By LYNN BARKER
Front Row Features
Albuquerque, N.M.—On Thursday, March 5, USA cable network is scheduled to premiere its event series “Dig,” a conspiracy theory/murder mystery, end-of-days thriller with intrigue, action and modern romance set in Jerusalem, Norway and New Mexico. The series airs at 10 p.m./9 p.m.C.
British actor Jason Isaacs, best known for portraying the evil, blonde-locked Lucius Malfoy in the “Harry Potter” film series, stars in “Dig” as Peter Connelly, an FBI agent/legal attaché stationed in Jerusalem. It’s his job to find out who killed a young American archeologist. Connelly is a very damaged man still trying to get past a horrible family tragedy and it doesn’t help that he’s forced to work with a cocky local police detective (played by Israeli actor Ori Pfeffer).
On location here, the 51-year-old actor revealed that although “Dig” is quite a serious, dramatic project, the mood on sets all over the world was really light, in a large part due to the actor playing his boom box and getting everyone up and dancing to Abba and Marvin Gaye while director/writer/producer Gideon “Giddy” Raff (TV’s “Homeland”) launched karaoke competitions. [private]
Isaacs’ sense of humor was on display throughout the interview tempered with touching stories about working in actual locations in Jerusalem, considered a holy city by various religions. In costume and makeup, the actor looks a little the worse for wear.
Q: How would you describe “Dig?”
Isaacs: It’s an action show. (deadpan) As often as possible I like to jump through things and hit people. There’s some talking, too, occasionally. I may look like a grown up but I’m actually 10 years old and if I get to fight and it’s not going to hurt me, or shoot people and they’re not really going to die. I always do it. Stunt people come all dressed up like me but I say, “I’ll do it!” I’ve been sprinting through caves and diving through water and jumping off walls and racing cars—all that stuff I’d pay to do on the weekends if I wasn’t getting paid to do it during the week.
Q: Talk a little about your character Peter Connelly.
Isaacs: I can’t say much. “Dig” is full of twists and turns and layers and surprises and sinister groups with long-held agendas, and if you talk about them at all, it would completely destroy the surprises. It makes it tough doing press for it.
(Producer/creators) Tim (Kring) and Gideon (Raff) were determined from the beginning that they weren’t going to simplify the thing. They wanted to do an exciting, enigmatic action adventure thing ripped from the headlines so none of the characters can really be boiled down to a sentence or two. The simplified version is he’s a very successful FBI operative. Anne (Heche’s) character (Lynn Monahan) was a protégé and student of his but something terrible happened to his family and it kind of paralyzed him. He went off the rails for a while and he’s been stuck in that place. He called Lynn and said, “Get me out of here,” and she put him in a posting (with her) in Jerusalem. He’s working but he’s just not present in the world until somebody comes along and sideswipes him and drags him into the present. You can see how much he’s haunted and driven by his past but it wakes him up. He’s been here for six months and hasn’t unpacked his suitcase.
Q: What is their relationship? She’s his boss?
Isaacs: Yes. He’s having sex with Lynn but it’s a kind of a convenience they have because they are both alone. It’s impossible for feelings not to grow if you’re having sex, uh, I imagine, I’ve been married for 400 years. (He laughs). But it’s impossible if you’re having sex with someone you like who likes you for that not to change how you deal with each other and work. Peter’s relationship is driven by his past. He’s a complicated guy. The things that were crippling him emotionally are the same things that, hopefully, lead him to try and save the world. People know that about him and can use it against him too.
Q: You’ve played so many memorable so-called “baddies” in your career (Malfoy and the mean British Captain Tavington in “The Patriot” are notable). Is Peter a flawed good guy?
Isaacs: There’s really no such thing as a good or bad guy. Peter is definitely the hero of this story. The bad guys stick in your mind. I was lucky enough to get great parts and play complex characters that you believe in. There are so-called bad guys who stroke their invisible mustaches at the audience all the time and you just don’t believe them. History is written by the victors. If the British had won the War of Independence, Tavington would be a hero. We have statues to people in Britain who decided to carpet bomb areas in Germany because that was what was needed. If we had lost, there wouldn’t be statues of them in Whitehall.
Q: Good point.
Isaacs: Peter is a guy who is doing his job. I met some amazing men when I was doing “Black Hawk Down,” who were doing the most noble things on our behalf—all of us in various countries around the world. They’ve also done some pretty shocking and terrible things. It depends on who you’re talking to. Peter is an FBI guy and in this story he’s trying to fight against groups and movements and agendas that I don’t think any of us would agree with. There are all kinds of people who think the ends will justify the means and those ends are morally repulsive or genocidal. That’s what Peter is up against. I just hope there are people like Peter (in real life) somewhere heading off these crazy people. There are people who do things every single day in the name of religion that are unthinkable.
Q: The series takes place on many fronts. Is it difficult to take in all the dovetailing stories?
Isaacs: Traditionally, in detective stories, we, the audience find out things with the detective. Here Tim and Gideon have created an exquisite tension between the audience seeing stuff going on in New Mexico and I don’t know it but I’m trying to find it out and you know who I should trust and who I shouldn’t and you see me thinking I’m doing the right thing but doing it wrong and that tension is part of the great, torturous pleasure of watching this show hopefully.
Q: Are you, like Anne, finding yourself asking, “Wait, what do I know? Do I know that?”
Isaacs: Well, I’m mostly (representing) the audience. I find things out but sometimes the audience is weeks ahead of me. I used to be a children’s entertainer when I was in drama school. I love that stuff. When you tell a story to kids and you get it right they are gripped. They’re interactively screaming, “Don’t go in there!” In some ways, I hope that if people are not screaming at their television sets, they’re screaming inside.
What was extraordinary for me when I went to meet Tim and Giddy (Raff’s nickname) is I thought they’d made all this stuff up. There were all these outrageous and fantastical plotlines and turns out they got it all from the real world. They are very well-resourced groups, people in this country sitting in authority and office who absolutely think they are doing the right thing by trying to bring the world to an end because there will be a better world after.
Q: We hear you are the boom box boy on set. What’s up with that?
Isaacs: (smiling) That’s right. We’ve been in some terribly inhospitable places and freezing cold or burning hot or jagged rocks or places with death all around. We were shooting in the tunnels under Jerusalem and the walls were black. I got some on my costume and said, “What’s that?” and the antiquities guy who was with us said, “Oh, that’s from the rebellion in Roman times. The Jews were fighting and being chased on the surface. They hid the women and children underground here and when the Romans found out they poured oil down and burned them all alive and that’s them on your fingers.”
Q: Oh, so you dance to try to forget that?
Isaacs: There were caves that were scary and we’re doing some very tense scenes so I try and play the stupidest music ever to get everyone tapping their toes, particularly when it’s cold, everybody likes a little Motown. We were freezing cold outside the Albuquerque police station doubling for the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem and people’s nipples were poking holes in their leather jackets . (He laughs.) We got Smokey Robinson or Stevie Wonder, on and had the whole crew dancing. In fact, we had hundreds of extras and all the crew dancing. Dance for your life. I find it makes the crew and actors happier. If I find that there is an actor who is distracted by it, I switch it off.
A few years ago, I was here in New Mexico shooting “Sweetwater.” I was playing a thinly disguised Mormon cult leader who had sex with multiple wives and it was a tense day. We were all a bit nervous about it and I said, “What is the stupidest song you’ve ever heard in your life?” They said “Mahna Mahna” (popularized by the Muppets), so I had the whole crew dancing to that and it takes the sting out of faking sex.
Q: You do an American accent very well.
Isaacs: I grew up, like most people in England, watching American movies and TV and my rhythms are American. I’ve lived here as much as I’ve lived there as an adult. I’ve had so many accents in my life. I grew up in Liverpool like The Beatles and moved to London and went to university, and within two days started sounding like Hugh Grant. So, I’ll be honest with you, it’s something flawed and needy in me but it’s a professional asset. I like accents, where people place their voice tells you a lot about them, and how they’d like to be perceived. I like to build a character piece by piece. I like to be a chameleon.
Q: What do you wish the show runners would write for Peter to do?
Isaacs: I’d like to be dressed more. I find myself naked more than I’d like at my age. My kids say, “What are you doing today, daddy,” and I say, “I’m having a shower with a strange lady”. (He laughs.) The costumer and Gideon put me in these Australian boots but they aren’t well designed for stunts. I’m always chasing after people and it’s always ******* downhill. I like to run but I’d like to wear sneakers in just one scene. But, you ask all the actors in this, what they’d like to do is live because, honestly, not everybody lives.
Q: Are you nervous that some of the subjects you are tackling in this series might nudge some people the wrong way?
Isaacs: Oh yeah. Are you kidding? We’re talking about religious extremists and it’s Jerusalem. Every day there are terrible and tragic things going on there. I’ve already experienced an awful lot of people contacting me through various social media who are just full of hate or anger or righteous anger but it means we are telling a story about something that is engaging.
At least I can justify everything that I’ve done and where we shot and how we shot and what the story is we’re telling but there are people who don’t want you to be telling stories about some of these things. I don’t want to incur their anger. I respect everybody’s belief system but there is a point where it’s not okay to want the end of the world to come. It’s not okay for you to have a vested interest in terrible cataclysmic change just to serve something that you spiritually believe. [/private]