Imagine your entire life is ripped away from you, only to be thrust back into it years later. Your family, your career, everything you once knew becomes unrecognizable. That impossible situation is something Absentia star Stana Katic had to reckon with when taking on the role of Emily Byrne, an FBI agent who is found after six years of torment.
Absentia is Katic’s first major television role since leaving behind Castle‘s Kate Beckett in 2016. The series, premiering on Showcase in Canada this Sunday, is a psychological thriller that explores what it means to step back into your life after trauma all while unfolding the troubling mystery of Emily’s disappearance.
The TV Junkies spoke with Katic, who serves as series star and executive producer, at a recent press junket in Toronto, where we discussed her experience playing an antihero character, what it meant to take on the role of EP, and whether we can trust Emily.
The TV Junkies: What were some of your considerations when looking for a follow-up role to Kate Beckett?
Stana Katic: I wanted to find something that would reflect what I see in the world right now, in that women are complex. We’re multifaceted. I was looking for a character that would embrace all of those elements. This is, of course, a really intense version of that because it’s a psychological thriller. I think what’s compelling for an actor, especially now, is that those opportunities are more and more out there. We’re not relegated to playing the worrying girlfriend or the worrying mom. Now we’re an integral part of the story’s trajectory. We have been for a long time, but I think it’s becoming more and more interesting.
So what does that mean? It essentially breaks down into playing an antihero character, which I think is true to form. It’s reflective of people. Everyone makes bad choices and people try to do their best. Sometimes their choices aren’t based on the best morality, so I think that’s really compelling, relatable, and horrific: everything that antiheroes can be.
TTVJ: For Absentia, you’re not just the lead actor, you’re an executive producer as well. What did that mean for you going into the project?
SK: It means that I have a seat at the table. It means I can have a dialogue and sit and collaborate with everyone that’s a part of the project. Sony was amazing at embracing me and welcoming me to that table. I feel like it’s important now to take advantage and to take that seat when it’s offered.
We worked on the development, we worked on the editing process, and what a potential future for Absentia looks like as well. It’s such a privilege and a pleasure.
TTVJ: In the last season of Castle you did have a producer credit, so has this been a very different experience?
SK: I’ve had that role and credit before, but this is an active version of that. I’m always excited to participate in storytelling. I will pitch a story to anybody. It doesn’t mean that they’ll receive it all the time. This time they actively embraced it and wanted to know how I felt about the story, and how we can continuously push ourselves to make it better.
TTVJ: As an actor, what was your process in preparing for a role like Emily?
SK: I always have a jokey answer, but I’ll tell you the truth in that at the time that I said yes to the role, I had been reading about women who survived World War II, and who were active participants in the resistance. These were spies, farm girls, mothers, a bit of everybody. The extraordinary resilience of these women, the tenacity, the intelligence to get through what they had undergone was really inspiring, and I’m curious about that. This story came about, so that was an accidental part of the preparation, and I think it’s part of our reality. There are parts of the world where people are going through extreme circumstances. How does one survive that? How does one move from victimhood into a flourishing participant in the human race?
TTVJ: To step into a role like this where we see a character go through trauma and then deal with the recovery must be an interesting acting challenge.
SK: Yeah, it was. We were telling it in a part of the world that has a thick history. We were fortunate because we could access a lot of resources in a place like Bulgaria. I was telling somebody that we were filming in a tunnel at one point in the story and apparently this tunnel was a place where they would store nuclear warheads, and use it for transiting them. We were also filming in a forest with birch trees, and right next to it there was a building that was a concentration camp housing space. To have that kind of history immediately there I think influenced the story in a very subtle way. It was informative for us, as actors. Especially for me, at least.
TTVJ: In the pilot there’s a terrifying sequence, at least for the audience, with Emily in a glass chamber and the water starts coming in. What was that experience like filming?
SK: They made it as safe as they could. However, we have to commit to this person being brought to the brink of death, so it was challenging. After three or four days of it I was kind of like, ‘oh my gosh.’ But I was in safe hands, and that was nice. At the same time you’re playing it, so you’re feeling it, you’re engaged with the terror of what it must mean to have to live through that for six years. Then possibly the numbness that comes from having lived through it for six years. What does that character go through? In her case, she connects with memories of her son, and it’s the only thing that keeps her afloat. I think that was really interesting for this character.
TTVJ: There’s so much mystery around Emily’s disappearance. As an audience, can we trust Emily?
SK: Wow. I hope the audience can. Like a lot of the antihero characters that are out there, we’re riding this line of, ‘am I really rooting for this character? Oh no, please, god, don’t do that.’ Tom Hardy’s character in Taboo, Cillian Murphy’s character in Peaky Blinders. These are all characters that have tested our ability to stay with that character. I hope that we do that with Emily. In a way, that’s part of the mystery of this first season, is ‘who are we actually following? Who are we rooting for?’ I think the audience is going to have a tough time at points with her. They’re going to root for her and they’re going to be really upset with her. They’re going to love her, and they’re just going to want to slap her. So that’s part of the journey for us in these 10 episodes.
Are you looking forward to seeing Stana Katic in Absentia? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Absentia premieres Sunday, Jan. 21 at 9 p.m. ET on Showcase in Canada. The entire first season will be available in the U.S. on Friday, Feb. 2 on Amazon.
Associate Editor Kelly Townsend always had strong opinions on TV growing up, so it was only natural to evolve from couch musings to online journalism. She can't ever choose a favorite series, so please don't ask. Her writing has also appeared on IndieWire and Tribute.ca. You can find her on Twitter at @kellybtownsend.