Clive Standen, Jennifer Beals and Alex Cary
Exercise Their Special Set of Skills in Taken
by Jay S. Jacobs
“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t 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.”
This just slightly veiled threat was made by retired special agent Bryan Mills – as played by Liam Neeson – 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 Mills’ 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 Mills’ life as a younger man and a spy.
It is not exact fit to the mythology of the Taken films – young Mills is in his 30s in the modern day, when in the film he was in his 60s ten years ago – 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 Mills’ 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 the air.
A 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 that’s going to put you through so much physical punishment?
Clive Standen: I’m a glutton for punishment. Vikings was my stomping ground for learning how to do all that kind of action and refining it. What I’m really interested in is trying to put the camera on the actor and the action. That’s 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 guy’s head, and we all turn off. Vikings taught me that. I’ve tried to work with Alex and go through Taken that way, where – just like the film with Liam Neeson – it’s relentless. You see that guy. When he gets punched in the face, he’s bruised. When he gets shot, he’s bleeding. He’s limping to the finish line, but we’re with him all the way. It’s because it’s not just action, it’s character moments. It’s story. You’re in there with him in the thick of it.
Jennifer and Clive, what was it about this role that you related to the most?
Clive Standen: Jen, do you want to go first?
Jennifer Beals: Yes. I don’t 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.
Clive Standen: With me, I always get drawn to putting the mirror up to nature; to humanity. With Alex’s writing, he’s written an action show which is based in reality and dealing with human beings. I’ve 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. That’s where Taken is written. Even the role of Bryan Mills, he’s just a father. I’m a father of three. I don’t 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. It’s very easy to see him as every man and be in there with him for that journey. That’s what I was looking for in a character. I aspire to be more like Bryan Mills in life. He’s a very kind, considerate, and modest man. But when the shit hits the fan, so to speak, he does what it takes and he’s relentless with it.
Alex, what inspired you to take this on?
Alex Cary: I 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 you’ve watched the films. And it’s not essential to watch the films. You know where he ends up. I think it’s 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.
Clive Standen: Alex writes real people. That’s what’s 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 doesn’t 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; there’s 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 there’s 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 you’re planning the future of the character and stuff like that? Does it affect how you write and play things?
Alex Cary: 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, I’m trying to look deeper into the question a little bit. That connective tissue probably comes later. The specific connective tissue, if you’re talking about real characters and his daughter and all the rest of it, that’s something that must come later. I think what we’re 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 she’s 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?
Jennifer Beals: Oh my God, after the pilot I went home and I thought I had an ulcer. (laughs) It’s 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 you’re 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. That’s 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 platform?
Alex Cary: Well, that’s a challenge to do from a popular film. I think there are a few elements to it. First of all, it’s just how you conceive the character. What we’re not doing is we’re not taking that character from that film and just doing a carbon copy. In many ways this is everything you didn’t know. This is a character you didn’t 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. That’s 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?
Clive Standen: 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. I’m a big fan of Liam Neeson’s performance. Like I said earlier, I think what I love about Bryan is he’s human. He’s 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, we’ve got this character who is human, who hasn’t got any particular super power or any special ninja skill. He’s just got full momentum, and he has this lovely, selfless desire to protect people. But, that always comes at a cost. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to actually be able to take this genre by its balls and go; we’re all a little bit fed up with seeing people who look perfect all the time, who seem really like there’s 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 don’t actually know that much about. We just know this grizzled veteran of the CIA, what he’s become. Other than that, what Liam plays on screen, there’s a lot of sacrifice there. He’s a very unhappy man. He’s moved back to Los Angeles because his wife has left him. He wants to see his daughter. There’s a lot wrong with his life. It’s 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 let’s just see how he becomes that man. By God, it’s going to be a journey.
Brooklyn Sudano, who plays Bryan’s love interest is so good, and she looks spookily like her mother [disco singer Donna Summer]. What’s she like to work with?
Clive Standen: She’s incredible to work with. I can answer to start because I had some scenes with here. Brooklyn is great and she’s a really important character to the whole setup of the show as well. Because from my point of view, she’s the one character that Bryan gets to let a little bit of himself out on. It’s away from work and he gets this little bit of real Bryan. I’m bored of action shows where the women characters just serve the men. It’s 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 you’ve watched all the episodes that have been sent to you.
Clive Standen: By the end of this season you will see a woman who will get put through the wringer. She doesn’t need men. She’s a strong woman. She’s incredible. If you watch Brooklyn’s performance, that’s a real actress who’s taken apart. And, obviously Alex’s writing. She’s taken apart. She’s actually taking a female character just as Jennifer does, and Jennifer has a completely different role to play in the show. But she’s taken the love interest role and actually made it a fully functioning, breathing character.
Jennifer, it’s 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 you’d still be acting in stuff like Taken, and Before I Fall, all these years later?
Jennifer Beals: Well the fantasy was always being part of an action show, from the moment I saw La Femme Nikita. I’m 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 hasn’t in the past?
Alex Cary: He 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. That’s really where all the conversations have been. Since then he’s 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?
Alex Cary: That’s a good question. The real answer is; I don’t 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, who’s Christina Hart, played so magnificently by Jennifer. For me at the moment, what I’m 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. It’s really about building the experiences of Bryan Mills. I’m not talking really about how to shoot a gun, or how to roll into a room, or anything else. I’m 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 it’s 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 Bryan’s mission?
Clive Standen: Generally the preparation is quite boring. To me it’s the doing of it that’s fun. But the preparation, it’s 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. It’s just a lot of laborious chipping away at questions I ask myself. I just keep going until suddenly I find a way in. That’s the acting side of it. With the action side of it, it’s very similar. You just have to keep practicing and make it idiot proof until you get to the point where it’s 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 don’t know what she’s 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 can’t really get away with it that way, because there’s 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 don’t 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 don’t 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 don’t, and then it’s just no different from the improvising in an acting scene. That’s the only way you can truly be present. It’s just preparation. I mean I can’t really explain. It would take me all day to try and explain to you my preparation as an actor. But yeah, it’s just hard work and craft.
Copyright ©2017 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 4, 2017.
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