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‘We’re not supposed to lose.’ The Man in the High Castle explores a defeated America

A series that may never have been filmed if not for the golden age of digital distribution.

We’re used to seeing the United States portrayed as the winner — an un-defeatable superpower that eventually comes out of any struggle on top. But what would happen if the U.S. were to lose, say, a major war? That’s what the new Amazon Originals series, The Man in the High Castle, explores.

The setting: An alternate universe version of 1963 in which the Axis Powers have won World War II, and the United States is occupied by Japan on the West Coast, with the Nazis in control of the rest of the country.

We spoke with Actor Joel de la Fuente, who plays Inspector Kido in the new series, about what it was like to work on the new series, and the ties his work had to a somewhat similar role he took on for the videogame, Homefront.

De la Fuente said stepping into this universe was extremely daunting because the series is so ambitious, but, as an actor, stepping into this particular production in Seattle and Vancouver was amazing because all of the departments did such an exemplary job.

“The production design is so exceptional and specific that it made it really easy to just drop into this world,” de la Fuente said. “When you put on all the different layers of the costume, which are so specifically attended to, and walk onto a set that is so completely realized, it really made my job as an actor so much easier, and so much more fun because you’re completely immersed within the world.”

Although the show is based on the 1962 Philip K. Dick novel of the same name, the character of Kido was created specifically for the TV adaptation.

“It allowed me to really enjoy and really immerse myself in the book without feeling a sense of obligation to the character, because he’s not in the book,” de la Fuente said. “But at the same time, there’s an added responsibility knowing that Kido serves (creator) Frank’s (Spotnitz) vision.”

Although de la Fuente has only worked on one video game in his career, it just happened to be the 2011 THQ release, Homefront, in which a future unified Korea occupies America. So this is his second outing in which “the land of the free” is anything but.

“I’m the voice of the character of one of the rebels, Hopper Lee, in Homefront, and it’s funny because my character in Homefront is literally the opposite of my character in The Man in The High Castle, where I represent the authority of the ruling power,” de la Fuente said. “The interesting thing about these projects is America losing a war.”

“This idea that we’re not supposed to lose. We’re the good guys, and then what happens when you do lose?”

In addition to reading Dick’s novel, de la Fuente did research for his role and discovered that in over 1,000 years Japan had never lost a war until World War II.

“When the Japanese lost the war it just was unfathomable to them because they believed the emperor was a human manifestation of God, so when the emperor said go to war they felt completely justified and right and they had always won,” de la Fuente said. “So for them to have lost in our reality was tremendously psyche shattering, and I feel like it’s a similar idea on a smaller scale because America isn’t nearly that old of a country as Japan was, but this idea that we’re not supposed to lose. We’re the good guys, and then what happens when you do lose?”

The Man in the High Castle explores that question, but it’s a series that may never have been filmed if not for the golden age of digital distribution that has seen companies like Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, and PlayStation Network invest in original serial entertainment.

“For creators it’s a really exciting time,” de la Fuente said. “The last five years for me have been just an amazing period where I’m getting to work on things that before I’d have to go off, off Broadway to have an opportunity to have this kind of artistic expression. To be able to do it now in front of the camera for a much bigger audience on television is really exciting. Everybody is looking to differentiate themselves while telling a good story, so people are taking risks and there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity.”

That opportunity has also opened up new work outside of Los Angeles. De la Fuente lives in New York City, where there are now more than 50 shows filming. Ten years ago, he said there were only five or six.

And there are also new opportunities thanks to video games, where big franchises like Activision’s Call of Duty and Microsoft’s Halo are using real actors and full performance capture to tell deeper stories.

“The first day I came in to Homefront they set me up in front of a huge screen with huge speakers and introduced me to the world; and I had this tremor of real excitement because I felt like I was in a $200 million dollar movie set, except none of the stuff was real,” de la Fuente said. “What they were shooting for was exactly like what you would imagine for a huge big budget action motion picture. That’s a whole new realm of entertainment that is just getting started.”

De la Fuente is hopeful that these opportunities will continue, and that shows like The Man in the High Castle will connect with viewers.

“I think the stories are being well served by these people who have been working so long to hone their craft,” de la Fuente said. “Who knows how long it will last. Hopefully, all these channels and all these opportunities can continue.  We’ll see how it shakes out, but certainly we’re in the middle of what’s sort of like the Wild West.”

The entire first season of The Man in the High Castle is available on Amazon Nov. 20 and is free for Amazon Prime subscribers.