Behind the Scenes of Season 3 of “All Creatures Great and Small” on PBS’ “Masterpiece”

“Our audience has let us know that this show is a kinder and gentler show and that they were ready for something like that when the pandemic started,” Masterpiece executive producer Susanne Simpson said of All Creatures Great and Small during a TCA press conference for the show’s third season, which premieres in the U.S. tonight on PBS. Based on the writings of James Herriot, the series follows the turn-of-the-century veterinarian, played by Nicholas Ralph, who manages sick animals, eccentric farmers, courtship, and strict government mandates in the brand-new season.

(Courtesy of Playground Entertainment and MASTERPIECE)

(Courtesy of Playground Entertainment and MASTERPIECE)

“We dive into the world of tuberculosis and testing there, so we go through a little bit of that,” Nicholas Ralph said of a new challenge facing James this season. “That's something that was new for me to find out all about with our on-set vet Andy Barrett, which was fun actually to find out a bit more about all that and learning to go about those procedures.” Nicholas also looked back on his first memory of playing James. “When I read the audition sides, even — I think I did five scenes — was that James was an everyman character. So we saw him being vulnerable, we saw him being kind of funny, and we saw him handle some of the drama and then the romantic side of things. And for an actor, I just thought, wow, that's so cool. Because it's based on real people, he was so three-dimensional, and those relationships were so strong and so intricate and multifaceted. It was like an actor's playground. So I was just excited when I saw the audition, I was like I have to play this part.”

“I come from on the outskirts of Staffordshire in England, which is sort of semi-rural area, so I was used to the countryside,” Rachel Shenton shared about connecting to her character, Helen Alderson. “We got a kind of vet boot camp, myself and Nick and Callum, did a couple of days, two or three days with Andy Barrett, who's now our on-screen vet. And we got to be on the farm and got to be up close and personal with the animals and ask all those questions. And, really, for me, it was always just about feeling comfortable and natural. Helen grew up on the farm, was around livestock, cattle, from being a toddler. So as long as she felt comfortable and I felt comfortable, then that was always my point of reference, my operating point. And this year's really interesting because it's big on this TB testing. And, of course, Helen has one foot in both camps. She knows what it's like from a farmer's perspective of the ramifications of a positive TB case on a farm, which means possibly closing down the farm, killing livestock. And that can be huge for farmers, but she also understands the importance of it from the vet's side. It's really nice, this series, because she gets to kind of navigate her way through and feeling in the middle of those two worlds.”

“Both characters are mothers who have been in charge of households,” Anna Madeley said of the relationship between her character, Mrs. Hall, and her daughter-in-law Helen. “There's that little wriggle of wanting to give the newlyweds their space and let them be a couple and start their family life together, but, also, I think Mrs. Hall just wants everyone round the table together. So we have a little juggle, just who's going to sit where and how that's going to work together.” For Anna, connecting to Mrs. Hall is easy thanks to character background information provided to her. “Ben Vanstone wrote this fantastic backstory for Mrs. Hall, and I think the early years of Mrs. Hall's marriage were happy and I think she has a real sense of hope for this young couple and knows how important that is to protect that and nurture that. And so I think it's a very exciting time in that sense as well. I think for Mrs. Hall this season, there's a lot of letting the children go and grow. And the world will keep changing, and we've got to roll with that. And so embracing Helen into the family fold is a great thing for her.”

“I have to stand in front of a rearing horse that came down a couple of feet away from me,” Samuel West, who plays Siegfried Franon, shared a harrowing moment from this season. “I haven't really done any riding since Hornblower, and our Portuguese horse master on that one had done a bit of matador training, so I said, ‘What's the first rule about being a matador?’ And he said, ‘When the bull charges you, you have to tell yourself to keep your feet together.’ I said, ‘Why is that?’ He said, ‘Because they want to run away.’ So I gave myself that note in front of this rearing horse. I sent my girlfriend a wide-angle picture of me with the horse above me, and she said, ‘That looks exciting.’ I said, ‘Yes, I wanted to run away.’ And she said, ‘Oh, my God, that's you. I thought that was a stunt man.’ So that was kind of nice. We have an amazing horse master called Mark Atkinson, and his son Ben, who is an actual horse whisperer, and they keep you very safe and confident.”

One of the themes this season on All Creatures Great and Small is growth, as evidenced by the character arc of Triston Farnon, played by Callum Woodhouse. “He's properly and fully passed his exams now,” Callum revealed. “For so long, that's been the sole focus for him. It's all been gearing up towards actually being qualified and properly being passed and being able to continue that. And he finally gets that, and it doesn't quite hit in the way that he wanted it to. It doesn't quite solve all of his problems and all of his anxieties about himself and about the world around him. He just starts to take more of a step up with the work and starts to go out and do more, more visits and more veterinary work. Doesn't kill any budgies this series, luckily. There is something missing there still, so, it's as much about finding out what that is this series as well as coming into his own more with work.”

COLIN CALLENDER:  But I should say there is another quality to the series which is important, and that's the humor of it, the wit, the humor-wit [ph].  And that's a tribute to the writer Ben Vanstone. And just picking up on something that Callum said.  

“In this season, we dig deeper into all the characters,” concluded Colin Callender, executive producer for Playground Entertainment, who produces the show for Channel 5 in the U.K. “Each of the characters has a real journey. [Siegfried] is really interesting, as he deals with [Tristan] and Helen moving into the house and his own past in World War I comes back to haunt him. [Mrs. Hall] and Helen have similar challenges in the season. Helen trying to balance being a wife and leaving behind a previous life and having to navigate what that's like. And Anna as Mrs. Hall is really dealing with is there a life for her outside of Skeldale House, reconnecting with her family and her past. One of the things that Ben Vanstone did when we launched the series was really give each character a real backstory so that we could really explore that over the series. And this season in particular, we made a real effort to dig deep and to make these characters more complex and full-blooded. There are some wonderful moments for every one of the characters.”

Don’t miss the wonderful moments for all of these characters in Season 3 of All Creatures Great and Small airing Sundays at 9/8c on PBS as part of Masterpiece.

Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).