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Julia Ormond Controls the Bleak Future of 'Incorporated'
November 29, 2016  | By David Hinckley
 

Syfy’s unsettling new drama Incorporated lays out a vision of a future society in which cold, soulless mega-corporations rule what’s left of the world for the near-total benefit of a select elite.

Set in 2074, just a few decades away, it’s a chilling picture that co-star Julia Ormond says only gives her pause in one regard.

“With many of the choices we’re making now,” says Ormond, “I wonder if we will even be here in 60 years. I wonder if Incorporated is bleak enough.”

Incorporated, which premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET, is what Ormond accurately calls “grounded science fiction.”

It’s set in a future world, but it isn’t built on radically futuristic technology or special effects. There are no shape-shifters and we aren’t commuting to Mars.

The show largely revolves around a disturbingly familiar corporation called Spiga Biotech that controls, among other things, much of the world’s food production.

Spiga’s boss is Elizabeth, played by Ormond, who calls it “the most stressed-out role I’ve ever played.”

Elizabeth does have a lot on her plate, so to speak.

Humanity’s indifference to the environment has destroyed much of the planet and thus most of our traditional sources of food.

Spiga services a relative handful of fortunate people who live in what are called the Green Zones. They are walled-off areas, nominally cities but more like large compounds, in which life seems somewhat normal and often even luxurious.

Outside the Green Zones are the Red Zones, where everyone else lives. Resources are scarce, security is almost non-existent. It’s survival of the fittest, or the most ruthless – very much like the no-man’s land portrayed in another current series, Amazon’s Man in the High Castle.

The central drama of Incorporated revolves around Ben Larson (Sean Teale), a mid-level manager in Spiga who is married to Laura (Allison Miller), Elizabeth’s estranged daughter.

Ben seems like one more obedient, ambitious Spiga executive, happy to play by the rules and take his rewards. But Ben also has ties to a group of rebels in the Red Zone, and his double life sets off the show’s core drama.

Specifically, Ben is tied through his friend Theo (Eddie Ramos) to Terrence (Ian Tracey), a leader of the Red Zone rebels.

Ben is not, however, pursuing some abstract romantic notion of noble rebellion. Theo’s sister Iliana has been forced to become a sex slave for Spiga executives – yes, that’s the kind of perc Spiga offers – and Ben sets out to rescue her.

Given this backdrop, Ormond says one of her immediate challenges is to give Elizabeth some humanity.

“She does care for her daughter,” says Ormond. “She’s struggling to hang onto that little thread of love.

“You have to build that part of her over time. You have to see humanity come out of her in a way this corporate world doesn’t allow. If there were none of that, she’d be a cliché. She’d be boring.”

In the larger picture, Ormond suggests, Spiga represents an extreme yet recognizable version of corporations today, reflecting their ever-growing power over all our lives.

“It’s less important who is in government than who is in the C-suite,” she says. “And it’s not just the CEO. It’s the board of directors and the shareholders.

“We’re at a point where we’re all making choices,” she says, and those choices will determine where the human race goes over the next 60 years. Or 30 years.

“There are goals toward which we need to work,” she says. “The complete absence of slavery and human trafficking. An end to child labor. An adequate food supply and safe drinking water for everyone. A safe work environment. A sustainable environmental footprint.”

Many governments, she says, have set standards in these areas. That’s good, she says. It’s also not enough.

“All government can do is set minimum requirements,” she says. “There’s nothing that says corporations can’t do more. They should do more.

“The priority of corporations today is short-term profits. We need all corporations to see they can act responsibly and not lose money. Doing the right things can be profitable.”

Way too often, though, she says, that message is either not delivered or received.

“We all need to get involved through our words and actions,” she says. “If we don’t take a different course in areas like human rights and our environmental footprint, it will affect every person on the planet. Sixty years from now, by the time of Incorporated, we may have passed the tipping point.”

The 51-year-old Ormond says she first joined these causes herself some 30 years ago, after her breakout role opposite Harrison Ford in the film remake of Sabrina.

“They were things I didn’t know much about and I felt I should,” she says. “And since I became successful, I have tried to redirect some of that spotlight toward these areas.”

In her acting career, she has joined many other actors in doing more television lately.

“Television seems to be a more suitable place for telling stories today,” she says. “There are more opportunities for women.”

She laughs. “I’m just glad to be working at all. I always had this fear that when I got to 35 it would just end.”

It didn’t. She won an Emmy for her role in Temple Grandin and was nominated again for playing Don Draper’s mother-in-law Marie Calvert on Mad Men.

“As I’ve switched to supporting roles, I’ve found they’re often more out there and character-driven,” she says. “Who would have thought a step-grandmother would have been one of the greatest roles I ever had?”

Not to take anything away from Elizabeth.

“Elizabeth is very liberating,” says Ormond. “She’s one of the first characters I ever played where there isn’t a whiff of romance. She isn’t seen through the lens of a man or in terms of a romantic relationship.

“I love the show. I hope we get a season two.”

 
 
 
 
 
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