‘The Man in the High Castle’ explores frightening ‘what if?’ scenario

Alexa Davalos as Juliana in a very different post-World War II U.S.
Alexa Davalos as Juliana in a very different post-World War II U.S. Amazon Prime

The Man in the High Castle, one of the best new drama series of the year, aims to challenge viewers with a provocative “what if?” scenario.

Suppose things hadn’t gone America’s way during World War II. What would life here be like if conquering Axis powers had divvied up the United States — the German Reich taking control of the East Coast, Imperial Japan ruling in the West?

“One thing is for sure,” says Alexa Davalos, the show’s leading lady. “The liberty that we revel in, perhaps even take for granted, would be gone.”

Rolling Stone called Philip K. Dick “the most brilliant sci-fi mind on any planet.”

The Man in the High Castle, based on the acclaimed alternate history novel by science-fiction great Philip K. Dick, will be available for streaming Friday on Amazon Prime Instant Video.

It’s the latest in an ever-expanding library of ambitious television shows that weren’t made for conventional broadcast or cable networks.

We chatted with Davalos, who plays Juliana Crane, a woman drawn into the American resistance movement in 1962, about this spellbinding, must-see show.

Is it true that you are such a devotee of the novel that you’ve read it a half-dozen times?

It is very true. I originally read it a long time ago, before the script came to me, and I was quite struck by it. The character of Juliana really stayed with me — she is so brave — so it’s wild to have it come back around to me in this way.

Some of the actors hadn’t read it — and some, after they were cast, were told not to. I was not instructed one way or another. But being an avid reader and massive bookworm, I was unstoppable when it came to reading it again. Philip K. Dick’s mind is just extraordinary.

How closely does the show stick to the source material?

It was important to all of us that the show is faithful to the spirit of the book. At the same time, we’ve only just scratched the surface. Within the confines of creating a serialized television show, we had to expand a little bit.

Frank Spotnitz, our creator-writer, created characters that didn’t exist in the book and inserted a narrative that isn’t in the novel. We’ve done this, respectfully, in hopes that we can continue to do this show awhile longer.

The way this show was green-lighted is unique. In January, the pilot was released for free on Amazon, along with pilots for other possible series, and viewers were invited to give feedback. High Castle was the viewer favorite. What was that like for you as an actor, waiting for the people to speak and to determine your fate?

It’s an incredibly bizarre process, but at the same time it makes total sense. After all, we are making these shows and telling these stories for the people. So why not let the people who are actually seeing these shows have a say in what is made?

It’s quite interesting to have this kind of relationship with the audience.

We even have a new vocabulary for watching television now. Like the term “binging.

Actress Alexa Davalos

Is it exciting to take part in the revolutionary changes of how TV is produced and delivered to the public?

It’s fascinating for me. It definitely feels like we’re on the cutting edge of something. We even have a new vocabulary for watching television now. Like the term “binging.”

I’m a third-generation actor in my family. When I speak to my granddad, whose time was the ’50s, about what it was like for him and what it’s like for me now, there are vast differences in the industry.

Things are changing so fast, it’s hard to keep up. Especially for someone like me. I’m quite the Luddite. I’m trying to get with the times, but part of me is still a rabbit ears kind of viewer.

The Man in the High Castle

  • Amazon Prime
  • All episodes available for streaming Friday.