The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Melissa George (Cinemax’s “Hunted”)

Those with a soft spot for Australian soap operas may forever think of Melissa George as Angel from “Home and Away,” but they’re doing both her and themselves a disservice by maintaining that mindset, because George has handily proven over and over again that she’s a far cry from being just another soap opera actress, be it by her Golden Globe nominated performance on HBO’s “In Treatment,” her work with David Lynch (“Mulholland Drive”) and Steven Soderbergh (“The Limey”), or her despicable turn as Lauren Reed on ABC’s “Alias.” With her latest small-screen endeavor, Cinemax’s “Hunted,” George is returning to the spy side of things, but trust Bullz-Eye when we tell you that “Hunted” is on a completely different level of television than “Alias.” We talked to her in conjunction with the series’ premiere – 10 PM tonight and every Friday night for the next several weeks – while also quizzing her about a few other past endeavors, including working with Heath Ledger on “Roar,” getting the shaft on “Grey’s Anatomy,” and just barely missing out on being part of one of the most notorious sitcom flops in NBC history.

Bullz-Eye: To begin at the beginning, how did you find your way into “Hunted”? Was it an audition situation, or did they come looking for you specifically?

Melissa George: They were very strict about making people read. Some jobs, not so much, they know who they want. But “Hunted” is (being produced by) HBO and BBC together, and they were both having to choose and decide, so we had the English with the Americans, so that’s why the audition process was so long.

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I was walking on the West Side Highway in New York, and my phone rang. It was my agent saying, “I’ve just read the most dynamic role for a woman, it’s as complex as what you played on ‘In Treatment,’ with a bit of action, which you’ve done before. It’s shooting in Europe, it’s really good, it’s written by Frank Spotnitz, it’s an English and American production…you’ve got to get it.” That’s kind of what he said. And I hate when they say that, ‘cause that means no sleep for me. Because, y’know, of course if it’s that great I want to play it. And I was then shooting a movie with Julia Stiles in Los Angeles (“Between Us”) and I was busy with that, and I had a video camera set up in the hotel room, and I put together a scene. They asked me to do three scenes, but I just did one. It was the one where she confronts her ex in the apartment. Very emotional. And I remember I was just so choked up…and I was recording myself, not speaking to anybody, because I didn’t have an actor reading with me. And I was, like, “Oh, my God, I really love this part…” And I cut, printed, and sent it. I couldn’t do any more scenes because I was really upset. I felt really strongly about this woman. And I waited. I didn’t care, because I was shooting a movie.

Then I got a call saying, “They want you to meet with Frank and read a scene.” I was, like, “Oh, my God…” There were so many freaking people in this room. [Laughs.] So many people! I thought it was just going to be me. Every actor thinks that when you’re asked to read, it’s just gonna be you. But it was a lot of people, and I was on my own. But I met Frank, and he said to me later on, once I’d gotten the role, that he knew from when I put myself on tape, and when I went in to read, he said, “I just feel really connected to her.” But that was it. I didn’t hear for awhile after that, so I was, like, “Ugh, this is gonna be one of those jobs…” And then S.J. (Clarkson), who’s directing, got onboard, and…the director has a big say, so Frank’s got his choice made, BBC and HBO made theirs, but now I have to wait for S.J. to make hers. So I had to meet her. They fly me from New York to L.A. to have lunch, and all we do is talk about film, and then…I was the only girl, but I had to read with lots of guys. And none of the guys I read with got it. [Laughs.] But I was the only girl they were using, and yet still hadn’t told me that I’d got it! And I was, like, “What’s going on here?”

But I was so convinced that I was onboard that I went around convincing everyone else around me that I was. I was, like, “Oh, yeah, I’m gonna be playing this role in a few months…” But I hadn’t heard anything, and I was going, “This is ridiculous! They’re going all over the world looking for this actress, every single country, and I’m, like, “Well, does she have to be from a particular place?” “No, they don’t care where she’s from, because she has to play so many nationalities, so many different languages and accents.” So I waited while they went around the globe, reading hundreds of girls, and they were losing me, because I was going, “Well, if they wait too long…” And then finally everyone was, like, “C’mon, S.J.!” So that’s the story. And it was so funny on set, because while we were filming in Morocco, S.J. would come up to me and speak French, then she’d say, “Oh, sorry, wrong actress.” Like she’d found a girl in France that she really liked. I was, like, “Shut up, I know you didn’t find anybody!” [Laughs.] It was one of those things where the joke went on forever. Like, the whole season of the show. “Sorry, what’s your name?” So I don’t quite know what happened that made it take so long to decide, but I know that when I seize on something, man, I’d better get the job. Because I was honestly delusional. I was, like, “Yes, I’m shooting London in a few months,” and everyone was, like, “But have they said ‘yes’?” “No. But I’m going to be shooting!”

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The Light from the TV Shows: Pilot Season Ahoy!

It’s a sure sign that spring is on the verge of emerging when the networks start to let slip the names, premises, and attached actors for all of the pilots under consideration for the next TV season. Most of these pilots go nowhere, which is the way the cookie has always crumbled, but a few lucky programs end up getting the go-ahead for a series commitment. I don’t claim to have any real idea how the networks think – as a critic, it’s pretty much a given that I never know what the networks are thinking (and, in turn, they don’t care what I’m thinking) – but that doesn’t mean I’m afraid to give my thoughts on 15 of the pilots that I’d like to see come to fruition and join the fall schedules of their respective networks. You can check out a much fuller list from The Hollywood Reporter by clicking here, but in the meantime, here’s the stuff that I’m hoping to be TiVo’ing in a few months’ time….

1. Gilded Lilys (ABC)

It’s been quite awhile since a broadcast network has managed to sell viewers on a period piece set prior to the 20th century, so the fact that ABC is even considering this series, which takes place in 1895 and revolves around the first luxury hotel in New York, is proof of how much pull executive producer Shonda Rhimes has with the American Broadcasting Company. In truth, the big selling point for me is John Barrowman. This doesn’t exactly bode well for another season of “Torchwood,” but the dude deserves a big U.S. break. You never know: this could be it.

2. Untitled Louis C.K. / Spike Feresten Comedy (CBS)

Go on, admit it: you were sold the moment you saw the name “Louis C.K.,” weren’t you? And Spike Feresten isn’t bad, either. Seeing these two guys attached to this project is the only reason why it stands out, since the only real description available is that it’s an an ensemble comedy about a bunch of twentysomethings trying to make their dreams come true despite today’s crappy financial climate. But, damn, after two seasons of “Louie,” the idea of Louis C.K. putting his spin on anything makes it something that’ll surely be worth seeing. With that said, however, I hope Dan Byrd ends up not being available to do the show, as that will mean that “Cougar Town” has been renewed.

3. Animal Kingdom (NBC)

Two words: Tyler Labine. I mean, come on, America, what more does this loveable teddy bear of a comedy actor have to do to get a show to stay on the air for more than a season or two? NBC is, if memory serves, the last of the broadcast networks that has yet to cancel a series out from under Mr. Labine – “Invasion” was on ABC, “Reaper” was on The CW, “Sons of Tucson” was on Fox, and “Mad Love” was on CBS – and, frankly, this could be his last stop before the autograph-show circuit. Doesn’t Tyler Labine deserve a better fate than that? You’re damned right he does.

4. Untitled Kevin Williamson serial killer drama (Fox)

The man behind “The Vampire Diaries” brings Kevin Bacon to the small screen to play Ryan Hardy, a former FBI agent on the hunt for serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), who’s busy building himself a whole cult full of serial killers. If that isn’t enough to sell you, the cast also features Natalie Zea (“Justified”).

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