Condor, an action-thriller episodic from MGM Television & Skydance Television, premiered at the SXSW Conference, Austin’s film, music, and convergence festival on March 10. The series was inspired by the novel Six Days of the Condor by James Grady and screenplay Three Days of the Condor by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and David Rayfiel. Set in the current world of terrorism and government surveillance, Condor goes deeper into political, personal, and psychological motivations than the movie had time for.
The story involves a young programmer/analyst at the CIA, Joe Turner, played by Max Irons (The Host), who finds that some jobs can be real killers to quit.
The writing impressed me. It enabled the story to present alternative points of view without coming down on one side or the other. It explores the complexity of questions like what the right thing is to do if you suspect a Sunni terrorist is heading to an overflowing sports stadium with a potentially deadly virus. Do you shoot him? What if you are wrong?
Surprise and the mystery about the good or bad motivation of each of the characters are also strong elements in the story. In the opening scene we see the character Nathan Fowler, played by Brendan Fraser, burying a bunch of dead prairie dogs in a remote desert location. When he is interrupted by a good ol’boy in a pick-up truck, Gabrielle Joubert, played by Leem Lubany (Rock the Kasbah), intervenes in a violent, cold-blooded way that sets the tone for the series.
The screening was followed by a Q&A moderated by TV Guide’s Jim Halterman. Participants included showrunners Jason Smilovic and Todd Katzberg along with cast members Max Irons, Leem Lubany, and Bob Balaban (Gosford Park).
Halterman asked about similarities of the current show to the novel and movie which inspired it. Smilovic conceded that there were a lot of similarities, but said , “We have definitely made it our own.”
Halterman jokingly asked Irons if he liked to run, as his character does a lot of that.
“I was running in Hyde Park,” Irons said, “and caught my reflection in a BMW window. I thought I’d look better on a bicycle, but they couldn’t work that into story.”
Getting serious about his character, Irons continued, “Joe sees the best in people and he hopes the best for humanity. His ideas were formed from a safe privileged position and have never been tested in a crisis like he finds himself. The question becomes, ‘Who can he trust.’”
Smilovic added, “What Joe learns is he can’t even trust himself. We live in a society where we outsource everything. Joe, through the course of this story, no longer lives in the ivory tower and he needs to discover who he is.”
Who Knows Liddy
Halterman turned to Bob Balaban and asked him to talk about his character.
“Reuel Abbott reminds me of G. Gordon Liddy,” he said.
Liddy was an FBI agent and lawyer who played a part in the Nixon-era Watergate scandal and later became a talk show host and actor.
Balaban continued, “I worked with him as an actor. I didn’t like his principles, but the more I was around him the more I respected his dedication to his principles. Likewise, my character believes in the goodness and the necessity of what he is doing.”
Actors Becoming Characters
Halterman asked about recruiting Brendon Fraser for a supporting role.
Smilovic said they sent Fraser’s agent the script. “He was so intense about the character,” Smilovic explained, “that he called us on the phone and we talked for two and a half hours. After that we really revamped the character for him.”
He continued, “Leem was another actor who showed us who the character was and we rewrote the character for her, too.”
Lubany laughed. “The character was supposed to be in her thirties, but I’m only 21. I was surprised they picked me.”
Halterman asked her if she thinks her character really likes Irons’ character. “I think she enjoys the chase,” she said, “not the person. They are the total opposite of one another.”
It’s a Poem
Each episode begins with a quotation, then drops part of it to alter the meaning. Episode one starts with a line form George Eliot, “What loneliness is more lonely than distrust?” That appears to be a problem which will haunt Joe Turner throughout the story.
Smilovic suggested that by the last episode, the fragments will form “…some kind of a poem.”
The series also stars William Hurt and Mira Sorvino and will show on AT&T AUDIENCE Network. To find out more secrets search for #CondorTV or follow the show on Twitter or the web. Watch the trailer below.
Poster at top courtesy of MGM, Other photos by author.