But I made sure I understood the logistics in the cockpit so that it looks authentic.
“I also watched Top Gun not once but twice before I came on set, because it’s so good!”
We won’t say how, but David meets Henriette during the series…
“I love their dynamic. I think David learns from Henriette that purity and goodness win, and Henriette embodies that. She sacrifices herself for the greater good of every other human suffering as a result of the war.
“Although David has a tough guy façade and is a bit of a prankster, she pulls at his heartstrings and a love and friendship blossoms.
“Henriette is also Jewish. When she takes David in, she’s risking her own life, because she’s hiding someone who is, in the Nazi’s eyes, the enemy – a Jewish person. She understands that but she’s doing it for two reasons. Fi
“rstly, because she believes that hate should not win, and on top of that, she really does love David. So as their love grows, the necessity of staying together deepens.”
How did you find filming the intimate scene in a barn with Henriette?
“Did Meenu (Gaur), the director, tell you that I am extremely allergic to hay? It turned out that we were shooting the entire episode in a barn.
“Within less than 10 minutes, I was sneezing and within 20 minutes, I realised that I needed an asthma pump which I hadn’t brought with me. Then I started wheezing.
“That makes it tough when you’re trying to be romantic and intimate. That’s the last thing you want to hear before you kiss someone!”
Finally, what would you like to say to viewers?
“There’s an incredible series coming your way, and so many characters that you’re going to fall in love with.”
World on Fire is available to watch on PBS Masterpiece.