This August, TNT will premiere an intense new series from the producers of Homeland, centered around the FBI’s elite Deep Cover Operations (DCO) division. Based on the book by spy novelist Robert Little, Legends stars Sean Bean as FBI agent Martin Odum, a specialist who can transform himself into anyone he needs to be. His alternate identities, called “legends,” are so complex and thoroughly established that they almost take on lives of their own. The show also stars Ali Larter as a fellow operative who has a history with Martin, Tina Majorino as technical expert Maggie Pool, and Morris Chestnut as another agent investigating Martin’s involvement in a murder case.
The cast made an appearance at WonderCon last weekend, along with showrunner David Wilcox (Fringe), to talk about what audiences can expect from the show and, naturally, whether the infamously death-prone (on screen, at least) Bean will actually make it to the end of the first season. Hit the jump to read the full interview, and click here for our recap of the show’s WonderCon panel.
DAVID WILCOX: Legends is a show about a special group of FBI agents who handle covert investigations. A legend is an identity that is created by an undercover agent to help infiltrate and go undercover, but it’s actually a fully, deeply imagined life. And Martin Odum, who Sean plays, is really the best of the best. These guys, as a division, are really the tip of the spear, in doing investigative work within the FBI. That’s the arena. The show itself is basically about a guy who can’t tell his legends from his real life. These questions of his identity are really the driving mythology of the show.
Can you tell us a little about the characters?
WILCOX: Sean [Bean] plays Martin Odum, if that is his real name, and he is an FBI agent who works legends undercover. He does deep cover infiltration. In the pilot, somebody comes up to him and basically says, “Martin Odum is a legend. It’s not who you really are.” And that launches Martin on a deep quest to discover what may actually be happening in his life and who he really is. If there is a grand conspiracy afoot behind this, he’s going to get to the bottom of it.
In the division of covert operations, which is a special elite division in the FBI, his handler, or the person who runs the operations for Martin Odum, is Ali Larter’s character, Special Agent Crystal Maguire, and there’s a little bit of history between them. There is some degree of tension between them, in terms of tactics and methods, but together, they make a formidable team. They are supported and backed up by Tina [Majorino], who plays Maggie Pool. Maggie is trained on every database you can imagine – NSA, DoD, FBI and all of that. She is instrumental in creating the deep backstory of these legends, which becomes absolutely instrumental in saving Martin’s life, many times.
And then, lastly, we have Special Agent Tony Rice, played by Morris Chestnut. He is an agent who begins investigating a murder that he believes Sean’s character may have committed. We’re not actually sure because, when you do deep cover work and you’re in these cases, often times, you’re pushed into a situation or a position where you actually have to cross some moral lines that you wouldn’t otherwise do. But Agent Rice doesn’t believe that’s acceptable in the FBI. And so, he picks up the beginning of this investigation against Martin and discovers that there may, in fact, be more of a systemic corruption afoot in DCO. Along the way, he begins discovering this large conspiracy that underlines what’s happening. Eventually, he may, in fact, join the DCO. We’ll see how it goes.
Do you guys do a lot of kicking ass on this show, and did you have to do any special training?
ALI LARTER: I’ve been doing a lot of in-the-field work, and I’ve had a lot of experience working with guns from Resident Evil and Heroes, and different projects that I’ve worked on, so I’m pretty comfortable with a glock. But it was really exciting to get in there and be with these guys, and try to really learn how to walk like butter and make it very smooth. It’s easy to get tensed up. One of the things that I learned from them, which has been really helpful to me, is just that everything’s second nature. You just have to be in your body, and be really smooth and flow and focus. That’s been really interesting.
What real and fictional people did you draw from, for these characters? Did you have any influences?
WILCOX: The show itself is based on a book by Robert Littell, who created at least a couple of the characters. That was really where all this began. Obviously, it’s changed a little bit from the book.
SEAN BEAN: I read the book before we started the pilot, and I’ve been reading it since. It’s good to just dip in and out of it because the characters are very interesting, fascinating characters. The actual book is a good basis to work from. I think it’s an excellent book, and it certainly helped me, in terms of Martin Odum and Lincoln Dittman, the other character that I play, and Dante Orbach, which I also play. It was good. Rather than kind of just inventing the characters, at least I had that material that I could refer to, to try to create them. That was very useful for me. But it becomes a thing of its own, after a while. I think we take that as a basis and an anchor for what we’re trying to achieve, but we go off on tangents.
WILCOX: The thing that’s so cool about this show is that each of these deep cover identities aren’t a new identity of the week, or anything like that. These are actually pre-existing characters and pre-existing legends, if you will, that are out there. They exist. They have their own apartments, their own cars, their own wardrobe, their own contacts, and their own friends. And so, as a case comes in to the FBI and they turn to DCO to help investigate, Martin is an agent who can pick one of his pre-existing legends, not unlike a surgeon would pick an instrument. It’s about, what is the best way that he can infiltrate? It’s a more organic and realistic way that he’s able to infiltrate some of these groups. But I think the appeal is the fact that each of these legends is a character, in their own right. They have to be deeply imagined.
BEAN: It’s total belief in a character. I believe that he is this man, and that’s why it’s a very interesting drama. Psychologically, it’s fascinating. He becomes this person, totally. He immerses himself in these characters, has his own apartments, and his own preference for food. He totally believes in that character. And when those characters collide, that becomes a problem, psychologically, for him, even though he doesn’t want to admit it. He thinks he can carry on doing these characters and still become himself. Just like actors, we think we can play this part, but sooner or later, that’s going to come down on you and you’re going to have some problems. And this guy certainly has some problems, which filters through to all the other departments, in general. Martin is a good guy. He does some good things. The people he’s working for are not dissimilar to other illegal organizations. It just happens that they’re part of the government, and they’re legal.
WILCOX: Yeah, at the end of the day, he’s got a badge.
Are you playing this character as if he’s playing somebody else, like two characters, at the same time?
BEAN: I do three characters, which is great. It’s fantastic and fun. It’s an actor’s dream to be able to do that. But sometimes, it gets a big confusing for me, too.
How do you approach all of the different characters, and how much do you know about the possibility that his real identity might not even be real?
BEAN: They don’t let me know very much.
WILCOX: Martin doesn’t know where the bottom of this rabbit hole is. In fact, what makes him such an interesting hero is that his greatest power and his greatest asset, and the thing that lets him be this incredible operative, is the thing that is jeopardizing his own psyche and, frankly, his own soul. It’s this question of, if he commits a crime in legend, does Martin Odum have to answer for that? What does the soul of a guy look like, who steps into all these different shoes and these different identities? He can’t be responsible for what these other identities necessarily do.
BEAN: He can do anything, but it’s not really me that did it. It’s just somebody that I’m playing. So, that’s interesting.
BEAN: I think I’m still alive in this one.
WILCOX: We don’t have any plans for Sean’s character’s death, at this time. I’ll just say that.
BEAN: Yeah, I do die a lot.
Where is this show set?
WILCOX: DCO’s based in Los Angeles, in the federal bureaucracy there. But as a federal agency, they go anywhere in the country and beyond. It’s FBI, so it’s predominately domestic, but they’ll go where the stories take them. It will not only be in the United States.
How much do you deviate from the book?
WILCOX: We deviate completely from the book.
So, sometimes characters might take a different path?
WILCOX: It’s all a different path. It’s rooted in those characters, but the demands of storytelling in a really good novel like Legends, and the demands of doing a TV show are totally different. We approach story totally different. And we created this very cool cast, so we’re not bound by the book. But it’s a terrific book, in and of itself.
Tina, what do you see as the difference between Mac and Maggie?
TINA MAJORINO: Oh, god, I knew that question was coming. Mac is all computers. I think it started out as a hobby, or a way to get revenge on people and to do right or wrong sometimes. But with Maggie, what we know about her, so far, is that there’s a conviction behind what she’s doing. She’s highly trained. It’s not just something that developed out of nowhere. It’s not something that was based in a hobby. This is a life path for this character. What I like to think about this character is that there’s more of a patriotism behind it. There’s a real need to participate in a solution to things, if that makes sense. I know I’m being very elusive, but those are the differences to me. Even though I knew there would be comparisons, they have two totally different mind-sets and they’re two totally different people. When I think about Mac, there’s so much of a sarcasm and a sense of humor and a levity to her. We’re still discovering who Maggie is, at this point, but I don’t feel that it would go in that direction.
Morris, what can you tell us about Tony?
CHESTNUT: I don’t know actually what role Tony’s going to play. Right now, he’s having a good time in pursuit of Martin Odum and trying to just figure out the truth, in regards to whether he’s really involved or associated with the murder, or if it was really part of a larger cover-up within the DCO.
Legends premieres on TNT on August 13th. Click here for all our WonderCon coverage.