Back in 2011 at the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour, BBC America announced that they were moving into commissioning originals, rather than simply signing on to co-produce dramas from the UK.
The move was a significant one and resulted in a couple of very well received dramas: Copper, which aired two seasons between 2012 and 2013; and Orphan Black, which was recently renewed for a third season and has been sold back to BBC Three in the UK.
The latest series to emerge from BBC America’s move into originals is Intruders. The series, which is being co-produced by the UK’s BBC Two, hails from X-Files alum Glen Morgan and tells the story of a secret society devoted to chasing immortality by seeking refuge in the bodies of other.
Intruders premieres on BBC America this Saturday, with a cast that is being led by Oscar winner Mira Sorvino and Prey star John Simm. Ahead of the series launch, TVWise spoke with Mira Sorvino about the show, what attracted her to the role and much more.
TVWise: You star in BBC America’s new drama Intruders, what can you tell us about the show?
Mira Sorvino: It’s about ordinary people whose lives interest with a secret society. The official description that I’ve seen in print was “chasing immortality by seeking refuge in the bodies of others”. That’s the way I’ve seen it in print and we’ve had warnings about not being to specific and giving away spoilers. The leading man is John Simm and he’s my character’s husband. He’s an ex-cop and he and I have moved to this town in the Pacific Northwest to escape something in his past. He wanted to get away from the rat race and violence in Los Angeles and lead a more quiet life.
While we are there, I start acting really strange. I start exhibiting extreme behaviour swings and doing things that I have no business doing like knowing about music I’ve never cared about before or speaking in a very different way with a very different accent. Meanwhile, an old high school friend of his Gary Fischer (played by Torry Kittles) comes and starts talking to him about something being wrong with the murder investigation and there may be some sort of conspiracy. You also see James Frain going around dispatching people’s lives left and right. There is also a little girl who starts acting real strange after celebrating her birthday. There is something about birthdays and the number nine that is very important. You’ll find out as the show proceeds that they are all interconnected, but at the beginning they seemed largely unrelated. So as Jack learns, so does the audience.
TVWise: What was it about that first script for Intruders that made you want to take on the role?
Mira Sorvino: I got pieces from several episodes, not just the first one. As you go on, my character undergoes some pretty dramatic circumstances. It’s a really great role, first off, but you can’t tell that from the first couple of episodes because I disappear for a while. As an actress, it really was an amazing challenge and fascinating and rich to perform. The overall story is just so chilling and fascinating and I ended up reading the book by Michael Marshall Smith. The base concept behind the book, which does circle around immortality, is so original and so intriguing – I think it’s brilliant. When you get to understand the secret of what is going on, it’s so powerful and so innovative that I was really blown away. Also, meeting with Glen Morgan, who is the producer and showrunner and Julie Gardner who is from the BBC was another reason. They both had so many interesting ideas and such a strong vision for where the show was going that I thought it was a win\win situation.
TVWise: Your character showcases a range of human emotions and behaviours, did you face any challenges with this role?
Mira Sorvino: There are a lot of challenges, definitely. First of all, there is an extreme range to the role. From the vulnerable person who is unable to express what is going on to someone who is very powerful and almost Machiavellian and kind of above the law, at least in her own mind. There are certain colours in that palette that I have never played before, like the Machiavellian stuff, the amoral behaviour. I’ve never played a character like that. Most of my characters have been extremely sympathetic or empathetic characters that are good eggs from the get go. You always know that even if they are brash or annoying, they are good hearted people. In this, I had this range of behaviour and range of personalities. There are these behavioural switches within the middle of a scene and that was extremely challenging because I had to switch back and forth as we proceeded through the scene. Sometimes I would have to go to Glen Morgan and ask him to explain what is happening and then I would have to go back and make it happen in a believable way for the audience. When I did a movie called The Presence, I was sort of in the throes of demonic possession and in that one I did have to do some paranormal behaviour, but this [Intruders] is a little bit different. It’s really challenging but really good and I am so proud of it. I really think the entire thing just came together so well and just gets richer and richer. In the first episode, people are going to be left with questions and that’s how it’s supposed to be.
TVWise: What do you think sets Intruders apart from many of the popular dramas on television today?
Mira Sorvino: I think first of all the paranormal element is a little different than most mystery television. It’s very dark and pretty brutal and violent, so it’s not for little kids. Even though there is a small child in the show, I would not recommend showing it to kids. It really skilfully combines all these genre elements. Our style of shooting is kind of a horror style. Both of our directors from block one and block two come from horror: Eduardo Sanchez from The Blair Witch Project and Daniel Stamm did a lot of horror movies. So, there is definitely this very scary, tension building style to the camerawork. Bear McCreary did the music for the show and it’s very atonal and offsetting. You are very unsettled when you hear the music and sounds that come along with these moments of fear.
It’s not horror though; it has these elements of horror and it also has elements of a ghost story or science fiction. It’s none of those because it’s kind of its own thing. The behaviour is very grounded in what is most important to human beings, love and death; that is the thing that we are all most concerned with. What would you do for someone you love? How far would you go to save them? Would you thrown down your own life for them or kill for them? What would make life worth living forever and what would make it lose its favour? If you could live forever, how would that change everything if you weren’t afraid to die? I know there are a couple of shows out there right now that deals with reincarnation, but our show is different. I think it’s really strong and it’s going to draw you in with the suspense, but I think you will end up really connecting to the main characters. You will understand that everybody is more complex than they seem at the beginning. Even James Frain, who seems like a stone cold killer, shows a lot of shades of grey as it goes along.
TVWise: Where there any major differences working on a BBC series as opposed to an American series?
Mira Sorvino: The thing is, it’s BBC America and it’s the first production that is one hundred per cent home grown by BBC America. There is no other producing partner that isn’t part BBC; its BBC America and BBC Worldwide financing. There is no outside production partnering with them. That being said, BBC America is an American company. It was kind of a hybrid because we have British producers Julie Gardner and Jane Tranter, but then we also have Glen Morgan who is very American. One of our directors, Ed is American and Daniel is German. It was kind of this multi-cultural thing. Our cast is also sort of split down the middle with American and British. Three of our leads are British and the rest are North American and Canadian. The difference that I found with the overall hue of it is that they were very concerned that it didn’t pander to typical TV-ish concessions that wrap things up in a tidy bow right away. They wanted to keep it raw, gritty and dark. Something that you had to really invest and engage in rather than just sit back and watch it all resolved by the end of the episode. It almost seems like the difference between an independent film and a studio film.
TVWise: You are also part of the cast of Falling Skies, what attracted you to that role?
Mira Sorvino: I love the character Sarah. I think it’s a brilliant character that they masterminded. She’s got so much moxy and personality, but also going through these life and death situations all the time. I found her really a breath of fresh air in terms of the roles that you tend to read. It’s a great bunch of people up there and it also shoots in Vancouver. The funny thing is I went straight from that guest arc to Intruders and it’s all shot in that beautiful, but weather-wise unpredictable location. It’s a physically demanding shoot because you almost do nothing inside. Almost everything is out there in the desolation of the post-apocalyptic landscape. The people are super and the cast is fantastic. It’s been a real pleasure and I have enjoyed joining them.
It’s really an epic science fiction show. It surprises me how much big screen production value is in the show. It really feels like a huge alien movie and it’s actually meant for television.
TVWise: Falling Skies is a very physical show, how involved are you with stunts and working with weapons?
Mira Sorvino: I definitely did a lot of weapons work. My character didn’t have that many stunts. She had some running, jumping and shooting, but that’s about it. I love doing stunts though and will do whatever they will allow me do. The only real challenge for me was dealing with the cold in Vancouver. Having lived in Los Angeles for the past ten years, my East coast blood has sort of thinned.
TVWise: Most of your scenes have been with Colin Cunningham who plays Pope, what was it like working with him?
Mira Sorvino: He’s such a sweetheart. Really funny, nice and generous actor. He’s an amazing magician by the way. He does some unbelievable magic tricks that you would not believe. It’s funny, we are friends with Pearl Jam and I took Colin to the concert when they were there. He whips out the magic tricks for Eddie Vedder and had everybody stunned. People couldn’t believe his tricks. He’s really amazing.
TVWise: In the past several years, some of the best dramas are coming from the likes of HBO, Netflix, BBC America and so on. Why do you think these networks are becoming big players in drama and comedy?
Mira Sorvino: I think there are still great dramas on network television. I think the shorter form allows for a deeper investigation of a story. If you are in a successful series on the network, you are doing over twenty episodes a season and have to stretch the story out every week for that amount of time. In cable, you can basically go in very deeply, but with a swift gait and then you are out of there in eight, ten or thirteen episodes. You’ve done the subject without having to rely on filler or people getting tired or script’s losing their potency. Our series is just eight episodes, so I think every moment of it stays really heightened. I also think some actors prefer the shorter times because they can still do film or can spend more time with their families. It was very important to me to do a drama series that wouldn’t take up an entire year and allow me to spend more time with my family.
I also think that True Detective broke the mold. People realized that you can win an Oscar and star in an amazing cable drama the same year and arguably the work on the cable drama is just as good if not better. What Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson did in that show was extraordinary. There really isn’t a line between film and television anymore, so many actors feel safe to cross that line. I’ve never played somebody for longer that a mini-series. So, to be one of the principle characters at the very beginning of something and watch the character grow and watch where she is going and have these crescendos and climaxes was fantastic. As an actor, it was great to get to explore something over eight episodes rather than an hour and a half.
Mira Sorvino stars as Amy Whelan in BBC America’s Intruders, which premieres on Saturday August 23rd at 10/9c. The series premieres in the UK on BBC Two later this year.