THE BODYGUARD: Jake McLaughlin, second from left, is cast as death row inmate William Tate jr, who is saved by a job offer to protect Bo Adams, a girl with extraordinary psychic and telekinetic powers, in M-Net Series Showcases Believe.

His real-life experience as a war veteran in the 3rd Infantry Division of the US Army cemented Jake McLaughlin’s success in Hollywood after he auditioned for a part in Paul Haggis’s In the Valley of Elah. And the roles have kept coming ever since, including his big TV role in Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Friedman’s sci-fi fantasy, Believe, writes Debashine Thangevelo.

JAKE McLaughlin never planned on a career in acting. When he was in his early 20s, he enlisted in the US Army. In fact, his unit was one of the first to enter Baghdad.

However, he was critically injured during his four- year service. But he was awarded several medals (the Army Commendation Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, Global War on Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and Army Good Conduct Medal) for his service.

Back in civilian life, he did odd jobs, including working as a security guard at Universal Studios, when he got wind of Paul Haggis casting real veterans for In the Valley of Elah and decided to give it a go. The 31-year-old has never had reason to look back since.

Hollywood seemed to have fallen in love with the lanky hunk and his gorgeous blue eyes. And this was confirmed when McLaughlin bagged roles in Cloverfield, Warrior, Safe House and Savages. Amid his big screen exploits, he has been making waves on the small screen with parts in TV series like CSI, Leverage, Criminal Minds, Heroes, NCIS: Los Angeles, Grey’s Anatomy and The Mentalist, to highlight a few.

Now he has bagged the lead role in Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Friedman’s sci-fi fantasy Believe.

The plot, I have to say, seems to be a ragbag of ideas from several movies/TV shows like Alphas, Carrie (minus the horror element) and The Tomorrow People.

The story centres on Bo Adams, a girl with extraordinary psychic and telekinetic powers. To some, she is regarded as their saviour and, to others, a serious threat. When a shadow organisation’s efforts to keep her safe fail, they enlist the help of death row inmate William Tate jr (McLaughlin). Of course, there is much more to the decision and this is revealed as the story gains momentum and all the pieces of the puzzle start falling into place.

However, the familiarity with the blueprint wasn’t a deterrent for the actor.

He sang the praises of Oscar-winning creator Cuarón and his vision being realised, saying: “I will say, first-hand, that they (the production team and camera crew) have done an absolutely amazing job with what they have done so far, with the shots they have gotten, those signature long pans and long sequences. And they have done an excellent job of recreating that bar that Alfonso has set.”

On the series falling into a similar path as Touch with Kiefer Sutherland, he offers: “I have never seen it, but I know that we had one of the writers who was on the staff that worked on Touch and she was integral in making sure that we weren’t repeating any of the things that they were doing. So we have a very unique storyline.”

As for how his experience as a veteran aids him in his scenes, he says: “That experience, having gone to war, kind of prepares you for just about anything. So there’s nothing that really scares me on a movie set.

“And it’s prepared me for any physical activity. And the military background makes it easier to know how to carry a weapon on a show or movie.

“As an actor, going through the whole spectrum of emotions (on the battlefield) helps me pull from those emotions. That, to me, is better than any acting class you can ever go to.”

That said, he sheds light on William’s relationship with co-star Bo (Johnny Sequoyah).

“The thing I love about it is that prickliness. I’m not coddling her. I’m not that kind of person on the show. I’m a little bit more of a tough love ‘do as I say, not as I do’ kind of guy. I had a blast doing that. And she’s great (as an actress) because she gives it right back. That back and forth is where the fun stuff is.”

Talking about the show finally getting to see the light of day, Cuarón (Gravity fame) comments: “I wanted to do something more grounded and I wanted to do it with real people, real locations. I wanted to do something really exciting, but, at the same time, something that would be highly emotional. This idea of having a girl who has a mystery and to put it together with this other character and it starts turning into this father-daughter relationship – that is not easy. But through that, it’s about the idea of healing…”

Although Believe is backed by some of the industry’s most notable talent from the executive level down to the production, the premise failed to ignite the right interest for a follow-on season. Suffering a similar fate to Touch, which was pulled after its second run, viewers should appreciate this series for what it is and the character-driven performances by fantastic actors like McLaughlin.

• Believe airs on M-Net Series Showcase (DStv channel 113) on Thursdays at 8pm.