From The X-Files writer/producer Frank Spotnitz comes the eight-episode drama Hunted, set in the world of international espionage. Sam Hunter (Melissa George) is an operative for an elite private intelligence firm called Byzantium, who survives an attempt on her life that may have been orchestrated by members of her own team. When she returns to work, she doesn’t know who to trust, but is determined to do whatever it takes to get answers. Shot entirely on location in Morocco, Scotland and London, the show also stars Adam Rayner, Stephen Dillane, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Morven Christie and Lex Shrapnel.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, show star Melissa George talked about what attracted her to this role, essentially playing two different characters, the intensely rigorous training involved, the most difficult fight sequence to shoot, how she was always surprised by where the story went with each script, that a lot gets answered by the end of the season, and what she learned about herself from the experience of making this show. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
MELISSA GEORGE: I was approached, to start, and then my agents pursued it. I just really wanted to be Sam Hunter. I just felt like it was the perfect role. She’s a great, complex woman. There are so many factors that have to come into play, before you get a part. It was the BBC and HBO approving, and the creator, Frank [Spotnitz], approving, and the director approving. Everyone had to approve. I just wanted to be her, and I just kept flying in and meeting with the director. I was off on a movie, and then I got the part, after months. There was not a lot of reading. I did a presentation for Frank, of how I thought the character should be, and I just waited.
What was it about Sam Hunter that made you identify with her so deeply?
GEORGE: Anything dark and emotionally complex, I’ll do it. In Treatment was very troubled. I like that. You’re acting, but when you take an acting role, you have to live it. You’re living the life of that person, so you’ve got to pick your roles really carefully. It’s a lot more fun to play a layered woman, than just someone where what you see is what you get, by far. That’s what attracted me to it. It’s also very international and it looks international. It’s great to have different accents, with British and American. It’s the dream, going back and forth.
Was it intriguing to not know who Sam is, for so much of the show, or did you ask those questions prior to shooting?
GEORGE: Yeah, we did months of rehearsal. You won’t know who she is ‘cause she’s everything. But also, she’s on a trip of revenge, right now. She’s trying to figure out a lot of things, and you’re not going to know a lot about her. But, you will see that she sleeps on the floor, she lost her mother at eight, there was a ticket on her head in Morocco. So, there are a lot of pieces that you’ll get of her, but she’s MI-6. She’s not going to be too overly emotional, but Aidan (Adam Rayner) starts to break through the barrier. People start to get in there, and she starts to reveal a lot more. That’s the most interesting. You don’t want to see everything in the first episode. Also, there’s silence for the first 25 minutes. There’s a little bit of French, Arabic and Spanish, but not a lot. It’s beautiful to watch them not saying dialogue. It’s also because she’s isolated. She’s not talking to anybody. She’s in Scotland, getting strong. It’s all in her head and in her eyes. The camera photographs thought. When you’re thinking it, you don’t have to say it as well. We’re not silly.
GEORGE: Well, I play two parts, Sam Hunter and Alex Kent. Sam Hunter is an MI-6 agent, who lost her mother at eight and was almost dead in Morocco during a mission. She realizes that there’s a mole in her team that she works for, and she’s going to spend her lifetime trying to find out who it was that tried to kill her. Alex Kent is her undercover role. She had to come back, after a year of getting strong after being shot, to go back to Byzantium to work for the same group, purely as a hobby because her main goal is to find out who tried to kill her. But on the side, she has to take her job back and be this undercover nanny in this mansion. We’re in this espionage world of international security firms. So, I’m playing two parts. It’s exciting! It’s got a bit of The Bourne Supremacy. He was trying to find his identity, and I’m trying to find out who tried to kill me. It’s international. You see Morocco, Scotland and London, like you’ve never seen before.
Did you think of the identities as two separate people, or did you think of them as the two sides of the same person?
GEORGE: When I’m an American nanny, I’m very American, but it’s Sam. So, I was Sam with a character on top. It was Melissa as Sam, first of all. And then, on top of that, we would layer on the nanny. But, I would go back and forth. I would be Alex, the sweet, loving nanny. Then, I would turn the corner and her face would drop. She’s Sam, working in this house, no matter what. We don’t want it to be glossy. We want it to be real. With the fighting, if I could do it, they would shoot it. If I couldn’t do it, they wouldn’t shoot it. It’s all me, and it’s brutal. It’s street fighting. I’m not that girl. I don’t street fight. I don’t do anything remotely close to that, in my own life. I was like, “My god, I’m going to be so fit, fighting for my life, for seven months.” I like to watch that because it’s not me. I don’t even understand who she is. When she fits for her life, she’s pretty ferocious.
GEORGE: You never know what you’re in for when you take a role. When you’re reading the script, you’re in some café in New York and you’re loving life and it sounds great because it’s like reading a book. When you step into that book and you actually have to play it out, for real, it’s a totally different ball game. This was so hard! I lost my mind! I was so hurt and so injured and so tired. It’s rigorous. It’s not just leading a show, which comes with its own pressures, but it’s learning different accents on your lunch break. But, it’s wonderful. I wouldn’t trade it in, for the world. I’ve never taken an easy role, and I don’t plan to start now.
Was there a fight sequence that was the most difficult for you?
GEORGE: The canal fight with the military man, under the bridge. That’s the one that kills my friend. That was two months of training, and he threw me on the concrete. I was getting thrown around. I kind of liked it, actually.
Knowing that they’re already writing Season 2, do you have to keep up with the physical aspect, so that you can just slip back into the role?
GEORGE: No. I’m so hurt that I needed a break. I’ve got to work on my right hand and my left hip. I’m a little nervous about the physicality for next season.
How do you see the relationship between Sam and Aidan?
GEORGE: It’s sad because she had his baby and she’s certain that he’s the one who organized the hit. They’re back working together and it’s very complex. They were very much in love, and then it just went terribly wrong. She can’t trust him anymore. It’s really sad. When you have no one in your life to trust, it’s not a nice way to live, and she has zero people to trust right now.
GEORGE: Yes, her relationship with Keel is more complex than with any other character on the show. They have this attraction, and then, on top of that, they have a father-daughter relationship, and then, on top of that, Sam could personally kill him with her bare hands and he knows that, but he could organize somebody to kill her. She thinks he was part of that in Morocco, so there’s no trust there, at all. And yet, we respect each other. It’s very strange.
Did you do anything specific to get into the mind-set of someone who will do anything it takes to succeed in her mission?
GEORGE: You just think about it, in your own life. If somebody tried to kill you and almost succeeded, and you had an opportunity to find out who it was, and not just as a regular woman, but as a woman who’s trained to hunt and kill, you would get strong, come back and just make it your mission. So really, I would just think about me and what I would do. But also, there was a lot of layering and a lot of work with the director, S.J. Clarkson. We had to fine tune a lot of little moments to bring her to life.
Were there things that you wanted to bring to the character or change about her, after you initially read the script?
GEORGE: No. It shouldn’t be that hard. When you get the role, it’s ‘cause you know exactly how to play it, and they know that the way you’re playing it is exactly what they want. I never go with a role and say that I need to change anything about it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t take it. It’s too much work for me. To sit there and also correct what the writer has done, absolutely not. I picked this script because Frank [Spotnitz] is a genius, and the rest is easy.
GEORGE: Always, but I add my layer of emotion. There’s a scene in the eighth episode that wasn’t written the way it was played, and it came across great. Sometimes you get inspired, in the moment.
When you were reading the scripts for this, were you always surprised by where it was going?
GEORGE: Oh, yeah, it surprised me with every episode. I had no idea [where it was going]. Each one was a surprise. I had a fair idea where we were heading, but not compared to what they handed me, especially with the eighth episode. My gosh!
Are things left somewhat open for a second season?
GEORGE: Oh, yeah! You’ll see! It’s fascinating, the last five minutes.
Do most of the questions that arise this season get answers?
GEORGE: You get a lot answered. The big one, you don’t, but that’s fine. Sam doesn’t know either. It’s not like the audience doesn’t know, but I do. We’re not doing any of that. The audience will know as much as Sam knows. The audience of this show and Sam will be going at the same pace.
GEORGE: He’s a gentleman. We get along and we hang out. I couldn’t have been luckier. I’ve worked with showrunners where it just doesn’t work because they don’t understand you and they don’t like you. This is just magic. We’re both in it to be together and work on it and make it the best it can be. He’s so patient with me, too. I was going through a very hard time. I didn’t imagine the impact of how much work it was for one woman. Nobody knew. It was the first time that they’ve done something like this, so I was there to tell them it was not easy. But, Frank was very good to me and looked after me very well. It’s just a great creative relationship.
Having done film and TV, what do you enjoy about getting to tell a story more in the long-term, like you do with television? Do you prefer getting to live with the character a bit longer?
GEORGE: Yes and no. This one, yes. I want to be Sam, all year. Really, I do. I can’t wait to be her again. I’m still on a vacation from Sam. When a shoot is quick, like with a movie, it’s nice because you move on. But, television that’s shooting as slow as this is like a movie and it’s a lot because it’s slower. You’re living those painful moments for many days, instead of just a few hours. So, sometimes I want it to be faster.
GEORGE: Seven months, in Morocco, Scotland and London. It was all location. There’s no studio work, at all. They had to ADR every sound. Not only did it take a long time to shoot it, but the voice work to correct all of the sound, because of the locations, took me a day per episode. Usually, it takes an hour, but it took me a day. I love it, but not for that long.
Were there things that you learned about yourself, from the experience of making this show?
GEORGE: I got very, very upset after fight scenes. I don’t think I like the violence. I knew that there was a reason for that, but I couldn’t quite figure out why. It’s not nice to get to that place, in any day of your life, where you’re fighting for your life. Because I couldn’t differentiate between filming, and what was real and not, that was my problem. There was not a lot that I personally learned, but I had to be taught how to separate Sam, and it just being filming, from me. I got into this space where it was crazy.
Is there a dream role that you’d love to do, if given the opportunity?
GEORGE: Millions of them. I fulfilled that with The Slap, which I just did. That won a bunch of awards for me. I played Rosie in the book adaptation of The Slap, and that was a role of a lifetime. Sam Hunter is great. Now, I’m just going to see where my career goes. I don’t know. All characters are good.
Hunted airs on Friday nights on Cinemax.