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How Rochelle Neil Invented The Victorian Airplane On The Set Of The Nevers

When we think about the challenges that come with working on a period piece, it's most often concerned with how exactingly the time and place in question are being evoked. Elements like costume and production design can go a long way toward transporting viewers out of their modern existence or completely destroying suspension of disbelief, depending on how well or how poorly they're handled. For actors, appearing in a period-set show or film can involve extensive study to make sure elements like patterns of speech are accurate enough to satisfy even the pickiest viewer.

Of course, oftentimes, period authenticity is as much about what's not done as what is. We've seen what happens when someone leaves a coffee cup where it's not supposed to be on Game of Thrones (via CNN). Similarly, actors used to ad-libbing have to be careful not to insert modern jargon into their lines, lest they be the one to shatter the illusion. It's a tricky line over which to tap dance, and sometimes even the best of cast and crew can trip over it.

Such was the case during one particularly amusing moment on the set of HBO's The Nevers, as we found out when we sat in on a round table discussion with actors Vinnie Heaven, Nick Frost, and Rochelle Neil. It seems one small improvisation by Neil advanced the technology level of Victorian England by nearly a decade.

One small improv for The Nevers' Rochelle Neil, one giant leap for mankind

The Nevers' supernatural aspect certainly adds a degree of flavor to its period setting, but as Neil found out, that only goes so far. It seems that a bit of physical improvisation she performed in the background of a scene in the show's fourth episode was too much for even a show about people with super powers. "It's just about an airplane that I made in a scene, you know when she's on the desk," recalls Neil. "What episode is that? Episode four. And I was originally making paper airplanes and throwing them around the room. And then David, our director, said, 'The airplane hadn't been invented yet.' And so the whole thing became so much bigger, like, 'Whoa, she just invented the airplane.'"

Of course, the paper airplane as a concept did predate the actual first human flight, performed by the Wright Brothers in 1903, by several hundred years. General consensus is that the ancient Chinese were making paper gliders as far back as 2,000 years ago. Still, the practice of folding paper into what we think of as a paper airplane wasn't popular in the Britain of 1896, meaning Neil's Bonfire Annie certainly would have been ahead of her time if the bit had made the episode's final cut. 

The Nevers is available now on HBO and HBO Max.