Titanic: Blood & Steel recounts building of fateful ship

American Chris Noth welcomed the role of J.P. Morgan in the mini-series Titanic: Blood and Steel as an opportunity to indulge his fascination with a dynamic period in history.

CBC miniseries follows stories of shipyard workers and their powerful backers

Titanic: Blood and Steel stars, left, Kevin Zegers, centre, Chris Noth, Neve Campbell and Derek Jacobi. (CBC)

American Chris Noth welcomed the role of J.P. Morgan in the mini-series Titanic: Blood and Steel as an opportunity to indulge his fascination with a dynamic period in history.

Noth, best-known for his roles in Sex and the City and The Good Wife, says he loves to act in anything historical  and wishes American networks would put more of their resources toward this kind of miniseries. 

Titanic: Blood and Steel, which debuts on CBC-TV on Wednesday, tells the story behind the building of the Titanic with a cast that includes Noth, Kevin Zegers, Neve Campbell, Derek Jacobi and Alessandra Mastronardi. Director-producer Ciaran Donnelly worked on previous international co-productions, including critically acclaimed The Tudors. 

The ship was built in the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Northern Ireland between 1907 and 1912 in the heyday of steam travel. The sinking of the Titanic has been revisited in several TV series this year to mark the 100th anniversary of the disaster.

"I think it’s always been a fascinating story and it’s always going to be a fascinating story," Noth said in an interview with CBC News.

"There are so many fateful things about it – the same with the Kennedy assassination and the same with 9/11 and so we keep coming back to these events and rejiving them and going over them."

The drama around the creation of the Titanic follows the lives of both the workers on the Belfast shipyards and the powerful men backing the project against a backdrop of labour politics, the class system and the international events that would culminate in the First World War.

Shot in Ireland and Serbia

It was shot in Ireland and in Serbia, in a town outside Belgrade that still has pre-Second World War factories. Those factories were the set for the shipbuilding scenes, though some of the huge steel superstructures that appear on screen are created by CGI.

The series ends with the launch of the Titanic, but the back story sets the stage for the disaster. (CBC)

The main characters include a young metallurgist played by Zegers, who seeks to improve the technology used in shipbuilding, the shipyard owner played by Jacobi, Italian copyist Sylvia Silvestri (Mastronardi), who is trying to break out of the narrow life expected of her as a woman and a union organizer played by Branwell Donaghy.

Noth plays J.P. Morgan, the American industrialist who owned the White Star line and commissioned the Titanic and its sister ship Oceanic.

"Rich powerful characters don’t usually interest me — he’s much more than that," said Noth, who believes Morgan has been misrepresented in popular culture.

Noth researched J.P. Morgan

Noth researched the man in the archive of his personal papers held by the company J.P. Morgan in New York, where he films his current series The Good Wife.

"He was a complicated guy but yes, he was a man who liked to make money, a smart man about it," Noth said, pointing out the tycoon’s role in stabilizing the banking system in the early 1900s and insisting on more efficient business systems.

"But he also gave back and wanted to create a strong financial system in the U.S.  At that time, without the federal reserve and when many of the banks were weak, he was a pillar of strength," Noth said.

In Titanic: Blood and Steel Morgan plays a minor role, though he is a force to be reckoned with in the boardroom and at one point is instrumental  in allowing Zegers’ character to keep his job in the shipyard.

'Character is everything'

"J.P. Morgan believed and I actually quoted him — JP said that ‘character is everything. The kid’s got character.' So he brings him back in and thinks he’s got something to offer because he’s ambitious," Noth said.

The series ends when the Titanic sails – the story doesn’t extend to the coming tragedy, but not before some decisions are made in the shipyard that will play a role in the luxury ship's sinking.

The miniseries will run 10 weeks on Wednesday nights on CBC-TV. Its debut is Sept. 19 at 9 p.m. (9.30 p.m. NT)