To find the last time there was a successful, truly international TV espionage drama, you’d have to go all the way back to I Spy.
There was a failed attempt last year, with the Ashley Judd spy series Missing, but that did not survive its first season.
And now there is Hunted, a globe-spanning espionage thriller based in London and actually shot in the cities in which it is set. It debuts on HBO Canada Friday night.
“We wanted it to be cinematic and that meant really going to the locations,” says series creator Frank Spotnitz, former producer on The X-Files.
“Really going to Morocco. Really going to Scotland. Not faking it.
“Everything is shot on location. It’s a lot harder and a lot more expensive, but you see it. I mean, it looks fantastic. It was really exciting for me, especially as an American, to go to Europe and have the opportunity to take advantage of all these unbelievable locations that we just don’t get to see that often.”
Hunted stars Melissa George (Alias, In Treatment) as a disenfranchised superspy who returns to the fold with old wounds opened and a target on her back.
She found that all the location filming really informed her performance.
“A lot of my experience is that, you know, you’re meant to be in China and you’re actually in downtown Los Angeles,” she says. “You’re always having to pretend.
“This show that Frank wrote, the scenes are where we shot at. And as an actor, you can really use your environment and really feel what you’re filming, and it made it a lot easier for me to get into character.”
Spotnitz says the style of the show demanded that kind of scenic reality. It could never have been made in the United States or, for that matter, in Canada, where X-Files’ first few seasons were shot.
“From the beginning, my ambition was to do an international spy drama based in Europe,” Spotnitz says. “I can’t imagine this show as it’s written taking place anywhere else than where it’s set. But having said that, the design of the show is that, however many years it goes on — and hopefully it will go on for a while — we will change cities.
“There’s different stories to tell. It’s very exciting for me as a writer and storyteller to have all this fresh stuff that’s unfamiliar to me as an American. I’m learning as I go.”
The other essential element, he says, was casting George as his lead.
“I always like to say the perfect plot could only happen to that character. You know, the plot and character are inseparable.
“And Melissa just was the best. I just I knew she could do this. And this part is really hard. I mean, it’s very, very hard to be this cold manipulative spy and then show there’s a real person underneath that has vulnerabilities and you care about. And Melissa uniquely conveyed that.”
For George, the incredibly athletic role was a welcome change of pace from the static, intimate In Treatment.
“I think I needed to get out outdoors,” she laughs.
“You know, every role you take, there’s some parts that you just fall in love with. One was Laura in In Treatment. I just loved how complex she was. And then every job after that, I was really looking for something that was as complex, as demanding and challenging, and maybe not on the sofa for that many hours a day.
“And then Hunted came along. It just embodied all the complexity of a fully faceted, amazing kind of woman, showing her strength, showing her vulnerability.
“(It’s) a very different show, which is good and bad for a career. Sometimes I look back and I think if I had a career that was a little bit similar with all my roles, maybe there would be a bit more of a thread, and maybe people can relate to you a little more or recognize you a little more. But I don’t have that career.
“I go from one thing to the other and I’m proud of that at the end of the day.”