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Hunted - Melissa George interview

Hunted, Melissa George

Interview by Rob Carnevale

MELISSA George talks about playing a spy named Sam in BBC/HBO co-production Hunted and getting her head around the duality of the role.

She also discusses the physicality involved, how she accidentally caught the odd stuntmen with a blow and what appealed to her about the whole project. She was speaking at a BAFTA launch event.

Q. What attracted you to the character of Sam?
Melissa George: Oh my gosh, so many things! I wanted to work with Frank [Spotnitz]. Sometimes when you’re not working as an actress you sort of fantasize about your ideal role and I was thinking I’d like the complexity of parts that I’ve played before with action, which I love to do, and if I could get a role where it’s all in one, preferably cable, because you get more interesting scripts, personally I think. And then I thought: “Wouldn’t it be lovely to work in Europe?” And all of a sudden I read this script and my agent said: “You’d better get this part.” Of course, I didn’t think I was going to. And then it took four months for SJ [Clarkson, director], Frank and the world to decide. So, for four months I really just felt I was going to be Sam. I was delusioned into thinking that Sam was real and that I was going to be her.

So, I waited and I turned town everything because I was telling everyone I was going to be in Europe shooting this show [laughs]! But that wasn’t the case because no one said I’d got the job [at that point]. And then when they finally told me that I had the part I was so casual about it. I said: “Yeah, I know. I’ve been telling you for months.” So, I was delighted because I just wanted to go to work on something great and it was a joy to work with SJ and everyone. It’s a privilege to work in Europe and London especially.

Q. How are you with all the physical stuff? You seem to kick some pretty serious ass!
Melissa George: I love it. But I found it really hard. I had really big meltdowns when we shot action scenes because I don’t do that in my normal life. So, every time I went to work and did this very cathartic action work I just felt very… it’s not nice. It’s brutal and it’s violent. You feel it and make it as real as possible. I had a brilliant stunt team training me. They taught me a fight style, which is sort of street fighting really. I popped my muscle doing it, which I’m very proud of. I’ve been showing everyone. But they really helped.

Q. Did you suffer any injuries on-set?
Melissa George: Um, yeah just a lot of wear and tear really. I’m feeling it more now, really. My left hip and my right wrist… but actually there were more injuries among the stunt people! I was trained to actually not make contact with them, which was the whole problem [laughs] because it’s not real. So, definitely a lot of injuries. In the second episode, there’s a great fight that we worked very hard on. The scene in Morocco was a big one too. We shot that at 7am when chickens were still waking up! There’s one scene where I elbowed a guy who was in the way and he got a split lip [laughs]! I felt bad [looks embarrassed]. What’s great is the canal fight… I did this spin and of course I was just so excited that I caught the guy in the right eye. He was such a gentleman… the first thing he said was: “Melissa, are you alright?” I was in the middle of the fight and I stopped to ask if he was OK but he said: “Keep going, keep going!” And as the fight went on, his eye just ballooned and I kept looking at it going: “Oh my God, I did that!”

Q. SJ [Clarkson, the director] has admitted to telling you different secrets to play within a scene, sometimes on the day, to sort of play with your performance and get you to go in a certain direction. How did you find that?
Melissa George: I loved doing that. SJ would whisper to me something that was so random or so wonderfully ‘wow’ and then say ‘action’ and then I would play something that he [co-star Adam] wouldn’t know and it would really affect the way he would react to me. But it was a privilege to work like that…. it could be one word that SJ said but that five page scene would be tainted with that one word and magic came out of that. You hope when they call ‘action’ and then ‘cut’ that you give something unique.

Q. How helpful is being able to shoot on location rather than in a studio?
Melissa George: It’s unbelievably helpful. When Sam is, is where we were actually filming and I’ve never had that luxury and that privilege before.

Q. Do you know where your character’s journey ends?
Melissa George: I have an idea [smiles]. I know the big parts of it. But I don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow, so sometimes it’s nice to be fresh and not k now what you’re doing next. It keeps it fresh and real and I keep discovering. But I’m in really good hands so I’m just trusting them.

Q. Sam is very complex, so what specifically did you identify with that character?
Melissa George: Oh, that’s going to get really personal. It went way back to when I read the script and I did that scene where she lost the baby… I don’t know, any woman reading that scene and playing that scene, and playing Sam, could relate to her on a maternal level. I love Sam, so I feel very much like we’ve meshed into one a little bit. I don’t know… I need to see a therapist [laughs].

Q. There’s also the challenge of playing two characters because she’s always pretending to be someone else when she’s working…
Melissa George: Oh yeah, that was hard to play the American and to be the nanny. I didn’t enjoy that as much because also Sam didn’t enjoy it as much. To me, being a spy for her was almost like a hobby, whereas her main goal is to find out who tried to kill her. So, every time I was playing the Alex side of her, it was getting in the way of the mission, which was to find out who tried to kill her. So, I think that was challenging in itself, to go back and forth – to be British and then Spanish and then French and then American. I think I’ve developed schizophrenia after that job [laughs].

Read our interview with Adam Rayner

Read our interview with SJ Clarkson