Inspired by the 1975 political thriller Three Days of the Condor, the new original series Condor (airing on Wednesday nights on the AT&T Audience Network on DirecTV, starting on June 6th) follows Joe Turner (Max Irons), a young man who is deeply conflicted about his work for the CIA. When something he’s discovered gets his entire office killed and forces him to go on the run, the life-or-death stakes push Joe to figure out just what he’s capable of, in order to uncover who’s behind a far-reaching conspiracy that threatens the lives of millions.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actor Max Irons talked about how he came to Condor, why he found this particular project appealing, the thrill of getting to play the action hero, how much keeping secrets weighs on him, just how deep this conspiracy gets over the course of the season, the training he had to go through for this role, and the show’s unexpected directions.
Collider: Is it a lot of fun to do something like this, where you get to play a bit of an action hero?
MAX IRONS: Yeah, it really is! You just have to try to be mature about it and keep your inner child at bay.
I would imagine that the physical exhaustion probably helps with that.
IRONS: Yeah. We shot the exteriors in Washington DC, which for me, was just constant running for three days.
How did this come about for you?
IRONS: In the traditional way. I got sent a script. I read it, and I really responded to it. We have two incredibly skillful writers at the helm of this, Jason Smilovic and Todd Katzberg. So, I did my audition and I got flown out to L.A. to screen test, and then I got a phone call. You sign onto these things for awhile and they take up a good portion of your year, so you really have to ask yourself whether it’s something that you can stand behind, both in terms of quantity, but also as a piece of political commentary. The movie, when it came, was just post Watergate, and we have our own problems these days, so consequently, it does make a commentary. But with Jason taught at the helm of this, I was eager to sign on.
Were there specific things about the character that interested you? Were there things that you got to do with him that you haven’t gotten to do with a character before?
IRONS: Yeah, there are a lot of things. I would say, primarily, what I like about Joe is that he recognizes, like a lot of people do, that in our society and also in our government bodies, there are some deep routed, systemic, and far-reaching problems, and he doesn’t really know how best to deal with it. In later episodes, you’ll see flashbacks of Joe when he was younger, at MIT, and had a young man’s instinct, which is to rebel against and smash the system, and then rebuild the system. You ask yourself, if perhaps doing something like that would come at the cost of the very people you’re trying to protect, like the poor and the helpless. Do you submit to the system and work from within it, to try to make the change from the inside? Maybe that’s the best solution. As an audience member, it makes you question how we get to live the way we live. We all have affordable gas in our cars, affordable clothing, and plentiful access to proteins, like chicken, but there’s a cost to all of those things in national security. People are reluctant to look into Guantanamo Bay for what it is. Where does the gasoline we put in our cars come from? We choose to look away, and it will make people re-evaluate that, a little bit.
This is a guy that doesn’t openly work for the CIA, he secretly works for the CIA, which I would imagine makes it even more difficult for him to have any kind of honest relationship.
IRONS: Of course, yeah!
How much does it weigh on him to have to keep all of these secrets?
IRONS: I think it weighs on him enormously, as it must for anyone who has to work under those conditions. I can’t imagine, especially when you’re really heavily morally conflicted with your work, to not be able to share it with anybody would be enormously heavy on your soul. That’s what so unique about the Kathy Hale (Katherine Cunningham) relationship and why it’s so meaningful, in spite of its circumstances. She’s the first women who he’s been able to really show who he is, in spite of the circumstances. That brings them closer together and leads to a greater trust than Joe has ever experienced.
That whole relationship just seems so difficult.
IRONS: Yeah, it’s a bumpy start. The whole kidnapping thing is not advisable.
But what can you do when you’re all over TV, as the most hunted man?
IRONS: And you’re being accused of murdering lots and lots of people. You’ve gotta work with what you’ve got.
What do you think he wanted for himself, before all of this happened?
IRONS: I think Joe had his head in the sand, a little bit. Someone poses the question, with the work he was doing and the programs he was coming up with, where did he think they were ending up? How did he honestly think they were being used? I think he was choosing not to look. Deep down, I think he knew that to try to make a meaningful difference inside a system that is so far-reaching and deeply ingrained is a little futile. But all of that get challenged, as you go through the series, which is smart.
How does he even process all of what’s going on while he’s being pursued by people who want to kill him?
IRONS: Yeah. These guys don’t wear name tags. They’re above you, they’re beneath you, and they’re inside of the devices that you carry in your pocket. He needs a minute to figure it out.
How deep does the conspiracy get?
IRONS: Now we’re getting into territory of giving the story away, so I have to be careful. It goes very deep. It’s very far-reaching. He stats to put it together, but it takes him awhile. Joe’s initial responsibility is just to survive and evaluate the immediate landscape around him. That’s the best that he can do. As the show progress, especially in the later episodes, he starts to get a sense of what’s what, but even then, it’s very hard. When you throw a stone into a well, you never know quite how deep the well is. There’s no real way to come to a concrete answer with these things, as far as who’s behind what. The priority for him is pure survival, in the beginning.
This show has a tremendous cast.
IRONS: Oh, my god, you’re telling me! This is the second time I’ve worked with William Hurt. When I got onto this, I think I was the first person attached, so to hear that William Hurt was coming on board, with his energy and his desire to explore and discover the emotional truth, he has no limits to doing that. He will fight to get to the bottom of what a scene is about. When you’re working fast in television and you’ve got 10 hours to have someone like that who is so dedicated to the truth, it’s really, really inspiring. It ups everybody’s game, just by proxy. It’s great. He’s got such strength, on camera and off, but also such fragility and sensitivity.
Did you have to do a lot of training for something like this? Did you find yourself having to learn new skills?
IRONS: I had to learn to use weaponry, which I didn’t enjoy. I thought I would. I thought the inner child would come out, but not at all. Guns are really scary. Being in a room with hundreds and seeing bullets everywhere is scary. And there’s the fighting and running. Also, there’s the American accent. There was a little training there. But it was more sitting in front of textbooks and trying to get an overview of what the CIA have been doing, around the globe, for the past 90 years, at least what’s been reported.
Have you had conversations about where this thing could go, in the future?
IRONS: I have a few ideas, but everything is very fluid. It’s safe to say that it’s gonna be pretty cool. The direction it’s taken is unexpected. I don’t think there’s anything formulaic. I think they’re really creative, and it’s gonna be interesting. I’m always very reluctant to be positive about my own work, but I’m really proud of this one, and to be in such company is great.
Condor premieres on the AT&T Audience Network on DirecTV on June 6th.