Stick Lost, Resident Evil, The Truman Show and Surrogates in an industrial-sized blender and you’ll come close to Persons Unknown. Created by The Usual Suspects writer Christopher McQuarrie, it starts with a group of strangers, plucked from their regular lives, who find themselves in an eerie ’50s-style ghost town. They are being watched by surveillance cameras; if they run, they are hunted down and killed. They can’t fight because they can’t see their enemy.
The initial mystery makes for an addictive suspense drama as the characters are manipulated by whoever’s in control. They are soon instructed to carry out outrageous tasks, such as murdering a neighbour, with the promise of going home.
If you like the open-ended, evolutionary aspect of Lost, you’ll love this show. We quizzed Jason Wiles who plays abductee Joe Tucker, to get the inside track on the series.
Why should people tune in to Persons Unknown?
It’s an unpredictable show. It has elements of The Prisoner and Twilight Zone. I didn’t watch a lot of Lost, but I think people really like that kind of world, and we have that too. More than anything, the characters are interesting and dynamic, and the storytelling is strong. Dive in for a crazy, psychotic adventure.
What attracted you to the show and your character, Joe?
First, the show was created by Chris McQuarrie. The Usual Suspects is amazing and the twists and turns in most of his scripts are fantastic. For me, getting out of a cop uniform [on US cop show Third Watch] and doing something new was exciting. I’d never really done a sci-fi show, although I still don’t know if our show is really sci-fi. It was just a departure; Joe is multi-layered and flawed to the extreme, which I love. Great people were involved and the characters in the pilot were intriguing.
How did you get involved in the show?
About 10 years ago I did Chris McQuarrie’s first pilot. It was a big, huge extravaganza about the underworld that was sort of a take on The Usual Suspects. I think at that point it was a little dark for television. It was a big, two-hour pilot for Warner Brothers and NBC and it didn’t go anywhere, and I was so bummed out. A decade later I got this script and saw Chris’s name on it and was interested. The director of the pilot and our last episode is a guy named Michael Rymer – he had done a lot of Battlestar Galactica, and I had done another pilot with him. He thought I was perfect for it and I auditioned. The next thing I knew I was moving to Mexico City for six months.
The pilot pulls in viewers immediately, but were you worried that the payoff wouldn’t be as good as the setup?
That’s a big part of it. I was lucky enough to know the writer and the director and they assured me it was going to be good. Joe goes places that are crazy and it’s a rollercoaster. I just trusted it. At some point you just have to dive in; you don’t get to read all 13 episodes before you make a decision.
What was it like filming in Mexico?
We all knew we were going down to Mexico for six months. We were staying in sort of the Beverly Hills of Mexico City, but we were really the fish out of water. The food was amazing, the people were amazing. The crew were all Spanish. It was the dream, honestly. It sounds so clichéd – we all liked and respected each other, but we were all so different. We had a blast.
It seems like a really intense show, with all sorts of spooky things going on. How did you lighten the mood on the set?
Having a great cast helped – casts either have chemistry or they don’t. They can look at each other and dig each other and it just happened for us. Also, you can imagine seven American actors working with a Spanish-speaking team – it was just bizarre. We would have several American directors, a couple of English directors, some Australian directors, but we were the minority in terms of language and it made for some pretty funny times. It was such a fun ride because of the cast.
Persons Unknown season one debuts on March 19 at 8pm on OSN