From executive producer Luc Besson (Taken, The Fifth Element) and writer/showrunner Alexander Cary (Homeland), the NBC series Taken tells the origin story of Bryan Mills (Clive Standen), as he deals with a personal tragedy that has turned his world upside down. Choosing to overcome the trauma of the incident by exacting revenge, Mills becomes a deadly CIA operative that will develop his very particular and very dangerous set of skills into the character played by Liam Neeson in the films.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actor Clive Standen (Vikings) talked about his reaction to being offered this role, what attracted him to the series, taking the first film as a base point while not really regarding the second and third films, the parallels between Homeland (which Alex Cary also wrote) and Taken, the relentless momentum, all of the new skills that he’s learning, and the storytelling structure for the season.
Collider: How did Taken come about?
CLIVE STANDEN: I’d just finished filming Vikings, and I was looking for a smaller job to fit in between seasons. Alex Cary, who writes Taken and has written most of Homeland, as well, is our showrunner. He wanted to get on Skype with me, and it was lovely. He said I was his one and only choice for the role, and asked if I would consider it. The script was fantastic, so everything just aligned. I really would have really been stupid to start hemming and hawing over the workload, so I just made it work.
Were you nervous, at all, about stepping into something like this, that people so identify Liam Neeson with?
STANDEN: I did worry. When I first got sent the script by my agent, I didn’t read it. I just assumed that it was going to be full of car chases and explosions and no substance because I didn’t know anything about it. I had gotten sent 15 scripts, and Taken was one of them. I had to read them all, over a weekend, and I put Taken at the bottom of the pile. And then, my agent rang and said, “Did you read Taken?” And I said, “Yeah, it was full of car chases and explosions.” And he said, “You obviously didn’t read it ‘cause it’s not that. It’s written by Alex Cary and it will be directed by Alex Graves.”
And then, I got on Skype with Alex and the deal was done, really. I just saw his passion for it and what he wanted to do with it. I think what people think about, when they think about the film, is that Bryan Mills is this man who knows how to save his daughter from the kidnappers because he’s been catching kidnappers, all of his career. That’s not the case. Our spin on it is that he knows how to catch the kidnappers because he’s been kidnapping people, all of his career.
That’s what the CIA is about. The CIA is about doing America’s dirty work and not taking the credit for it. They keep us all safe, and sometimes that means clandestine operations where you’re taking people, and then you’re trying to get information of them. But Bryan’s moral compass is pointing the right way, and that’s what’s fascinating. He’s suddenly in this world of espionage and spies and covert actions. He’s a decent guy who’s been brought up well, and he has to struggle with right and wrong, and whether the people that are giving him the orders are just as corrupt as the people he’s trying to hunt down.
Look, you’d be stupid not to use the billion dollar franchise of Taken as a formula, but it doesn’t have to follow the film so much. We’re taking the first film as our base point. We’re not really regarding the second and third Taken films. It’s about the look and the feel of the first one, and the real Luc Besson characters. The show is going to build beyond that, hopefully, and if it’s a success, then hopefully it can relaunch the franchise. All I can hope for, in the future, is that if it goes to five seasons, than people will start associating me with Bryan Mills and not Liam Neeson. I’ve got so much riding on the show that I won’t let it become something that I don’t want it to be. I know what I want it to be and I think I know what people want this to be, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that happens.
Do you see any parallels between Homeland and Taken?
STANDEN: The Homeland parallel is worth talking about because Alex wrote them both. Homeland is about Carrie Mathison, Claire Danes’ character, and she’s really the spy of the show. It’s all about the espionage and the intelligence and gathering information. And it’s Peter Quinn, Rupert Friend’s character, who’s more on the supporting side, as the covert action guy. With Taken, it’s almost like putting that kind of character as the lead of the show, and having the Carrie Mathison character as the supporting role. That kind of character is very similar to Bryan, in our Taken. He almost gets dumped into a situation, where if it all goes wrong, no one is going to look after him. He’s on his own.
I think that’s interesting, especially post-9/11. The CIA is more interested in covert action, rather than gathering intelligence by spying and going to countries and recruiting. It seems to be a more aggressive approach. So, when you’ve got a character like Bryan, who actually is a decent man, his only real power is direct action. It’s that forward-momentum that keeps him going. He has a desire to protect people. I think it’s quite fascinating to have him at the center of it all because it’s not an action piece. The logic of our imagination needs to believe what we see on the screen. Otherwise, you never really capture the audience.
If you’re watching a superhero film, you can completely buy into the idea that someone flies. But if you’re watching something that’s meant to be based on reality and it could be happening right now, behind closed doors in the CIA, you need to believe it. So, if Bryan starts running up walls and back flip kicking people than you’ve lost your audience. It’s very real. The action and the drama that we’ve created is just that. I think it’s important to actually show humanity as it is. There are no black and white characters. Everyone lives in the grey somewhere, and Bryan is no different. I can’t wait for the episodes where he starts to go to the dark side, so to speak.