There’s a moment in the first episode of NBC’s new action drama series Taken that should bring a smile to the faces of fans of the feature-film franchise on which the show is based: One bad guy, marveling at the fighting and shooting techniques of young Bryan Mills (Clive Standen), says to another, “I’ll tell you this — the kid’s got some skills.”
That line calls to mind the iconic utterance from the later-in-life Mills, as delivered by the film series’ star Liam Neeson, who coolly informed the villains of the first movie who have taken his daughter of his “very particular set of skills.” He then proceeded to demonstrate those skills — gleaned from his past as a special ops agent — by methodically kicking their asses on his way to getting his daughter back.
If you’ve ever wondered how the elder Mills got enough of those skills to run and fight his way through Europe even as a middle-aged man, this new prequel series should help show you.
Even though the series portrays the Neeson character decades earlier as a thirtysomething man, it is still somehow set in the modern day, which may be confusing for some viewers, but perhaps sometimes it’s best to just enjoy the ride. When we talked with Standen about the show, he explained that the series is basically a reinvention of the Mills character.
“[We’re] just taking that character and updating him just as any other franchise, whether it be James Bond, or even Mission: Impossible. Ethan Hunt, from the original Mission: Impossible, a really old film, they updated that. It’s just taking a character and reinventing him.”
But in reinventing a character that was unique primarily because he was a middle-aged action hero of a sort that audiences weren’t necessarily used to seeing, and fitting him more into the traditional action hero mold of other TV shows and movies, is there a danger of watering down the character and story? Standen says he had similar concerns when he was first up for the role.
“The unique selling point [of the films] is this older man beating up guys half his age,” Standen remembers thinking after his agent called him about the series. “You take that away, and then what have you got? So I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s full of car explosions and things, and it’s not really my cup of tea.’ And they said, ‘Well, that’s not the case, because Alex Cary from Homeland has written it [ed. note: Cary is also the showrunner], and you obviously haven’t read it, Clive.’’
So Standen read it, and came away with realizing that Mills is just a normal guy, not a James Bond or Ethan Hunt type of superhero with all kinds of gadgets.
“At the end of the day,” said Standen, “his only superpower, or his only real skill that he’s mastered, is his forward momentum, this desire to protect people. When most people panic and freeze in situations of conflict, he goes forward.”
We see that momentum early on in the first episode, when guilt over a family tragedy, and a failure to protect a loved one, propels Mills forward as he is forced to go on the run, and to possibly (and reluctantly) team up with a shadowy government security agency headed by Christina Hart (Jennifer Beals).
Some of Mills’ skills are on display right away, and some of Standen’s own particular set of skills came into play in this action-oriented role. From an early age, the actor has been into stuntwork, Muay Thai boxing and fencing, all of which have come in handy for a number of his roles, including this one and his part in History’s Vikings as Rollo (Standen was just finally relaxing after working on Taken and Vikings when we spoke). Standen says he loves opportunities to put his talents to work.
“I’ve been doing Muay Thai boxing since I was 13 years old, and tumbling, and a lot of parkour and things, and I haven’t used that, and I’ve never wanted to because I have no desire to be the next Jason Statham or anything like that. … It needs to be in the real world for me. It has to be a real character. I can’t watch someone who’s jumping off walls, spin-kicking people. It has to be set in some kind of reality.”
Helping make sure Taken the series remains in the sort of reality that was created in the films was executive producer Luc Besson, who co-wrote and -produced all three movies. Standen says Besson wasn’t around the set too much at first, as the director was busy with his upcoming summer sci-fi spectacle Valerian, but “he’s been more around lately. … He would watch all the rushes and give his notes. … It’s his baby as well, so he’s very protective of his characters, which has been fantastic. I just hope that he comes and directs an episode.”
And just as viewers did watching and relating to Mills’ anguish in Besson’s film productions, Standen says that audiences will feel similarly toward the character in the show.
“[In the films,] you damn well want those guys to be punished for what they did to Liam Neeson’s daughter. And that’s what you feel in every episode of this. You feel Bryan’s pain, his blood and his sweat. You just want to get up there with him. You’re almost egging him to get back up, and that comes from being just a real human character.”
Aside from both Standen and Neeson hailing from Northern Ireland and affecting passable American accents, there isn’t too much similarity between the actors to necessarily make audiences feel constantly reminded that they are watching a prequel to the films. This gives Standen a freedom of sorts to further enhance his “real human character.”
“The first film is the one that I kind of have taken to as the basis and the structure of what we’re doing with every episode of the show,” he says. “But by no means has Bryan learned his particular skills yet. … He’s learning; that’s the whole point of the series. He’s a rough diamond. This his him at the beginning of his journey.”
Taken, Mondays at 10pm ET beginning Feb. 27, NBC