The new Tracy brothers: 'Instantly, visually, the new Thunderbirds hits you in the face!'

Thomas Brodie-Sangster attending the Jameson Empire Film Awards 2015 held at Grosvenor House, on Park Lane, London (Image credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images)

It’s been 50 years since International Rescue started saving the world in the iconic 1960s puppet series Thunderbirds. Now ITV has revived the series for a new generation with a new CGI-animated 26-part series (starts Saturday on ITV, 5pm).

It again follows the five Tracy Brothers who make up the International Rescue team, so What’s On TV spoke to the actors behind the new Tracys - Thomas Brodie-Sangster (John), David Menkin (Gordon, Virgil) and Rasmus Hardiker (Scott, Alan)…

Were you all too young for the original Thunderbirds?

“Well, technically I was, but I did grow up with Thunderbirds because my dad was a huge fan and he had all his original toys. He recorded a lot of them on VHS and we’d sit and watch them together, so I did grow up watching Thunderbirds and it was one of the first show I really fell in love with. My dad is over the moon and can’t wait for this new series because his son is now a Tracy boy. What could be better for him, and me!?”

Rasmus: “Being offered the chance to voice two Tracy brothers is completely mind-boggling, I can’t stress how much of an honour it is. It’s a very big deal. Thunderbirds is one of my favourite things ever.”

David M: “Being an American living in the UK I didn’t realise how long Thunderbirds had been a part of my life without even knowing about it. I knew about Thunderbirds but didn’t ‘know’ the huge deal. When I got the part and I did the research, it blew me away, and the ‘5,4,3,2,1’ and other phrases like signing out with ‘F.A.B’ are actually part of culture.”

Do these new Tracy brothers have an American accent too, like in the original series?

Rasmus: “Oh yes. Thomas and I loved saying ‘Thunderbirds Are Go!’ in our American accents…”

David M: “They’re both annoyingly good at it, too! As the American of the bunch, every so often I might correct them in their pronunciation. People like to put Rs where there are no Rs. It drives me nuts.”

Game of Thrones star Thomas Brodie-Sangster voices John Tracy (PA)

How have the Tracy Brothers been updated from original series? Are they much different?

Rasmus: “Well you’ve got a series product and brand that’s been woven into the annals of time, but that exists and this has been updated both visually and with certain references and rhetoric. How they interact is updated. The vista and their Tracy Island home is hand-built though, at Peter Jackson’s studios in New Zealand, and that looks amazing. You can’t beat hand-crafted anything. Humans are better than computers, so even though tech has come on leaps and bounds why not have something different? Like models mixed with CGI, that pays homage to the original series.”

Thomas: “Building everything in models and miniatures is kind of reminiscent of when I would play with some remote flying along the beautiful contours of my duvet pretending it was some sort of mountain range.”

Rasmus (laughing): “That was this morning wasn’t it!?”

Thomas: “Oh yeah I play with remotes all the time. Nothing better! I love making the batteries drop out the back to be the bombs!”

The Tracy brothers and the Thunderbirds craft they have look pretty much the same don’t they even though in CGI? Their outfits are slightly different though…

David M:
“We’re hotter now! The spacecraft and machines have been slightly updated and modified - but when these suckers fly they actually fly. And when Thunderbird 4 goes through the water you actually see it fighting against the water. No one’s cutting corners on this."

Rasmus: “Doing this just fits, because it’s paying homage, but also introducing Thunderbirds to a whole new set of people who may never have heard of Thunderbirds before.”

Are you looking forward to being an action figure? Thomas, has there been a Jojen one from Game Of Thrones one yet?

“Not that I know of. But I’m looking forward to having a Thunderbirds action figure – but I want it to go inside the spaceship, that would be really cool.”

Rasmus Hardiker arrives at the screening of Cockneys Vs Zombies, as part of the Film 4 Frightfest season, at the Empire Cinema in London.

Rasmus Hardiker arrives at the screening of Cockneys Vs Zombies, as part of the Film 4 Frightfest season, at the Empire Cinema in London. (Image credit: PA Archive/Press Association Ima)

Rasmus Hardiker voices Scott and Alan Tracy (PA)

Thomas, with Maze Runner, Game Of Thrones and now Thunderbirds you must be building up quite a sci-fi/fantasy fan base now? Do you go to conventions?

Thomas: “A little bit. I haven’t been to that many. It’s great to see such hardcore fans. I mean, I have my fandom about things and one of them is Thunderbirds, and the other is Star Wars, so I know where they’re coming from. It’s fun to see people passionate about something. They get to meet people they want to meet, trade and talk about ideas. It’s great!”

 What was this Thunderbirds like to see for the first time?

David M:
“I was about to burst I was so excited. I just hope the love I’ve managed to cultivate about the past year or so is something the new audience will get too. You Brits are a little bit quirky! I really do think America will now get it and the rest of the world.”

What are today’s kids, who haven’t seen the original series, going to get out of the new Thunderbirds?

“It’s very standalone so it doesn’t necessarily need to have the lineage it does. While it does doff its hat to the original series, it works well on its own too. There’s always an action-packed story with comedy and with all sorts of moments – family and love. They have really good stories which will always transcend time. Kids can definitely handle this and they’re going to love it for what it is now. You don’t have to know the original to know that trees flipping backwards is cool!”

So Rasmus and David, by voicing two characters did you get to speak to yourself much in the studio?

“Yes, quite a lot!”

David M: “And I had a good fight with myself!”

What can you tell us about the Tracy brothers’ relationship?

“On paper, Scott is the driving force, Virgil is the sort of laidback brawn, Alan is the young kid who’s scrappy and eager to prove himself at piloting. John and Gordon are a bit of everything I’d say.”

David M: “These are basically boys becoming men, and this Thunderbirds doesn’t shy away from that. These guys are aware there are women in their lives, like Gordon seems to like Lady Penelope quite a lot. And it's wonderful that we very lightly touch on the fact that these are boys growing up and we have to be very careful with that. John is the most different one…"

Thomas: “Yeah I suppose he is. John’s kind of into not into the adventurous side of the rescues, but more the pragmatic side of it, and making sure it’s done in the most efficient way possible, prioritising what is a genuine rescue. So he’s the guy up in space, with eyes and ears over the whole world and he decides when the Tracy brothers go out, what they do and so on. He has a wider view and keeps a very level head throughout the whole rescue.”

David Menkin voices Gordon and Virgil Tracy (PA)

So do the other brothers always take heed of John?

“Oh lord, they’re brothers they argue.

David: “John’s only enemy is gravity and they use this against him. But you always get that feeling of it’s a family working together and everyone’s good at something the others aren’t so good at, and they have to figure out how to work together… It’s really important for children, and adults too! But it’s that thing in this show that you have to ask for help!”

What sort of emergencies and disasters are they sorting out?

“Spoiler Alert!”

Rasmus: "Well it’s just not stubbed toes!

David: "Everything from someone being stuck somewhere to something threatening an entire city to something that could be a worldwide catastrophe…”

Rasmus: “And in space, and some big natural disasters. Everything people can relate to and lose themselves in the fantasy of it.”

Is the new Lady Penelope the biggest change of character?

Rasmus: ‘She does look quite different.

David: “Well she was puppet with very large cheekbones, and now she’s a bit of a hottie!”

Did you have much contact with Rosemund Pike who voices Lady Penelope, or did they do their voices separately?

“Yes, we did many of our records as the cast together.

David: “We worked around Gone Girl! and her pregnancy! She’d recognise me if that’s what you’re asking.”

Has this new Thunderbirds lived up to the original?

Rasmus: “Oh yes! I’ll probably say this a hundred times, but there are things I’m passionate in life and I’m a diehard original fan and man has this lived up to the original. Instantly visually it just hits you in the face, it’s so cinematic, with the sound too. When Thunderbird 2 is flying towards you on the screen you’ll want to duck! It’s phenomenal.”

Thomas: “Everyone I met when I first got on to the project has that same passion as for the original series, and not just for the nostalgia attached to it. There are such simple aspects to the original series which made it very popular, and that’s mainly just story, visuals and it had cool characters, and that was it! So we’ve just taken that and plonked it here today, and everyone I met who’s involved in the project has that same drive to make that same brilliance all over again.”     

Thunderbirds Are Go begins on Saturday 4 April on ITV at 5pm

Nicholas Cannon
TV Content Director on TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.