What would happen if a former diamond thief were released from fifteen years in prison, and by way of a series of odd circumstances, wound up assuming the identity of the sheriff of a small Amish community in rural Pennsylvania?
That is the premise behind Cinemax’s new drama “Banshee.” The series, from executive producers Alan Ball (“True Blood“) and Greg Yaitanes (“House“), stars Kiwi heartthrob Antony Starr as the martial arts-trained ex-con Lucas Hood, and Bosnian-born Ivana Milicevic as Carrie Hopewell, “Lucas’s” former flame-heist accomplice. Starr and Milicevic tell XFINITYTV.com in an exclusive interview what to expect when the show premieres on Friday, Jan. 11 at 10/9c.
The Story: The pilot episode opens on “Lucas” (we are never given his real name) being released from prison after a fifteen year stint for a diamond heist gone awry. We quickly learn that he is in hunt of his ex-girlfriend-heist accomplice, who has gone into hiding in rural Pennsylvania to avoid “Mr. Rabbit” (Ben Cross), the terrifying crime boss they stole from. Along the way, Lucas accidentally winds up with the body of the town’s new sheriff on his hands and assumes his identity, enforcing his own unique brand of justice. For some, the premise will require a major suspension of disbelief. Starr insists that’s the point. “The show is not even trying to be real,” he says of the the drama’s pulpy, comic book quality. “It’s based in a heightened reality,” he adds. “The whole assuming the identity of a sheriff, you’d probably get found out in two minutes. It would be impossible to do that in real life. So right off the bat to accept the world of the show, you’ve gotta buy into that and sort of let go of reality and your attachments to what is and what isn’t possible. And that makes the world much more interesting because you can take things to a much more extreme place.”
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The Romance: Both Milicevic and Starr admit that the heart of the show is the bond between Lucas and Carrie. ”This is a beautiful, corporal, dangerous love story,” Milicevic says. When Lucas first finds Carrie (formerly Anna), he discovers that she is married with children. She isn’t too keen on his reappearance, as it stands to threaten exposing her to Mr. Rabbit, who is out for revenge following Lucas’s release from the clink. “He’s the love of her life,” Milicevic insists. But, “My [character's] whole existence is in jeopardy,” she adds. “There’s probably an element for Anna and Lucas where their old lifestyle was addictive. So while I’ve been sober all these years I’m quite happy, and I’ve grown to love my husband. But this is just that passionate thing.” The chemistry between the two is immediate, but it will take a while for the romance to build, they both reveal.
The Love Scenes: Because this is Cinemax, expect some steam between the sheets – and everywhere else, for that matter. Minutes into the pilot there is a graphic love scene between Lucas and a bartender. Says Starr, “A lot of people will say, ‘Wow there’s a sex scene so early on and that’s a bit racy.’ I just look at it like, this guy’s been in prison for fifteen years. You’re not going to make him make decisions like most people make decisions. And if you’ve been locked away from women for that long, you probably want to get a piece of one.” Milicevic says she finds the nude scenes freeing, although she did have to give up her cupcake habit for several months leading up to shooting one particular scene with Rus Blackwell, who plays her husband Gordon. “It was like the fear of God,” she admits of prepping for the scene. “It was like, ‘I’m not hungry at all.’” Of the difference between doing love scenes on cable versus network television, Milicevic says, “Even when I do network shows, even though I love them, you’re not free. There’s really so much you can’t do. I remember doing ‘Vegas’ right after this and I had to drop a fur coat and be naked underneath and I was like, ‘Oh cool, so do you want me to [motions to being naked]?’ And they’re like, ‘No, we can only shoot you [points to back] like this right through the middle.’ They were like, ‘God you’re so brave to come on first day and drop your’ — and I was like, ‘Who cares? This is nothing. You do not know what I just came off of. This is easy peasy.”
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The Action: The appearance of Lucas not only upsets Carrie, but also Proctor (Ulrich Thomsen), the town’s resident Big Bad who seems to have his hands in just about every criminal enterprise imaginable. Between Proctor, Rabbit’s henchmen, and others who’d like to see Lucas dead, there’s plenty of action — much of it physical. Lucas, it turns out, is pretty badass. Starr says filming the fight sequences was so intense that he actually broke some bones. “You get battered,” he says. “I tore my hamstring, got both elbows smashed up on concrete, and one day one I had six stitches in my lip.” Starr says it took him months of “boot camp” to get into shape for the role. But, “No amount of training could have gotten me ready for fighting 250 pound guys,” he says. “And as much as I know that it’s fake and it’s stunts, you’re still getting thrown around. Your body is still getting knocked. I’m 37, you know? If I was in my 20s maybe I could have handled it in a different way. But I break now. Things take longer to heal.” Despite Lucas’s violent leanings, Starr is a peacemaker at heart. He’s never committed a crime, either. “I’m not really interested in fighting for real or stealing for a living,” Starr admits. “I like to try and think of myself as a good person. That’s one of the great things about a show like this, we get to take things to an extreme. If we have a fight it’s gonna be super violent. If we have sex, it’s gonna be really raw and it’s not going to pull any punches. If we have drama, it’s raw and it’s exposing.”
Lucas isn’t the only one who gets a piece of the action. Carrie is also a physical dynamo. “I had to do so much training,” Milicevic says. “First it was just regular training because, hello, I was about to get naked,” she adds. “I trained with somebody in LA in dynamic movement so that when I got to North Carolina [where "Banshee" shoots] and started training with the fight team, I kind of was already training muscles to be explosive. Then we started to punch and kick and I really took to it, I liked it. But it hurt. At night I was dying. I was taking salt baths and just lying there.“
The One Scene in the Pilot You Must Watch: The opening of the pilot features an intense car chase shot in New York City. It’s a thrill to watch. “A lot of it was done for real up in New York,” Starr says. “We went up for two days and it was brutal. We did eighteen-hour days. It all went seamlessly. We put cones out and blocked off streets and shot this car chase, which was kind of surreal.” There is a point during the chase where a New York City tour bus flips over. Although it looks incredible realistic, Starr insists the action was done on a green screen. “We didn’t actually flip a bus, obviously,” he says. “That would be a little much!”
“Banshee” premieres on Friday, Jan. 11 at 10/9c on Cinemax.