In our era of too much TV, it’s almost impossible for a new show to get noticed. Throw in the highest of high-concept premises, and sci-fi infused Cold War thriller Counterpart grabbed us from the very start. Now, going into its second season, it’s vying for attention again without compromising on its smarts, fascinating characters and the complexity of its world.
“It’s a big pill to swallow – a very complicated, high-concept show,” Harry Lloyd, who plays Peter Quayle, told Den Of Geek. “The fact that people got on board meant we could have some fun with season two without making it simpler or trying to justify it.
“As with anything where you have a big fictional premise, our job is to sell it as seriously as possible. If Counterpart was just set in 1989 and it was a late Cold War thriller, we’d play it with the same detail and emotion. The fact that we also have to sell the fact that there’s another world actually just means we have to hunker down and take it even more seriously.”
Counterpart’s first season followed UN staffer Howard Silk (J.K. Simmons) as he discovered the existence of a mirror world – one which split from our own two decades prior and now blames them for the fatal plague that befell its citizens. Before long, another Cold War threatens to break out between the two parallel worlds.
British stars Lloyd, Olivia Williams and Nicholas Pinnock all play key roles in the ensuing mysteries, with Williams getting to sink her teeth into dual roles of Howard’s wife, Emily, across the first and second seasons.
“It all comes together so beautifully well so, as storytellers it’s just a dream to be involved,” said Pinnock. “As the audience will understand it’s such a pleasure to watch. There are a few fans out there who have been asking for season two. Things you didn’t think were going to be a point of reference for the audience, they have absolutely picked up on.”
Despite the dense mythology introduced during the first season, the cast said that picking up where they had left off – filming in both Berlin and Los Angeles – wasn’t too difficult.
“Within a few pages I was straight back in it,” Lloyd said. “Because season two starts off pretty much where season one ended, there’s no big recap or reset, people are still in the mess that they’ve made.”
Pinnock added: “We were lucky enough to know we had season two right from the beginning, so that made the transition from one to two a bit easier.”
In terms of grabbing an audience, it was a blessing for the show to have more than one season to tell its story from the get-go, removing some of the pressure and giving the characters room to breathe. Without that pressure, it could also be more considered with its central mysteries.
“It’s so wonderful to be involved in something where dumbing down was never an option,” Williams said. “To have a show that’s not afraid to make you really, really concentrate is an absolute pleasure.”
As proud as the team behind Counterpart clearly are of the show’s complexity and commitment to courting a smart, considered audience, it’s also true that the multi-season order meant that the actors were given enough information about their characters to turn in informed performances – a rarity when secrets are the name of the game.
“If a series doesn’t know where it’s going, as an actor when the camera’s on your face, you actually have to be blank because any interpretation will have to be subsequently imposed upon it,” added Williams. “You can never really act anything. Maybe the blank canvas is an interesting way to go, but as an actor to actually have some inkling of where you are means that you can properly play something.
“There are series I’ve done where you only ever found out five minutes before what you were doing. Everything had to be blank just in case you suddenly ripped your face off and were an alien.”
Of course speaking on future episodes, while the cast are sworn to secrecy, the hints towards plenty of unexpected doubles, twists and intrigue carried over from the first season are there. And if there were to be a season three, there is more than enough story left to tell.
“If season three, fingers crossed, happens then we know some big things that would happen that are so much cooler than anything on my wishlist,” Lloyd said. “People are trying to have it both ways, like these two sides don’t have to be at war. Season two is forcing everything to pick a side, and stop pretending.”