‘Taken’: Clive Standen and Jennifer Beals Interview on NBC’s New Action Series

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Taken star Clive Standen

Clive Standen as Bryan Mills in ‘Taken’ (Photo by Christos Kalohoridis / NBC)

NBC’s new dramatic series Taken starring Clive Standen and Jennifer Beals is set to premiere on Monday, February 27, 2017 at 10pm ET/PT. The series is a prequel to the popular Taken action films, with Clive Standen taking on the role of Bryan Mills played by Liam Neeson in the feature films. Jennifer Beals co-stars as Special Deputy Director of National Intelligence Christina Hart, a character created specifically for the TV series.

Clive Standen and Jennifer Beals joined Taken‘s showrunner Alex Cary for a conference call to discuss NBC’s new action series. During the interview, Standen talked about how the action in Vikings prepared him for the role of Bryan Mills and Beals talked about what she relates to about Christina. Alex Cary provided the scoop on what viewers can expect as well as how the series connects to the feature films.

After doing a show like Vikings where it’s so action heavy, why were you ready to take on another show that’s going to put you through so much physical punishment?

Clive Standen: “Well, I’m a glutton for punishment. Vikings was my stomping ground for learning how to do all that kind of action and I’m refining it. What I’m really interested in is trying to put the camera on the actor and the action, and that’s what Vikings taught me. I thought I could give something to Taken and push the envelope of this kind of genre by trying to kind of get to do those stunts and to get that action and get my hands dirty.

But, not because I have a death wish. If you can put the camera on the actor, you suddenly see the whites of their eyes and it becomes a story moment. You see the anger or the aggression or, you know, the frustration of not being able to get the job done. You certainly start telling the story more, rather than it just being the back of a stunt guy’s head, and we all turn off. And Vikings taught me that. I’ve tried to work with Alex and go through Taken that way where, just like the film with Liam Neeson, it’s relentless. You see that guy and when he gets punched in the face, he’s bruised. When he gets shot, he’s bleeding. And you know he’s limping to the finish line but we’re with him all the way. It’s because it’s not just action, it’s character moments. It’s story, and you’re in there with him in the thick of it.”

Taken star Jennifer Beals

Jennifer Beals in ‘Taken’ (Photo by Jeff Riedel/NBC)

What did you relate to about your characters?

Jennifer Beals: “I don’t know if I relate to her, but I think the thing that got me really excited was this balancing act of discipline and the need to protect, and what price that paid in terms of self-denial. I thought that was interesting to explore.”

Clive Standen: “With me I liked the idea of I always get drawn to putting the mirror up to nature, to humanity. And I think with Alex’s writing, he’s written an action show which is based in reality and dealing with human beings. I’ve got no interest in playing people that run up walls and do double back kicks, spins and back flips and things. It has to be in a real world scenario, and that’s where Taken is written.

Even the role of Bryan Mills, he’s just a father and I’m a father of three. I don’t think you have to be a father to relate to Bryan Mills. You know you will do anything you can to get your kids back in that situation. I think it’s very easy to kind of see him as every man and be in there with him for that journey. That’s what I was looking for in a character. I think I aspire to be more like Bryan Mills in life. He’s a very kind, considerate, and modest man. But when the sh*t hits the fan so to speak, he does what it takes and he’s relentless with it.”

Alex, what inspired you to take this on?

Alex Cary: “Well, I was interested in really just humanizing the character, Bryan Mills. And you know being able to spend more time with a character, you know kind of where he ends up if you’ve watched the films. And, it’s not essential to watch the films. You know where he ends up. But I think it’s just interesting to start him as a younger man and see who the defining characters are in his life and what are the defining moments up until that point. So it was really just about building the character of that man because you know in the film there was not a lot of runway before the action. It got straight into it almost immediately. So that was really what interested me.”

Clive Standen: “Alex writes real people. That’s what’s exciting about this genre is usually these characters always look pretty all the time. They seem to kind of not have any problem with jumping through winds and chasing bad guys down streets. It doesn’t seem to cost them anything. Where in reality we all know that when you get hit, it hurts. And when you get hit by cars, it hurts something.

And the humanity of someone…there’s always a sacrifice. A flip side of the coin of a character like Bryan or Christina or any of the main characters within the team of our show, they all have something to sacrifice. Seemingly on the surface they may seem heroic, but there’s always a counterbalance. Alex is so good at finding that in a story and in a character.”

Do you keep the films in mind when you’re planning the future of the character?

Alex Cary: “Well, yes. I mean, you do keep the films in mind. You know, a television show in success is a five, six, or seven year endeavor. So with the actual sort of connective tissue to the films, the direct connective tissue to the films I think, I’m sort of trying to look sort of deeper into the question a little bit, that connective tissue probably comes later. The specific connective tissue, you know if you’re talking about real characters and his daughter and all the rest of it, that’s something that must come later. I think what we’re trying to do now is establish the sort of foundations of who he became and why he became that.”


How difficult was it to take a popular character from a film and transform it so that it fits into a television platform?

Alex Cary: “Well, you know that’s a challenge to do from a popular film. I think there are a few elements to it. First of all, it’s just how you conceive the character. And you know what we’re not doing is we’re not taking that character from that film and just sort of doing a copy – a sort of carbon copy. In many ways this is a character you didn’t know before. This is the backstory to the film, so in many ways the challenge is in creating that and hoping that you will be able to link the two in the end without imitating the film. That’s the first part of it.

The second thing is in the casting of it. I think that for me I was much more interested in casting a real man rather than any kind of facsimile of the sort of fiction that was created in the movies. So it was more important for me to cast the real man who I believed in who had the sort of real behavior and a real psychology to him, in his performance and also in who he is in real life. And so those were the sort of two main elements.”

Clive, how did you go about getting into the character and adapting him from the films?

Clive Standen: “I think it’s almost rebooting the character for a generation. I mean, the film is 10 years old now as well. So as much as I watched the first film, I like seeing the first film before I even read the script that Alex had written. And then I’m a big fan of Liam Neeson’s performance. Like I said earlier, I think what I love about Bryan is he’s human and he’s not James Bond or any of those action heroes that exist. He exists in his own entity.

We’ve got this character who is human, who hasn’t got any particular super power or any special ninja skill. He’s just got full momentum and he has this lovely, selfless desire to protect people. But, that always comes at a cost. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to actually be able to take this genre by its balls and go, we’re all a little bit fed up with seeing people who look perfect all the time, who seem really like there’s no effort in saving the world. This is a guy, there has to be sacrifices. There has to be consequences to his actions. And therefore for me it starts off this lovely idea of starting this origin story about this character that we don’t actually know that much about. We just know this grizzled veteran of the CIA, what he’s become. And other than that, and what Liam plays on screen, there’s a lot of sacrifice there. That he’s a very unhappy man. He’s moved back to Los Angeles because his wife has left him. He wants to see his daughter. There’s a lot wrong with his life. It’s not all roses. But, why is it like that because this is a man who’s given his life. A selfless man who’s given his life to his country and to the CIA. So let’s just see how he becomes that man and by god, it’s going to be a journey.”

Luc Besson has not really been involved with the TV versions of his previous films, but he is involved in Taken. Do you know why he chose to work on this particular show when he hasn’t in the past?

Alex Cary: “He has been involved as somebody who cares deeply about the character. I think he is as curious as anybody else as to who this guy was before the movie. I think that part of the genius of the movie was that everything was short-handed and they got into the action. They showed the character going forward in the action. But I think he was as interested in seeing who he was in the beginning, but he was also fiercely protective of the character, just in terms of we started out in the pilot and all the rest of it. So that’s really where all the conversations have been, and since then he’s been very supportive.”

How do you see the series progressing through season one? What is that going to look like, especially for people who have seen the movies and kind of already have idea in their minds?

Alex Cary: “That’s a good question. The real answer is, I don’t know particularly. I mean, I keep an open mind until I actually sort of commit. I do think that what we will see is we will see Bryan Mills enter into different phases of his relationship with the intelligence community, with the authorities, and with the authority figure in the show so far who’s Christina Hart, played so magnificently by Jennifer. I think that that relationship, for me at the moment, what I’m most interested in really is that particular relationship. And also the relationship with the other members of his team and how that will change. And, that will change due to circumstances and due to the types of missions that they go on.

So, it’s really about building the experiences of Bryan Mills. I’m not talking really about how to shoot a gun or how to roll into a room or anything else. I’m really talking about the character interactions with the people who are going to matter most in his life. And obviously this story is going to change, or it’s going to be guided a little bit by where he ends up. We know how this ends in many ways, because it ends with the first movie. So, you know, we have to lead into those stories too, in terms of him being a father and a husband and all kinds of other things.”

How do you personally prepare for the weight of Bryan’s mission?

Clive Standen: “Well, generally the preparation is quite boring. To me it’s the doing of it that’s fun. But the preparation is the same way that someone like Tiger Woods probably just swings and swings and swings until he actually perfects his swing. When I take on any character I start from scratch. I kind of wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. It’s just a lot of laborious chipping away at kind of questions I ask myself. I just keep going until suddenly I kind of find a way in.

That’s the acting side of it. With the action side of it, it’s very similar. You just have to keep practicing and make it idiot-proof until you get to the point where it’s in your muscle memory. I think the main difference between acting and action is that when you act you have to be entirely in the moment. When me and Jennifer do a scene together, I don’t know what she’s going to say. I have to be completely present in the moment, and whatever she throws at me I have to be prepared to throw it back at here. But with action, you can’t really get away with it that way because there’s a bit of safety involved and danger involved. You need to almost be one step ahead of yourself. But the key to it in my eyes is to try and blend the two things together. They should be seamless.

If you learn something enough… You know, I obviously learn my lines to the point where I don’t have to think about them in the scene. So when I learn my choreography for a fight scene for instance, I do it so well that I don’t have to think about it in the scene. You hope at the last minute that you’re going to remember – your muscle memory is going to remember to put your hand up and block at the right time. Maybe you don’t, and then it’s just no different from the improvising in an acting scene. But that’s the only way you can truly be present. So, it’s just preparation. I mean, I can’t really explain. It would take me all day to try and explain to you my preparation as an actor.”

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