Starz has become a major player in original cable series, and they just launched their new drama The Missing. James Nesbitt and Frances O’Connor play parents whose son goes missing in 2006. The show follows them both then and now as Tony (Nesbitt) reconnects with detective Julien Baptiste (Tcheky Karyo) who was on the case in 2006.
I got to speak with Nesbitt when he was in Los Angeles on a promotional tour for The Missing. We got to speak about his character, Tony, and he shared how he still has triggers that take him back to the tragic drama of the show. We also took a look ahead at the final chapter of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. The Missing airs Saturdays at 9 on Starz.
Nuke the Fridge: We’ve seen you do intense work on shows like Jekyll. Is The Missing new territory for you still?
James Nesbitt: One would hope so. One would hope one could find something challenging and different with every role. I think certainly what was new about this was that the awful crime or the awful event happens so early on, and then I suppose sustaining that over five months or over two time zones, the kind of unimaginable horror of that, the guilt Tony feels right from the moment that his son goes missing. From 2006 to 2014, the breakdown of everything in his life, the loss of everything, the drive and determination that makes him get up in the morning and keep doing things. The descent into alcohol, the ravages of life. So that was all pretty new. Certainly when I’ve done jobs before, like Jekyll, you look at the schedule and you think that’s going to be a really hard day, that’s going to be a difficult day of the week. With this, it was like every day, oh my God, here we go again. That was new territory on a sense, trying to inform the craft and find the discipline to be in the moment enough to sustain that.
Nuke: Even in the second episode we see the different ways this impacts the couple. When Tony and Emily try to make love, I think we understand they’re trying to connect during this tragedy and we’re just waiting for them to break.
James Nesbitt: Yeah, and I only just thought of this for the first time today. I think of course why they’re screwed is because they aren’t together when he goes missing. So there are two different mindsets applied there. Tony feels guilty. She wasn’t there and he was there. That already has put such a major block between them that I think there’s just no way they can recover for that.
Nuke: That’s true, if they had been together when he disappeared, it would have been a shared trauma.
James Nesbitt: Exactly, whereas she says, “Don’t feel guilty.” He’s not facing that but yet he carries that and she must questions, “What were you doing?” So right from the off, they’re marooned I think.
Nuke: Was shooting the 2014 scenes first before going back to the 2006 scenes an added challenge?
James Nesbitt: I think it helped. Certainly it was vital we filmed the two time zones separately. I think why it helped with 2014 is because it meant that by the time we got to 2006 on camera and off camera, Fran and I had been able to forge a relationship. Through the terrible scenes in 2014 as they drift apart, they are separated, through all that torture, we had to support each other off camera a lot to be able to get through all that. So it meant by the time we got to 2006 we were able to present a family that was happy, that had lived together for years. I think it would have been more difficult the other way around.
Nuke: What relationship forms between Tony and Julien?
James Nesbitt: I think that’s interesting because in 2006 of course they don’t spend a huge amount of time together, and what time they do spend together is pretty antagonist it. So I think what’s interesting is 2014 almost becomes a love story between Julien and Tony, two people who need each other in a sense. It’s that odd couple framed and united by this terrible thing that has ramifications on both of them I think is really one of the strong elements of the story.
Nuke: Had you ever worked with Tcheky Karyo before?
James Nesbitt: No, we’re mutual friends. Those are the two big stories for Tony, for me as an actor, working with Fran and working with Tcheky. Those two relationships are so crucial and there’s love in both, and antagonism in both, but both relationships are so intertwined.
Nuke: Did you and Fran have similar processes for approaching this drama?
James Nesbitt: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I think certainly we have different routes into it but when we were together, when we were doing our scenes together, we were certainly supportive of each other. I think we had to be to be able to pull it off. Even the scenes with conflict between them, I felt we were both very supportive. And then of course I think even though we had different processes, we were able to unite in a way because we’re both, hopefully, I think, looking at our own characters enough to be in the moment enough to be able to share the awful sadness, there’s so much of it, and the pain, there’s so much of it. Even if our processes were different, I think the place we got to was shared.
Nuke: Having just done the large blockbusters and ensemble of the Hobbit movies, was it also refreshing to get to really focus on something like The Missing?
James Nesbitt: Absolutely. I think that’s very true. The thing about The Hobbit that was incredible was that it was an experience. I got to be one of the 13 dwarves in The Hobbit. I got to take my kids to the other side of the world for a very long period of time so that they were imbued with a different culture, so that they would have an experience that would be with them always. I got to be involved in that extraordinary process and hugeness as you say. From an acting point of view, of course it was nice to come back and not be getting into prosthetics and to really get involved in a character again. It was important to play Bofur in The Hobbit with truth, but it’s undeniable this is a different approach. So as amazing as it was to be involved in The Hobbit and I’ll be there in perpetuity, I’ll always have a LEGO figure based on a character I played, it was lovely to come back and revisit a different side of the craft.
James Nesbitt: Yeah, I think it’s going to be great. There are some great moments in that. I think 3 is going to be sensational I have to say. I’m very excited about it. Also my kids are in it. My daughters play the daughters of Bard the Bowman. They play major parts in the second film and they’ve got bits in the third so that’s exciting as well.
Nuke: Did Tony stay with you longer than other parts have?
James Nesbitt: Well, we were ready to say goodbye at the end of five months, we were so shattered. Funny enough, I was doing a press conference this morning and I was talking about how there are little triggers that will still take me back and I find quite difficult, more so because we became so involved. We were so involved with our characters and so involved with each other’s characters and so involved with our little boy that it’s very hard not to be here without those triggers going off and taking us back to that special time.
Nuke: Could you share what any of those triggers are?
James Nesbitt: Oh, God, I think Fran and I thought a lot of times about how we’re going to get to that place tomorrow, because we spent so much time together and because when I filmed the opening scenes with her and the boy, it was so improvised and he was so lovely that even thinking about it now, I think about Tony and I think about Emily and I think about their loss and our little boy. I find that really difficult.
Nuke: What are you doing next after The Missing?
James Nesbitt: Well, the rest of the year is a lot about press because I also shot this thing called Babylon, a Channel 4 show. We made a one off film that Danny Boyle directed last year and they showed it. Then there’s a series of that that Danny’s executive produced. It’s premiering I think on Sundance so I’ll be doing press on that, and then I’ve got the whole Hobbit junket so I don’t think I’ll be doing anything else.
Nuke: Brit Marling was in Babylon also. Did you have any scenes with her?
James Nesbitt: I loved her, yeah, she’s an intelligent, wonderful, accessible, great actress. I had a great time with her. I can’t speak highly enough of her.
Nuke: Yeah, I’m in love and awe of her. What were your characters’ interaction in Babylon?
James Nesbitt: Well, we play opposite each other. I play the commissioner of the police. She plays the new head of PR because so much of policing now is about that, because everyone’s a cameraman now with the onset of mobile phones and all the news networks. It’s a nightmare, a real minefield because the police are just being watched everywhere so PR has become much more important for them. So she played a character that I hire, she comes in to revamp so we did a lot of work together.
Nuke: Is she playing an American character?
James Nesbitt: Yes, she is.
Nuke: Did Danny Boyle have a different approach to television?
James Nesbitt: No, Danny started off in television. This is his return to television but Danny started off in television a long time ago. It’s just good writing. I don’t think it matters [if it’s TV or film]. We’re just trying to tell the truth.