Hollywood’s Stuart Townsend has come out of hibernation to play a comic book hero in XIII. With a second season already in the pipeline, |he might have struck gold with his decision. Debashine Thangevelo looks at how this could mark a turning point in his career…

THIS Irish actor and director was first noticed in About Adam. That disarming smile and suaveness bowled over audiences as Stuart Townsend romanced Kate Hudson and Frances O’Connor.

Although, by that stage, he already had a handful of movies – Godsuit (1993); Trojan Eddie (1996); Shooting Fish and Under the Skin (1997); Resurrection Man (1998); Wonderland, The Venice Project and Mauvaise Passe (1999) – to his credit. Unfortunately, his fan base wasn’t quite noteworthy.

With About Adam opening the gates to stardom, Townsend explored the stage by bagging the role of Val Xavier in Orpheus Descending, where he has the opportunity to work with the likes of the inimitable Dame Helen Mirren.

Big-budget releases such as Queen of the Damned and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman soon landed on his lap.

Interestingly, in 2002, while doing Trapped, his path crossed with South African Charlize Theron and they dated until 2010.

With more film (Head in the Clouds, Best Man, Aeon Flux, Chaos Theory) and television work (Night Stalker), Townsend was seemingly ascending the ranks in Hollywood… before everything kind of ground to a halt.

Despite turning director with Battle in Seattle (2008), he faded into obscurity – until now.

XIII also marks his first big TV role. The series, based on Jean van Hamme’s graphic novel, sees Townsend essay the title role of a secret agent, whose skill makes him deadly, but also sought-after. This after having escaped from an Eastern European rendition camp with a surgically altered face and an identity delivered to him by an enigmatic stranger.

Recruited by a secret organisation to bring down the US government, XIII is plagued by a strong desire to learn more about his past. And soon, while evading capture from rival forces, he finds that the deeper he investigates, the more questions he unearths in what looks like an ever-evolving conspiracy.

His mission sees him encounter various foes and friends: CIA operator Jones (Aisha Tyler); Irina (Virginie Ledoyen), a mercenary hired by the former US president; Sam (Caterina Murino), XIII’s ally and love interest; President Carrington (Stephen McHattie); Wally Sheridan (Ted Atherton), former US president and possible traitor and Gerhardt (Tom Berenger) as a mysterious European industrialist who has lots of influence, but prefers to stay off the radar.

Barbara Williams, senior vice- president content, said: “XIII delves into a genre previously uncharted by Showcase Originals. Its high-impact action and remarkable performances from the cast result in an explosive series that continues to propel the channel’s reputation as a top destination for diverse dramatic entertainment.”

In an interview with SpoilerTV.com, Townsend said: “He’s a highly trained individual. He breaks codes and knows how to fight people. He speaks Russian all of a sudden. It’s like a treasure hunt, full of mystery clues.

“I never knew what he was going to find out next, or where he was going to. I read the series synopsis, so I knew vaguely what was going to happen.”

Given that the series is based on the action-packed comic book, daring stunts are par for the course.

The actor laughed: “It’s like being a kid again: scuba diving, rock climbing and shooting a bow and arrow and guns. And early on, there were a couple of very large fight sequences.”

In tonight’s pilot episode, viewers witness XIII’s daring escape and learn more about his greatest threat – ex-president Sheridan and psychotic freelance killer Irina Svetlanova.

And so a chain of events is set in motion – and the twists and turns are part of the volatile mission that awaits XIII, making this a damn fine comeback for Townsend!

• XIII airs on M-Net Series (DStv Channel 114) tonight at 10.30pm.