(MAN SPEAKING RUSSIAN) MAN 2: (IN ENGLISH)
“You know, I believe that the Russia we fight for is not the dull town
where I lived at a loss, but those country tracks
that our ancestors followed, the graves where they lie,
with the old Russian cross.” (MAN CONTINUES SPEAKING RUSSIAN) MAN 2: (IN ENGLISH)
“I feel that for me, it was countryside Russia that first made me feel
I must truly belong to the tedious miles
between village and village, the tears of the widow,
the women’s sad song.” (MAN SPEAKING RUSSIAN) MAN 2: (IN ENGLISH)
“By old Russian practice, mere fire and destruction are all we abandon
behind us in war. We see alongside us
the deaths of our comrades, by old Russian practice,
the breast to the fore.” (MAN SPEAKING RUSSIAN) MAN 2: (IN ENGLISH)
“Alyosha, till now we’ve been spared
by the bullets, but when, for the third time,
my life seemed to end, I yet still felt proud
of the dearest of countries, the great bitter land
I was born to defend.”♪(SOMBER MUSIC PLAYS)♪PETER SAGAL: Welcome to
The Chernobyl Podcast.This is Peter Sagal. This is a podcast about
the miniseriesChernobylbeing broadcast on HBO
and Sky. Today we are talking about
episode two, titled “Please Remain Calm.” We are here again
with the show’s creator, producer, and writer,
Craig Mazin. CRAIG MAZIN:
Good to be back. PETER: It’s always a pleasure
to see you here, -far, far away…
-CRAIG: Yes. PETER: …from the events
you wrote about. To recap the end
of last episode, the image we were left with
was a bird falling from the sky, presumably because of
the radiation pouring out of
the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, which had blown up
about 12 hours before, and, quite importantly,
that bird falls out of the sky -and no one notices.
-CRAIG: Yeah. PETER: Because, as of the end
of episode one, no one really knows,
because of secrecy and denial, how bad things actually are. So the episode begins
with a poem, in Russian, -over a radio.
-CRAIG: Yeah. PETER: And what is that exactly? CRAIG: So, I was…
looking for– Again, just the idea being that if you’re going to tell a story
in the Soviet Union, place it. And this was the kind of thing
that you would hear on Soviet radio… It was largely skewed
towards classical music, or patriotic poetry
of this sort. This is a beautiful poem
written by a poet named
Konstantin Simonov, and the poem is called
“To Alexey Surkov,” and this was written in
July of 1941… PETER: Which was right after
the invasion -of the Soviet Union…
-CRAIG: Correct. -PETER: …by the Nazis.
-CRAIG: Correct. What I loved about it as I–
I just went through looking for poems,
and this one I thought, “Oh, wow, this… this encapsulates
the spirit of the people that went to battle
with Chernobyl.” In this, you get it all,
as far as I’m concerned. “The great bitter land -I was born to defend.”
-PETER: Yeah, that’s a line. CRAIG: So there’s
an acknowledgment that this place,
the Russia that we fight for, it’s full of dull towns, it’s full of country tracks,
graves everywhere, women mourning and crying,
and it seems quite miserable, and you’re constantly
being shot at, and yet, you–
and yet, and yet! Still… feel proud of “the dearest
of countries, the great bitter land
I was born to defend.” This notion
that the whole purpose of life inside this place is to defend
(CHUCKLES) the country… -PETER: Yes.
-…in which you are. CRAIG: And it starts
to make sense when you think about the people
that went to Chernobyl, many of them doing these things
voluntarily, in a sense. -PETER: Yes.
-CRAIG: Flying helicopters over an open nuclear reactor, going into irradiated water, just being a scientist
and staying there. You feel an extension
of this notion -of being born for this.
-PETER: Yeah. CRAIG: This is why you exist. PETER: And again, we’ve talked
about this a number of times, but I’m sitting here
and contrasting, like, what’s the most
popular poetry about America? -“America the Beautiful,”
-CRAIG: Mm-hmm. PETER:
“Purple mountains majesty.” -CRAIG: Mm-hmm.
-PETER: “Fruited plains.” We don’t talk about America, we don’t talk about patriotism,
in anything like that. I mean, the fact
that they’re like, “It’s sad, it’s bitter,
it’s sometimes tedious, but it’s ours,
and our job is to–” There’s even
a reference to bullets. -CRAIG: Oh, yeah.
-PETER: To die for it -is extraordinary.
-CRAIG: Correct. Oh, absolutely. This is a man talking about
his duty to his country, while he’s walking by
endless graveyards of people that have
taken bullets before him. You know, I– Obviously,
we made a choice there… -PETER: Yeah.
-CRAIG: …to do it in Russian. We tried as best as we could,
whenever there wasn’t somebody -speaking in a scene…
-PETER: Yeah. …which isn’t frequently,
but this is a great example, to be as accurate as we could
and to do it in Russian. All the lettering, for instance,
throughout the show -is in Cyrillic.
-PETER: Right. -Hopefully people get the point.
-PETER: Right. CRAIG: We don’t do a lot of
translating for them, but it helped us situate
the story and the place. PETER: And we begin
the episode in Belarus, -right?
-CRAIG: Right. PETER: Where we meet
a new character, -Ulana Khomyuk, right?
-CRAIG: Right. PETER: Now, we’ve talked
in episode one of this podcast about how carefully you wanted
to adhere to reality, that these were real people,
presented as they were, doing what they did, but Ulana is
a fictional character. CRAIG: Right, we had this
challenge right off the bat. There were hundreds
of scientists that ultimately worked
on the problem of Chernobyl. Valery Legasov,
played by Jarred Harris, was kind of the scientist
in charge of this effort, but there were so many more
who were involved. And those scientists,
a lot of them actually were… in positions of opposition,
essentially, to Legasov. They were, at times,
more aggressive about the potential dangers,
they challenged him on some of the solutions
that he was considering, and in order to consolidate these many, many people
into one, I felt I had to create
a composite character. One of– Just,
right off the bat, this is played by
the incredible Emily Watson. I wanna talk for a second
talk about gender. -PETER: Right.
-CRAIG: The Soviet Union was, in many ways,
very regressive in terms of, um,
its gender politics. The power structures
are almost entirely male, and the show reflects that. There’s… you know,
I don’t know, probably 90 percent of
the characters are male. That reflects the reality
of what happened in the Soviet Union, but one area that they were
fairly progressive in was science and medicine. There were probably
a higher proportion of female medical doctors
in the Soviet Union in 1986 than there were in
the United States, and there were quite a few
female academicians who worked in programs
like nuclear science programs. So, I thought it was
an important thing to show where the Soviets actually were kind of progressive
in this regard. You’ll see a lot of the doctors
in the show… -PETER: Yeah.
-CRAIG: …are women, because that reflected
the reality. So, we invested a lot of
this stuff into Emily’s character,
this sense of a check on Legasov, and also, frankly… Just to get into
Legasov’s character, -if I may, for a second?
-PETER: Oh, of course. So, at the end of episode one
he’s called by this man -named Boris Shcherbina who’s–
-PETER: Right. CRAIG: That’s a real man.
Was a real man, played by, in this case,
Stellan Skarsgård, also amazing. And… Shcherbina asks Legasov if he’s an expert
in RBMK reactors, and Legasov sort of starts
to say, “I am.” In fact, he wasn’t. Legasov worked. He was the–
You know, very high up at Kurchatov Institute,
which was the premier nuclear physics institute
at the Soviet Union, but he was more
in the chemistry area of things. I mean, he knew a lot
about radiation and the chemistry
of radioactive materials, but he was not really
an expert on the function
of an RBMK nuclear reactor. -And a lot of other people were.
-PETER: Right. CRAIG: And those people,
very frequently, had to kind of help him out and explain to him
in certain ways, “This is why this is happening,
and this is why this is not.” So one of the other functions
of the character of Ulana Khomyuk is to
frankly be a little bit smarter. -PETER: Right.
-CRAIG: Be a little bit smarter, a little bit more aware,
and a challenge to him to do better, as they say. PETER: So, we begin the episode with Emily Watson’s character
in a lab. She doesn’t know anything
about what’s happened, because no one knows anything
about what’s happened; -the town has been cut off.
-CRAIG: Right. PETER: A window is opened, a radiation detector goes off,
and she very quickly understands not only that there’s been
an accident, but what kind of accident
it was. She uses a spectrometer
to figure out that a particular isotope
that would come from -a nuclear reactor explosion…
-CRAIG: Right. PETER: …is now in the air.
Is that reflective of reality? Did people begin to see,
across the Soviet Union and Europe, that something bad
had happened -through that method?
-CRAIG: Correct. That specific story
is inspired by an account inVoices of Chernobyl
from a nuclear physicist, in which that exactly happened. They opened a window,
an alarm went off, this entire institute presumed
that this level of radiation they were detecting
was the result of a leak from inside the lab. They figured out fairly quickly
that it was coming from outside. And they did call Chernobyl,
and no one answered the phone. (CHUCKLES)
This was basically when– when they started to realize
something terrible had happened. And when they started to call, people would say things like,
“Nope, no problem. Stop asking questions.
You don’t ask that question.” It was a sort of that deal. But while this was happening
fairly quickly inside of the Soviet Union, the cloud was moving its way
across Europe, and eventually would arrive
in Sweden, where this– I– (SIGHS) I wish we’d had time
to shoot, I would have loved to have shot
the scene, but it’s the scene where–
And this is what happened, a– a worker at
a Swedish power plant, basically, sets off an alarm. And he sets off an alarm
because his shoe has picked up a piece of dirt
that has a piece of fallout -from Chernobyl.
-PETER: Right, but in the episode
we now are in Pripyat again -in the hospital.
-CRAIG: Yeah. PETER: People are now finally
coming to the hospital with terrible radiation burns. We see an old doctor trying
to use milk? CRAIG: That’s accurate.
That’s accurate. There was
a limited understanding, uh, at least among the older doctors
who were not trained at all in this kind of thing,
as to what this even was, and there was
a frightening prevalence of… what I would just call… kind of folk medicine
going on there. And, of course, one of
the other doctors realizes pretty quickly–
and this is, again, inspired by true events–
that… uh, these are not
normal fire burns. By the way, milk is not
acceptable for those either. -(BOTH CHUCKLE)
-PETER: Yeah, okay. -Important note for those
-CRAIG: Correct. But once they realized
that these are nuclear burns, they did remove all the clothes
from the firefighters and they did bring them down
to the basement, and those clothes
are there today. PETER: Right.
They’re still radioactive. -CRAIG: Correct.
-PETER: Yeah. We’ll get into what happened
to those men, uh, and some women, I guess,
with the doctors themselves. So, the doctors themselves
received radiation burns just from dealing with
the patients. PETER: This is something I find
myself thinking a lot about. One of the bizarre,
it seems almost unbelievable, natures of radioactivity is… If I– If you become irradiated by being exposed to something
like Chernobyl, then you are just as dangerous,
or at least dangerous in exactly the same way,
whatever you were exposed to. It seems to, like, have
an endless sort of contagion. Coming back to
our horror movie thing. If you’ve touched it,
then you’re contagious. If I touch you,
I can get burned, and so on and so forth. CRAIG: Yes.
Depending on the circumstances, these particles we’re
talking about are atomic, they’re sub-atomic,
these neutrons. And when you have
these particles on you, and in you,
just from breathing. If I breathe these things
in from smoke, they’re in my body.
They are now radiating, -inside of me, outwards.
-PETER: Right. CRAIG: There’s
a terrible story, I mean, it’s a shocking story
from the night of, that we contemplated shooting
and just couldn’t fit it in, where a guy named Gorbachenko, who’s the dosimetrist
in episode one who says, “Are they bombing?” Which, by the way,
a lot of people in the plant thought was– that was
what was going on. He rescues another guy–
tries to rescue another guy, who doesn’t make it–
and in the account, he had been carrying this guy,
and the guy’s hand had been loosely resting
on Gorbachenko’s back, and when he finally
puts the guy down, he feels a burn on his back
and he lifts his shirt and there’s a burn
in the shape of a palmprint -on his back.
-PETER: Right. CRAIG: Because that man’s hand
was that radiated and it burned him
in the shape of a handprint. It’s just startling
and terrifying. PETER: Yeah. And we’ll get to
more of that later, and what happens to those men,
which we will talk about. But let’s talk about what is
one of the key scenes, if not the key scene,
where we start what we might think of
as a more traditional story. -We meet our hero, Legasov…
-CRAIG: Yep. PETER: …and his counterpart, -Shcherbina.
-CRAIG: Yep. PETER: This is a scene
in the Kremlin, Jared Harris playing him. He– He seems to not know
what it is he’s been brought in
to talk about. He doesn’t know anything. Just like nobody else
knows anything. CRAIG: Yeah. He was told that there had been
a minor industrial incident. Any time there is an accident
in a nuclear power plant, it’s prudent for the government to make sure
things are going okay. I think one of the reasons
that Legasov was called was because Legasov was… a rather zealous
member of the party. He was considered
a real Soviet, and a loyalist, and somebody
that you could count on to just, you know,
toe the party line, -as they say.
-PETER: Right. CRAIG: Not to take away
from his expertise. He was a brilliant scientist
in his own right, but that’s why he was called in,
I think. That is my suspicion. And the manner in which
he kind of deduces that there may be
something worse in the motivation to go there, this is a compression
and combination -of a number of events.
-PETER: Yeah. CRAIG: That– The way
that scene unfolds is my own interpretation
of things. PETER: Yeah. It– It– It seems
pretty dramatically sharp, you know, that he’s reading
the notes. By the way, it’s an amazing
bit of acting -on Jared Harris’s part…
-CRAIG: Yeah. PETER: …to sort of show
that you just saw the worst news in the world
on a piece of paper. VALERY LEGASOV:I’m sorry.
I’m so sorry.-(PAPER RUSTLES)
-LEGASOV:Page three,the section on casualties. Uh…“A fireman was severely burned
on his handby a chunk of smooth
black mineralon the ground
outside the reactor building.”Smooth black mineral.
Graphite.There’s– There’s graphite
on the ground.BORIS SHCHERBINA:There was a…
a tank explosion.There’s debris.
Of what importance-that could be–
-LEGASOV:There’s only one placein the entire facility
where you will find graphite:inside the core.
If there’s graphiteon the ground outside,
it means it wasn’ta control system tank
that exploded!It was the reactor core!
It’s open!PETER: Let’s talk about
the scene in the Kremlin. First of all,
we finally get to meet somebody we recognize,
Gorbachev. -(CRAIG CHUCKLES)
-PETER: That’s a fine, fine replica of his, uh,
of his wine mark. -CRAIG: Yes.
-PETER: We tend to think, in the West,
of Gorbachev as a relatively heroic figure
because we credit him with… voluntarily ending
the Soviet Union. Well, I don’t know
how accurate that is, but that’s how we tend
to think of him. -CRAIG: (CHUCKLES) Right.
-PETER: He comes across as not tremendously heroic,
and certainly not a leader here. He comes across as
yet another Soviet bureaucrat, the top Soviet bureaucrat, who seemingly,
like everybody else, is concerned
for his own reputation, position, and future. CRAIG: I– I did not want to
show what I think is, essentially, an invention
of who Gorbachev was. I don’t think Gorbachev was
a bad guy, by any stretch. I mean, in the long run
of Soviet premiers, certainly, the Brezhnev and Andropov
and Chernenko run there, he was– it was good
that he came along, and he did a lot of good.
But he was a bureaucrat. I mean, you don’t become
the General Secretary of the Communist Party
of the Soviet Union because you’re, you know, -a super-reformer.
-PETER: Yeah. CRAIG: Also,
he just had no idea. None of them really knew. PETER: Speaking of bureaucrats
and apparatchiks, let’s talk about
Legasov’s counterpart, who’ll be an important part
in the series as it plays out: Shcherbina,
played by Stellan Skarsgård. His official title is “Deputy Chairman
of the Council of Ministers and Head of the Bureau
for Fuel and Energy.” (CRAIG CHUCKLES) PETER: What does that mean? What I actually mean is… are we dealing
with a very powerful man in the Soviet system? Are we dealing
with a bureaucrat? Are we dealing with somebody
who needs to be feared? Somebody who fears? What was his position
in the power structure? CRAIG: He was– He was up there. Um, no one ever expected that
Shcherbina would be taking over. No one– He was not that guy. He wasn’t the person
you talk about if– if Gorbachev dies,
who takes over? -PETER: Right.
-CRAIG: Shcherbin– no, there were other guys,
and there were also other powerful people in the Soviet Union
that we don’t hear much about, like Premier Ryzhkov, and…
You probably remember -Andrei Gromyko, you know.
-PETER: Yeah. Andrei Gromyko
was incredibly influential inside that government. Boris Shcherbina
was more like… probably on par with
the Secretary of Agriculture. But he was somebody
you wouldn’t want to mess with. So, he posed no real threat to
the people that were in power, but he could definitely
mess your life up. I mean, he was pretty high up
in position. PETER: Yeah, and as we see
in this episode, he’s somebody who–
I don’t know if the correct expression
is “rules,” but let’s say he administers
through intimidation. He’s not particularly
a nice man. CRAIG: Well– And this is,
you know, fairly accurate to accounts
that Shcherbina was tough. -PETER: Yeah.
-CRAIG: He was a tough guy. He wasn’t quite as tall
as Stellan is– -PETER: Who is, ultimately?
-CRAIG: Correct. PETER: I’m not even sure
Stellan Skarsgård is as tall as Stellan Skarsgård. -It’s special effects.
-CRAIG: Stellan Skarsgård is as tall as Stellan–
he’s actually taller than you think
Stellan Skarsgård is. But Shcherbina was… Definitely quite a few
accounts of him trying to yell things
into existence. Uh… He was a gruff guy,
he was a tough guy, but he also was,
as it turned out, the right guy to send. Uh… I think that he,
from what I read, quickly figured out that… this was a war,
and it had to be won, and he was kinda
in it to win it. PETER: Yeah.
But getting back to this meeting,
we leave the meeting, Legasov has
at least convinced them that there’s enough reason
to go take a look. He gets sent,
along with Shcherbina. Neither of them
seem happy to go. They’re going. Just speaking as an admirer
of narrative tricks, having somebody being threatened with being thrown
out of a helicopter… -(CRAIG CHUCKLES)
-PETER: …if he doesn’t
explain something clearly gives it some stakes,
as they say, in the screenwriting
classes being held all over the place
around us. -We get there…
-CRAIG: Yeah. PETER: …and there’s
a very dramatic scene as they fly in, and Shcherbina
wants to take a look -right down into it.
-CRAIG: Right. PETER: And Legasov, in the end, successfully convinces
the pilot -not to do that.
-CRAIG: Right. PETER: This will come up a lot. It happens
very dramatically here, but there seems to be
a significant increase in danger of being
right over the pile as opposed to being
right next to it, which seemed to me to be… counter-intuitive,
only because of the way I imagine radiation
spreading in every direction. CRAIG: Sure. So, here’s the deal
with radiation. Because it– It’s very frustrating
when you read about it because you’re trying
to make sense of, well, why did this person die
and this person not die? So, your exposure to radiation is defined, essentially,
by three factors. One, how much radiation
is coming from the source? Two, how far away
are you from it? And three, how long
are you in that spot? PETER: Right. CRAIG: The reactor is–
Imagine this nuclear reactor as essentially kind of like
a big pit in the ground. This is– Sort of just a big– -It’s like a big tub.
-PETER: Yeah. CRAIG: And it’s
inside this build– So, there’s still walls
around it, because remember, all that force -went upward.
-PETER: Right. CRAIG: The nuclear fuel is inside that reactor,
and in this moment, it is burning. The graphite,
which is part of it, is also radioactive,
is burning. So, the radiation that has
spread outwards and around is essentially being carried up
by smoke. Particles that are radioactive
are being carried by smoke and spread around. But inside this big open tub
is the real stuff. -PETER: Right.
-CRAIG: Uranium, which is firing, essentially,
straight up into the air. ‘Cause the stuff
that’s going sideways is running into, essentially,
the tub itself, which was designed to kind of
hold radiation. PETER: Wh– When Legasov
explains, he uses a metaphor that I– I don’t think I’ve come
across before for radiation, -which is a metaphor of bullets.
-CRAIG: Right. PETER: The idea is–
One way to think of it is, these are physical particles that will tear through flesh,
that will tear through anything, and cause extraordinary,
if microscopic damage. CRAIG: That’s exactly
what they are. They are very, very, very,
tiny, tiny, tiny bullets. PETER: So, there’s also
the continuing story of Emily Watson’s character,
Ulana Khomyuk. She’s out there– She’s made no connection
with our other characters. She’s continuing to try to
both find out what’s going on, and bring the word of it
to the people that need to know. And there’s that great scene
with that bureaucrat. CRAIG: Right. BUREAUCRAT:There has been
an accident at Chernobyl,but I’ve been assured
there is no problem.ULANA KHOMYUK: I’m telling you
that there is.BUREAUCRAT:
I prefer my opinion to yours.KHOMYUK:
I’m a nuclear physicist.Before you were
deputy secretary,you worked in a shoe factory.BUREAUCRAT:Yes, I worked
in a shoe factory.And now I’m in charge.CRAIG: One of the quirks
of the Soviet system– (CHUCKLES)
We think of it as– as just a, you know, -a huge palace built on lies…
-PETER: Yeah. CRAIG: …but some of it
was true, for instance, this notion that it would be
a government of the worker,
by the worker, for the worker. A lot of the people that did
end up as high-level bureaucrats were workers, so… a number of these people did come out of
factory positions. They were– They worked
in a factory, they became the foreman
of the factory, they then became, sort of,
the head of a council that dealt with five
of the factories, and eventually you become, um, the chairman of the communist
party of an entire Soviet Socialist Republic. We do know that
in the direct aftermath of the explosion,
there was a concerted effort to instruct all of the bosses,
the party bosses, to do nothing. And one of the unfortunate
coincidences of this accident is that it occurred five days
before May 1st, which is the International
Worker’s Day– I mean, it’s– it’s Labor Day. It’s a– Probably, I guess, it was the most
important holiday in the Soviet Union. So, we’re talking about parades. And in Kiev, in Minsk, there were
party officials who… honestly, it seems to me,
begged, begged… to cancel the parade. -PETER: Right.
-CRAIG: And they were told, “Not only will you not cancel
the parade, but you’ll be walking
in it too.” -PETER: Right.
-CRAIG: And they did. PETER: And there was a scene
in the original script in which that bureaucrat
gets up and walks out, and marches in the parade,
even though he knows. CRAIG: He knows, and he tries.
You know, he tries, and I think that that’s
what I wanted– You know, unfortunately
we just had to– Some things we lost
for time, but… I did wanna show,
and I’m glad I get a chance to talk about it here,
that… (SIGHS) A lot of these people would,
when they were told to do something,
they would do it convincingly. -PETER: Right.
-But they weren’t monsters. They would then try
to work behind the scenes in some sort of diplomatic,
bureaucratic way to do what was correct. In this case– and this is where, you know, I look at somebody
like Gorbachev, and I think… “You knew this was going on.” They were told to get out
on the streets, and we have photos of, you know,
the May Day parade in Kiev 1986. And when you look
at these photos, every single one of those people
is in danger. PETER: Right. -CRAIG: Indirect danger.
-PETER: Yeah, and people knew -that this was the case.
-CRAIG: On the inside. PETER: Yeah. But they didn’t,
of course. CRAIG: None of the people
marching knew. PETER: Yeah, there’s
a great moment in this episode where we find out that the kids
in Germany are being told to stay inside
as people look out at the kids -playing a few kilometers
from the plant.
-CRAIG: Exactly. That’s exactly correct. So,
by the time Moscow finally says “Okay, okay, we– we have
to evacuate this town,” the rest of the world
already knows. People have been getting
pulled off the streets. Um, there are work curfews
in places like Germany, or East Germany
and West Germany, -but not in Pripyat.
-PETER: Right. CRAIG: And that’s the shocking–
just shocking. PETER: So as it turns out, one cast member actually lived
through this. Stellan Skarsgård grew up
in Sweden, which, as we had talked about, was the first country
outside the Soviet Union to have an inkling
of what was going on. STELLAN SKARSGÅRD:So the smoke
and the dust was carriedwith the winds…northwest over Sweden,over northern Sweden
and eastern Sweden,and for years,
we could not eat mushroomsthat picked in the forest.
We could not eat reindeerbecause the reindeer ate mosses
that were infected.And uh… you can still
sort of detect radiationin some parts of Sweden.Sometimes in animals
and sometimes in plants.PETER: Let’s talk a little bit
about the victims. Everybody understands
in this business that it’s always best to focus
on individual stories to represent a group of people. You chose the story
of Lyudmilla. Was she real…
and why did you choose her to represent the larger group
of victims here? CRAIG: She is real. And her husband,
Vasily Ignatenko, lived, was real. He was a firefighter, and the actions that occurred
that night are– are… very much inspired by a story
that she tells, um, that she tells in the book
Voices of Chernobyl,so I really took her story. I tried to tell it
as accurately as I could, because it is… just incredibly moving
and beautiful. I didn’t really do anything
to it to embellish it or… change facts,
I really just took what was there
that she reported. And I found her story to be… the most heart-wrenching
of all the stories that I read because it was so much about… love. And the character’s played
by Jessie Buckley, who, you know,
in talking about this with her, she said she was… she was attracted
to playing this character because the character was just
all about love, and how love just blinds you
to almost anything. And Adam Nagaitis plays
her husband, Vasily, who’s just kind of the paragon
of heroism, and there’s actually
a wonderful documentary about Lyudmilla also.
It’s a Swedish documentary. I don’t know if it’s findable.Ljudmilas röstis what
I think it is in Swedish. Anyway,
it’s a beautiful documentary if anyone can find it,
it’s well worth watching. PETER: Right. We have that remarkable scene
in the hotel, and there’s that great line.
They’re standing there in the middle
of a nuclear disaster, and somebody says,
“Well, there’s a hotel.” CRAIG: Yeah. PETER: This is before
the town is evacuated, so life is going on, and in walks Legasov into a bar, and it’s funny,
I didn’t understand exactly what happened
with that glass until I went back and looked
at it again, where the bartender offers him
a glass that’s been turned -open side up.
-Right. PETER: And he says, “I’ll take
the one that’s turned over.” -Just a small little thing.
-CRAIG: Which is a minor attempt -to, you know, be safe.
-PETER: Yeah. CRAIG: I mean, it’s–
I feel like… sometimes, as humans,
when we’re in situations that are overwhelming, we seek
to comfort ourselves in the most minuscule ways, even if we know they’re not…
significant and they won’t
change anything… -PETER: Yeah.
-CRAIG: …we try. -But Pripyat was functioning.
-PETER: Right. CRAIG: And so this is
the Polissya Hotel. It wasthe hotel in Pripyat. We replicated it, I think,
you know, the exterior of it, I mean, with the help
of visual effects, down to the– down to the brick, I believe,
or chunk of concrete as it were, and yeah,
that’s where he stayed. And that where they all stayed
for a while, actually. Even after the evacuation,
a number of people that were supervising this
effort to put this fire out, were headquartered
at the Polissya Hotel. PETER: Here’s actor Jared Harris
talking about just that. JARED HARRIS:There’s
this couple who are there,who start asking him questions
about why he’s thereand what he’s doing there.“Is everything all right
with the site?”And he is a choice at that pointto tell them the truth
or to lie.And it was one of the things
that we discussed,that I discussed
with Johan and Craig, is…that’s sort of the point
that hesteps into the story
at that point, where…because he lies to them
aboutthe fact that there’s
nothing to worry about,at that point,he owns the outcome
of what’s gonna happen,and he’s now responsible
for what’s gonna happen.Up until that point,
he was– he was an innocentwho was plucked from his life
and plonked into this situation,but the moment that he lies,he knows own responsibility
for the outcome.-PETER: So they finally
-CRAIG: Yep. PETER: One of the things
I was struck with -was how orderly it was.
-Right. I was like, “Oh, you’re
evacuating an entire town -of how many people? 50,000?”
-CRAIG: 50,000. PETER: 50,000 people are being
evacuated from this town, and I could only think of
what that would be like if they tried to do that
to a similar town in America. People would be yelling.
People would be complaining. People would be demanding that
they’re allowed to bring that– -CRAIG: Calling their lawyers.
-PETER: Exactly, “I’m not leaving,” whatever. We get a little bit of that
later in the series, but everybody just got up
and said, “All right.” -And they climbed onto the bus.
-CRAIG: Very Soviet. So… the buses
were Kiev municipal buses. They expected
that they were going to have to evacuate this town
as they were monitoring the radiation
coming from the plant, and as they were dropping
the sand and the boron and the lead, it started to get
a little better, then it started to get
much worse and they said, “Okay, it’s time.”
So they were prepared. They had 1,000,
I think it was 1,000 Kiev buses, which is probably
all of the buses in Kiev, waiting at night.
Just waiting. And then they eventually
get a signal– the signal -the next day. It’s on.
-PETER: Right. CRAIG: And a caravan
of a thousand buses makes its way to Pripyat,
and the citizenry, by all accounts except one, -so I went with all accounts…
-PETER: Yeah. CRAIG: …was
incredibly orderly. Again, reflective of the society
in which they lived and grew up. The police said,
“You’re coming with us. You’re getting on the bus. You can take one suitcase,
no pets. You’ll be back in a few days. Get on the bus,”
and everybody said, “Okay. And I’ll wait in the line
and get on the bus.” PETER: Right. CRAIG: With very little protest. I mean, normally, you would look
at that and say, “Oh, my God, they’re leading
lambs to a slaughter,” but really,
they’re leading the lambs away from the slaughter.
But… they’re doing this on a scale
that, like you say, is unimaginable in the West.
And they went to the hospital and said, “Everybody out, -including all the sick people,”
-PETER: Right. CRAIG: And they said, “Okay.”
And they got on the buses, and they drove away.
And they never, -ever, ever came back.
-PETER: Right. And what do we know
about those people and where they ended up?
Were they all just dispersed through the Soviet Union?
They end up in Kiev? CRAIG: So, initially, they– a lot of them did end up
in Kiev. I mean, they were held
in a bunch of places. In fact, somebody told me
that there was a resort that was someplace people
would go in the winter, to get away from the cold, and this was, you know,
in the spring, summer, and so it was somewhat empty
at this point. So they sent a lot of them
to this resort, which in and of itself
is just mindboggling that they’d been evacuated
from their radiated town, and now, they’re kinda like
in a… some sort of spa resort briefly, but eventually
what the Soviets do is they just build
another city called Slavutych, which is just outside
of the zone and it’s kind of like, “Here,
here’s another Pripyat. Everybody go live there.” And a lot of people did in fact
go and work in Slavutych. And to this day,
a lot of the people that still work
at the power plant monitoring the electrical
switches, ’cause it’s still part of
the grid, live in Slavutych and… What’s more Soviet than that? We’ll just, uh…
we’ll do it again. Redo– Do over. PETER: Yeah, we’ll just do it
again. Nobody will say anything. -CRAIG: Exactly. Yeah.
-PETER: People will just go. I mean, there’s so many things
that happen in this series that I’ve never seen depicted
on film before because they’re so crazy,
even though they were real. So many of the things
that happen in episode one. In episode two, we’re coming up
on the climactic incident, which seems so much
like a movie, -I almost don’t believe it.
-CRAIG: Right. PETER: And this is, of course,
the sluice gates. CRAIG: Yeah. PETER: So let’s back up
a little bit. Uh, Khomyuk comes to Chernobyl,
to Pripyat, and with this news,
she has figured out that– what he’s doing– she’s found out, through
her rather coded conversation, what Legasov is doing
with the boron and the sand, she figures it out,
and then she explains, when she finally arrives, “You’re making a mistake. You think that the water
underneath the reactor is gone, but I have figured out
that it’s not gone.” -Let’s stop right there.
-Yeah. PETER: Is that based on truth? Is that based on
a miscalculation, -and then a better calculation?
-CRAIG: Essentially. Legasov’s plan was to drop
sand and boron and then start mixing it
with lead, and there were actually
a couple scientists who made the argument that
the most effective thing to do would actually be
to just let it burn out. PETER: We should stop and–
maybe for my own edification– when we talk about
the thing being on fire, there’s really
two different kinds of fire. There’s one, like, almost
a traditional fire, the graphite’s burning, smoke,
particles, flames, -that’s one fire that they–
-CRAIG: Yes. PETER: …that’s going on
and they need put out ’cause that’s spreading
radiation -in the form of a cloud
-CRAIG: Right. PETER: But then there’s
the nuclear reaction, which is now uncontrolled. The control rods are gone,
it’s blown up. So you have all this uranium
that’s– it’s basically -a burning nuclear pile.
-CRAIG: Yes. PETER: Uncontrolled fission.
That’s a separate problem. And it seems as if Legasov
understands that if he puts out the fire
with the boron, the other one’s still
gonna go on. It’s gonna get hotter
and hotter and hotter. And then we have the classic
meltdown -where it sinks into the earth.
-CRAIG: The fuel, he is aware, will probably melt down,
but they have time. -PETER: Right.
-CRAIG: Because underneath the reactor are, essentially,
layers. There’s a shield and then
there’s a big concrete pad, and this is designed
specifically to slow down, uh, a meltdown
and still have time to get underneath it
and deal with it. And what they came
to understand, with terror, was that they were days away
from a thermal explosion. So the idea there is you have a container, you have a container,
a very rigid steel container, I think,
or possibly concrete, of about 7000 cubic meters
of water, which is a lot. And if– (CHUCKLES)
If melting nuclear fuel burns through and hits it,
that will flash vaporize all that water to steam, and then–
what is a bomb? A bomb is basically
a lot of pressure inside a very rigid container
that finally snaps. That would have destroyed
all of the other three reactors, which, by the way,
were still operating. -PETER: Yes.
-(CRAIG CHUCKLES) -PETER: Let’s stop for a second.
-CRAIG: And talk about that! -Somebody mentions that…
-CRAIG: Yeah. …and– and I honestly, I literally couldn’t believe it. -CRAIG: Yep.
-PETER: So, there’s– Reactor number four
has blown up… -CRAIG: That’s right.
-…the worst nuclear
accident that has ever occurred. As Legasov says, “This has
never happened before in the history of the planet.”
That’s happening over here. CRAIG: Yep. PETER: In the other end
of the building, they’re just running
the nuclear reactors for power -like normal?
-CRAIG: Yep. PETER: Why in the world
would they do that? CRAIG: They needed it. And this is the part
that’s kind of shocking. It– It’s one of the reasons the accident happens
in the first place, and we’ll get to that detail
later on in the series, but this power plant was powering most of Kiev,
basically. It was– It was the linchpin
of Ukrainian power. If they shut it all down, without any other preparation, that’s devastating to
an entire city, an economy, an industry, and, listen,
those other three reactors were hummin’ along just fine. -I know!
-PETER: I– It’s just insane. So there were people who
were getting up and going to work,
and putting on the paper outfits just like we saw in episode one. Standing there,
running the reactors. CRAIG: Correct.
While helicopters are buzzing constantly overhead, dropping sand, lead, and boron on a burning open
nuclear reactor, you know, maybe half a kilometer
away from you. I believe that reactors
one through three functioned mostly through
the ’90s. They started getting shut down
in the late ’90s, and the final one,
I think, was reactor three, was shut down in the year 2000. PETER: All right. So,
let’s just say that’s crazy… -CRAIG: Mm-hmm.
-…and get back to our story. There’s a description
of the result if this thermal
explosion happens. -CRAIG: Yeah.
-Which basically, to summarize, makes Europe uninhabitable. CRAIG: Well, at the very least, it would make Ukraine
and Belarus uninhabitable for quite some time,
and it would have a… it would have had a terrible
impact on most of Europe. PETER: So it’s very real. -CRAIG: Yeah.
-What Legasov warns is real. And the solution that
they come up with was real. The only way to prevent this
from happening, the core melting down,
hitting that water, would be to drain the water. The only way to drain the water
is to send somebody inside the flooded basement
of the destroyed reactor, somebody who knew what they
were doing, to physically open some valves,
or we call them sluice gates. CRAIG: Yeah, basically,
to open the gates that were holding all the water in those steam suppression
bubbler pools. And so you needed people
that could, basically, find it in the dark. It was an absolute maze
down there. The level of water, I think a lot of people
reported that it was like, you know, swimming
in a fishbowl– It wasn’t quite like that,
the water, I think, got as far up to their chests,
you know, but they were in full scuba gear
and there were three of them and those were
the three of them. -PETER: Yeah.
-CRAIG: Those were their names, and they did it. PETER: Um, it’s interesting,
because I noticed this, especially going through
the script, that those three actors
basically had one line of dialogue each.
Well, not quite. They stand up
and they say their names. CRAIG: Which was important
to me. I felt, you know, these three
men did something that is so remarkable. And when you read
the real accounts, it doesn’t take place
in quite that dramatic, you know,Spartacusmoment. They’re just standing up
amidst a group of men, but… they were asked,
and they said, “Okay.” “Well, that’s what I gotta do, -that’s what I gotta do.”
-PETER: Before that happens, of course, uh, Legasov -goes back to the Kremlin…
-CRAIG: Yeah. …and he has that scene where he’s explaining
the situation, where we find out
about what might happen and what he’s going to do
to stop it. Is that real? CRAIG: What is real is that they all knew. When they came up– this was hardly the only mission
like this– they all knew that there were
certain missions where they needed
to kill people. That part is true,
and there’s a phrase that they started to use, called “counting lives,” which Gorbachev, I think,
uses in the scene. -PETER: Yeah.
-CRAIG: And this became a running theme of counting lives,
where, in order to assess what they should do next, one of the factors was
“how many lives will we take?” Because some of them,
there was no way to do it unless you were willingly
sending people to what was certainly going
to be their death. -PETER: Yeah.
-CRAIG: So, I wanted to– to dramatize that notion, which was a very real thing,
in a moment. And I thought
it was important, too, for the audience to know that the Soviets were not blithely
sending people to their deaths. This was not a kind of
evil empire where people just went,
“Oh, who cares? Just kill a bunch of people
until it goes away.” No, they were– This was
very difficult to do, and they didn’t want anyone
to die, and they were, unfortunately, in a position where
they had no choice. -PETER: Right.
-CRAIG: And they were weighing,
essentially, either this amount of people
will die, or this amount. Let’s count lives and see
which one is better. PETER: Yeah. And then,
of course, there’s the key scene of
the episode, in which, having made
this decision of what they have to do
to prevent this disaster, they go, and Legasov kind of
lamely… -CRAIG: (CHUCKLING) Yeah.
-PETER: …tries to, uh– By the way, again, props
to Jared Harris, because it’s one thing
to act nobly, it’s another thing to act
cravenly, and he does both brilliantly. CRAIG: He really does.
He’s… so good, and he occupied– Not only did he occupy
this man’s mind in this remarkable
and convincing way, but also his body. There are a number
of moments where he stumbles as he walks,
he’s clumsy, -he’s reticent, he’s awkward.
-PETER: Yeah. CRAIG: And I think that adds
a lot to what is, ultimately… a character that we have seen, but never seen
kind of realistically, and that’s the scientist hero. -PETER: Right.
-CRAIG: Um… Typically the scientist hero’s
far too… good-looking and muscular
(LAUGHS) and brave. PETER: Played by
Denise Richards, for example. CRAIG: Denise Richards as, as–
what was her name? -PETER: Christmas Jones!
-CRAIG: Christmas Jones. Yeah. So– And they’re named
Christmas, which, you know, is not typical, um…
(CHUCKLES) But, you know, for me
and for Johan, when we were casting–
And this is not to– I mean,
these are all beautiful people. All actors are– have
remarkable facial symmetry… But it was important that
we never felt like we were glitzing this up
in any way, um, that we wanted
to keep it Soviet and real. All ordinary people. And they would offer people these, as you say,
lame incentives. PETER: Four hundred rubles,
I think? Plus a medal, maybe? CRAIG: Yeah. 400 rubles, -you’d get a promotion.
-PETER: Yeah. CRAIG: There’s an implication
that if something should happen
to you, your family would get
taken care of -in some way.
-PETER: Yeah. -CRAIG: Sometimes.
-PETER: Yeah. CRAIG: But mostly, it’s nothing. I mean, really,
what they’re saying is, “Would anybody like to die
for their country?” PETER: Which is essentially
what Shcherbina says. “We’re the people who do this. -We do what must be done.”
-CRAIG: Yeah. PETER: And the– And
that’s convincing. Did you have to, as you worked
on this, put aside– ‘Cause, again, I kept
coming back to the difference between this very real story and the fictional stories
that we’ve been fed about disasters, about heroes, did you find yourself
in the writing process, going through that, sort of,
evolution, like, “This is how it happened
in the movies, but I can’t do that,
’cause this is real,” and putting that aside
and moving to what your best estimate is
of what really happened? CRAIG: Yeah. I mean, there were times
when I would think like, “Well…” (SIGHS) “This feels like a– like
an action movie cliché, but it happened– I can’t
not say what happened, that’s the point,
I have to say it. So, let me at least try and not,
you know, gild the lily.” -PETER: Right.
-But, yeah, in general… for me, and then for Johan
when he was shooting, we always were shy about
anything that felt cliché or conventional. We always wanted to kind of
go in the other direction. If something would– seemed
like it would be really big, we wanted to make it
really small, PETER: Yeah. And one of
the things I noted about the production– And we’re talking about
Johan Renck, the director– I noticed so many times where,
for example, -there is no stirring music.
-CRAIG: Right. PETER:
There is no tension music. -CRAIG: Right.
-PETER: There’s no fanfares. The music score is almost
like a heartbeat, almost like
a background sound that indicates tension
and terrible danger. It’s almost like you can hear
the radiation, but no more. And there is a… a remarkable focus
through the lighting on– on just the gritty
realism of it. I don’t think there’s
a single, like, technically beautiful shot– except maybe the one of
the light going up in the air in the very first episode–
in the whole thing. It’s all very gritty and real
and Soviet. -And– And–
-CRAIG: Soviet. -PETER: Yes.
-CRAIG: By design. I mean, we really wanted to, again,
put you in that world, and also, I think, when you’re dealing
with something this inherently dramatic, there’s only danger in adding
your own drama on top of it, because you’re just
diminishing the truth, which is shocking
in and of itself. It’s one of the reasons I’m glad
you mentioned our score’s, um, composed
by Hildur Guonadóttir. I’m not pronouncing that
exactly the right Icelandic way because, literally,
it’s the hardest language -on the planet.
-PETER: (LAUGHING) I know. ♪ (EERIE MUSIC PLAYS) ♪ CRAIG: But Hildur did
a gorgeous job. She is a genius, and… So much of what she did was -to not do the normal thing.
-PETER: Right. CRAIG: Because when you go…
♪ (MIMICS DRAMATIC MUSIC) ♪ you’re telling people,
“Feel things, feel things!” -PETER: Yes.
-CRAIG: And we really just wanted you to feel them
honestly. And then this score was there
to kind of just be with you. Not lead you. ♪ (MUSIC CONTINUES) ♪ PETER: As we approach
the climax of this episode, the three men go into
the plant. It’s dark. They’ve got
their flashlights. It’s incredibly confusing,
which is, again, -brilliantly depicted…
-CRAIG: Yeah. …that there are pipes
everywhere, it’s incredibly dark,
even with their torches. And the end of the episode is their flashlights all go out. PETER: And I literally said
to my wife, -“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
-CRAIG: Yeah. (CHUCKLES) -PETER: Were you kidding us?
-CRAIG: No. No. So… there’s versions
of this story, um, some of which have gone
a little bit into urban legend, and we– we’ve done, I think, a really good job of presenting
what I think is more the down-the-middle version
of what happened here. So, there was a moment
that actually… (CHUCKLES) we didn’t even put in,
that was even scarier, where one of the guys
reported that he sort of waved his dosimeter
and he saw, through, like, a crack,
in– in the wall, something glowing. And he held his dosimeter up,
it kind of went off the scale and he just said to these–
to his other guys, “We need to move quickly.”
(CHUCKLES) So, that’s something I left out, but there were
a number of accounts that indicated that the lights
went out. Now, again, this is kind of
cobbled together from multiple accounts, but yeah, I– That’s
as far as we could tell, that is an accurate account. PETER: Yeah. So, three men alone in the dark with the fate of the continent
in the balance. It’s a fine place to end
an episode, and this podcast. I’m Peter Sagal, uh, it’s been
my pleasure to host this episode
ofThe Chernobyl Podcastalong with the show’s
creator and writer and producer, Craig Mazin. Episode three ofChernobyl
airs next Monday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on HBO. You can always subscribe
to this podcast, you can rate it,
you can review it, you can call up your friends,
using your phone, and tell them they must listen, because what a great thing
to listen to. You can also listen, of course,
on SoundCloud, YouTube, you can also listen
via the HBO Now and HBO Go apps, and wherever else you get
your podcasts, including listening to them
from the air, via your fillings,
if that works for you. (CRAIG CHUCKLES) PETER: We’ll be back next week
with episode three of The Chernobyl Podcast,
talking about episode three of theChernobylminiseries. Thank you again, Craig. CRAIG: Thank you, Peter. ♪ (MUSIC PLAYING) ♪