Every parent knows the fear of losing a child; The Missing explores the horrifying possibility and the emotional toll it takes over an eight-episode miniseries from Starz and the BBC.
Shot in London and France, the story unfolds in both 2006 and 2014. Starz announced that the show would premiere Nov. 15 and released the first artwork for the series, a haunting shot of empty shoes with a young boy's shadow on the pavement.
It's "ultimately a thriller in broad daylight," says executive producer Willow Grylls in the featurette video above, "and it's all the more nightmarish for it." With the parents having lost their child in a foreign country with almost nothing to go on, it's a terrible but also very relatable fear.
James Nesbitt (The Hobbit), whom many will recognize as the lead from the BBC series Jekyll, plays Tony Hughes. While on holiday, he and his wife, Emily (played by Frances O'Connor, of Mr. Selfridge), lose their son, and for the next eight years, Tony maintains a relentless attempt to find the boy.
Yahoo TV spoke with Nesbitt about what it takes to play a grieving father, how the relationship between the actors evolved, and why shooting in reverse order makes sense.
What can you tell us about the show?
It is an eight-part drama about a family — an ordinary, pretty happy family. One child, devoted to their only child. They go on holiday, annual summer holiday, and a terrible series of events unfolds. We lose our son, and The Missing tells the story of a family shattered and of a father — from my point of view as a father — whose life becomes about finding out what happened to his son between 2006 and 2014.
We start the show in 2014, where Tony, my character, has uncovered a piece of evidence that he thinks could help find out what happened to his son and possibly locate him. But it's really about an obsession; it's about the impact of something so unimaginable and horrible on the individuals around him.
The story's about loss, it's about pain, it's about hope. It's a story that's familiar to many people. It's a story that's unimaginable to people, but a story that's happened before in reality and something that we all can relate to.
How easy or hard was it to draw on your personal experience as a father for this?
You'd think that you'd use that a lot. I guess in the subconscious it plays a part. But really, the script is everything. The script is absolutely everything. The story was so strong, the character was so strong. It was so thorough and consistent, that it was very easy to find Tony.
The hard thing was finding him right at the beginning and then being able to sustain that. To be able to imagine the two different time zones. The minute Oliver disappears‚ obviously everyone's lives change — but Tony's in particular. That becomes his obsession because Ollie disappears when he's with Tony.
So Tony isn't only wracked with unimaginable grief, but terrible guilt as well. It was about finding the truth of that. You end up not really drawing on your own experience as a father, but you just try to locate a consistent truth for Tony. You can never really let it slip from your mind.
Of course, lives do go on. Indeed, for Emily, Tony's wife, it never leaves her, but she tries to rebuild her life. Whereas Tony is 24 hours, every second, every minute of every hour of every day obsessing and trying to find out what happened.
At its core, it's about a father who's lost his son and a father who feels guilty about having lost his son. But certainly, it's about the obsession that drives him. Because he had a choice, I suppose, to sort of end everything or make it his life's mission to try and find out what happened to him.
It's very much about an obsessive man. It's about a man who, not only does his life collapse when he loses his son, but then, over the intervening years, how he breaks down. The only thing that keeps him going is the hope and the quest. That's the only reason he gets up in the morning.
Was this shot chronologically, or did you have to bounce back and forth between timelines?
We started with 2014 because we started shooting at the beginning of the year. We wanted 2014 to be gray and the weather to be a bit more cold and miserable, kind of how the characters have aged. Obviously, 2006 had to happen in the summer because that's when they go on holiday.
At first, I thought it would be quite difficult shooting 2014 first, but in the end, it seemed to work. Certainly by the time we got to 2006, we had spent so much time working together, and we got a bit of time to know Ollie, and I got to know Frances playing Emily. So by the time we hit 2006, we were able to present ourselves as actually a very happy couple, a vibrant and happy family unit.
It worked well, but I'm glad we did one time zone first and then the other one second. I think it would have been impossible, also from a makeup point of view, to keep shifting.
Have you worked with any of this cast before?
I worked with Jason Flemyng a long time ago. We did a film called The James Gang back around 1890 [laughs]. But it was a really great cast. Fran and I — it's a bit cliché to say it, but it is — for us to play a couple like that who go through so much, it's important that you trust each other. It's a job that really you needed to trust the other actors.
Because you are — at the risk of sounding like an actor — you are sort of ripping your heart out quite a lot, almost on a daily basis. Like Fran and I used to say, when you get a job and you look through the script and you see a couple of big, emotional scenes, you think, "Oh God, that's going to be a tough day in a couple of weeks" or "That'll be a couple of hard days." But apart from just the opening of the show, every day you were faced, as the characters, with the reality of the situation. And so, as actors, you were faced with the reality of having to locate that. So it was important that we trust in each other to be able to be as extreme, as truthful, and hopefully as raw with our emotions.
Was there anything that surprised you about the filming of the series?
I was really impressed with the whole commitment of everyone. Again, as much as you need to trust your other actors, you also need a crew who are completely on board with the story, who are sensitive to the story.
I was not necessarily surprised, but really impressed and grateful for the total sense of collaboration, the total sense of commitment from the crew. It was a great place to film, and the crew there works very hard, they play hard. But the sense of responsibility that everyone felt to the story, the sensitivity the crew showed to the actors on really hard days — I won't say surprising, but I was impressed.
The Missing premieres Saturday, Nov. 15 at 9 p.m. on Starz.