Mark Strong plays Max Easton in Deep State, running on Fox Africa from 11 April.
Mark, this is your first TV show in a while, what brought you back to the small screen?
The story to be honest. I think that’s what the small screen does best. You can’t escape having a good narrative on TV because people have remote controls, they have many channels and a lot of content. So if they don’t like it, they won’t watch it. I’d been doing movies and I realised that a lot of the really good writers have gone to television, which is no surprise to anyone. But I thought I’d like to do something if the right thing came along and I read a lot of scripts. I was in a fortunate position to get offered a lot and this one was the most exciting, it reads really well. I just wanted to find out what was going to happen. I loved the fact that it moves from Beirut, to France, to the UK. It moves time frames as well. You’re not spoon-fed with this story. It’s not a narrative for dummies, it’s complicated and you have to hang in there and that’s my personal taste.
Deep State tackles some really big political issues…
The politics are much more to do with the West’s involvement with the Middle East. The morality and the ethics of that and what we now know as a result of what happened after the Iraq War. It deals with the fall out of that, which is something that we are experiencing at the moment. It is incredibly current. But not parochial politics, it’s more politics on a world stage.
What kind of spy is Max?
He’s an old one. He used to be very successful, one of the best as they say, but he’s retired. He retired 10 years ago, and has a new family. He’s out of the game. Things happen to bring him back into it. He’s very good at his job but he hasn’t been doing it for 10 years, so what he now brings is an older man’s perspective on what he’s doing. So the morality, the ethics and the day to day drudgery, and also violence, that he’s involved with suddenly comes from a more mature man’s perspective rather than a young guy who’s just gung-ho. Max obviously loves his current wife and children but abandoned his previous wife and child and has done some terrible things in his line of work.
So is he an anti-hero in that sense?
Yeah I don’t know if you can give him a label in that way. I think what you come to realise very quickly, and I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying it, is that as a younger man the life that he was trying to lead, as a spy with a wife and child, was very complicated and very difficult and he couldn’t sustain it.
Is he a James Bond figure?
He’s the dirty James Bond. James Bond has all the lines, the gadgets and the suave look. I think Max is much more in the dirt and dust and having to cope. Matthew [the show’s creator Matthew Parkhill] mentions this analogue spy world which we’re very interested in, which I think again is kind of more interesting than the digital world. It’s hard work and it’s dirty and it’s dusty.
Did you have to do any extra weapons training?
I had to do extra weapons training. I can handle a small gun but a proper sniper rifle is not only heavy but incredibly complicated, so I spent quite a lot of time working out how you fold down the legs, how you pull the stock out, how the magazine goes in and how you dismantle it all. I spent a lot of time with Mark, the chap who is in charge of the weaponry here, and spent hours and hours taking it apart just so I could look like I knew what I was doing.