Hollywood may be where the fame is, but the small screen is where the meaty roles reside these days. And that explains why a celebrated actress like Thandie Newton was easily snatched up by Fox Crime for Rogue. Debashine Thangevelo looks at how the lines between right and wrong blur as Newton, in her role as undercover detective Grace Travis, sinks into an abyss of uncontrollable rage and despair while tracking down her son’s murderer.
Television has become the new home of big screen actors. The list of actors who have migrated is endless. We have already seen Kevin Bacon (The Following), Kerry Washington (The Fixer) and now Matthew McConaughey (True Detective) join the fray.
Writers have become euphoric as they are bagging the cream of the crop to breath life into their intricately woven characters, with viewers echoing similar sentiments.
And so it has become a win-win situation with big screen actors relishing the scope they are getting with TV series, which also allows them more latitude in developing their often layered characters.
Thandie Newton’s character in Rogue, Grace Travis, is a case in point. An undercover detective, she is a volcanic mess of rage and torment after the death of her son – something she believes she is guilty of due to her line of work. This fuels her determination to find the person responsible at any cost – even if it blinds her to the friction it is causing at home with husband Tom (Kavan Smith) and her angry daughter Evie (Sarah Jeffrey) having to often pick up the pieces of her meltdowns after yet another dead end in the investigation. Meanwhile, Grace finds herself falling in deeper with the city’s most powerful and dangerous crime family – the Laszlos – and her moral compass keeps shifting.
On finding the voice of her conflicted character, Newton explained: “When Grace is under cover at the beginning and she’s nearly broken the case, that’s where we start the story. And there are very clear demarca-tions between when she’s going to work and when she’s at home. But obviously all of that changes when her son dies and she goes back under cover in order to discover what happened to her boy. And then the lines become blurred.
“I think what’s interesting about the character, for me, was that she loses who she is – having lost a child. There’s no grief like it.”
As for whether this is what attracted her to the role, she offered: “It was a lot of things, actually. I was really keen to work on a TV show. I felt frustrated by the stunted nature of sort of adult drama, the characters I was portraying. I really wanted to work on something that had more of an arc, more complexity, and I think the best adult drama is in television these days. Certainly there’s more choice. And a couple of years before Rogue as you see it in this incarnation. I read a script written by Matthew (Parkhill), which was the series written in three parts for the BBC, and I was really keen to be involved. It was a fantastic story. The character is very compelling and it’s one of the most interesting roles I’ve played, and I think possibly the best work I’ve ever done, which is great 20 years in. And that didn’t happen for one reason or another.
“But then two years later, Nick Hamm had taken the raw material to DirecTV, and they decided to take it across the Atlantic and set it in Oakland. Of course, you know, a story like this can be anywhere when it’s orbiting around someone who is experiencing something, which, no matter who you are, you’re a mother in any part of the world, the grief that you feel losing a child is extreme.
“So I was just thrilled to be able to pick it up from where we left off back in London, and not only was it not a three-part series, it was now going to be 10 parts, so I really got to explore all the dimensions to the story, which is, more than anything, character driven. And it’s a psychological drama, and everything that happens in the story is driven by character and by emotion, and that’s something. For an actor, there is nothing like it.”
With the story set in Oakland, California, Newton was asked if there was much dialect coaching involved throughout the series.
She shared: “We had a wonderful dialect coach who was kept extremely busy, and she would, sort of, be pinballed between us throughout the week. And it would be like, ‘I get Lisa Monday,’ you know, at the beginning of the week.
“And once we had established the characters – it was much more about the characters than it was the accent. Each character’s accent is obviously different even though we are all playing Americans. Lisa, she was kept very busy.”
No stranger to gritty drama (Gridlock’d) and action (Mission: Impossible II), this series forces Newton out of her Hollywood cocoon and pushes her to limits she has not scaled before.
Hopefully, it is acknowledged with another edge-of-your-seat follow-on series. After all, she is stealing the limelight as the protagonist à la Nikita-meets-Charlie’s Angels style.
• Rogue airs on Fox Crime (DStv channel 126) on Sundays at 9.25pm.