Preview: James Nesbitt’s performance in “The Missing” will haunt you

If you’re a parent, there’s a good chance you’ve had one of those terrifying moments. You’re at the mall, a festival, the zoo — in public — and for a brief bit of time you lose track The Missing stars James Nesbittof your child. He was just with you. Your heart races. Your eyes search frantically. Panic sets in. Then relief — you spot him. Not so, for the new dramatic thriller — The Missing, debuting on Starz Saturday, Nov. 15 at 9pmET/PT.

James Nesbitt gives a career-best performance in Starz’s eight-part series The Missing portraying — in heartbreaking detail — the life of Tony Hughes, a man utterly obsessed and emotionally destroyed by the disappearance of his 5-year-old son.

It was 2006 when Tony and his wife Emily (played by the famed Mrs. Selfridge, Frances O’Connor), along with their son Oliver, were enjoying a summer vacation abroad in France when Oliver disappeared. The events of that day and subsequent days are explored simultaneously, as the series shifts between present day and 2006.

“I think why Emily and Tony are screwed right from the moment of the disappearance is because they are not together when Oliver goes missing,” Nesbitt tells us. “What defines Tony that no one else can have is his guilt — that’s what’s so awful. I dabbled a lot with just feeling so bad for him. At some point of his life every day he asks: Why did I stop holding his hand? Why was I drawn into the match? Why did we go there for a drink? Why didn’t we just leave? … I think the only thing that keeps Tony going is the thing that destroys him.”

The Missing on StarzFor Nesbitt to truly find Tony from the character’s perspective and not his own — as he too is a father, to two daughters — he spent his rehearsal time cocooned in an apartment in Belgium where the series was being filmed. “I got the art department to send me all the stuff that Tony would have — all the files he collected over the years, all the sightings, all the police reports, so my apartment was kind of haven to all of that. I lived kind of an isolated life like Tony, and it was through that that I really was able to successfully [find] — the shock of that, the guilt, the horror, the drive, the determination, the isolation — everything that is kind of destroyed in Tony’s life but also keeps him going.”

O’Connor found many of the scenes to be heartbreaking, as she too — as a mother — could relate to the magnitude of the premise.

“When I was sent the scripts and I read the first two episodes, I just had such a strong reaction to it and I think everyone will,” O’Connor said. “The thing about being a parent and just imagining what that would be like — I think we’ve all had moments where we just look away and our child has wandered away and you’re like, ‘Where’s my child?’ I think its something that we can all kind of identify with.”

As the series unfolds, it seems as if innocence escapes many of the individuals helping Tony and Emily. “Tony’s the only one you know who is 100 percent innocent,” O’Connor says. “Even my character, I think, on some level is up for grabs in terms of what has happened. … Emily is so open and you see she really loves her son and is present in life at the start of it, and then she’s so closed off, you do wonder what happened. Is she involved? … That’s good storytelling.”

Nesbitt adds: “It’s about a child gone missing but it’s also about an awful lot of different characters. You know if you drop a pebble into a pool there are many, many ripples — there are a lot of ripples in this and you begin to absolutely question everything.”