Published On: Thu, Jan 11th, 2018

Taken, season two: a very particular set of thrills

When British actor Clive Standen first heard that he would be cast in the lead of TV’s Taken, he wasn’t sure how they could possibly make the hit movie franchise into a television series.

In the NBC/Global show he plays a young Bryan Mills, the character with that “very particular set of skills” made popular by Liam Neeson in the action film trilogy.

“Were they going to have his daughter kidnapped every week?” I couldn’t figure it out,” says Standen. “But then I realized it was about having something taken from you — it doesn’t have to be a person. It’s the idea that something is taken and the mission is to get that back.”

A Taken season-two renewal by NBC was no guarantee: Season one had middling viewership and tepid reviews. But strong international sales for the show, which also co-stars Jennifer Beals (Flashdance) helped garner a pickup, and it returns on NBC on Jan. 12 (and will air on Global sometime soon).

NBC didn’t give them a free pass, obviously not happy about the direction of the show. Showrunner Alexander Cary (Homeland) was let go, and replaced by Greg Plageman (Person of Interest). In the new season’s reboot, there has been a massive housecleaning with six series regulars gone, including Toronto’s Simu Liu (Kim’s Convenience). Only Beals and Standen remain as regulars.

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“I think the show in a sense needed to be smaller, to focus more on Bryan Mills and less on the other characters,” says executive producer Plageman.

“I think we had to get back to basics. The Bryan Mills character is universally loved. And I think there’s a certain amount of wish fulfilment in that character, seeing ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances rise to the occasion and we needed more of that.”

The new show runner is sitting in an Etobicoke studio that has been dressed to look like the office of a historic bank in Washington which will serve on screen as the group’s new headquarters. There are oversized paintings behind him, as he has given the team impressive new digs for season two. But that’s just the start.

One of the problems with the lacklustre first season was that Mills hadn’t developed those “particular skills” that made Neeson’s character interesting, and dangerous. He seemed to be flailing around for purpose. Like Fox’s Gotham, it was focusing on the Bruce Wayne character before developing into Batman. Essentially, it became a superhero movie without a superhero.

The show was also developed like a formulaic procedural, with the hero doing missions with a large back office of specialists (those people with headsets) to support him. But perhaps not enough emphasis on the hero himself.

“I’m glad we had time to explore who he was in season one,” says Standen. “I didn’t want him to be perfect. But in season two he’s learned the rules. He’s off the leash. Like the movie, it’s not a team of people behind him. If he dies, no one is coming for him.”

Standen is sitting in a plastic chair in an empty studio currently being rented out by York University, and borrowed by producers. There is so much television filming going on in Toronto that even finding an empty space to use for interviews in this west Toronto studio complex (also filming shows such as W Network’s Good Witch) has become problematic.

Jennifer Beals, meanwhile, returns to the show as the tough-minded Christina Hart, who leaves as the deputy director of national intelligence to head her own black-ops squad. New characters include Adam Goldberg (Fargo) as a hacker and Jessica Camacho (The Flash) as a logistics and weapons specialist.

“It was difficult coming back without the old cast members because we were an unusually close cast family,” says Beals. “So it was hard to start fresh. But Adam and Jessica are a really great dynamic.”

As the leader of a special-ops team in the first season, Beals said she frequently received comments from viewers such as “Why doesn’t she smile more?” underscoring the gulf in gender perception that women have when they are cast in roles of power.

“If I were Tommy Lee Jones, would you ask that question?” asks Beals.

Good question. One person who almost certainly never gets asked why he’s in a perpetual grimace, is Standen, who spends most of the episodes deciding how he’s going to kill people.

Before being cast in Taken, the brawny actor played a warrior in History’s Vikings. And now he’s playing yet another action role. And the second season promises to be more stunt-filled. Especially the premiere which picks up at the end of season one, where Mills finds himself imprisoned in a Mexican jail.

After five seasons of battle scenes in Vikings, and now in the second season of Taken, Standen takes pride in the authenticity of the action sequences. But it comes with a cost.

“I was at the Monte Carlo film festival. This guy came up and elbowed me in the ribs and it was (’70s Six Million Dollar Man) Lee Majors. And he said ‘I hear you’re that Vikings guy. Just tell me one thing. Do you do your own stunts?’ I said ‘Yeah,’ and he says, ‘Well, so did I.’ Then he walks away with his arthritic hands and I all I can think is that I’m going to be him in a few years,” laughs Standen.

“Nearly every stunt I’ve done myself. And after each take they’re asking me, ‘are you OK?’ But I can never tell these guys. The only person I end up telling is my wife when I’m in the Epsom salts bath and she reminds me it’s self-inflicted. But I wouldn’t change all this for the world.”

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Taken, season two: a very particular set of thrills