donít know who you are. I donít know what you want. If you are looking
for ransom, I can tell you I donít have money. But what I do have are a
very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long
career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.Ē
This just slightly veiled threat was made by retired special agent Bryan
Mills Ė as played by Liam Neeson Ė to the kidnappers of his daughter in
the hit 2008 film Taken.
Which brings up a question, how did Bryan Mills come about his special
skills? Writer and producer Alex Cary (Homeland, Legends, Lie to Me)
found himself fascinated with this question. What must have happened in
Millsí life to bring him to this place? Luckily Cary was in a position
that most never have to explore this conundrum. The result is the NBC
television series based on Taken, which looks at Bryan Millsí
life as a younger man and a spy.
is not exact fit to the mythology of the Taken films Ė young
Mills is in his 30s in the modern day, when in the film he was in his
60s ten years ago Ė however the film captures the vibe and tension of
movies, while giving Mills even more of a human touch. Cast to play the
spy who is learning his special skill set is British actor Clive Standen,
fresh off a long stint on the popular cable series Vikings. Not
one who is unused to playing iconic characters, he also did time on the
British series Camelot and Robin Hood.
Playing Millsí boss is veteran actress Jennifer Beals. Beals had
exploded to stardom in 1983 as a teenager in her debut starring role as
the lead of the smash hit film Flashdance. Over the years she
has taken a fascinatingly diverse set of roles, including doing The
Bride with Sting, co-starring with Denzel Washington in Devil in
a Blue Dress, as well as being one of the stars of the hit series
The L Word. She is also currently appearing in the new film
Before I Fall, which debuted less that a week after Taken hit
few days before the Taken premiere, we participated in a
conference call with Standen, Beals and Cary to discuss the new series.
After doing a show like
Vikings, which was so action heavy, why were you ready to take on
another show thatís going to put you through so much physical
Iím a glutton for punishment. Vikings was my stomping ground for
learning how to do all that kind of action and refining it. What Iím
really interested in is trying to put the camera on the actor and the
action. Thatís what Vikings taught me. I thought I could give
something to Taken and try to push the envelope of this kind of
genre by trying to get to do those stunts. To get that action and get my
hands dirty. Not because I have a death wish. If you can put the camera
on the actor, you suddenly see the whites of their eyes and it becomes a
story moment. You see the anger, or the aggression, or the frustration
of not being able to get the job done. You certainly start telling the
story more, rather than it just being the back of a stunt guyís head,
and we all turn off. Vikings taught me that. Iíve tried to work
with Alex and go through Taken that way, where Ė just like the
film with Liam Neeson Ė itís relentless. You see that guy. When he
gets punched in the face, heís bruised. When he gets shot, heís
bleeding. Heís limping to the finish line, but weíre with him all the
way. Itís because itís not just action, itís character moments. Itís
story. Youíre in there with him in the thick of it.
Jennifer and Clive, what was it about this role that
you related to the most?
Jen, do you want to go first?
Yes. I donít know about relating to her, but I think the thing that got
me really excited was this balancing act of discipline and the need to
protect, and what price that paid in terms of self-denial. I thought
that was interesting to explore.
With me, I always get drawn to putting the mirror up to nature; to
humanity. With Alexís writing, heís written an action show which is
based in reality and dealing with human beings. Iíve got no interest in
playing people that run up walls and do double back kicks; spins and
back flips and things. It has to be in a real world scenario. Thatís
where Taken is written. Even the role of Bryan Mills, heís just
a father. Iím a father of three. I donít think you have to be a father
to relate to Bryan Mills. You will do anything you can to get your kids
back, in that situation. Itís very easy to see him as every man and be
in there with him for that journey. Thatís what I was looking for in a
character. I aspire to be more like Bryan Mills in life. Heís a very
kind, considerate, and modest man. But when the shit hits the fan, so
to speak, he does what it takes and heís relentless with it.
Alex, what inspired you to take this on?
was interested in really just humanizing the character, Bryan Mills;
being able to spend more time with the character. You know where he
ends up if youíve watched the films. And itís not essential to watch
the films. You know where he ends up. I think itís interesting to
start him as a younger man and see who the defining characters are in
his life. What are the defining moments up until that point? So it was
really just about building the character of that man. In the film there
was not a lot of runway before the action. It got straight into it
almost immediately. That was really what interested me.
Alex writes real people. Thatís whatís exciting about this genre;
usually these characters always look pretty all the time. They seem to
not have any problem with jumping through windows and chasing bad guys
down streets. It doesnít seem to cost them anything. In reality we all
know that when you get hit, it hurts. When you get hit by cars it hurts
something. The humanity of someone; thereís always a sacrifice, a flip
side of the coin of a character like Bryan, or Christina, or any of the
main characters within the team of our show. They all have something to
sacrifice. Seemingly on the surface they may seem heroic, but thereís
always a counterbalance. Alex is so good at finding that in a story and
in a character.
Obviously the series is not beholden to the movie.
It takes place in the modern day and everything. But do you keep the
films in mind when youíre planning the future of the character and stuff
like that? Does it affect how you write and play things?
Well, yes. You do keep the films in mind. You know a television show
in success is a five, six or seven-year endeavor. So with the actual
connective tissue to the films, the direct connective tissue to the
films, Iím trying to look deeper into the question a little bit. That
connective tissue probably comes later. The specific connective tissue,
if youíre talking about real characters and his daughter and all the
rest of it, thatís something that must come later. I think what weíre
trying to do now is establish the foundations of who he became and why
he became that.
Jennifer your character, I found it interesting
because sheís obviously very smart and very knowledgeable and into her
job. But she has had to do some seriously cold, hardened things in the
first few episodes, just to make sure that justice is served. Is
finding that dichotomy difficult for you to do as an actress?
my God, after the pilot I went home and I thought I had an ulcer. (laughs)
Itís interesting how you can take it in physically. Yes, there are
times that it was a challenge to try to find that balance. You have to
understand that youíre dealing with things that are of the utmost
importance to national security. You have to do what needs to get done
to keep everyone safe. Thatís not an easy decision.
What was it like taking a very popular character
from a film and transforming it so that it fit into a television
Well, thatís a challenge to do from a popular film. I think there are a
few elements to it. First of all, itís just how you conceive the
character. What weíre not doing is weíre not taking that character from
that film and just doing a carbon copy. In many ways this is everything
you didnít know. This is a character you didnít know before. This is
the back story to the film. In many ways the challenge is in creating
that and hoping that you will be able to link the two in the end without
imitating the film. Thatís the first part of it. The second thing is
in the casting of it. For me I was much more interested in casting a
real man rather than any kind of facsimile of the fiction that was
created in the movies. It was more important for me to cast the real
man who I believed in, who had the real behavior and a real psychology
to him. In his performance and also in who he is in real life. So
those were the two main elements.
Clive, how did you adapt your character from the
film into this new television series?
I feel Bryan is a chance of almost rebooting the character for a
generation. The film is ten years old now. As much as I watched the
first film, I liked seeing the first film before I even read the script
that Alex had written. Iím a big fan of Liam Neesonís performance.
Like I said earlier, I think what I love about Bryan is heís human.
Heís not James Bond or any of those action heroes that exist. He
exists in his own entity. It was a chance to just go: Right, weíve got
this character who is human, who hasnít got any particular super power
or any special ninja skill. Heís just got full momentum, and he has
this lovely, selfless desire to protect people. But, that always comes
at a cost. Thatís what I wanted to do. I wanted to actually be able to
take this genre by its balls and go; weíre all a little bit fed up with
seeing people who look perfect all the time, who seem really like
thereís no effort in saving the world. This is a guy. There has to be
sacrifices. There has to be consequences to his actions. Therefore,
for me it starts off this lovely idea of starting this origin story
about this character that we donít actually know that much about. We
just know this grizzled veteran of the CIA, what heís become. Other
than that, what Liam plays on screen, thereís a lot of sacrifice there.
Heís a very unhappy man. Heís moved back to Los Angeles because his
wife has left him. He wants to see his daughter. Thereís a lot wrong
with his life. Itís not all roses. But, why is it like that? This is
a selfless man who has given his life to his country and to the CIA. So
letís just see how he becomes that man. By God, itís going to be a
Brooklyn Sudano, who plays Bryanís love interest is
so good, and she looks spookily like her mother [disco singer Donna
Summer]. Whatís she like to work with?
Sheís incredible to work with. I can answer to start because I had some
scenes with here. Brooklyn is great and sheís a really important
character to the whole setup of the show as well. Because from my point
of view, sheís the one character that Bryan gets to let a little bit of
himself out on. Itís away from work and he gets this little bit of real
Bryan. Iím bored of action shows where the women characters just serve
the men. Itís almost like women need to be saved by men from other
men. As you see the show, I mean you guys have only seen maybe up to
episode four if youíve watched all the episodes that have been sent to
the end of this season you will see a woman who will get put through the
wringer. She doesnít need men. Sheís a strong woman. Sheís
incredible. If you watch Brooklynís performance, thatís a real actress
whoís taken apart. And, obviously Alexís writing. Sheís taken apart.
Sheís actually taking a female character just as Jennifer does, and
Jennifer has a completely different role to play in the show. But sheís
taken the love interest role and actually made it a fully functioning,
Jennifer, itís hard to believe that next year will
be the 35th anniversary of Flashdance. Back when you were making that,
could you have ever imagined that youíd still be acting in stuff like
Taken, and Before I Fall, all these years later?
Well the fantasy was always being part of an action show, from the
moment I saw La Femme Nikita. Iím just really so happy to be
working in projects that move me and challenge me. I just feel really
grateful to be part of a meaningful storytelling process.
Terrific. Now speaking of
La Femme Nikita, Luc Besson has not really been
involved with the TV versions of his previous films. But he is involved
in this one. How involved is he and, do you know why he chose to work
on this particular show when he hasnít in the past?
has been involved as somebody who cares deeply about the character. I
think he is as curious as anybody else as to who this guy was before the
movies. Part of the genius of the movie was that everything was
short-handed and they got into the action. They showed the character
going forward in the action. But I think he was as interested in seeing
who he was in the beginning. He was also fiercely protective of the
character, just in terms of how we started out in the pilot and all the
rest of it. Thatís really where all the conversations have been. Since
then heís been very supportive.
Alex, how do you see the show progressing from week
to week? What is that going to look like, especially for people who
have seen the movies and already have an idea in their minds?
Thatís a good question. The real answer is; I donít know particularly.
I keep an open mind until I actually commit. I do think that what we
will see is we will see Bryan Mills enter into different phases of his
relationship with the intelligence community, with the authorities, and
with the authority figure in the show so far, whoís Christina Hart,
played so magnificently by Jennifer. For me at the moment, what Iím
most interested in really is that particular relationship. Also the
relationship with the other members of his team and how that will
change. That will change due to circumstances and due to the types of
missions that they go on. Itís really about building the experiences of
Bryan Mills. Iím not talking really about how to shoot a gun, or how to
roll into a room, or anything else. Iím really talking about the
character interactions with the people who are going to matter most in
his life. Obviously this story is going to change, or itís going to be
guided a little bit by where he ends up. We know how this ends in many
ways, because it ends with the first movie. So we have to lead into
those stories too, in terms of him being a father and a husband and all
kinds of other things.
Clive, how do you personally prepare for the weight
of Bryanís mission?
Generally the preparation is quite boring. To me itís the doing of it
thatís fun. But the preparation, itís the same way that someone like
Tiger Woods probably just swings and swings and swings until he actually
perfects his swing. When I take on any character, I start from
scratch. I wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. Itís just a
lot of laborious chipping away at questions I ask myself. I just keep
going until suddenly I find a way in. Thatís the acting side of it.
With the action side of it, itís very similar. You just have to keep
practicing and make it idiot proof until you get to the point where itís
in your muscle memory. The main difference between acting and action is
that when you act you have to be entirely in the moment. When me and
Jennifer do a scene together I donít know what sheís going to say. I
have to be completely present in the moment. Whatever she throws at me
I have to be prepared to throw it back at her. With action you canít
really get away with it that way, because thereís a bit of safety
involved and danger involved. So you need to almost be one step ahead
of yourself. The key to it in my eyes is to try and blend the two
things together. They should be seamless. I obviously learn my lines
to the point where I donít have to think about them in the scene. When
I learn my choreography for a fight scene for instance, I do it so well
that I donít have to think about it in the scene. You hope at the last
minute that your muscle memory is going to remember to put your hand up
and block at the right time. Maybe you donít, and then itís just no
different from the improvising in an acting scene. Thatís the only way
you can truly be present. Itís just preparation. I mean I canít really
explain. It would take me all day to try and explain to you my
preparation as an actor. But yeah, itís just hard work and craft.
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