'Crisis' Gillian Anderson: 'It's really important she's not evil'

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Anyone who's watched the political and personal machinations on "The West Wing" or "House of Cards" -- or watched cable news for half a day -- realizes that the rich and powerful can be just as vulnerable as human beings as anybody else.

We all have our weak points, and when you hit people where it hurts most, they'll give up just about anything to make it stop.

On Sunday, March 16, NBC premieres "Crisis," a 13-episode drama that tracks the moment-to-moment action when mysterious forces snatch the progeny of the powerful, to use as leverage against their parents.

"The machine of the season," says executive producer (with Far Shariat and Phillip Noyce) Rand Ravich to Zap2it, "The machine of the season is, 'What will you do for your child?' So we want to see parents, week after week, being asked the question, 'Will they say yes?' 'Will they say no?' 'Who will they betray?' 'How will they betray them?'

"So there will be satisfying emotional and plot-driven, parent-driven stories almost every week while feeding into the larger series."

As the series opens, a bus is headed out on a field trip, carrying students from Ballard High, an elite Washington, D.C., school that educates the children of top CEOs, international diplomats and political power players and even the son of the president.

But when the bus is ambushed on a rural road, traitors are revealed, and the teens and their chaperons are taken, setting off a national crisis. The hostages are imprisoned on one floor of an elaborate mansion -- and one of the group may not be what he seems on the surface.

Gillian Anderson stars as IT CEO Meg Fitch; Rachael Taylor is her estranged younger sister, FBI Special Agent Susie Dunn; Halston Sage is Amber Fitch, Meg's daughter (at least to the world); Dermot Mulroney  plays ex-CIA analyst Francis Gibson; Stevie Lynn Jones is Gibson's daughter, Beth Ann; Joshua Erenberg is teen Anton Roth, who escapes the ambush with the help of Secret Service Special Agent Marcus Finley (Lance Gross); and Michael Beach plays FBI Director Olsen.

Viewers wondering how such a thing can be stretched out into another complete season can stop worrying about that right now.

"We definitely have a hard ending," says Ravich. "We have a climactic, satisfying -- both emotional and plot- - conclusion, that leaves a small 5-percent seed for next year to go back into a world, but we do have an ending this year, and we have an ending every episode."
As the teens go through their captivity, sides of their personalities emerge.

"We started with Beth Ann, the daughter of Francis Gibson," says Ravich, "and then we kept building around her. Who else would be in that world? We started with stereotypes -- the jock, the outcast ... and found out, 'What is the real story of these kids?' "

But this isn't any ordinary high-school class. Much is expected of them, but when put under pressure, some may turn out to be more than they would have become otherwise.

Says Shariat, "It's not a true cross-section, like you would find in a public school. That wasn't the world of this show. It's a funny thing about schools like this, with very successful parents, the alumni of these schools don't usually turn out to be that amazing. The parents are the overachievers."

As to why this should be, Ravich says, "It's probably that they have a level of security and comfort. That's what we've tried to explain on the show -- that's what appealed to us about having these kids taken away from their comfort zone.

"There were such great expectations thrust among them, and they were living in such a deep rut, more so than other people. What happens when they are sprung, and they have to make decisions for themselves, when they're not ready for it?"

Meanwhile, parents accustomed to being in control or having their own way are either put in the position of being helpless or pinioned beneath the thumb of their child's captor.

Even Meg, who seems impenetrable in the first episode of "Crisis," reaches the limit of her strength.

"There's a point," says Anderson, "where it becomes too hard to keep up that facade. Later on, she thinks she is broken. There's a softer side of her that starts to break through, but it's not necessarily sustainable.

"It's quite dramatic, how it gets cracked in the show. Probably, based on how she's handled things before, it's quite surprising for the audience to see. It really wrong-foots her, and we get to see that wrong-footing for a couple of episodes, until I don't think she can take it anymore.

"It's really important that she's not evil, that her motivations are coming from adaptive behavior and survival mechanisms. At the same time, she will not take no for an answer.

"She's complicated."
Photo/Video credit: NBC