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It takes guts to remix the work of a legend — especially when the process involves adapting Sydney Pollack’s 1975 feature, Three Days of the Condor, into a 10-episode TV show. Thankfully, like the ruthless investigator she plays on this espionage drama, Mira Sorvino isn’t afraid of shaking things up.
“I wanted to create something free of attachments,” she says of her whip-smart character, Marty Frost — one of the series’ new creations.
For Marty, disrupting the CIA’s boys’ club (led by William Hurt) means commandeering a case involving young agency analyst Joe Turner (Max Irons), whose antiterrorism algorithm thwarts a villain’s (Brendan Fraser) plot to mount a chemical attack on U.S. soil, but also stirs a hornet’s nest of government secrecy and manipulated news. All of this makes the show an “effective mirror” for our times, observes Sorvino.
The 50-year-old also reflected on the representation of powerful women throughout television history. “There’s a trend on television of seeing women in senior command positions in intelligence agencies… as very cold. And as a woman in a man’s world, she’s traded everything and doesn’t have any interior life. … They’re just kind of cold sharks,” she explains. But Sorvino’s Marty is “a very hot shark” who’s “full of feeling.” And an eclectic, self-made playlist — featuring Tori Amos, Sia, and Johnny Cash — helped the Oscar-winner tap into the “longing” and “darkness” of her emotional life. As for the song that captures Frost the best? “’Get Back’ by Ludacris,” Sorvino reveals with a laugh, cementing her ownership of a fresh character crashing Pollack’s familiar territory. “That can be her walk-on song!”
Condor premieres June 6 at 10 p.m. ET on Audience Network. Read on for EW’s full interview with Sorvino.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, this character Marty… she’s quite a firecracker in the middle of this boys club.
MIRA SORVINO: Absolutely. She’s struggled with that her whole career there. She’s basically this woman who was not necessarily treated the same or given the same opportunities because of her gender, and then it’s complicated by the fact that she had this past relationship with Bob, whom she was completely in love with. And maybe for him it wasn’t as important, but for her it was everything.
What elements of her did you first respond to the most?
The story and the writing are so good, fascinating, tense, nail-biting, and really topical. I feel like the world that Condor lives in is very close to the world we’re all living in every day. The revelation is that when you lift the curtain, history is decided by a very small group of people, and their own interests guide their actions, not necessarily the laws or principles we think our country rides on. When you look at the current landscape, we see how things at the top never change and are rapidly bent to varying people in powers’ will. As the plot of Condor unfolds, you’ll understand that nothing is sacred in the pharmacy world or in the behind-the-scenes workings of the CIA and FBI.
Some of these other actors had a foundation to draw inspiration from — specifically Max as Joe Turner and Katherine Cunningham as Kathy Hale — who were played by Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway in the 1975 film, but Marty Frost isn’t in that film. Was that challenging heading into it without the foundation?
No, it made it actually easier because I didn’t have anybody’s legacy to fail. Like, oh my God, I have to do as good a job as Robert Redford. [Laughs] That wasn’t there! I was free to craft the character in conjunction with Jason Smilovic… we built her together. It was super interesting, so I basically… gave her this whole backstory. I always do that for all of my characters. I built a music playlist for her… with songs she really likes.
What was on the playlist?
I have it here on my phone!
Please tell me, I’d love to know what Marty Frost listens to.
“Come Down to Us” by Burial, “High Enough” by K.Flay, “A Sorta Fairytale” by Tori Amos, “Ex’s and Oh’s” by Elle King, “Lost on You” by LP, “Nothin’” by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, “Hurt” by Johnny Cash, “Breathe Me” by Sia, “Way Down We Go” by Kaleo, “Get Back” by Ludacris, “D’arline” by The Civil Wars, and “Barton Hollow” [by The Civil Wars].
That’s such an eclectic mix. Why do those songs fit her?
These all relate to her inner emotional life. They’re all connected to who she is inside and certain events of the past. A lot of them have a lot of longing in them or darkness. [Laughs]
I love so much that you put a Ludacris song on there.
That can be her walk-on song! [Laughs]
Every time I see her on the show, I’m going to hear that. In terms of performance, what were the most important things for you to bring out that the audience will be able to read?
I feel like there’s a trend on television of seeing women in senior command positions in intelligence agencies… as very cold. And as a woman in a man’s world, she’s traded everything and doesn’t have any interior life. … They’re just kind of cold sharks. Marty is a very hot shark. She’s full of feeling, she has all of this stuff going on under the surface, sometimes showing it and sometimes not. She’s a very full person inside, even if her life within the agency hasn’t allowed her to be everything that she is. She’s given her life to this career and hasn’t done all that she’s hoped to do.
Did you watch the original Sydney Pollack film?
I haven’t seen it! Once I knew I was doing this and that [Marty] wasn’t in the original, I was like, you know what, I see this as a whole new world. … I just wanted to create something that was free of attachments. I know that sounds weird, but that’s how I work. If I’m doing a remake, I wouldn’t watch the original, unless the director said, “I want you to re-create exactly the performance that was given by that person.” Subconsciously, it can give you these little cues.
Was it intimidating to take on material that you know had built up such a reputation years ago?
Not for me, because I did feel that our iteration is very much of our time and has a lot to say. I think that a lot of the tensions in the world — the Islamophobia, the fear of terrorism, but also the hand of the United States meddling in world affairs — all of these things are so topical right now. I felt we had a different thing to talk about even though the plot is similar. This is a seaworthy vessel, and I think it would be fine even if there was never a precedent. Hopefully it helps, hopefully people are like, “I love the original, I want to see what the new one is like, though I understand it’s not the same thing,” but I think it would stand on its own without having a predecessor!
That also kind of speaks to the strength of the original material, that it can be adapted to current times and retain its strength at the core.
Yes, Joe’s system has turned on him [in both versions]. The Turner character basically stumbled into a hornet’s nest, and then becomes the hunted man and is the only person who understands the truth about a situation. That’s an enduring story line. That works because there’s always going to be corruption, and there’s always going to be nefarious forces at play that need exposing, and the individual is always going to need courage to stand up and fight it. Joe is in an extreme circumstance where he’s a hunted person, but I think the audience can recognize the choice of the moral individual who’s trying to do something right when so much is stacked against him.
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It also deals with things directly ripped from current headlines: international conspiracy, manipulated news, paranoia, government secrecy, spying on private citizens, and mass shootings. Is this show a mirror for our society now and how so?
I do think it’s an effective mirror. It’s interesting because it doesn’t at all address the federal government’s executive branch; it’s just the intelligence agencies. It’s interesting to look at how every character in the show operates from a personal perspective, a very personal agenda, but those agendas shape world events. History is not this unstoppable machine moving forward; it’s made up of individual choices and actions by men and women. They’re so certain that their dogma or their agenda is correct that they’re willing to do all kinds of horrible things in order to achieve what they consider the greater good. And personal morality is expendable for the greater good. So I think it’s an interesting question: Is it all right to do a great wrong to do a great right? And as you go along and watch Joe Turner, he’s beleaguered with challenges and loss at every front. He starts to see this chip away at his own sense of right and wrong. What can the human spirit survive, and how much of your own soul can you hold on to as you’re confronted with impossible choices?
And the show balances that weightier stuff with good old-fashioned thriller moments. Is this show an effective balance of both, to you?
The great old thrillers have always had something deeper in them, otherwise they wouldn’t be the great ones. It’s sort of this one man against the world and all the weight of the world on his shoulders. But it’s also scary and terrifying and thrilling, and you can’t wait to see what the next plot twist is. This is what elevates it from just being an action thriller that’s kind of substance-free. … I like it because as much as it’s terrifying and nail-biting and thrilling, it’s also important and deep. It has substance, it has real loss… it’s not like a shoot-em-up movie where everyone is faceless. You get to know characters, and if they’re lost in the course of the story, it hurts you as it should, because human loss should always be important. The human cost in any of these decisions should make us feel something.