War of the Worlds' Gabriel Byrne: 'Empty streets have new significance now' (exclusive)

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Watch: Gabriel Byrne talks to Yahoo about War of the Worlds S2

Published over 120 years ago, H.G. Welles’ sci-fi classic War Of The Worlds, has been re-worked into countless TV, film and musical versions, as well as a notorious radio broadcast. 

But Gabriel Byrne, star of its latest incarnation — streaming on Star on Disney+ — believes this new version shows the original was uncannily accurate in predicting the future, even the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Talking to Yahoo about the release of season two of War Of The Worlds, he revealed the similarities between the new episodes filmed during pandemic restrictions and the realities of everyday life at the time. 

Read more: Everything coming to Disney+ in July

“An empty street in a city now has a significance that people truly understand," Byrne told us. "They understand the terror and fear of an unseen enemy, of something we cannot control. If you have an invading army, you can see them. The virus is something that’s invisible and deadly.”

Bill (Gabriel Byrne) in
Bill (Gabriel Byrne) in "Episode 15" of WAR OF THE WORLDS. (Star on Disney+)

“When we were making season two, we were aware of the unpredictable irony of that, but it still had to come down to shooting the thing on a day to day basis and it’s still about the drama of the moment and you have to leave the big questions outside the door. 

"Literally, the pandemic was outside the studio and we were protected inside the studio. But as soon as you exited the building, you understood we were dealing with a fictional reality in there while outside, ten steps away, was the real world.”

Pictured:  (L-R) Mathieu Torloting as SACHA, Stéphane Caillard as CHLOE and Stephen Campbell Moore as JONATHAN in War of the Worlds, season 2.
Pictured: (L-R) Mathieu Torloting as SACHA, Stephane Caillard as CHLOE and Stephen Campbell Moore as JONATHAN in War of the Worlds, season 2. (Disney+)

Season two picks up six months after the initial alien attack from the first series, with scientist Bill Ward (Byrne) discovering more about the creatures, especially their similarities with humans. Other survivors have to deal with personal issues as well as the threat posed by the aliens and human resistance is starting to crack under the pressure. Extreme measures could be the only way to save mankind, including the ultimate personal sacrifice.

Read more: Every time The Simpsons predicted the future

Best known for the Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing, Oscar-winner The Usual Suspects and, more recently, Ari Aster’s nerve shredding Hereditary, Byrne is a fan of the Welles original novel. “I re-read it several times and it’s so profound,” he said. “There are many versions of it, but the H.G. Welles one is spectacularly good. This new version is a good modern update, in terms of pace and tension.”

Kevin Pollak, Stephen Baldwin, Benicio Del Toro, Gabriel Byrne and Kevin Spacey line up in a scene from the film 'The Usual Suspects', 1995. (Photo by Gramercy Pictures/Getty Images)
Kevin Pollak, Stephen Baldwin, Benicio Del Toro, Gabriel Byrne and Kevin Spacey line up in a scene from the film 'The Usual Suspects', 1995. (Photo by Gramercy Pictures/Getty Images)

He also described how his character has changed since the first series. While Bill still believes that science is the key to saving the human race from destruction, “he’s a man of grief now. Part of the reason that he continues is his memory of his wife, Helen. She made him promise to try to find an answer, so his quest for the truth is his tribute to her.” 

She was played in season one by Elizabeth McGovern and Byrne would “have been really happy if she’d come back” for more episodes, but she was already committed to playing Lady Grantham in Downton Abbey 2, which is due for release in March of next year.

Pictured: Daisy Edgar-Jones as EMILY in War of the Worlds, season 2.
Pictured: Daisy Edgar-Jones as EMILY in War of the Worlds, season 2.

Season two of War Of The Worlds sees the return of many of the cast from the first series, released in 2019. Among them are Normal People’s Daisy Edgar-Jones, Lea Drucker (Custody) and Stephen Campbell Moore (Downton Abbey).

Season two of War Of The Worlds premieres on Star on Disney+ on Friday, 16 July. Watch a trailer below.

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