Stuart Townsend takes the lead as “XIII” comes to ReelzChannel

Perhaps it’s fitting that, in a story about a man who doesn’t know his own identity, a new actor has taken over the role.

That role would be XIII, an amnesiac super spy desperately searching for the truth about his past while trying to stay alive amid global intrigue, and the actor would be Stuart Townsend, whom one could say is used to this sort of thing.

In 2002, he succeeded Tom Cruise as the vampire Lestat in Queen of the Damned. Then in 2005 he starred in a short-lived update of Night Stalker, having to make his mark amid the long shadow cast by Darren McGavin. Not for nothing, he also played the oft-portrayed Dorian Gray in 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. This time, he’s stepping in for Stephen Dorff, who starred in the 2009 miniseries XII: The Conspiracy.

Find out how he measures up at 9pm June 29 when XIII: The Series premieres on ReelzChannel. The story picks up after the events of the miniseries, with XIII still unable to trust anyone, despite his heroic actions the last time out. Much of the same cast returns, including Stephen McHattie, Caterina Mureno, Ted Atherton and Greg Bryk, along with high-profile newcomers Virginie Ledoyen (The Beach) and Aisha Tyler (Archer). XIII is broken out of a foreign prison and enlisted to help recover the contents of a safety deposit box only he can open. But no one will tell him what is in it, and there is danger at every turn.

RELATED: “XIII: The Conspiracy” Marks The Spot … For Political Intrigue

“It got me going,” Townsend says of the script. “In the teaser, the character is already zipped up in a body bag and [believed to be] killed. I thought that was brilliant. But obviously the action was great and I just loved the character. I thought we could really go somewhere with this.”

Townsend spoke from Toronto, where he’s busy filming Season 2 of XIII for Canadian television. Should ReelzChannel decide to pick it up, viewers will get to see more of the breathless action and dizzying plot twists that could become the show’s signature element. Townsend says he has a “vague sense” of where the story is going from the outset, but that he’s always delighted when a new script arrives and surprises him.

Beyond that, the job always keeps him on his toes because it takes away one of the most tried and true tools an actor has for developing a character: his past. Since XIII has no memory of his old life, Townsend has to get creative in bringing the guy to life.

“I have a tattoo, and they’re like, ‘Yeah, keep the tattoo, it’s really cool.’ And then I was like, ‘No, I can’t do that, because then there would have to be a story.’ You know, he would look at that tattoo and then he would try to find out about it,” Townsend says. “In those terms, it is kind of odd, because he doesn’t know who he is, and as an actor, how do you go about working with that? To me, it was really about, in the world I was in, whenever I met another character, just kind of sizing them up and not being sure who this person was — a friend or foe. So that was already a different kind of characteristic, because most people don’t have those kind of deep trust issues. When you meet someone, they’re not going to potentially kill you, you know? Whereas with XIII, and the kind of world that he finds himself in, everybody’s a potential threat.”

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Photo: @ Xavier Lahache / Canal+