‘Debris’ Star Norbert Leo Butz on the Political Game of Chess Inside the Sci-Fi Mystery

Norbert Leo Butz as Maddox in the pilot of Debris
Sergei Bachlakov/NBC

NBC’s new drama Debris, premiering March 1, is more than just a sci-fi series about the effect that wreckage from a destroyed alien spacecraft has on the world. It’s also a “big game of chess,” says star Norbert Leo Butz (above), whose character, Craig Maddox, heads the CIA half of Orbital, a joint task force with MI6.

And this especially true, he says, in terms of its geopolitics.

In the field tasked with recovering the debris are CIA agent Bryan Beneventi (Jonathan Tucker) and MI6 operative Finola Jones (Riann Steele). Maddox recruited the former after seeing his “tremendous potential as a soldier and spy” — and the latter could be particularly helpful considering neither agency truly trusts the other.

They’re working together but, “I still want the U.S. to be the first one to solve this mystery,” says Butz. “We act as if we’re completely transparent with MI6, [but] there are going to be some areas we’re going to keep just for ourselves because that is the nature of politics and power. Every phone call with MI6 would have a purpose.”

What the two agencies have in common is simple: The mysterious Anson Ash (Scroobius Pip) considers both his enemies. With this partnership, “the enemy has just got stronger,” Pip says. For his character, “neither the American or British government can be trusted with this technology. There’s been a lot of misuse of power and tech over the years within the government.”

He can’t share much about his character other than that he’s ex-military (we’ll learn more about him throughout the season). But to prepare for the character, “I looked into radicalization, more than the military side, because he sees himself as a revolutionary,” Pip continues. “He feels he’s fighting an important fight.”

Having to quarantine before filming gave him more time to “get to know” his character, too. “I put together an aggressive playlist for Anson Ash,” he says. “I’d go out for walks and get myself into that mindset.”

Butz, on the other hand, is able to tease a bit more about Maddox, who’s married with a teen son. “The audience will get into his home life,” he says. “Spying and special ops is not easy work for the people [or those] who love them. It’s a complicated marriage, as anybody who’s married to anybody in this line of work would say. He’s a guy who’s trying to do the right thing, but constantly having to remain morally flexible.”

That’s clearly a must, considering they’re dealing with something alien. “We’re trying to harness what this [debris] even is,” Butz teases. “We haven’t even begun to get to the depths of its power.”

Debris, Series Premiere, Monday, March 1, 10/9c, NBC