Deep State digs deep for interesting women: Gang of Four lead the way in new Fox thriller

At first glance, seeing that Fox TV’s new spy thriller stars a man (Mark Strong) and was written and directed by a man (Matthew Parkhill), Deep State sounds  'normal'. But surrounding Mark Strong’s ex-spy who is reluctantly dragged back into the fold, are four female characters. And here's the rub: they're all beautiful, yes, but three of the beautiful female characters are on the other side of 40, and all of them are struggling in life.

“I think in this show, we’re really not there to be eye candy at all and I am chuffed to bits with that,” says Anastasia Griffith. She plays a high flyer in the CIA, striving to do what’s right for the world and for her 11 year-old daughter but not always getting either right. Anastasia’s familiar to the TV landscape from roles in Once Upon A Time, The Blacklist and Damages, and while she thinks “there are lots of really strong female characters in television now,” Deep State did offer something unexpected.

“I’m happy that the women are written so well and authentically here because we’re always glamourised or put in a certain position, to look a certain way,” adds Lyne Renée. The Belgian actress plays Mark Strong’s character’s second wife, who has no clue about his first wife or former life as a spy. “I remember going to set on one of the first days and Matthew (Parkhill) would look at my face and say ‘take it all off (the make-up)’ and it was so liberating.” The quartet is rounded off by Karima McAdams playing Leyla ( more of her later) and Olivia Clarke, who features as the first, now ex-wife to Mark Strong’s character. She has a successful career as a journalist but holds unresolved issues with her son and his father.

“I’ve just come back from Los Angeles doing pilot season and the pressure is absolutely there still to blow-dry your hair for every audition and I was told to wear more make-up and I just found for the first time, and maybe because of this show, I had the strength to say, ‘You know what, no’.” Anastasia Griffith

Slight spoiler from early on but worth it to make a point, Lyne’s character is forced to flee her home with her two young children. “If you’re a mother of two and your life falls apart and you’re on the run,” says Lyne, “you’re not going to think ‘Oh, let me put some mascara on'.”

 Anastasia Griffith as Amanda in Deep State CREDIT: FOX

Anastasia Griffith as Amanda in Deep State CREDIT: FOX

“I am so bored with perfection,” Anastasia Griffith tells Electra. “I’ve just come back from Los Angeles doing pilot season and the pressure is absolutely there still to blow-dry your hair for every audition and I was told to wear more make-up and I just found for the first time, and maybe because of this show, I had the strength to say, ‘You know what, no’.”

“I don’t actually want that role that requires me to be Little Miss Perfect. “I’m 40 in a week, I’m tired, I’ve got a 2 year-old, I want to look tired if that’s what is going on in my life. So kudos to Matthew (Parkhill) for honouring that.”

 Lyne Renée in Deep State. CREDIT: FOX

Lyne Renée in Deep State. CREDIT: FOX

Matthew Parkhill co-created Deep State, as well as being the showrunner, writer and director and was adamant from the get-go that this is “a family drama at the heart of an espionage thriller”. Even though there is a lot of action, Matthew adds that “the family scenes for me are as engaging as the action parts, they are not just a subplot”.

He’s acutely aware of the Bechdel test (for a movie to pass the test, it must have two or more female characters who talk to each other about something besides a man) but insists he doesn’t use it on his scripts. “I don’t apply the Bechdel test,” says Matthew, “but that’s because I treat male and female characters exactly the same. It’s not a conscious thing of ‘Oh, I want to write well-rounded women’. It’s a thing of, ‘I want all my characters to be like that’.”

At the time that I first read this script there were a multitude of scripts going around that had terrorism at the core of their subject,” she says. “It was women in scarves that weren’t fleshed out characters, a lot of ‘wife of ISIS guy’ or ‘brown woman in scarf but educated, might have green eyes’. I felt embarrassed.” Karima McAdams

What stood out for Anastasia Griffith in Deep State was that the women “are all different and strong in different ways, we’re from different parts of the world and we all look different”. British-Moroccan actress Karima McAdams echoes that sentiment. In this, her first major role since graduating from drama school, her character of Leyla (an intelligence operative in her 30s who’s put her career before everything else) stood out from other roles Karima had been reading.

“At the time that I first read this script there were a multitude of scripts going around that had terrorism at the core of their subject,” she says. “It was women in scarves that weren’t fleshed out characters, a lot of ‘wife of ISIS guy’ or ‘brown woman in scarf but educated, might have green eyes’. I felt embarrassed.”

“I couldn’t audition for those roles” Karima adds. “I represent both sides and that (writing) was shameful to me but when I read Matthew’s script it was coming from a different point of view. I respected that and in terms of the female character, she didn’t make it to this team because she’s excellent with guns, she’s a mess. She’s not off having babies, she’s not married because there is some sort of deep, emotional issue going on there and so she’s running away. You know life is a mess. No one has it perfect but she has so many dimensions.”

 Karima Adams. Not a 'wife of ISIS guy' CREDIT: FOX

Karima Adams. Not a 'wife of ISIS guy' CREDIT: FOX

Deep State does slip into familiar territory at times, and it’s hard to ignore the scene in the first episode where Lyne Renee’s character continues a dramatic conversation wearing not much more than a bra. “That wasn’t scripted,” says Matthew Parkhill. “That was Lyne saying ‘I think she would do this’.” “I think I made that choice because she’s undressing,” affirms Lyne Renée. “Her husband runs in and goes ‘get the kids’. I’m not going to go ‘Oh honey, give me a second while I put a sweater on’. That’s why I chose it to be real.”

“We have beautiful women on the show but I don’t feel that we sexualised them,” says Matthew. “They’re not wearing push-up bras, or skin tight clothes. When Lyne’s character goes on the run in episode two, (I said to Lyne) whatever costume you can fit into this bag that you run away with, that’s what you’re wearing (for the rest of the show). I would get them to take off make-up. That’s not a male/female thing, that’s making sure that the show is grounded in reality.”

“To jump in, the interesting thing for me,” adds Karima McAdams, “it’s a simple thing, but women and men were lit the same way. The women and men had the same amount of make-up which is hardly any. It just made ‘the work’ important. It was equal across the board.”

Joe Dempsie and Alistair Petrie round out the cast working alongside Mark Strong, in his first major  starring role in a TV series. “it’s just about people bringing their A game and that’s what everybody did,” Mark says. “There is dissatisfaction with the fact that there haven’t been decent parts written for women traditionally but I think things are changing and quite rightly.”

Deep State begins on Thursday 5th April at 9pm on FOX.

By Natalie Jamieson