Mortal Engines Characters

A scarred woman out for revenge. A young historian who learns the awful truth about his home. A swashbuckling archeologist with a checkered past. A badass air-pirate with a sweet airship. A mummified cyborg assassin on a violent mission. The world of Mortal Engines is packed with colorful characters, perfect for a distant future where cities are mobile and devour each other for resources.

When I visited the set of this Peter Jackson-produced, Christian Rivers-directed science fiction epic last year, I was able to learn all about this cast of characters and what the actors brought to them. Here’s what you need to know.

A Cast of Fresh and Familiar Faces

While the cast of Mortal Engines features familiar character actors like Hugo Weaving and Stephen Lang, the bulk of the young leads were cast with less familiar faces. This, director Christian Rivers told us, was by design. “It’s very hard to to bring in faces that are too recognizable to other universes, I think, you know?” he said.

And quite frankly, populating a fantastical world with fresh faces had worked out for producer Peter Jackson before with a little film series called The Lord of the Rings:

“It was just finding those talented people who were just right, you know? And that was a process very new to me. I mean, obviously, Pete and Fran have done that very well before. And so, that was very much a process that I relied on them heavily for.”

Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan)

As the lead character of the Mortal Engines ensemble, we see much of the action from Tom’s perspective. As an apprentice in London’s Guild of Historians, he works in the city’s museum, cataloging and studying “ancient” artifacts (computers, iPods, etc.) from the civilization decimated in the “60 Minute War” 1,700 years in the past. He’s protective of his city, which roams the desolate countryside, devouring smaller mobile cities for resources, because it’s the only life he knows. It’s the only life that makes sense.

Colin Salmon, who plays Tom’s boss and mentor Chudleigh Pomeroy, explained how this young hero-to-be differs from other London historians:

“It’s interesting with Tom, because I feel with Tom I’m aware that he is in my guild and works with me, but there’s something more about Tom, and he essentially could have been an aviator. Some of us are just desperate to be historians or history guild. Tom has wanderlust, so this is really interesting, that he does go off on an adventure of his own.”

Of course, Tom’s adventure involves plummeting off the city of London alongside the woman who attempts to murder his hero, Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving) and learning some hard truths about the world in which he lives.

Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar)

A mysterious, masked girl with a disfiguring scar steps on board London and immediately attempts to assassinate Thaddeus Valentine, the hero of the city. What’s her deal? Where did she come from? Why does she have it out for this guy? Those are questions that will be answered later. Because when we first meet Hester Shaw, she’s not in a talking mood.

“I think Hester is completely feral and she does not communicate in the same way as I would or we would sort of in general,” actress Hera Hilmar explained. In fact, Hilmar says she kept cutting Hester’s lines out of the script to better represent her situation: “When we meet her, she’s been completely on her own for, like, six months in the wilderness.”

And Hilmar wouldn’t have it any other way:

“So, she’s become quite tough and sort of not social in any way. That’s a nice thing to be able to play. I think it’s a relief to be able to play a female character that is…people can be worried sometimes about the female characters looking too rough and stuff like that, which I think is a shame.”

While Hester isn’t necessarily softened by her experience with Tom, a relationship does blossom between the two mismatched heroes:

“I think what’s kind of nice to play and to look at with Hester is a person who’s been scarred like that in every way and learning to love again, I guess. And Tom happens to be the person that is there and opens that door for her, you know?”

Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving)

Screenwriter Philippa Boyens sums up Thaddeus Valentine best:

“The adventurer, the archaeologist. He’s, like, a really cool guy. And then the truth about what’s underneath all of it becomes really interesting. And actually, the truth of what’s underneath it is, you know…he’s a scavenger.”

While Thaddeus Valentine, the head of London’s Guild of Historians, looks like a swashbuckling Indiana Jones-type whose tales of derring-do inspire Tom and everyone else in the city, there’s a darker core to him. He’s a man on a mission and he won’t hesitate to kill if it means protecting his past and his future. As Boyens adds:

“Once he kills for that thing, he’s committed to it. He’s committed to that act. He has to commit himself to that act. And the end of that act, killing for that object, is the creation of that thing. He is on that trajectory and nothing, not even his daughter, is going to stop him.”

But Hugo Weaving, the veteran character actor known for his work in The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings, doesn’t see Valentine as an outright villain:

“I think villains can be very boring because they can be two-dimensional. Some heroes are even more boring. Villains can be fun. But, no, I don’t see him as a villain and I don’t think it’s useful to see him as that.”

Weaving explained that Valentine’s goals are, in their own way, noble. The idea of “tractionism,” the moving cities at the heart of the film, is running on fumes. He sees himself as the only person who can save civilization:

“And Valentine is someone who really can see that tractionism – the era of tractionism is dead. That they are in dire trouble. That they’ve got starvation problems. That there is “let’s pray that this world is going to come to an end.” And that this whole paradigm of tractionism and anti-tractionism has to be smashed because on the other side of the world, there’s a completely different view of how to live.”

Katherine Valentine (Leila George)

Like most of the citizens of London, Katherine Valentine has bought what her father was selling. But the daughter of the villain of Mortal Engines learns soon enough that something’s not right.

“I feel like she’s just discovering that moment in your life […] that moment in your life where you realize that your parent is a human being they’re not this perfect thing that doesn’t do anything wrong,” actress Leila George said. “Katherine, unfortunately, has a dad who’s choosing survival, and that’s a really hard thing to find out.”

Katherine’s journey in Mortal Engines finds her journeying down from the upper crust of London and learning how the other half lives…and uncovering the dark truth about her city and her father:

“I see Katherine as so…she’s so lovely and she’s not naïve out of choice. And so she’s just not been in those situations, and as crazy as that can sound when you grow up on London, of course you think of course you’re going to pass a few homeless people or engineers and stuff […] I guess she’s aware, but she just did grow up in that way and she’s not horrible to people and the instinct is to help and she always wanted to help. That’s what hurt her whole thing is. She really has nothing to do with any of this, aside from her dad. That’s the main thing, but she doesn’t have to go and figure all of the rest of this stuff out.”

Bevis Pod (Ronan Raftery)

As Katherine goes on her dark journey of discovery, she encounters and teams up with Bevis Pod, a member of the Guild of Engineers, the group tasked with keeping London operating and on the move. Naturally, Bevis proves himself necessary to unlocking the mysteries surrounding Thaddeus Valentine, proving himself to be an unlikely hero. Actor Roan Raftery explains:

“I loved how Bevis felt like an outsider desperate to be involved in some way in helping his city without a clear path, without a clear understanding of how they could do that. So not like you’re kind of main hero who generally has a clear idea about that. I was kind of enjoying his confusion on what to do, and it’s only until he meets Katherine and understand more about the world that he can formulate a plan, an idea and an impulse for what to do.”

And if Katherine finds herself a changed person after meeting Bevis, the same can be said of the young engineer:

“It’s the only way to get through, to overcome any kind of prejudice is through communication. Absolutely. Yeah. I can’t talk about it because it’s so intuitive to us on set, but I think it’s their bond that allows them to see through each other’s past and the fact that they do become close quite quickly, which makes it not a big leap for us as actors to forget about a lot of that stuff and just begin to focus on the present.”

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