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The Man, The Myth, The 'Legends'
August 11, 2014  | By Donna J. Plesh  | 2 comments

[Editor's Note: TVWW contributor Donna J. Plesh died April 2, 2015, from ovarian cancer. She was 71. Donna covered television since the early 1980s, initially for the Orange County Register and its TV magazine. She also was a member of the Television Critics Association. Donna was always a cheerful spirit within the TVWW network and often gave readers a kind, up-close viewpoint in her interviews with a wide variety of television stars. She will be missed.]

Many in the U.S. might recognize Sean Bean (above) from Game of Thrones or the Lord of the Rings movies but he has been a staple in films and British TV series for several decades. Now he’s back on American TV starring in the new TNT series Legends (premiering August 13 at 9 PM ET). Bean plays Martin Odum, an undercover FBI agent who, after spending so many years undercover, begins to suspect his own identity might be a lie.

In an interview at the Television Critics Association summer press session about his latest series, Bean said, “I think one of the attractions was playing multiple characters, which I have never done before, and I have done a great deal on television before, and also, I wanted to work with [executive producer] Howard Gordon [Homeland24 and The X-Files] because of his track record, pedigree and what a great cast. People around me who are wonderful actors, very supportive and the storylines were fascinating. I just thought it was interesting to follow these characters that went undercover and to kind of see what [the] consequences were psychologically by doing that, having to totally believe that you were someone else, imagine yourself in another character and still try and lead a normal life with a wife and child. And I think that deals with that kind of dilemma, very serious psychological dilemma, that these guys or girls face when they go undercover. That was the attraction.”

In the opener, Bean (below) is playing a rather slow and goofy character; an American named Lincoln Dittmann — a guy who stutters and who seems to have found favor with the bad guys. But his real name is Martin Odum, right? Or is it? That is the dilemma facing Bean’s character(s).

Executive producer and showrunner David Wilcox (Fringe, Law & Order), who joined the series after the pilot was shot, talked more about Bean’s character. “Martin Odum is, as you know, a man of mystery who has a past that, really, we dig into, and it’s sort of kind of a Russian doll of who he really is…And Martin Odum, as an undercover operative, as someone who embraces various legends to go deep cover, you know, into these criminal organizations, is somebody who you don’t necessarily know what you’re getting in terms of his identity. And that’s really what this show is about. It’s about a guy whose identity is kind of the driving question. Who is he? And he’s on this journey to figure that out.”

Wilcox said the series is based on a Robert Littell novel. “The term 'legend' is a term of art used in the world of spycraft and it is one that obviously we are embracing. I think the reason people have not used that terminology is that it is an unusual term of art and we are really embracing it. I think it is a cool way of sort of thinking of undercover work that very much he [Bean’s character] is creating a false identity that he can use to infiltrate crime [groups]. The big change for us is that instead of him week to week creating an identity that is good for the crime that he is doing, instead our big shift was that he has these identities already pre-existing and they have their own contacts, their own world, their own apartment, their own wardrobe, you know, everything. It is a deeply imagined character, what these legends are, and he has several of them out there in rotation. So at the end (of the pilot) he says, you know, we can have this weapon of mass destruction out there and he says Dante Auerbach [Martin assumes the legend of Dante Auerbach, an international arms dealer]. Dante is a legend he has used in the past — and it is a legend he may use again in the future. And he knows if he steps into those shoes he is going to be able to tap into that network."

Wilcox added that author Littell is reading the scripts for the show but, as to more involvement from him, Wilcox said he did not know. “You know — we have pulled from the book here and there. The book is amazing. It is great. There are some particular differences that were adjusted basically because this is a TV show.”

With playing so many different roles over the years, Bean isn’t really sure how he keeps his creative edge. “I don’t know, really. It just seems to be something that bubbles up and I don’t think it ever really disappears. So there is always something I am excited about. If I take on a role — you know, I try to take on diverse roles that offer me challenges and that keeps the creative energy bubbling away. I just enjoy doing what I do so much and I think I am blessed to be able to do such a great job,” he said.

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Mike F.
Quick, somewhat related follow-up. There is an infamous Sean Bean Death Reel video available on YouTube in which various characters portrayed by Mr. Bean are killed off, I kid you not, 21 TIMES! It is a curious phenomenon indeed.
Aug 22, 2014   |  Reply
Mike F
As a fan of Robert Littell's writing, I was looking forward to this series. However, when showrunner Wilcox states that "we have pulled from the book here and there" he is not kidding. There was very little of the novel, "Legends", in the pilot episode. I couldn't help but grimace at the introduction of an NCIS-like support team complete with geeky techs. Then I just shook my head at the gratuitous scene in which Martin Odum's female boss has to go undercover as a scantily dressed exotic dancer performing a private dance in order to make contact. I can only imagine what Mr. Littell's real reaction was as he read these scripts. I will give the 2nd episode a look but if things proceed along the lines of the pilot....well, there's a LOT of great television out there right now.
Aug 19, 2014   |  Reply
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