Mark Strong is back on the small screen as Max Easton in Fox’s new, highly addictive espionage thriller Deep State. But forget 007 – he’s the ‘dirty James Bond’, he tells Gemma Dunn

Tell us a bit about Deep State and your character, Max Easton.

THE premise of it is a man who is trying to marry a very dark and dirty, private, work life with his family life. It’s asking you the question, “Is this man morally sound or not?”. And in that vein, it’s really the marriage of a conspiracy thriller and a family drama.

He’s a former MI6 operative who is called back for one last job. What kind of spy is he?

He’s an old one. He used to be very successful, one of the best as they say, but he’s retired. He retired ten years ago and has a new family. He’s out of the game. Things happen to bring him back into it, but the morality, the ethics and the day-to-day drudgery, and also violence, that he’s involved with suddenly comes from a more mature man’s perspective, rather than a young guy who’s just gung-ho.

What about the family element?

Max obviously loves his current wife and children, but he abandoned his previous wife and child and has done some terrible things in his line of work. I think what you come to realise very quickly is that, as a younger man, the life that he was trying to lead as a spy with a wife and child was very complicated and very difficult and he couldn’t sustain it.

Will there be comparisons with James Bond?

He’s the dirty James Bond. James Bond has all the lines, the gadgets and the suave look. Max is much more in the dirt and dust and having to cope.

Did you have to do any weapons training?

Weirdly, I can strip and build a sniper’s rifle with my eyes closed. Which is a real talent. I can also now ride horses, from learning on the job. But there’s no preparation for how you play a spy. And what’s great about this is the family drama is as important as the conspiracy thriller element. So I basically had to imagine myself in that position, that’s the only way to play it really. What would I do faced with those choices?

Do you find it easy to switch off after an intense day of filming?

It’s tricky. You have to get yourself up for scenes which are particularly harrowing and I suppose I’ve developed a technique to be able to shed that, almost immediately. I remember in A View From The Bridge I was doing very intense scenes eight times a week and I couldn’t understand why I was so depressed. It does affect you. In fact, I remember a couple of times being on stage in a moment of high emotion and I actually burst into tears. I started crying. I fooled my body into thinking I was that sad and then of course what happens is I couldn’t speak.

Deep State tackles some big political issues.

The politics are much more to do with the West’s involvement with the Middle East, the morality and the ethics of that and what we now know as a result of what happened after the Iraq War. It deals with the fallout, which is something that we are experiencing at the moment. It is incredibly current. But not parochial politics, it’s more politics on a world stage.

Has exploring such topics made you more suspicious of our own government?

Of course. We’re all kept in the dark about what’s going on behind the scenes and it’s just really interesting timing that we should be tackling this. Every country probably believes what it’s being told – but it’s interesting that there’s this confluence at the moment of a story that deals with the deep state, what goes on behind the scenes, and what’s actually going on in the news.

This is your first TV show in a while. What brought you back to the small screen?

I love making movies, movies are great. But the movies that seem to be in the cinema at the moment are the big spectacle movies, the superhero movies. I’ve just done a couple of Kingsmans and I’m doing a movie at the moment called Shazam!. They’re incredibly technical experiences where you’re not even just making pieces of the jigsaw – you’re making pieces of the pieces of the jigsaw. There’s no real scenes to be played. So to go back and do character development over eight hours was heaven sent.

  • Deep State is on Fox on Thursday nights