CultBox caught up with The X-Files writer Frank Spotnitz recently to chat about his new spy drama series, Hunted.
From the makers of Spooks, the eight-part series begins on BBC One tonight at 9pm and stars Melissa George (Grey’s Anatomy) as a highly skilled operative for an elite private intelligence firm.
Best known for writing nearly 50 episodes of The X-Files, Spotnitz was also co-executive producer of Millennium and co-wrote both The X-Files movies.
When did you first get the idea for Hunted and how has the show developed since your original idea?
“Well, I’d wanted to come to London for years and was trying to find a way to do it. I came up with the idea in 2009 because I realised I could do a spy series here that could compete with the best of AmericaN television.
“I’d been talking to the people at Kudos about doing a show since 2002 and they called me every year and then in 2009 I finally called them and said ‘I think I’ve got it’ and so it took from then to now to get it on the air.”
What were your inspirations for the show?
“Oh gosh, so many! Not surprisingly I’m a huge consumer of movies and television and this is my favourite genre. I’ve seen thousands of hours of every spy series and movie you can think of and the hard thing is to find something that hasn’t been done before. It’s really, really though.
“There were two things I felt were really central to this. One was the character of Sam Hunter; this female spy who is targeted for death and she doesn’t know who has targeted her or why. And the answer lies in her own troubled past. Imagine a female Jason Bourne as a real human being. This is a television series so it has to be character-based to be interesting.
“What’s she really going to be like if you met her? Warm and fuzzy and friendly? Or distant and removed and guarded? She’s going to be the latter; she kills people. She lies for a living, she’s going to be somebody with a lot of walls up. So I wondered: how did she get that way? How did this become her career? Probably some pretty terrible things happened to her in her life and that really is the heart of the show; the secret of Sam’s past.
“The second thing that really made me excited was the world of private intelligence. It’s become a huge business and I don’t think many people are aware of how many spy agencies there are in the world, operating for profit. They present a really interesting moral complexity as they’re not serving national interests; they’re serving the interests of private clients who may or may not be the good guys.”
Is there a larger story with Hunted beyond what’s told in this first series?
“Yeah, from doing The X-Files all those years I’m very good at answering one question and asking three others! So that’s kind of what happens in these first episodes. I think hopefully it’s a very satisfying emotional journey and you feel you’ve got a lot of answers by the end of the eighth hour, but there’s certainly a lot of room to go forward if the audience are so inclined.”
Does that mean we can expect a cliffhanger at the end of the series?
“Well, it’s not a cliffhanger because I don’t know whether there’ll be a second series at this point. You have to design it for both possibilities. If this is the end then it’s a great ride and that was really satisfying ending, but if it’s not the end then there’s plenty more ground to cover in future series.”
Did you have Melissa George in mind as Sam when you wrote the part?
“No, I didn’t, and it was very hard to find the right actress for his part because there just aren’t that many people on the planet who look like Melissa looks, who have her physicality and who have her acting chops.
“This is a really demanding role emotionally. It’s very complicated, because she’s always playing two things at once. She’s playing this tough person, but then underneath you need to see that there is somebody you want to know more about. Most of the time in the series she’s undercover pretending to be somebody she isn’t. That’s fascinating to me too, because you often see sides of Sam through who she’s pretending to be.”
Hunted is launching almost a year after BBC One’s Spooks ended – do you think Spooks fans will enjoy the show?
“Well, I’ve got to say; I dread the comparisons to Spooks! Spooks is such a hugely successful and beloved series. I think you can only fail when you’re compared to something people have loved for so long. I know the comparisons are inevitable but I don’t welcome them because I don’t see it as a comparison I can win. It is another spy show but it’s very, very different. I hope people will judge it on its own merits.
“I think Spooks was just perfect for its time, coming on air right after 9/11 and it spoke to the time it was on so brilliantly. Hopefully we’re going to speak to the times we’re in now which are quite different. The world has become privatised and there are all kinds of interesting moral grey areas now that we can explore.
Do you approach writing action scenes in a different way to writing dialogue?
“Yeah, I do – and this goes back to my X-Files days – I try to imagine the visuals. I want to know when I deliver a script to the director that it can be executed. I don’t want to leave it to chance! So much of the challenge of television is communicating a vision successfully.”
Gillian Anderson is doing a lot of work on UK TV these days. Would you like to work with her again on a new show or on Hunted perhaps?
“That was my first idea actually! When I wanted to do a spy show in England she was my first call and she was attached to this for some time, but when I finally got the green light she couldn’t do it.
“I would work with her again in a second. Having worked with her on The X-Files for so long I know how great she is. I think she’s really one of the great actresses we have.”
Watch the trailer for Hunted…
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