Epix’s big bet on original scripted series kicks this weekend when political satire Graves and spy thriller Berlin Station premiere Oct 16. Give Epix points for timeliness: Graves has Nick Nolte as a former president lamenting his, well, grave mistakes in the White House and Sela Ward as his ambitious wife with an eye on a senate position—and a sputtering, flailing GOP party to boot. Back in June, when the U.S. political picture was less in focus, Mark Greenberg, Epix president and CEO, told B&C, “It’s Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton all rolled into one family. Maybe we got a little lucky with this show.”
Similarly timely Berlin Station is centered on a CIA post in that city, an infamous hacker leaking CIA secrets to the media, and an agent sent there to find the mole.
We sat with Berlin Station stars Richard Armitage and Michelle Forbes to discuss the show, which is shot in Berlin. Between that city, the CIA and the leaked documents theme, there’s a bit of Homeland season five in the vibe.
Englishman Armitage cited the old-school spy novels of John le Carré as an influence too. “Even though it’s a show about now and what’s next, I felt like these people have to find a new way to gather intelligence and communicate with each other,” he says. “It involves a much more human connection, human interaction, psychoanalysis of each other, opponent and friend. I found that exciting.”
Forbes, whose previous credits include True Blood and The Killing, says the whistle-blower theme updates the cloak-and-dagger genre. Shooting in Berlin was key to the show coming off as authentic, she adds. “We all really love that city,” says Forbes.
Epix is keen to compete with HBO, Showtime and Starz in terms of provocative original productions that subscribers can’t live without. Greenberg told B&C: “We need to be owners of content, not renters. We want to be closer to the consumer.”
The actors were excited to be part of something new at the network. Armitage mentioned a “global cast,” along with Oscar-nominated Belgian director Michaël R. Roskam, as evidence of “huge” ambition at Epix, a joint venture between Lionsgate, MGM and Paramount.
Forbes notes that, in this age of countless series on a range of platforms, you simply don’t know where the next hit is coming from. “I try not to pay attention to what the platform is,” she says, “but what the material is, if it fits well in my life, and if the subject matter will keep me engaged intellectually and psychologically and emotionally.”
The stars were in New York when the second presidential debate went down. Armitage, for one, has a visceral reaction to the bloody, brutal spectacle. “The bar is so low—I find it humiliating to watch,” he says. “I feel like that stuff has to come to the surface so we can sweep it out of the way and somehow break through to a place where someone can come through who’s a truth teller, someone you’re going to uphold as the best of us.
“At the moment,” he adds, “it’s the worst of us.”
Forbes quips that she’s readying her Canadian passport. “I don’t care what happens Nov. 8, I’m outta here,” she says.
Another option, she notes, is simply staying in Berlin if and when season two shoots.
Armitage, for his part, has fans in Berlin and back in Britain and all over the globe, thanks in part to his role as dwarf prince Thorin Oakenshield in the Hobbit film franchise. His so-called Armitage Army is something of a force on social media. “It’s a very loyal, delightful fan base,” Armitage says. “They’ve stuck with it through good and through bad. Hopefully this show is one of the good things they can enjoy.”