Starz’ new dramatic thriller The Missing is an intense, riveting exploration of what happens to a husband and wife when their only child goes missing. Debuting on November 15, 2014 at 9pm ET/PT, The Missing stars Frances O’Connor and James Nesbitt as the couple whose son is taken while they’re on vacation. And in support of the show’s upcoming premiere, I had the opportunity to speak with Frances O’Connor about her role, the subject matter, her co-stars, and playing the character during two very different periods in her life.
The Plot: “The eight-episode limited series takes you inside the mind of Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt), a father desperate to locate his lost son, Oliver. With help from a renowned detective (Tchéky Karyo), Tony embarks on an obsessive eight-year quest to find his son and those responsible for his disappearance. A gripping puzzle with twists and turns at every stage, Tony’s exhaustive search fractures his relationship with his wife, Emily (Frances O’Connor), and threatens to destroy his life. Told through a complex narrative, The Missing is set in France and London and unfolds over two time frames, simultaneously.”
Exclusive Frances O’Connor Interview
Were you hooked reading the first script? Did you immediately know The Missing would be something special?
Frances O’Connor: “I really just felt like from the moment I read the script I did think it was quite special. I really love the characters.”
Even though the script was so well written, did you have any hesitation about signing on given how emotionally intense the subject matter is?
Frances O’Connor: “I think if the material had been less quality than it was, I may have reconsidered. I think intellectually I knew it was going to be difficult but I think it wasn’t until we’re actually in there and playing it that I actually felt that. I think I really had contemplated what I was getting myself involved with and I think Jimmy felt the same way about it.
We were supported by the script and the material, which was really authentic. I felt like in some ways it helped you because they were well written. Tom [Shankland], the director, was really supportive. Also, because James was going through the same thing…he’s a dad as well and I’m a mom, so we helped each other through some scenes. We had some really tough days.”
I would imagine you had a lot of tough days of shooting. There really are no light moments.
Frances O’Connor: “No. Often you look at scripts and you’ll see a couple of days where you’re like, ‘Okay, that’s heavy. That’s a heavy day.’ This is just like you’d finished a really heavy day and look at tomorrow’s schedule and you take a big breath.”
Is doing something this emotionally intense more draining on you than doing physically demanding films?
Frances O’Connor: “Yes. I think they both take a lot out of you. I think because emotionally you do have to go to quite a dark place, I did find it very draining. But I did find it energizing in terms of the creativity. It was such a creative process. Everybody in it was just excellent and that really did help lift you up, I think, because everyone was really going for it every day.”
Was there anything in particular about your character Emily that you would really latch onto?
Frances O’Connor: “I didn’t know the story as it was unfolding. I was really intrigued about how different she was in 2006 and 2014 and what had caused that. I thought that the evolution of the character was really intriguing to me. That also is one of the reasons I wanted to do it because creatively, it was a fun to work out – the differences between the two characters just physically and how she moved and how she looked and that kind of thing, how she behaved.”
Your character even more so than James Nesbitt’s character is really two different people. Which of the two did you find more interesting to play?
Frances O’Connor: “I really love both of them, I think, in different ways. Because she’s eight years older in 2014 and she’s been through a horrific incident and the process through those eight years is trying to move on on some level but she can’t. In 2006 at the start of it she’s young and nothing bad has ever happened to her yet and she’s so in love with her child. I don’t know. It’s really hard to say this. I think they’re both really great. I did think of them in some ways different characters and I really enjoyed playing both of them for different reasons. I think the crew liked 2006 Emily more than 2014.”
James said that because you shot the 2014 storyline first, the two of you were able to develop a bond that actually worked well for the 2006 scenes. Did you feel that way too?
Frances O’Connor: “I did. I think because we’d had all that time together, when we came to do the stuff… We’re divorced in 2014 but when we came to do the 2006 stuff I just thought we trusted each other and we can push each other and really go for it. You felt supported by other person. Maybe it would have been a different result if they’d shot it the other way. It’s hard to know.”
Did you develop a backstory for what Emily was like before we meet her in 2006?
Frances O’Connor: “Yeah, we did. We had a week of rehearsal which is quite rare and we sat with Tom and talked about what kind of life she would have had and where she went to school and her relationship with her parents, and what was her inner life like. That kind of thing which really helped, I think, for a starting point.”
Can you talk about working with this director? James Nesbitt said he was pretty phenomenal.
Frances O’Connor: “Yeah. I really do think he’s one of the best directors I’ve worked with. He’s a great combination of being really creative but also he was so on top of the narrative for all the characters. He had such a big workload but he was great. He’s a super creative person and really supportive too. He had some tricky stuff to shoot, but you always felt like he had your back and was just watching you. He just watched every detail and helped you get to some of the places you need to go. He’s amazing.”
Did you do any type of research on missing kids?
Frances O’Connor: “I didn’t want to talk to anyone because I thought it was a bit invasive but I did read a book that was a mother’s account of what happened. I ultimately felt that wasn’t so helpful because I felt the scripts were so good. I just instantly connected to who the character was and there was so much in there that helped you. I also just immediately identified with what it would be like to lose a child. I’m sure every parent could identify with the paranoia if that would happen.”
Was there anything in the book you read that you used for the character?
Frances O’Connor: “That it’s such a long process. You’re in it every day and the horror of that, it’s such a long grind through it. You never get away from it. The see-sawing between hope and despair, I think, is what kills all those people. Wanting to hope but knowing there’s a possibility it won’t end well. I think that’s the big thing, and especially if it’s years and years later.”
Did working on this make you hug your child a bit tighter?
Frances O’Connor: “It did, yeah. And because we’re away Monday to Friday in Belgium for it, my poor son, he’s like, ‘Chillax mom!'”
Just reading the synopsis makes The Missing sound like a crime drama, but it’s really a character-driven story. How do you describe what it is that sets it apart from other TV series that could possibly be similar?
Frances O’Connor: “I think it’s probably more like an emotional thriller, like a multi-stranded emotional thriller.”
Your co-stars said there’s a possibility there’s going to be more than one season. Do you think that there’s good material left for season two?
Frances O’Connor: “The way it ends indicates there could be more.”
Without giving anything away…
Frances O’Connor: “…Without giving anything away. I don’t know about Emily. I felt like her storyline in it is so complete. I don’t know. I can definitely see how there could be a second series, but I don’t know how involved Emily would be. But you never say never because people always come up with great ideas.”
Is she a character you wouldn’t mind getting back into again?
Frances O’Connor: “Yes, I think because it wouldn’t necessarily be the devastation emotionally as devastating as it was played in 2006. I don’t know. It’s hard to say. I have to read the scripts.”
Do you think that the writing on television is now actually of higher quality than feature films?
Frances O’Connor: “Yeah, definitely. It’s matured so much and there’s just a bit of creative explosion going on in television at the moment. I think it’s a great format because it’s kind of longer storytelling and you can be more detailed in how you work and you can work the story in so many different ways, I think. Whereas film has to have a very strong linear narrative a lot of the time. Also, any big budget film has to make a certain amount of money back. I think the constraint from that has an impact on the storytelling. I think in television people can take more risks. Audiences love it; they just go for it. Audiences are quite sophisticated, too, in terms of you don’t have to spoon-feed them anymore.”
Exactly. This is a type of series that I would love to binge-watch every episode because I really want to know what’s happening next.
Frances O’Connor: [Laughing] “I felt like that when I was reading it. I had to call my agent and ask them to send more of scripts. I need to know what happened.”