The new TNT series Legends, based on the book by master spy novelist Robert Littell, follows Martin Odum (Sean Bean), an undercover agent working for the FBI’s Deep Cover Operations division, who has such an uncanny ability to transform himself into a completely different person for each job that he begins to question whether he really is the man he believes himself to be. The show also stars Ali Larter, Morris Chestnut, Tina Majorino, Steve Harris, Amber Valletta and Mason Cook.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Tina Majorino (who plays Maggie Harris, the newest member of the DCO team) talked about how she got involved with this show, that a different actor had originally been cast in Sean Bean’s role, how the rewrites of the original script changed the backstory of her character, how Maggie fits in with the team, and the research she did to get into the headspace of someone in this profession. She also talked about how surreal and amazing it’s been to have such great fan support from her involvement with Veronica Mars and Napoleon Dynamite. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
Collider: How weird was it to not only have a huge poster plastered on the side of a hotel in the Gaslamp in San Diego for Comic-Con, but also to have them on the airport baggage claim carousels and the escalators?
TINA MAJORINO: It was very surreal. I was down at Comic-Con and saw that that whole building was wrapped in Sean’s face. It was pretty exciting.
Were you aware of the meaning behind the whole #DontKillSeanBean campaign?
MAJORINO: I was not. It’s funny because somebody sent that to me and I was like, “Is this real?” It’s genius because it made me look it up because I thought somebody was messing with me.
How did you come to be a part of this show? Had you been actively looking to do another TV series, or was this just too interesting of a project to pass up?
MAJORINO: At the time that I read the script, I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. I wasn’t looking to decide between film and television, but the script came to me and Howard Gordon was attached, and I’m a huge fan of his. The script was fantastic, and knowing that he’s at the helm of this project, I jumped on board with that. It was a very long process because, when I first read it, somebody else was attached to play Sean’s character. And then, that fell through and I was really disappointed because I wanted to do it. A couple months later, it came back with Sean attached to it.
Right after we shot the pilot, I started on Grey’s Anatomy. We shot the pilot and were waiting to hear if we got picked up, for most of the season that I was on Grey’s. That was really difficult because I was working on another show and got used to being around the same people every day, and I was really getting into a rhythm over there. But I had previously committed to Legends, and I was really excited that we got picked up and I was going to get a chance to work with everybody again. And David Wilcox came on board. It was really exciting. It was hard to leave Grey’s, but I was really excited about getting the opportunity to work with everybody at Legends. It’s really stressful because you want something to work out and to go, but you’re just waiting and waiting and waiting.
At least in the first couple of episodes, your character is new to the team and we don’t really know much about her yet, and you didn’t know too much about who she would evolve to be, when you signed on. What were you told about her that really sold you on the idea of playing this character?
MAJORINO: In the original script, there was much more about her history and about her, but in the rewrites, all of that shifted and changed. I can appreciate that because every show and every project shifts and changes. I enjoy the fact that there was more mystery surrounding her. It’s all about trusting the people that you work with. I’m a huge fan of Howard’s, and I think he’s a genius, creatively, and such a good writer. So, going into the show, it was fun for me because I made up my mind about who I really saw her as, and ran with that. Unfortunately, we don’t get to know too much about her in this season, but I love that she is an integral part of the team. With a show like this, that relies completely on mystery and intrigue, and the whole basis of the show is the question, “Who are we really?,” it was helpful because I never went onto the set really knowing what was going to happen. It was very congruent with the basic plotline of the show. That’s part of what’s fun. You go on set and you don’t really know what’s gonna happen. I enjoyed that. I also enjoyed not having all of the answers, right off the bat. It gives you that possibility for where everyone can go and what they’re gonna end up doing. So, the things that originally drew me to the story weren’t exactly that obvious, when we went to shoot the season. But you trust the prospect of getting to work with these really incredible creative writers, and you see what’s gonna happen.
What can you say about Maggie’s place in this team and where she fits in with these agents? Since she sets up these missions and helps run them while they’re happening, does she also feel responsible when things go wrong?
MAJORINO: Yes, absolutely! That’s a perfect analysis of that. There’s a huge responsibility in her job to ensure the safety of the agents. That’s something that I was very conscious of and I thought a lot about when we were shooting. I cannot imagine having that kind of pressure on you. You have to focus on the immediate task at hand, which is to set up these missions and make sure that everything on your end can go as smoothly as possible because anything that can go wrong usually does. So, they try to avoid as many problems as they can. While her place on the team is to set up these missions, there is that huge feeling of responsibility. If anything bad happens, how do you not take responsibility for that? How do you not let that way on your conscious? That also feeds into how the other characters on the show feel, as well. We all work so closely together, which is another component of the storyline. How do these people in these extreme circumstances and highly dangerous situations keep a grasp on who they are, as people? How do they stay sane with that kind of pressure on them? That’s insane. It’s not just about hitting a deadline, or anything that a normal job would offer you. It’s life and death, and that’s a very scary thing.
Because it takes a certain type of person who could do a job like this for a living, did you do any research or preparation to get into the headspace of someone who could do a job like this?
MAJORINO: Yes, I did. It’s not a career choice, it’s a calling. These people are in a situation where you have to be a certain type of person to handle it. You have to be a patriot. All of these things that happen in their unit, no one else can no about. It’s not like you’re doing it for accolades, or anything like that. You really have a sense of a greater good of the world and of the country. It has to be okay that, most of the time, nobody is going to know what you’re doing. When I was researching it, I trained and I took the FBI test, which was insane. I wanted to know what kind of physicality these people have to have. It’s more than just being intelligent and highly trained, in Maggie’s instance, in the technology world. It’s also about being able to handle yourself in extreme situations. So, I did that, which really helped me understand, even more so, the high expectations that are placed on people that do this for a living. And then, I also talked to some FBI agents, and read a lot of material on things that they deal with on a daily basis and the expectations that the FBI has of these individuals. I also read some pretty interesting things about the psychological affects that the training has on the agents and how people have tried to deal with the things that they see and do, every day, and still try to maintain some sense of self. It was very interesting, but I definitely had to do the research on it because, obviously, that is not within my reality, at all. In order to connect and understand, I had to read a lot.
You’ve had your fair share of experience with fandom, with both Veronica Mars and Napoleon Dynamite. What’s it like to know that the Veronica Mars fans were so supportive and dedicated that they were really responsible for allowing you all to reunite and make a movie? And what’s it like to know that the Napoleon Dynamite fans are still so passionate, 10 years later?
MAJORINO: It’s probably one of the most surreal things to experience, and it is so humbling and amazing. Just the fact that I get to wake up every day and do what I love for a living, in and of itself, is incredible, and I never take it for granted. I always feel so lucky and so blessed that I get to do this for a living. That’s already a pretty amazing, beautiful thing. But then, when people react that way to projects that you’ve been a part of, it’s surreal. We got to make a movie for Veronica Mars, and it was all these years later, and people were still connecting with it and wanting to see more. Even with Napoleon, it’s been 10 years and it’s still relevant to people and they’re still enjoying it. That’s the most special thing, ever, to me. I could cry over it. It’s such an amazing feeling. Obviously, as a creative person in any realm, nobody makes art just for their own enjoyment. You want to create with other people and you want them to feel something. The fact that I get to experience that is just unbelievable, and I’m so grateful for it.
Legends airs on Wednesday nights on TNT.