Hunted - Adam Rayner interview (exclusive)
Interview by Rob Carnevale
ADAM Rayner talks about playing a spy in new BBC/HBO series Hunted and some of the training involved, both to get into physical and mental shape.
He also talks about working with Melissa George, working in the US, breaking into movies and replacing Matt Damon in the West End as part of his first big break. Hunted airs on BBC1 on Thursday nights from 9pm.
Q. How would you describe Aidan Marsh, your character in Hunted?
Adam Rayner: I would describe Aidan as an international man of mystery. He’s someone who has clearly got something to hide, he has secrets, his loyalties are unclear and his morality is unclear. So, he’s a bit of a mystery and he is a morally ambiguous figure, certainly at the beginning of the show. He’s a bit of a question mark.
Q. And how much of a challenge is playing a question mark?
Adam Rayner: Once you get the hang of it, it’s great fun. But it’s something I had to learn. Normally, as actors our job is to tell the story through performance but in a show like this you’ve got to be careful not to give the game away. Even though I knew what ultimately the story would be, everyone else would have to figure it out. So, in a way you have to go against your instincts and play the longer game. You have to keep in step with the show, which is obviously about revealing things over time. If you give too much away early on, you cease to be interesting and you don’t give people a reason to keep watching. It’s also about understanding the genre you’re working in and fortunately we were working with someone like Frank Spotnitz, who is a master of that genre.
Q. Equally, I’d imagine you have to be able to drop clues so that second viewings can see the performance take shape as well? So, you’re balancing quite a bit all of the time in terms of how much to show and when to drop clues?
Adam Rayner: You have to make sure that you are dropping clues while not telling too much and you always have to make sure you’re not telling the wrong story either. So, you have to seed in things that will eventually come to fruition without making them too obvious. So yes, it’s about finding a balance. But making sure there are clues.
Q. How physical was the role. I gather you get to kick some ass as the series progresses?
Adam Rayner: I do get to do some ass-kicking, yeah. It was very physical, particularly as the series goes on. At the beginning, it’s mostly Melissa [George] kicking ass. But after a couple of episodes I get involved too. And the fight sequences are pretty tough. They’re demanding to do them well and pretty knackering, to be honest. I also had a bit of running around to do and a bit of getting blown up.
Q. Have shows like Spooks and films like Bourne, in particular, raised the game in terms of doing action sequences?
Adam Rayner: Without question… particularly the Bourne films. The amount of times you hear… or put it another way, I think the stunt teams are sick of hearing form directors that they want it to be like Bourne in terms of the fast cutting fight style those films employ. From what I’ve been able to gather, the Bourne fights are meticulously pieced together and they take days to shoot with masses of footage, which gives you enough for that incredibly dynamic editing that brings them together. On TV, there isn’t the budget or the time to do that, so it can be quite demanding trying to match that level of intensity.
But certainly they have also raised the bar in terms of getting that sense of reality in fight scenes. Long gone are the days of the stylised old James Bond films with Roger Moore karate chopping his way through the bad guys – audiences are not going to buy it anymore. The genre has got quite serious now. It’s interesting because it has even affected the Bond films – where once they were tongue in cheek, they’re now deadly serious and the fights have to be pretty realistic. So, yeah we did try to match that too.
Q. I gather Melissa actually caught someone with a punch?
Adam Rayner: Yeah, she did catch one of the stuntmen fairly clean on the nose.
Q. Did you suffer any knocks or hit anyone you weren’t supposed to?
Adam Rayner: I didn’t knock anyone, out, including myself! My stunt double got punched full in the face while doubling me in a fight, much to everyone’s amusement [laughs]. But they really go for it and they are only missing by millimetres, so they do take some knocks. But I was pretty much unscathed.
Q. Did you do a lot of your own stunts?
Adam Rayner: I did as much as I could. We do the fights but then obviously the stunt team do the fights as well and they are then pieced together using a combination of the actors and the stuntmen, but with the idea of hopefully using as much of us as they can. We certainly go into those sequences with the hope of them only using us but it doesn’t always tend to work out like that.
Q. How much did you know about private intelligence agencies and corporate espionage before taking on the role? And how much were you able to find out through research?
Adam Rayner: I tried to do as much research as possible. Obviously, it’s a shady area, where information is relatively scarce. It’s actually quite hilarious, one of the private intelligence agencies in London that our company is based upon only has the company name and phone number on their website – and that’s it. So, they’re very oblique some of them. That said, you can find out a bit and there are obviously the famous ones like Kroll, the American company that started it all off, you can read a bit about… and private security companies like Blackwater that have a lot of press in the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan. But those shady London-based agencies like the one in our series like to keep a very low profile.
So, in answer to your question, I tried to find out as much as I could and the show gave us an information pack. Actually, on our launch night at BAFTA I met one of the show’s advisors who was the CEO of a private intelligence company and he sent an operative and gave us a day’s workshop in spies and spying which obviously was a big thrill for anyone who as a young boy was running around pretending to be James Bond.
Q. Was there anything you learned from that workshop that surprised you?
Adam Rayner: It was mostly just hearing about what life is like [for a spy] and how totally invested they have to be in the sense that they might not tell anyone, except possibly when they get married, what they actually do – not even their best friends or their family. And once in the field, normally on some diplomatic cover abroad, their entire social life is devoted to the job in the sense that the friendships you forge outside of work are, most of the time, with one eye on intelligence gathering. It does become a true double life. And you live it 24 hours a day. It’s a life that struck me as being very specific.
Q. Did you notice any similarities between that and acting that helped inform your portrayal, in the sense that you also have to assume the role of somebody else when you’re performing – and even more so if you go method?
Adam Rayner: Well, we can still switch off. It’s interesting, though, the woman who did the workshop with us was someone who could easily pass as a primary school teacher rather than the Bond girl stereotype and she drew that same comparison, in all seriousness, that there was a similarity between the two jobs in the sense that when they are working and when they are out in the field they are inhabiting a role and play acting to some extent. But I think we can all do that if we have to, so I’m not sure if that really counts too much. When everyone is pushed into a certain position, they can pretend or lie quite effectively if they have to.
Q. I think I met her at BAFTA. She said that she doesn’t watch spy films much because they are so often unrealistic. But she liked the fact that the cast of Hunted had faces that looked real, rather than chiselled and Hollywood-like…
Adam Rayner: So, you’re saying she thinks we’re all ugly [laughs]! Funnily enough, though, in terms of people running around looking glamorous like James Bond in a tuxedo that might not be the case. But the head of the agency I mentioned was saying that a huge amount of his operatives are very attractive women because there is no better way of getting information out of men than when they’re trying to impress a beautiful woman. So, the Bond girl thing does hold true in the sense that they’re very much an asset.
Q. How was working with Melissa George?
Adam Rayner: Great! She’s a fearsome presence and perfect for the role. She has this edgy, tough but vulnerable thing going on which is so necessary for Sam. You’d think it was relatively straight forward but it’s actually a very specific energy that not many people have. We worked really well together and we pushed each other to be the best that we could. Obviously, our relationship is interesting because mostly she hates me [laughs]. And that can be quite weird when there’s such a relentless vibe you’re dealing with – not that it affects how you get on in real life. But it was nice towards the end when we could play them being a bit more open with each other.
Q. Was that a clue or counter-intelligence?
Adam Rayner: Maybe it was a bit of both to throw viewers off the scent [laughs]!
Q. And how was having someone like Frank Spotnitz writing the scripts? Were you an X-Files fan?
Adam Rayner: Yeah, I was a huge fan of The X-Files. When I first saw it, I was like: “Wow, this is amazing; I can’t get enough of this!” I’d never seen anything like it. It was so compelling because it felt a little bit like watching a UFO documentary. It really was quite something. I was 16 or 17 when I first saw it. So, it was just great to be working with someone from that show. And then Frank turned out to be a real star. He’s tremendously bright, able and experienced and he has that wonderful gentleness of someone who is confident in their own ability and judgement and who doesn’t need to strong arm people and lay down law. He has the quiet authority of someone who knows what they are doing and what they are trying to achieve.
Q. Your director, SJ Clarkson, also brings a lot of style to the series…
Adam Rayner: I know SJ well because we worked on Mistresses together. In fact, I owe her my career in terms of her casting me in that and this. But she is also someone who is very confident in her own vision and ability. Obviously, we as a cast have some of our own ideas about things and there are some strong personalities among us, but this show is a testament to how you can get people with strong ideas together so that they are willing to collaborate and hopefully make something really good with that balance of individual ideas and a universal guiding hand coming from Frank. But I think you can see in that first episode that there is also a very clear visual style that SJ is largely responsible for. And I think it’s clear to see there’s a very, very talented director involved whatever you think of the story and the performances. The nature of show is very visually compelling and cinematic.
Q. What does appearing in a show as high profile as Hunted mean for your career?
Adam Rayner: Well, let’s find out. Christ, I hope it’s a massive hit and great for my career. But you have to prepare yourself for the possibility that audiences might not take to it. My personality is such that I hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Of course, I hope millions of people love it but I must also protect myself against being too heartbroken if they don’t. I think it’s a great show and I hope it is a big hit but we shall see. Only the audience knows at this point. It’s amazing how you can get all these brilliant people together, people who have scores of hits in the past, and audiences just don’t go for it. And I’m not just talking about my show. You just never know. If somebody knew every time they did something it was going to be a hit there would never be any failures. Sadly, that’s not how it works. You take nothing for granted. But in all objectivity I think it’s a very strong show.
Q. You’ve had past successes. You were on the US medical drama Hawthorne for a couple of seasons…
Adam Rayner: I did two seasons of Hawthorne and I was working with some lovely people. I’ll always be enormously thankful to Hawthorne for giving me my Hollywood dream in the sense that I arrived in America and was in a TV show a week later. It was great. Hawthorne was not hugely successful but it was great to be in it and part of a recognisable show on a big network. It’s a really good thing to have on your CV going forward. And I worked with some really great people. Jada Pinkett Smith is a really underrated actress and a lovely person and the rest of the cast were fantastic as well – and really talented. Michael Vartan, from Alias, is a brilliant actor and a fantastic guy. He should be a big movie star now.
Q. You’ve also had a Doctor Who experience…
Adam Rayner: I was only in it for five minutes. If I ever get fan letters, I can be pretty sure it’s for that five minutes in Doctor Who… It’s getting slightly ridiculous in the sense that it was only five minutes five years ago [laughs].
Q. And you also have a strong theatre background in the West End and with the RSC. Didn’t you follow Matt Damon into This Is Our Youth?
Adam Rayner: That was my first job out of drama school. And I have The Bourne Identity to thank for the beginning of my career. He had to go off around the world and publicise that which allowed me to step in for him for the last couple of weeks of the run, which was a wonderful opportunity for someone just out of drama school! I was unaware then of the demands of stepping into a commercial production in the West End. But when you’re 25, you’re pretty fearless though ignorance and having nothing to lose. I don’t know if I could do that now.
Q. Was there any crossover with Matt?
Adam Rayner: There wasn’t because we rehearsed the show separately. But I will always remember how encouraging he was and how he went out of his way to include me and give me words of encouragement. He’s a lovely guy and I’m genuinely happy for him the way his career has turned out.
Q. Is film something you’re ultimately heading for?
Adam Rayner: What a good idea [laughs]! Of course, we’re all waiting for the opportunity to do big films but you have to wait your turn – unless you get offered something like Twilight when you’re 20! Otherwise, you just have to keep slogging away. The idea is to perhaps find success in TV that will give rise to supporting roles in movies, then get offered the lead in an independent film and maybe one day you’ll find yourself in a big studio film… if that’s what you want. Obviously, it’s quite a different sort of life though.
Q. But isn’t playing the long game perhaps better in terms of securing career longevity rather than maybe being offered a big franchise at 20 and then having to almost re-prove and re-invent yourself once that is over?
Adam Rayner: In theory, yes, but if someone offers you a three picture deal at 20 you’d take it. I would have killed for it. In retrospect, I’m happy with how things have gone. I’ve been able to do things like spending a year at the RSC, which does ultimately make you better. But similarly, if you’re doing movies at the age of 22, you’re going to figure out what you’re doing in a different way. The main thing is it’s a very different life. It ends up shaping your entire personality because you’re not really formed yet. So, in that sense, I’m kind of glad that I was able to properly grow up before becoming a massive movie star [laughs].
Hunted airs on BBC1 on Thursday nights from 9pm.
- Melissa George interview
- Adam Rayner interview exclusive
- Frank Spotnitz interview
- SJ Clarkson interview