Clive Standen says the Bryan Mills he plays in Season 2 of Taken is exactly what he wanted from the series start—a man who makes every mission a personal one and will stop at nothing until the day is saved.
“Bryan’s emotionally invested in all these missions and the fates of what amounts to strangers,” Standen told me during an interview at the TV Critics Association event in Pasadena, “but he knows that no one else is going to help but him.”
In other words, Mills will be more like the character Liam Neeson played in three films set after the events of the NBC series. In the first season, the Mills character shared the screen with eight other characters on his team, which gave Standen few chances to show off Mills’s “particular set of skills.”
With Greg Plageman taking over as showrunner, the series gets a reboot this season. In the premiere airing at 9/8c Jan. 12, Mills remains an inmate at a black site prison in Mexico. His former boss, Christina Hart (Jennifer Beals), hopes he is found because she has a new job for him.
“If he’s going to come back and work for her—if he gets out of the Mexican prison that is—it has to be on his terms,” Standen said, as if any viewer thinks he won’t escape. “That’s the thing that she didn’t realize: He was her greatest asset. He’s her guard dog, and she needs to let him off the leash.”
The new season brings on two new characters played by Jessica Camacho and Adam Goldberg.
Standen and I talked more about the show’s new direction, the motivations of Mills and Hart, and how he had to get back into fighting shape for the new season after adding weight for a film.
That first episode, wow. You take some hits in prison.
That was pretty intense for me because I finished doing a movie in Australia just before. I had to play a 50-year-old, fat, alcoholic sailor in the 1930s. I had two months to shed all that weight, get back into a Bryan Mills kind of physique.
Then the script came through, and you’re bare-knuckle fighting with your top off on concrete, which wasn’t brushed down. It was full of glass and things like that and it was intense.
We had three days in a row where we were just fighting. You’re coming in and you’re just getting into costume, blood and makeup and stuff all over you, and just fighting all day. It was relentless; it was just like going through the ringer. And getting set through your paces, first, and then going, “God, I’ve got 16 episodes of this, what have I signed up for?”
You gained a lot of weight for the movie?
For “In Like Flynn,” yeah, and it was great fun eating burgers and drinking beer [to gain weight] and to invest in the part. It quickly goes on, but it’s very hard to get rid of it.
It’s a lot harder; so stars are just like other people.
I was having to work out twice a day and run 9 miles in the morning and get through half the day and then have to do another two-hour workout at the gym. It wasn’t pleasant.
The series is sort of getting a reboot this season and returning the focus to Bryan Mills. What does that mean for you?
It means a lot of more pain, sweat, blood and tears. But it’s great, and it’s what I wanted from the very beginning. When I started this show, I thought this [Season 2 change] is what the show is going to be. What I loved about “Taken” the film was that it was about a man who had a daughter and he was relentless in his efforts to save her. It was about how you emotionally connected to that character. I’m a father and I don’t think you have to be for that film to pull at your heart strings.
We want to see Bryan fighting on his own, kicking down doors, trying to sock it to the man. I think the show we’ve created now is more like a TV show I used to live growing up, called “The Equalizer,” which is a man taking his particular skills and socking it to the man. He’s just taking on a family’s or a person’s heartache and trauma and using his skill set to help them when the government is too busy or not interested in that kind of case.
What’s nice is that Christina Hart, in the first episode, has a scene with the Director of National Intelligence where she talks about what kinds of jobs they will do. She wants one mission for her and one mission for him, and for me that was kind of what the show is for the audience and for myself as well. It’s like I get more emotionally invested as the actor in the story, which is just about a family or a little girl or a husband or a wife, and it’s personal that way. Rather than a big government coverup or conspiracy about nuclear warheads and things like that. The former is what I get invested in.
I think that Christina Hart wants a mission on human trafficking, and rather than it all being about the CIA trying to cover up something or to stop some big terrorist from another country, and that’s what this season feels like. Certain episodes are just really full of heart and they’re really personal and other ones are grandiose kind of explosions and the clock is ticking, bombs are going to go off and things. So it’s a nice mix from what’s out there, especially on NBC at the moment.
Do these Season 2 cases make him who he is in the films, and will we see more flashbacks to before his sister was even killed?
The first season we saw the trauma of losing his sister, and that will never leave him. But you can’t base a whole TV show on a man pouring his heart out over his sister. I think we have more flashbacks in Season 2 and you understand more about what makes him tick. You learn where this selflessness comes from.
His relationship with Christina Hart is less adversarial now?
I’d say it’s more of an equal footing now. The dynamic is far healthier now for both of them, and I think they need each other. She’s taught him everything he needs to know that this is a sacrifice. You can be the bull in the China shop and kick down doors and kick ass and ask questions later, but there’s sometimes a sacrifice to that. There’s sometimes collateral damage. And he now knows that, but will it stop him? Nope.
That’s what I love about the character as well, because someone who is emotionally invested often makes mistakes. That’s what’s interesting for us; he doesn’t always do the right thing. But we often want him to make the choices he makes on screen, because we are emotionally invested, too. Viewers will be like, “You gotta hit that guy! You gotta break the law to get to this!”
His ultimate objective is something that is sweet and human, but there would be no justice in the world if he didn’t [resort to violence to get results]. And that often means that there will be trauma for him or there will be hiccups along the way.
Those mistakes are also part of any person’s growth, right?
Exactly, it’s what someone does when they get back up that makes the man.
So the first episode, besides getting the hell beat out of you, he does a little bit of MacGyvering. Will he do that kind of thing more in this season?
It’s funny because there was a lot more of that in the script. I had to actually put my foot down as Clive the actor and say, “Look, we’re not making ‘MacGyver,’ we’re making ‘Taken.’ ” But I do love that with his own initiative he’s using what’s around him. Anything can be a weapon.
It reminds me of Roger Moore as James Bond. He literally just looks for something and then smashes it over the bad guy’s head. So I love that side of him, I love that he’s always thinking. But I don’t want him always doing that.
Do you see him as less of a blunt instrument than as a smart, strong tactician? Is he brains and brawn?
I don’t see him as blunt. He’s like a master chess player. He’s always thinking.
He’s pretty blunt.
Well, yeah, but there is more. All my life, just because I’m six-foot-three and I’ve got broad shoulders, people think I’m going to be the American football jock—and I’m not. I’m a husband with three kids; I’ve been a dad since I was 22. I was the British champion in Muay Thai boxing but I stopped doing that because I didn’t have that killer instinct inside me. I didn’t want to knock people out and things. I was undefeated and I just walked away from it. One day I just went, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” And I found acting.
I remember when Michael Hirst first met me for “Vikings.” Michael, I think, thought that I was very much like Rollo. I remember him coming up to me one day—it’s the greatest compliment from Michael Hirst—saying, “You are the polar opposite of this character and it’s funny that you’re so nice in real life.” It’s like, “What did you think I was doing Michael? Did you think I was just acting nice in front of you?” Never judge a book by its cover.
Bryan has my physicality and I think when it comes to smashing down doors and hitting people in the face is part of his skill set. But inside he’s very emotional and vulnerable. That can be his greatest strength and his greatest weakness, but it also allows him to think outside the box and to think differently to a lot of these people that he’s fighting.
What can you tell us beyond the prison?
What’s nice in Episode 1 is that when he does get out of prison he doesn’t know where he’s going. Where is Bryan’s home after the end of Season 1? There’s a teenage girl in trouble and she’s being trafficked across the border and Bryan has a choice to either help her and be selfless or to continue across the border to his own safety and to go back to his own life. It’s an interesting scene, actually in Episode 1 where Amelia actually asks Bryan where they’re going. He stumbles over the word home because he hasn’t really got a home anymore.
What comes after that? As the series goes on, very early on we’ve got some incredible original stories. We have a story set in North Korea, which right now is quite prominent. As we were filming it everything seemed to be kicking off with Trump, and we worried we wouldn’t be able to air it if everything got worse. It’s a great little episode. We get a little political at times. We’ve got a character in it that’s very similar to Erik Prince, who owned [the former] Blackwater. So we comment on private military companies.
Christine finds problems she wants to solve, even though they may be less world-shattering.
That’s the point of it all at the end of the day: Are a hundred lives more important than one life? There are some cases the CIA won’t take on because they just aren’t big enough. And she and Bryan ask, “How do you justify that?” When you’re Bryan Mills you can’t sit by and watch people die like that; you’ve got to do everything you can to at least make a difference.
With the new dynamic with the team, Jessica, Adam, me and Jennifer, it is like a dysfunctional family. Bryan definitely feels like the foster kid with this “family” with the older brother who lives in the attic on the computer. You’ve got like the little sister that teases him all the time. Then you’ve got the foster mum who he goes off on, “You’re not my real mum!” In this day and age we’re all dysfunctional families. Even in an action show you can have that dynamic.