Winter Preview 2017: Taken Moves to the Small Screen
The movie-to-TV-series pipeline has been working overtime, resulting in projects as successful as Fargo, Westworld and Lethal Weapon but also as forgettable as Uncle Buck and Rush Hour. NBC’s Taken is part of the next crop of feature-film adaptations angling to be in the first group.
The thriller is based on French producer Luc Besson’s revenge trilogy of the same name, which grossed close to $1 billion from 2008 to 2015. The ultraviolent franchise turned Liam Neeson, who played former CIA agent Bryan Mills, into an action star in his mid-50s, but the studio, EuropaCorp TV, opted to go younger and create what Besson calls “a genesis series, depicting the evolution of the character.” (Though set up as a prequel to the movies, the show takes place in the present day.)
Taken opens with Mills as a 32-year-old war hero, glad to have left the military behind him. To play the younger character, executive producer Alexander Cary chose Clive Standen, a British actor and martial arts master with a sword-and-shield résumé that includes the TV shows Camelot and Robin Hood, the Norse myth movie Hammer of the Gods and his current role as the traitorous warrior Rollo on History’s Vikings.
“I wanted a believable man, not a TV pretty boy pretending to be a man for the role,” explains Cary, whose credits include spy dramas Homeland and Legends. “Re-creating Liam Neeson wasn’t a major ingredient in the casting, but when I watched Clive on Vikings, I saw a resemblance there. Clive is a rugged, slightly more old-fashioned action hero to me.
I went to NBC and said, ‘This is the guy!’ He was my only choice.”
The tragedy that sets the trajectory of Mills’s life hits just moments after the show opens when he and his younger sister are attacked on a train as they head home to see their parents. The hit men have been sent by South American drug lord Carlos Meija (Louis Ferreira) to assassinate Bryan’s younger sister in retaliation for the soldier’s righteous killing of Meija’s son in a hostage situation. Unlike the original movie’s outcome, Mills can’t save his loved one. The event leaves him broken and filled with guilt. “His sense of personal failure is the demon he’ll be fighting,” says Cary.
What he does next to get justice brings him to the attention of Christina Hart (Jennifer Beals), the deputy director of national intelligence, who reports to the president. Hart likes what she sees in the onetime Green Beret. “He’s a diamond in the rough, wired to protect others,” says Beals. “She just has to enhance the skills he already has. She becomes his sensei.” Hart recruits Mills for a black-ops team that Cary describes as “hidden deep in the national security apparatus of the country.”
Mills agrees to join the covert force under the leadership of a former gang leader known as John (Grey’s Anatomy alum Gaius Charles). The group’s mandate is to stop any entity that wants to hurt the USA, foreign or domestic, no matter what it takes.
Mills’s fractured psyche will, thankfully, get some respite from the harshness surrounding him as he becomes close to his sister’s best friend, Asha (Brooklyn Sudano, Ballers). “She’s the steady hand that comes in to save him from himself a little bit,” says Cary. “Our show is Homeland meets 24,” says Standen. “It has the real-world scenarios of Homeland and the pace and momentum of 24.” Like Jack Bauer, “Mills will go to the dark side,” the actor notes. “There’s a point where he starts to wonder if the country that he’s working for is just as bad as the people—terrorists, kidnappers, cartel bosses—he’s told to go out and catch.”
Despite the graphic violence of the films, Neeson had some unexpected advice for the actor taking over his iconic role: Never lose the heart of Bryan Mills. Says Standen: “I have free license, within reason, to reinvent the character a little bit, but I want him to be someone who could eventually be the Bryan Mills that Liam played in the first film.” And that is? “Clark Kent most of the time and Superman when he picks up a gun.
Taken, Premieres Monday, Feb. 27, 10/9c, NBC @TakenNBC