Irish actor Stuart Townsend says hiring celebrated "Monster" filmmaker Patty Jenkins to direct the pilot episode of "Betrayal" was an excellent way to start off ABC's new drama series.
"She was definitely one of the main draws for me wanting to be in it," the 40-year-old native Dubliner told United Press International in a recent phone interview.
"I just think she is a great, very talented director," he said. "To me, she has many strong points, but I think one of them is working with actors and we had a schedule where we had the time to do multiple takes. Normally [in television,] you do two takes, three takes, maybe. We were doing six, seven takes, which is a real luxury. It's more like a film schedule. I think that is because she likes to really explore the characters with the actors and squeeze those performances out of us. You want to give her your best. You really want to go for it and, yes, that's because she creates that space. You just feel the urge to push yourself."
The show follows Townsend's character Jack, the lawyer for a powerful Chicago family, as he instantly connects with Hannah Ware's Sara, a photographer he meets by chance at an art show. Although neither is looking for romance outside their marriage, they become obsessed with each other and quickly begin an affair -- one that could have stunning ramifications for those they care about.
"It's not black and white. It's a lot of shades of gray," Townsend said of the show's moral ambiguity.
"I hope the viewers do sympathize with them, but they're also married and so there is a conflict there and I think that is the strength of the script," Townsend explained. "The marriages weren't painted as really bad and, 'No wonder Jack went with Sara.' It was more ambiguous than that and complex and more real. It wasn't that they were in unhappy marriages. They were just in marriages that were floating along. They weren't in marriages that were necessarily bad or unhappy, but they weren't fulfilling in a way and then, suddenly, they found each other and their hearts start beating. And I think people recognize that. That was inherent in the script, and me and Hannah tried to bring that to life the best we could."
Known for his performances in the films "Queen of the Damned," "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," "Head in the Clouds," "About Adam" and "Shooting Fish," as well as in the TV shows "Night Stalker" and "XIII: The Series," Townsend said he loves working on "Betrayal," in part, because he gets to examine weighty themes such as fate, truth, obsession and betrayal on a daily basis.
"They are topics that are familiar to all of us," he noted. "We all have betrayals in our lives, whatever they may be -- family betrayals, friend betrayals, self betrayals.
"My character, as he is developing and we go through the season, I realize, is kind of a compulsive liar," Townsend revealed. "So, I'm really interested in playing that; a character who tries to smooth things over all the time. I actually know someone like that, who is pretty close to me, who makes things run smoothly, but, to do that, often lies and gets himself into trouble. My character is that guy and I love it. It's really interesting getting caught up in your own web. It's great to play."
So, did Townsend have any reservations about returning to U.S. television after ABC abruptly canceled his show "Night Stalker" in mid-season eight years ago?
"No, not at all," Townsend emphasized. "To me -- television, film, theater -- it doesn't really matter what it is. It's just what the story is, so I read that script and I just felt it was really strong and then, obviously, knowing that Patty was going to direct, that was me sold. And then when I found out who the actors [involved] were, that was exciting, too. And now I'm here in Chicago and I have to say the scripts just have really been so good. It's been a real pleasure to come to work every day and that doesn't always happen, so it's been great."
Townsend went on to say he is pleased the network committed to a full 13-episode season order of the show.
"I don't know how the schedule works. Will we do more than 13? I guess we see if the show is successful or not. But it is very nice to do 13 up front and the writers have this arc they know they'll get to explore, rather than shut down on episode 9 or something, you know? Here we get to do 13 and we get to do this story arc and I think that's great. It's good for the audience, too. And, then, we'll see, if it's a success, then I can go back and do more. We'll see how it goes."
Co-starring James Cromwell and Henry Thomas, "Betrayal" premieres Sunday night on ABC.
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