The chilling new Starz drama series The Missing follows the aftermath of what happens when five year-old Oliver Hughes disappears while on holiday in France with his parents. As you descend deeper into the mind of a father (James Nesbitt) desperate to locate his lost son, and getting help from a now retired detective (Tchéky Karyo), you follow the obsessive, nearly decade-long search to find his son and those responsible for his disappearance.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actress Frances O’Connor (who plays the missing child’s mother, Emily) talked about how she came to be a part of The Missing, what it was about the story and character that really spoke to her, how shocked she was when she learned how the story would be resolved, who this woman was in both of the time periods that the show explores, shooting all of the happy moments for their characters at one time, the biggest challenges of the shoot, and why she enjoys getting to explore a character over a longer period of time on TV. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
Collider: How did you come to this show?
FRANCES O’CONNOR: I was sent the first two episodes. Everyone had to read for it. I was actually on my way to Australia. It was close to Christmas. They said, “If you don’t go in and read, you won’t get it.” So, I put myself on tape in Australia, and then I found out in the New Year that they were going to offer it to me. I felt really blessed because it’s such great writing and the character is so interesting. I really identified with it when I read it.
When you read this, what was it about the story and character that really spoke to you?
O’CONNOR: Well, there were a few things. I’m a mother, so I instantly identified with what that would be like and the horror of that. As an actor, I really loved how different she was in the two storylines. I didn’t know why she was like that, and I wanted to find out why. I was intrigued. And I loved playing how different she was, as a character. The scripts and the scenes felt so real, the way they were written. It was thrilling to play, and I think everybody felt like that.
Did you intentionally want to make sure that the character would look visually different in the two time periods of the story?
O’CONNOR: Yeah, she looks different and acts differently. When we were talking about 2014 vs. 2006, we wanted to make really bold choices, in terms of how she looks, and make it really different. It’s almost like a different person, and you’re not quite sure why she’s done it.
Once you learned how this story would end up, was its conclusion anything like what you expected it would be, when you started reading it?
O’CONNOR: No, it didn’t. I was really shocked when I read the last hour, and that’s great storytelling. I was really satisfied, though, once I’d read all of the episodes. I think once the audience goes through that journey of the whole eight episodes, they’ll come out of it devastated, but not too devastated.
So, there is some resolution, even if it’s not the resolution that they’re looking for?
This is a story that doesn’t have very many happy moments, except for maybe in the very beginning when this family is together, but it also doesn’t dwell too much on the actual abduction.
O’CONNOR: I think it’s good, in that it doesn’t dwell in it. It keeps the story moving forward. If you concentrated so much on the actual abduction, it would just be too devastating. The thriller aspect of it keeps the story moving forward, but you still connect to it emotionally.
What can you say about who this woman was before this devastating moment, and who she becomes, as a result?
O’CONNOR: It’s in the text, but I made the decision that she’s somebody who nothing bad has ever happened to. She’s just had this blissful life, and she’s just completely open. She has no shell, and she’s a sensitive person. So, when it happens to her, it really hits her, really heavily. And then, when you cut to her in 2014, she’s got a complete shell on her and she’s very guarded and very controlled. You don’t know why she’s like that, but you will find out. The juxtapositions of those two characters – somebody who’s open and fresh in life, and then almost hard and withdrawn, in some ways – it’s another way to draw the audience into the characters and the story. Already, you see that she’s presenting an image of being someone who’s in control, but when she has private moments, she loses it. She’s obviously still devastated, but is protecting herself. Tony is this obsessive character, like a dog with a bone. He will find out what happened, and she is self-protective and can’t go there. It’s a great contrast, and you don’t quite know why yet.
Emily has two very prominent men in her life – her husband, Tony, and Mark, a detective working on her case who becomes more. What was it like to play both of those dynamics?
O’CONNOR: It was interesting. Jimmy’s energy, when he’s playing Tony, is really forceful. It has a brutality to it, sometimes. It was full-on to be around that, but it was great because it really helped me, in terms of laying it. And Mark is so supportive of Emily. A weird thing happens. Sometimes when I was playing Emily, I treated Mark the same way that Tony treated me in 2006. In terms of her evolution in this story arc, it’s interesting. But I actually really liked playing with the Mark character and that whole world because it’s positive, on some level, and some respite from the other storyline.
Do you think Emily really does care for Mark, or was she looking for a replacement family?
O’CONNOR: I think it’s both. She redefines her relationship with him, as the series develops. I think she questioned why she got into it. When the audience first comes upon her, they judge her, thinking that she’s with him because he’s kind and she made mistakes with Oliver, and I think she questions that herself.
What was it like to get to play the few happy moments that you had together, as a family?
O’CONNOR: Because a lot of them were all in one location, we shot them all in the same week. I think the crew even felt it was nice to have a few happy scenes because so many of the other scenes are devastating. It helped to put all those scenes together in a bubble and play them all at once.
What was the most challenging scene for you to shoot?
O’CONNOR: Often when you get a script, you’re like, “Okay, I’ve got five really difficult scenes over the period of the shoot.” But with this, you’d do three really difficult scenes, and then you’d look at tomorrow’s schedule and be like, “Okay, give me a second.” Some days were just brutal. But that’s what you want, as an actor. You want a character in a story that’s intimidating, so you really have to stretch yourself and go for it. Even though it was awful to play some of the scenes, it was creatively fantastic, and that’s what you wish for. Not every job is like that. In fact, not so many jobs are like that. So, you just go for it because you know it’s not going to be forever.
Do you enjoy getting to explore a character over a longer period of time, like you do on TV?
O’CONNOR: I think so. It does have a different feel to it. I did this show for iTV, called Mr. Selfridge, and it was the first series I’d done where I played a character over 10 episodes, and it’s really nice because you’ve got a long arc. It was a slower progression to that moment, and there’s just something really satisfying about the longer exploration of a character. I enjoyed it. I love film, too. A lot of times, the storytelling is really intense because it’s over a short period of time. But I do enjoy this, too. It’s very satisfying.
The Missing airs on Saturday nights on Starz.