Starring Ciaran Hinds, Charlie Cox and Olga Kurylenko new Netflix spy thriller, ‘Treason’ follows Adam Lawrence (Charlie Cox) who was trained and groomed by MI6, his career seems set. But when the past catches up with him in the form of Kara (Kurylenko), a Russian spy with whom he shares a complicated past, he is forced to question everything and everyone in his life.
We spoke to writer and creator Matt Charman……
We chatted to Charlie Cox about his role in the series…….
What appealed to you about the character of Adam Lawrence?
Playing “C’, the Head of MI6, is not a role I imagined getting in my 30s. The show explains why he’s such a young appointee to the job but I still felt like it was a real challenge for me and a great opportunity to explore his maturity compared to other characters I’ve played. I think this is the first time on-camera that I’ve had children. What’s distressing about that is that they’re not young children. I’ve skipped the whole toddler age and gone straight to being a man who can play someone with teenage children. I’m a father myself now so I was really fascinated by the relationship between Adam and his daughter Ella and I was excited to explore those feelings on-camera, as well as being fascinated by the world in which the show is set.
Where do we find him at the start of the first episode?
He’s a high-flyer who has progressed up the ranks of M16 quickly. He’s got a lot going for him in terms of his experience, expertise and charisma and his relationships within the agency. His life is pretty perfect in many ways. He has a beautiful family, with daughter Ella and son Callum, and a loving and healthy relationship with his wife Maddy. Then what he learns about himself in due course is that he’s very ambitious to the point where that level of ambition and what he’s willing to do to succeed in his career becomes very uncomfortable and confronting.
As you say, Adam is the youngest person ever to head up the agency. How does he cope with the pressure?
I felt that the best way to approach it from an acting perspective was that initially your mind doesn’t let you feel the pressure. Initially you just show up, do what you know best and you kind of fake it to make it. You try to organise and motivate within your skillset and your strengths, and your mind and the circumstances don’t give you enough time to be self-conscious and question your abilities. What we also get to see is that when he goes home to his wife he’s not lying to himself. He’s aware of the pressures, the insecurities and the fear of failure, the fear that he’s not up to this, but he also seems to have the maturity and the sense of mind to know that in the office there’s no place or time for that. It’s an opportunity for him to grab it by the horns and do what he’s always done.
Did you do any research into the world of M16 and were there things that you were interested to learn?
I did a huge amount of reading and Matt Charman is an amazing resource. He’s like a wealth of knowledge in that area so I had lots of questions for him across Zoom calls and coffees – talking about that world, the people in it and how they think and operate. I read some very insightful books and watched documentaries as well as reading a load of really interesting journalism after Matt sent me a list of articles. I did a lot of research and I always try and do that alongside reading the scripts because I find the areas of research that are important reveal themselves to you as you go along. It became apparent to me early on that one of the things that was really important for this story was: In certain pressured situations or when facing adversity, how does a man who has lived the life he has lived respond to that adversity?
And how is that different to what Charlie, who went to drama school and has been an actor for 20 years, would do in those same situations?
That was the fun and the challenge – to play with that area where you get a piece of news and what is your habitual, instinctive reaction in that moment? With Adam it was important to show that when it happens he goes into action, he does something, he picks up the phone, he’s out the door. He immediately takes action; it’s not always the right action but he doesn’t close in on himself and remain frozen.
How does Adam balance family life with his career?
I think he’s done quite a good job of that and he’s never been too far away from knowing what’s really important to him and what’s really important in life. Although he makes a couple of really bad decisions he does get there quite quickly. Bearing in mind this story takes place over the course of a few days, he very quickly is able to go to a place where he says to Maddy ‘This isn’t worth it, there’s nothing more important than you guys’ – meaning his family. To be able to acknowledge that he has to have had a pretty decent relationship between his work life and his personal life up until that point. In the first episode he makes a promise to his son Callum ‘We’ll still do movie night’ and I remember reading that and thinking ‘ I’m just an actor and I need to make sure I still do movie night with the kids’.
Adam is Deputy Head of M16 and soon he’s running the agency, and if he can make that promise it tells you a lot about this man. How was it working with Oona Chaplin?
I absolutely love Oona. We have a history in that we’ve screen-tested twice together for the same jobs. [Laughs] I think she got both of them and I didn’t get either. I worked with her mum Geraldine on the lovely film There Be Dragons and that was a great experience. I’ve seen Oona in various things and have always been a huge fan of her and her talent so I was thrilled to work with her. I have to say I wasn’t disappointed one bit. We had such a great time and I felt the chemistry between us was immediately easy, natural and fun. She’s one of those people where as soon as the cameras are rolling she’s an absolute dream to be acting with, then when the cameras aren’t rolling she’s making you laugh, ordering food and taking care of everyone.
Without giving spoilers, Adam has been living a dual life. How does that affect him in the present day?
When he was on active duty out in Baku and wherever else he was posted, I can’t help feeling that those situations are messy and at times the expression that you have to break eggs to make an omelette is probably quite apt. To be as good at his job as he has been and to impress in the way that he has throughout his career, it’s about striking that balance between being on the right side of moral ambiguity whilst also knowing it’s not always pretty. When he’s looking back on what’s happened in the past, which in many ways is the propulsion of this show, I think he’s able to identify that he was on the wrong side and therefore there will be and should be consequences. But I think he feels that out of context it can look way worse than it felt at the time. What I like about Adam is that ultimately he doesn’t hide behind that. He recognises that, regardless of where on the scale the wrongness is, ultimately there were bad decisions made and he has to be held accountable for them.
How was it sharing screen time with the legendary Ciarán Hinds?
I actually worked with him the year before on the first season of Kin and he’s such a gentleman and such a kind human. He’s one of the least disappointing icons you could meet and it was an absolute delight to work with him again. There’s a gravitas to him that he comes on set with but he’s also so approachable, friendly and nice. I have nothing but wonderful things to say about him. How much of the stunt work did you get to do yourself? Relative to some of the things I’ve done in the past, the stunt work was quite straightforward. There was nothing majorly complicated that I had to do. One of the things I liked about this show when I read it was that it wasn’t reliant on action sequences but hopefully they’re exciting and compelling and they propel the story forward.
You and Olga Kurylenko have both worked in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, namely on Daredevil and Black Widow respectively. Did you trade stories during filming?
Actually no, we didn’t, but Olga and I had worked together in There Be Dragons so a lot of our conversations were about that. That film was a pretty mad shoot for many reasons, working in Argentina, and there was a lot of reminiscing. Our kids are the same age so there were also playdates. We took our children to Cirque du Soleil and stuff like that but we didn’t talk about Marvel at all.
How was it going from the MCU to a project like Treason?
The Marvel element to a movie – meaning the characters, the history, the secrecy and everything under that umbrella – is something you can really feel. There’s an excitement to that as well as a fear around it. But in terms of the practical, everyday shooting it’s not that different. With Treason the locations were tremendous. I’ve rarely had an experience where I’ve got in the car thinking ‘I can’t wait to see the location today’ because some of the places we filmed in blew my mind. I got to see London from certain heights that I’d never seen it from before. That was definitely one of the highlights of making the show.
Does this particular story feel timely to you?
While we were shooting the war in Ukraine broke out, so that was a massive irony considering the story we are telling. There’s also the theme of political turmoil in Britain but [laughs] it feels like that’s been a constant for a very long time. It’s such an intense show. Was there much levity on set? There was a lot of levity actually. The first thing I do on a film set is get to know everyone on the crew and form relationships with them so that once we’re in the grind of it we can still have a fun time and banter if the day’s work is conducive to that. I often find that the crew know each other from other projects and as an actor it’s quite easy just to show up, do your bit, wave goodbye and show up again the next day. But that doesn’t make the work experience as enjoyable for me and also it doesn’t make it as enjoyable for the crew. No matter what the tone of the piece is that you’re shooting, there needs to be a release valve and one of the ways to do that is to find the right moments to have a good chat or a good laugh with them.