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Snakkle: X-Files Alum Frank Spotnitz Talks About His Sleek and Sexy New Spy Thriller, Hunted

X-Files Alum Frank Spotnitz Talks About His Sleek and Sexy New Spy Thriller, Hunted
Erin Fox

[Original article here]

Full disclosure: We’re big fans of Frank Spotnitz. After all, he spent years as a writer and executive producer on the iconic ‘90s sci-fi droolfest The X-Files and rebooted the creepier-than-creepy thriller Night Stalker for ABC. Though Night Stalker was never really given a proper shot (marketing and time-slot issues), it made for some compelling TV. So imagine our delight when we discovered that Spotnitz was back developing a kick-ass spy thriller called Hunted, starring the lovely Melissa George and airing on Cinemax (go figure!)—did we mention it’s written and set in the U.K.? Snakkle was lucky enough to speak to Spotnitz while he was in town for the Television Critics Association press tour and asked him about working in the U.K. TV system, the genesis of Hunted, casting Melissa George (Alias baddie!), and, of course, his thoughts on a third X-Files movie.

Snakkle: Tell me about the genesis for Hunted and how quickly after the second X-Files movie (released in 2008) did you have this idea bumping around in your brain?

Frank Spotnitz: I was invited to the U.K. to speak in 2009, and that’s when I thought about going over there to do a show. And I called Kudos [Film and Television], and I called Stephen Garrett and Jane Featherstone, because they’d been talking to me for seven years at that point about coming to London to do a show. I always wanted to go to London. I could see how the business was changing, and I thought there was an opportunity if you did the right type of show to do it in London and have it broadcast around the world. And so I called them and said, “I think I’ve got an idea for a spy show.”

Snakkle: How do they do things in television across the pond as opposed to here? Is it all written beforehand and do you shoot a pilot and then they “pick it up”?

Spotnitz: No. There are no pilots. It’s completely different. Everything about the business there is completely different. And that’s been one of the big surprises for me. I didn’t realize quite how different it was. We pitched it, which they don’t do normally. We did verbal pitches with the broadcasters, but in terms of the sale, it was more like an American show. So we wrote the first script and then they commissioned the whole series.

Snakkle: How many episodes did you get and how long are they?

Spotnitz: It’s eight one-hour episodes. It’s 58 minutes, where in the U.S. it’s 44. That makes a huge difference, actually.

Snakkle: So you don’t need 12 episodes. You’ve got eight full hours.

Spotnitz: I’d still take them, don’t get me wrong. I’d take 10, anyway, if they’d give them to me.

Snakkle: Talk a little bit about wanting to do a spy show. You’ve written about conspiracies and character-driven procedurals, but Hunted is more of a kick-ass thriller. It’s dark and sleek and spotlights this beautiful woman spy, Sam, who’s been betrayed by her employer. What made you go down that spy route?

Spotnitz: Well, I was trying to think of something I could do that would have international appeal, even with a British cast, and obviously if it worked in Britain it wouldn’t necessarily work in the U.S. I thought an American audience will accept British spies, and we’ve been watching them. It’s just an accepted genre, and I don’t think Americans even think twice about it. And, it happens to be my favorite genre—at least in movies and television. I grew up on I Spy and Mission Impossible, Man from U.N.C.L.E. and James Bond, who was hugely important to me when I was a kid. Every movie. Every book. I was obsessive about that. That was both the great appeal and the most terrifying thing about trying to do something in that genre. So many good things have been done, how do you do something new? So my starting point was to take a character like Jason Bourne. What if he were real? What if it’s a real guy? What’s he really like? Because this is television, it’s got to be character-based.

Snakkle: Right.

Spotnitz: You can’t just do the stunts and expect people to stick with it. I thought, well, he’s probably not actually all that warm and loving. I mean, he deceives people, he kills people, he’s going to be very cold, remote, unreachable, kind of emotionally not [able to] let people get close.

Snakkle: True…

Spotnitz: So that was interesting to me, but then how did he get that way? And that’s really what the genesis of the show was. In this case, Sam’s a female spy, and we realize something bad must have happened in her past to make her this cold, emotionally remote adult that we’re seeing. And then I thought, well, what happened? So that’s really still what the heart of the show is. It’s really, thematically, can you overcome your past? When bad things have happened in your past, can you move past them and have the future you want to have, or are you forever going to be shaped by these things? And so for her, these terrible things happened to her as a girl, which we flash back to.

Snakkle: I was going to ask how the structure of the show will work. Will there be flashbacks every week?

Spotnitz: Well, not necessarily every week. I think we try to be strategic about it, because they can start to become less powerful if you see too many of them. I was always determined that the story was going to drive these flashbacks, but you do consistently through the first eight episodes learn more and more about what happened in her past and how it ties into what’s happening to her now. What you learn in episode 5 is that in order to find out who tried to kill her and why, in order to stay alive now, she has to go back and look at her childhood. Which for a woman like Sam is actually harder than having to kill somebody. It’s harder to have to go back and relive the emotional pain of her childhood.

Snakkle: So you knew what the answer was before you started, and now the challenge is that you have to dole it out slowly…

Spotnitz: That’s the other thing I want to do in the show is not tease. I mean, a lot happens. It’s a very dense narrative. And it’s not boring. So much happens every week. You may think they’re going to make me wait eight episodes to find out who the mole is; no, you’re going to find out really fast. They’ll be trusting that we’ll keep coming up with really interesting twists and turns. You’ll learn pretty quickly watching the show that somebody may seem like a good guy, and two episodes later, no!—bad guy. And somebody you were sure was a bad guy well may be a good guy, which also heightens your paranoia, because you’re never sure. It’s all shifting sands.

Snakkle: For lack of a better term, is there a sort of mythology involved with Sam? And then you intersperse it with kind of like the case of the week?

Spotnitz: Yes, exactly. There’s a story every week that has a beginning, middle, and end. And then there’s the mythology, as you say, of who tried to kill her and why. It ties into a big conspiracy. It’s not aliens in this instance—look, it’s a work of fiction, but actually I think it’s raising real issues that would be good for people to think about. In our world, she works for a private spy agency. She’s not working for CIA or FBI or MI6, she’s working for people who are in this for profit. And the morality of the world we live in is very complicated and interesting. And that’s the heart of the conspiracy. It’s the privatized world we all live in. And then there’s an undercover assignment that she undertakes each year. So in this season, she goes into this house, the Turner house, and that story continues through the first eight episodes, but it will come to an end. Episode 8, that’s all resolved.

Snakkle: Talk about finding your Sam—Melissa George. She’s played a baddie spy of sorts on Alias, so did that enter into your mind as you were casting her?

Spotnitz: Not really. I mean, I’d seen Melissa in Alias and In Treatment. We looked really hard. It was really hard to cast. We saw 200 actresses right for this part. And we had amazing actresses from London, L.A., and Australia. But I will tell you honestly, the moment—she put herself on tape in L.A.—the moment I saw her, I knew she was the right one. I knew it. And the reason is, as good as those actresses were, it’s a deceptively hard part to play. You have to be beautiful, you have to be believably physical, but then there’s the acting challenge of it because she is this cold, remote person. So many of the actresses we saw that’s all you saw: cold, remote, hard. You could see why they’d make that choice, but that’s not interesting. That’s not somebody I’d want to watch week after week. Melissa, from that very first self-tape, had the cold remote wall, but then you saw behind that there was a real human being with vulnerabilities and internal struggle. I don’t know how she does it.

Snakkle: Does she have anyone who’s her sounding board?

Spotnitz: Well, that was the really hard thing. We talked a lot about this—she has no sounding board.

Snakkle: That’s impossible! Poor Sam! Is there anybody that we could see the possibility of her trusting at some point?

Spotnitz: At the beginning of the show, she’s falling in love with this guy, Aidan Marsh, played by Adam Rayner, a wonderful Welsh actor, and then she’s betrayed right away. And he seems like the most likely person to have betrayed her. I think you’re hoping that she’s wrong and he didn’t betray her, that they can get back to that place they were in the beginning of the show when they were in love, but you just, you as a viewer you aren’t sure whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy. I felt like to maintain the maximum paranoia and anxiety for her and her safety, I didn’t want to give her safe harbor with the best friend or the psychiatrist. And it was a real challenge.

Snakkle: Much like Breaking Bad, created by your friend Vince Gilligan, it’s a dicey proposition to have somebody so unlikable as your hero. Walter White is unlikable. He’s almost inhuman at this point; he’s completely turned into an antihero. Were you worried Sam would be too unlikable?

Spotnitz: Breaking Bad is one of my all-time favorites. I think it’s just great, but Sam’s actually on a path to becoming more and more human, and more and more vulnerable and open. It’s very moving to watch this woman who was so cold, and there’s like this crack, and it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger, and she starts to care more and more. The irony of it is that caring is bad because you’re a spy. You can’t do that. You have to just do your job, follow orders. There’s a little boy that she has to tutor and nanny, and she really cares about this little boy. And she can’t do that. It gets her into trouble. I think the good news is, as hard as this was to launch and as worried as we were about audience engagement, if you stay with it, I feel pretty confident the emotional connections are going to get deeper.

Snakkle: What has been the reaction from the people you’ve shown it to so far?

Spotnitz: It’s been great, but I don’t count on anything. I know you can do a show you’re really proud of and then you just never know what’s going to happen in the world. But one of the things that’s given me confidence or cause for optimism is that we had two broadcasters: We were doing this for BBC-1 in the U.K. and for Cinemax here in the U.S. I was delighted to have all those resources. They couldn’t be more different broadcasters, but I’d say uniformly their responses to the scripts and the cuts of the show have been the same.

Snakkle: You guys got to shoot in some amazing places, right?

Spotnitz: We did. We shot in Morocco, London, Scotland, and then briefly in Wales. And there’s no soundstages. It’s all location. You really see London in a way that it’s rarely seen. It was expensive and a big commitment by Kudos to go invest in seeing that, but I think that you see the results.

Snakkle: When you’re doing a spy thing, it’s really hard to be believable when you have to pretend a backlot is Chinatown, or whatever the location may be.

Spotnitz: Exactly.

Snakkle: You need to go to those locations to make everything feel authentic, and I don’t think you’ve really had that opportunity on your other TV shows. Must have been amazing.

Spotnitz: I so agree with you. I think that was so important to the show to make it feel real. Give it that cinematic value. Especially now because TV is so sophisticated and, you know, you flip the dial and you’re watching a $50-80 million movie.

Snakkle: I know this is a weird question to ask, but is there anything you’re worried that won’t click with the audience?

Spotnitz: I’m worried about everything.

Snakkle: No, Frank, no!

Spotnitz: I’m worried about everything. I mean, but I feel incredibly blessed too, because we had fantastic directors, great crew—English crews are amazing. They are so dedicated, and their artistry is enormous, and they were given a chance to do things they rarely get to do because of the resources we had. And that was a joy. And the English actors! I hadn’t realized how good they were until I saw them from the inside. As a writer, seeing them say your lines—how thoughtful they are about literally every word and the best way to say it. You really appreciate the depth of their talent. So I feel really good about all the collaborators that we had doing this. But it’s always a gamble.

Snakkle: So they’re showing Hunted on Cinemax (owned by HBO) in the U.S. Was that a strange pairing for you? Or were you aware that they were trying to break into more of that scripted original programming that’s on par with HBO?

Spotnitz: You know, the funny piece of odd luck was that I came to London to do Hunted and I had six months to wait around to see if the BBC was going to do it or not. I said, I have to make some money and do something, so I got an agent and the next day she calls me and says, Oh, I got a job for you already. There’s this show Strike Back, and they were trying to get Cinemax on board as coproducers, and so I came just as a writer for hire. I wrote the first two episodes, then I ended up writing the next two episodes. And then Cinemax said, what else you have?

Snakkle: That’s great.

Spotnitz: I said, as it happens, we’re doing a show with the BBC called Hunted and they came on board, so it was really completely by accident and luck that they joined us, but you know the great thing is you got the resources and the intelligence to the taste of HBO and they’re trying to launch this new original programming for Cinemax and I think they’re still finding out what Cinemax is and all the things it can be. Strike Back was very successful for them, and I think they’re hoping this will be at least as successful.

Snakkle: I just want to touch on this briefly because the fans will skin me if I don’t ask you. A couple months ago you posted on your blog… it was kind of a little love letter to fans about not giving up hope on a third X-Files movie.

Spotnitz: Yes.

Snakkle: Do you really still hold out that hope, and if so, do you have anything you can share with us to keep the hope burning?

Spotnitz: I do. I actually feel the pressure of time now, and if this is going to happen, there’s got to be a script in the next year and a half.

Snakkle: Fingers crossed!

Spotnitz: But I still have faith. I mean, there’s such a powerful argument for it, and I think if I could just get the right stars to align, it could still happen. I actually just emailed David Duchovny this morning about this very topic, so I can’t say anything now—because I won’t be able to say anything good or bad until long after it’s decided—but I’ve not stopped trying.


Hunted premieres on Cinemax on Friday, October 19, at 10 p.m.

HitFix: 'Hunted' creator Frank Spotnitz on his new Cinemax drama & 'The X-Files' legacy

‘Hunted’ creator Frank Spotnitz on his new Cinemax drama & ‘The X-Files’ legacy
Alan Sepinwall

[Original article here]

And did his experience writing for ‘Strike Back’ come into play with the new show?

Frank Spotnitz has been the man up front for the first two Cinemax original drama series. He wrote the first four episodes of the Cinemax incarnation of “Strike Back,” and is the creator and executive producer of Hunted,” a new thriller starring Melissa George as British private spy Sam Hunter, who is betrayed, left for dead, and returns to work a year later looking for revenge on whoever it was that set her up.  (You can watch an exclusive clip from the premiere at the top of this post.)

I interviewed Spotnitz about his design for the series (which I reviewed yesterday), why he wanted a female spy at the center, and the legacy of his work on “The X-Files,” where he was one of the top writer/producers for years.

What did you learn doing those four episodes of “Strike Back,” within that budget and that format that then informed you in terms of, “This is what I can do with a Cinemax show”?

Frank Spotnitz: Well, it was weird because I’d written “Hunted” already before I did “Strike Back.” So I already had that in the back of my head. I honestly don’t know if I can tell you what I learned. “Strike Back” was like going to the ice cream shop for me. I could just go and have fun. It was male fantasy, testosterone, just go engage your inner-teenage fantasy self. And it was a blast. It was just really fun. This show, to me, is so different in every way. So I don’t know.

I think what I’m asking more is not so much creatively, because I agree with you they’re very different. But just in terms of what you can pull off in terms of budget and scheduling.

Frank Spotnitz: Well, to be honest, the “Strike Back,” it says I’m an executive producer, but I didn’t really. With this show I learned a lot doing this because I had never worked in Europe before. I didn’t really know how budgets correlated to versus what I’m used to. And I kind of learned as we went. And I think the crews in Europe are much smaller and faster, and it’s actually a good value. You actually get a lot for what you spend. And this was a really generous budget, so that’s what I learned by doing it.

I want to talk about structure, first in the pilot and then moving forward. The pilot is stream of consciousness at times. It’s slipping in and out of past and present. You’re watching Sam as she’s recovering and going back and forth. How did you decide that you wanted to structure the introduction to the character in this world in that way?

Frank Spotnitz: At the heart of this, it’s about Sam and her character. And I wanted to begin with Sam at the top of her game. She’s great. She’s the best operative Byzantium has, and I wanted the thrill of that, the adrenaline of that. Wow, you’re amazing. You pulled this off, incredible. You sleep with men and then you betray them. And then I wanted to show her love with this man, and then I wanted to take it all away. Because I thought that’s the story. It’s this woman who is a great spy and then this crack, this betrayal, that café. And as long as this TV series goes, it’s about that crack getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger. Because I’m fascinated by this woman who had erected these walls, these emotional walls, she’s tough; she’s hard to get at. How did she get that way? And those flashbacks to her childhood, that’s how she got that way. Terrible things happened to her as a little girl. And now because of this attack on her life, she’s going to have to go back and look at these events.

So you have A: Sam trying to re-assimilate herself into this place, B: Sam hunting for the people who betrayed her. And then C: There’s this mission, a very involved mission. We’re spending a lot of time in Jack’s imposing house with all the things going on in there. That’s a lot of layers to be throwing at people all at once.

Frank Spotnitz: It is.

Why did you do it that way?

Frank Spotnitz: Well, it was always my intention that you’re going to have that first narrative, who’s trying to kill her and why? That’s a narrative that goes on and on. And you’re going to get a lot of answers in the first eight episodes, a lot. But it’s like “The X-Files” strategy. We’ve answered one thing, now there’s three more questions.

And then there is a story each with a beginning, middle, and an end. Every week there’s a story, like episode two. Hassan is captured, he’s in the basement. He’s going to get out or he’s not. There’s just always. And then I’d never done this before, there’s a story that takes place over the course of these eight hours that’s going to end. So the Turner assignment is going to end. And I thought I liked as a form. I hadn’t seen that before. So I thought that’s really interesting to me, the opportunity to have complete closure. It’s like a short story. The Turner story’s going to be done. It will never come back. But there was a side switch, there was no way to have her come back without doing that. She’s going to come back, but she’s going to be given an assignment. So it just sort of suggested itself as a form. And I felt my way forward, because I’ve never tried to do anything like this before.

In terms of the mysteries, you invoked “X-Files,” and I think you and I have had this conversation in the past. Initially there was some sort of plan in place for what had happened to Mulder’s sister and all of that, and then success basically ruined that.

Frank Spotnitz: That’s correct, yes.

From the way that played out, what did you learn that you can then apply to this show?

Frank Spotnitz: I’ve thought about that a lot.  What I’ve learned is you can come up with whatever answer you want about what the island means, or why the aliens are here, or whatever and it doesn’t really matter. I mean, it matters but the audience will have thought of that answer and a thousand others that they may like better. You can’t outsmart or outguess the audience in terms of what the narrative answer is. And if that’s what you’re aiming for it’s going to be disappointing.

The one thing you can do that the audience can’t do — all those smart people online in the chat rooms can’t do — is deliver a satisfying emotional journey for a human being, for a character. And so character, character, character. Create a really interesting, complex person that you want to know more about, and take her on a journey that is rich and fulfilling and that has an end that is perfectly fulfilling, and that has an end that is perfect for that character, and the audience will love it. And so whatever the mythology is, it better be serving that journey. That’s the primary purpose.

It’s a very different world from when you were doing “X-Files,” just in terms of social media. If someone guesses that Edward James Olmos on “Dexter” is a ghost, and they tweet that, suddenly everyone watching “Dexter” knows that that’s what’s happening. Whereas if they guessed that even on Usenet, I was on Usenet, but not a lot of people were on Usenet back then, so how does that affect what you’re doing?

Frank Spotnitz: That’s exactly it. It’s like if my whole game depends on whether you can guess the ending or not, I’m done, forget it. Somebody’s going to guess it. So to me it’s like, yes I have a mystery, and yes there are answers. I mean, good luck guessing all. It’s so layered, good luck guessing all the answers. So I think I’m going to surprise you still with some of them. But it’s the emotional journey, it’s this character.

And I do think that’s the primary reason people watch television. You want to see the world through somebody else’s eyes, and learn what that’s like. You can only live one life, and so you get to see other lives through these characters. And that’s very satisfying. So the challenge is creating a character that’s that rich and interesting to warrant following for a number of years.

Was it always in your mind that it was going to be a female spy who was betrayed?

Frank Spotnitz: Yes.


Frank Spotnitz: A bunch of answers, but I think first of all just more interesting to have a female spy. Kind of like “The X-Files” averted gender stereotypes, gender expectations. You would expect Scully to be the character of faith and Mulder to be the rationalist. That’s your gender bias. And to flip that is more interesting, and so to have a female spy it’s just more interesting to me. And she’s also sort of automatically an underdog because she’s surrounded by men. And in fights she’s automatically the underdog because she’s a woman.

And not a large woman at that.

Frank Spotnitz: And not a large woman. And so I think it just creates an identification that you don’t necessarily have, and it makes it more interesting than all of the many, many excellent male spy shows that there have been and spy stories. So that’s the first answer. And then there’s just a shortage of great parts for women. I mean, I can’t tell you how many actresses I met with who are amazing, and there’s nothing for them to do, and it’s wrong. So I thought it made sense for my show, and it was smart as a producer.

Alright, so you have Melissa who is Australian playing a British woman who spends much of the season doing an American accent. Adewale is playing American. So given that it’s sort of an international team, how did you decide he is from here, she is from here?

Frank Spotnitz: Well it was always written that way. I honestly, it would have been a lot easier just to find an English actress, but she was the best person for the role. So that became her challenge, and it is very difficult, let me tell you. I mean, I’ve learned how difficult it is to get that English accent correct, because it’s so nuanced in the way that American ears would recognize. So she worked very, very hard at that. So she just got it. I didn’t mean to cast an Australian, it just happened that way.

And Adewale he’s an awesome actor. I mean, he’s an amazing actor. So it was like, “What, we can have you?” I knew the part was written for a black American. And he shows up and he’s British, and he’s like, “I haven’t worked in London in 18 years.” So he was happy to do something at home for once. And then the rest was all British. I mean, and Adewale’s British.

While “Strike Back” in its guest roles did employ a lot of actors you knew from “Game of Thrones,” the main guys were not incredibly famous. And here, every part is someone I’ve seen before.

Frank Spotnitz: You’re a sophisticated viewer.

Well that’s true too I suppose, but budgetarily you weren’t limited in terms of who you could get. 

Frank Spotnitz: Yeah we were. We had a budget, but the good thing is they wanted to do it. They really responded to the material. And that’s a thing you find culturally. It’s a business there but it’s also people, actors, it’s like they’re doing it not to get rich or famous, but because they really want to do good work. So a lot of them it was like, “I just really want to do this.”

So eight episodes, this particular mission closes by the end of that, but other things will continue.

Frank Spotnitz: Correct.

This is a “men plan, God laughs” kind of question, but have you thought in your head, if this works, how much mileage there is in it?

Frank Spotnitz: Yeah, absolutely. I’m imagining five years. And if I’m crazy I think you could tell these stories in another medium after those five years. But that’s what I’m imagining. I think Sam Hunter as a character could exist indefinitely, but I’m imagining a story that goes on for five years.

Shifting back to “X-Files,” that was a show that was sort of the canary in the coal mine for both the idea of mythology and the idea that mythology can disappoint people. What impact do you think that had on later shows that tried to do that? Do you think audiences became more skeptical as a result or not?

Frank Spotnitz: No, I think first you have to talk about what happened to “The X-Files.” And I think what happened was I think Robert Patrick did an amazing job, and Annabeth Gish, but there was no way to give the show a novelistic coherence once David (Duchovny) left. There was no way to end that show in an emotionally satisfying way once David had left. Even if you bring him back, it was just not the same. And I think that’s the lesson I draw from it. And that connects to me saying earlier, “Invest in the character, follow the character’s emotional journey. That’s what you have.” I think because of that his leaving and coming back, he became tilted toward the plot and the conspiracy. And I think we did a perfectly good job of wrapping it up, but it was not emotionally satisfying because it wasn’t the character’s emotional journey.

So that’s the lesson I learned, but I think what happened is any other show then that did a mythology thought, “Uh oh. We don’t want a backlash from the fans. We better watch ourselves.” But you see how hard it is. I mean, I didn’t follow “Lost” religiously. What I saw I thought was excellent. But I think they were trying very, very hard to honor their fans and make it satisfying for them at the end.   But you realize how difficult it is, especially if you’re on for a long time.

And if you talk to (the “Lost” producers), they will also argue that the show was about the characters, and yet what gets people angry is, “You didn’t explain this properly. You didn’t explain this properly. You didn’t explain this properly.”

Frank Spotnitz: Well the thing is, and I do sense from what I know about the finale that’s exactly what the strategy was and I think that was the right strategy. But what happens is as you’re doing a show, you go, “Well I need this story so I can introduce this thread.” But it’s impossible to tile those threads up. And what I found in “The X-Files,” though, was actually if you tie up the really important threads, even the hardcore fans are happy. But if you do too many threads, you’ve got yourself in a problem you can’t solve. But you don’t know until you do it. Nobody knows until they do it.

CultBox: Frank Spotnitz ('Hunted') interview

Frank Spotnitz (‘Hunted’) interview
William Martin

[Original article]

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.

> Order Series 1 on DVD on Amazon.

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.”

BBC TV Blog: Hunted: Our fascination with spies

Hunted: Our fascination with spies
Frank Spotnitz

[Original article here]

My career has been most closely associated with science fiction, which is no surprise given the years I spent writing and producing The X-Files TV series and feature films.

But for Hunted, the new series I created for the BBC, I’ve moved away from science fiction to the spy genre, which is my favourite in all of film and television.

There are some obvious reasons for this.Spy stories provide plenty of opportunities for action and suspense – things motion pictures can deliver with unique effectiveness.

But I think the real appeal of the spy genre is much deeper.

By definition spies are duplicitous. They appear to be one type of person when they are actually someone else altogether.

They pursue one agenda while pretending to serve another. A spy simply cannot be trusted.

To varying degrees the same can be said of all of us, spies or not.

We all present a face to the world that is not exactly the person we are inside. Because part of us always remains hidden, none of us is truly knowable – not our parents, siblings, spouse or friends.

It’s not surprising we all yearn to be surrounded by people we can trust. And fear betrayal.

That for me is what spy stories do so well. Spies live in a world of deceit and distrust. Their stories externalise our deepest fears.By design Hunted plays on these fears in the most intimate way I could imagine.

Sam Hunter suspects that she has been betrayed by the man she loves. She must expose herself to mortal danger, knowing she can’t trust him or anyone else.

Of course Sam is more than an embodiment of our collective fears. Brilliantly realised by Melissa George, she is a unique, complex, contradictory character with a dark and troubled past.

I am neither a spy nor a woman and yet I find it very easy to identify with Sam. I suspect many audiences will too.

Complicating Sam’s situation is the brave new world in which she we now live.

Over the past few decades espionage has become increasingly privatised. Sam doesn’t work for MI5 or MI6 – she works for Byzantium, a private security firm dedicated not to defence of the realm but to serving the interests of its clients.

These clients’ identities are not revealed to operatives like Sam which makes identifying who might want her dead – and why – even more difficult.

Sam runs for her life through the alleyways of Tangier

Researching this world proved less difficult than you might imagine.

Business is booming – there are now thousands of private security firms operating all over the globe.

And while they keep secret their client lists they were very happy to talk (with names withheld) about the work they do.

I collaborated with a team of talented writers for six months on the stories for Hunted.

We devised a complicated web of deception with lots of action, suspense, and plot twists and turns.

But at the heart of it all we tried to never lose sight of the character of Sam, who anchors this dangerous world in a deeper emotional truth.

Frank Spotnitz is the executive producer and lead writer of Hunted.

Hunted begins on Thursday, 4 October at 9pm on BBC One and BBC One HD. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

More on Hunted
Watch Frank Spotnitz talk to BBC Writersroom and BBC Media Centre.
Melissa George and Adam Rayner interviewed on BBC Breakfast.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

The Independent: 'Hunted': A Spooks spin-off? No, a private-eye spy thriller

‘Hunted’: A Spooks spin-off? No, a private-eye spy thriller
The Independent
Frank Spotnitz

[Original article here]

A tense new action drama could be a big hit for the BBC

In the final ever episode of Spooks, broadcast last October, Matthew Macfadyen’s character, Tom Quinn, one of the mainstays of Section D during the first two series of the BBC1 spy drama, made an unexpected return to the show. At the time, Macfadyen’s cameo seemed like something of a valedictory treat to reward the five million or so fans who had stuck loyally with Spooks during its decade-long run – a glimpse of an old favourite that was perhaps also something of a tease: would there be a Spooks spinoff with Quinn as a main character?

No, is the answer to that question, although in retrospect what was interesting about Quinn’s re-appearance was the nature of his new job – the former M15 agent had become a private-security contractor. And it is the booming private-espionage business that forms the backdrop of a new eight-part BBC1 action series, Hunted, which has been made by the makers of Spooks, independent production company Kudos, and created by the chief writer of The X-Files, American scribe Frank Spotnitz.

“There are thousands of these private security firms,” says Spotnitz. “They spy for anyone from Russian oligarchs to football clubs to manufacturers – gaining information and advantage on their competitors. Everyone has heard of the private military contractors like Blackwater [Blackwater Security Consulting – the American firm that controversially provided military personnel in the aftermath of the Iraq War], but people don’t know about these, so I thought it was really timely.”

Hunted stars Australian actress Melissa George (In Treatment, The Slap) as Sam – an operative for a private-intelligence agency called Byzantium. The private companies are often set up by former M15, M16 and CIA agents, who recruit from their old workplaces within the secret state. However, the new business environment is not necessarily a happy one for these old spies, says Spotnitz. “You don’t know what agenda you’re serving and I thought that was really interesting”.

In Hunted, someone attempts to murder Sam, and she comes to believe that the killer comes from her team at Byzantium – kickstarting (and she is very adept at kicking) a racy adventure that stretches from Morocco to the wilds of Scotland. On one level she is a slightly implausible character – a sort of female Jason Bourne – but Spotnitz has given Sam an intriguing enough back-story – and George portrays her with enough veiled emotional intensity – to suck you in. And it helps, of course, that Spotnitz is an old hand at this serial television drama game.

Spotnitz – raised on Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels – formulated his idea of a spy drama, with his former X-Files star Gillian Anderson in the leading role. “Gillian worked on it for a long time and gave a lot of ideas to the development of the character,” says Spotnitz. “But by the time I got the green light she had to drop out.

“So then I was in the position of having to find someone else who could play this role and believe me it was extremely difficult. We went through 200 actresses who put themselves on tape for this. Sam has got a lot of walls up and that can become very dull, and what Melissa brought to the role from the very first audition is the sense that there is somebody behind that wall that you want to know more about.”

‘Hunted’ begins on BBC1 on 4 October

CultBox: Frank Spotnitz ('The X-Files') interview

Frank Spotnitz (‘The X-Files’) interview
William Martin

[Original article]

CultBox caught up with The X-Files writer Frank Spotnitz today to chat about his new spy drama series, Hunted.

From the makers of Spooks, the eight-part series begins on BBC One this autumn 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.

Our full interview will go up next month, but in the meantime here’s what Frank had to say on the subject of The X-Files

Were you disappointed that it’s not been possible to make a third X-Files film focusing on the 2012 alien invasion to be released this year?

“Yes, I’m hugely frustrated to be honest! The studio wanted the second movie to be more of a low-budget ‘story of the week’ and I’m proud of that film, but I think what we learnt is that that’s not what the audience wants. To the movie-going audience The X-Files means aliens.

“I think it’s one of the great franchises in television history and it hasn’t been given an ending. I think that’s shameful. I know there is a great movie story to be told with these characters that would bring an end to the saga and I think it’s wrong that they haven’t done that.

“They’re running out of time. I don’t think it’s too late, but it’s going to be pretty soon. I’ve been saying for four years now that they should end this story the way it deserves.”

Would a third movie be a final conclusion then?

“Yeah, I think it would end the story. The aliens were prophesised to be coming back in December 2012 and ideally this movie would have been made to be released by that date, but I’ve never stopped talking to [the show’s creator] Chris Carter and we have a way to do it still. I would still jump at the chance to do it!”

How long have you been living in the UK now?

“I’ve been here two years and I’ve consumed as much British drama as I could! There’s so much that it’s almost embarrassing how much good stuff you guys do here. I loved The Shadow Line, Any Human Heart, so many other shows… I feel very proud to be associated in any way with the BBC.”

Are you fan of any British cult TV shows like Doctor Who, Being Human, Misfits, etc.?

“I love all of those; my children love Doctor Who in particular.”

Would you like to write a Doctor Who episode at some point?

“I’m so intimidated by it because it has such a rich heritage. I would need to just lock myself in a room and watch 100 episodes to determine whether I could add anything to it, but I think it’s superb, yes!”