Pasadena, Calif.

Following in Robert Redford’s footsteps can be a slippery slope. But for actor Max Irons it was a double challenge. Irons is starring in AT&T Universe Network’s new series “Condor,” which is loosely based not only on the Robert Redford movie “Three Days of the Condor,” but on the novel “Six Days of the Condor.”

Irons plays an idealistic CIA analyst who finds himself the target of a ruthless and unforeseen enemy.

“I’d seen the movie before becoming aware of this project,” says Irons, who is the son of actors Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack. “I was aware of its cult status. I watched the film after getting the part. And then I remember there was a screening before the first day of shooting.”

He was determined not to emulate what he saw in the movie.

“I considered an acting policy of not actually letting people say Robert Redford’s name on the set for fear that I’d just burst into tears,” he jokes. “But I think it’s an inspiring film. The questions posed are inspiring. So to be able to explore those questions on a long-form format is wonderful. But I didn’t linger on the film too much.”

The 10-episode drama premieres on Wednesday. And one of the unique things about it is the fact that the creators were careful not to resort to super villains to elevate the suspense.

“Our matrix of villains — who I even hesitate to call villains — each have very disparate reasons for doing what they’re doing,” says Jason Smilovic, one of the executive producers of the series.

“We have one character who’s motivated entirely by greed. We have another character who is motivated by a desire to … make his father proud and to reconcile that relationship. We have another character who really believes that he’s doing something very good. We have another character who is a fanatic, who believes that the CIA’s job is to wage war against Islam.

“I think we were very interested in how conspiracies really work in non-filmic terms. Like, how do good people wind up doing bad things, and how can all of these people who are operating together in a cabal, how can they each be motivated by separate reasons?”

One of the TV characters who was not in the movie is CIA operative Marty Frost, played by Academy Award-winning Mira Sorvino. Sorvino peppered the creators with questions about the character before she took it on.

“(It was) all about where she was coming from and how she was not going to be your stereotypical sort of hard-a--, upper level CIA woman that we see portrayed a lot on television, but (she is) somebody who’s really had a rough, interesting, emotional past that makes her behave in unexpected ways,” says Sorvino, who is also the daughter of an actor, Paul Sorvino.

“And she’s a very complex and fascinating character to put your teeth into. So I didn’t feel that I should dwell too much on the … film because she was a new entity that came with this production. But for that, I was very grateful to have such a rich role to dive into,” she says.

One of the more frightening portrayals in “Condor” is that of Brendan Fraser, who plays a diabolical genius intent on evening the score with the agency. We first see him burying a bag of dead prairie dogs in the middle of a moonscape desert.

“He has a grand scheme plan of taking down an enemy that he perceives as being an act of righteousness,” says Fraser, “and it will enable him to reconcile with his father.

“And I say that because each of the characters in this expansive case all have rich back stories that drive the choices that they make, that we all may think in watching this spy thriller are quite nefarious.”

Not so, says Fraser.

“It rounds them out as being people just like myself and you, who feel that while they may be involved in what we see as being dastardly, to them they don’t know that they’re despicable. Any villain never would,” he says.

Fraser’s character is part of the military industrial military complex, a man who feels his mission is ordained.

“He’s not getting his hands dirty outside of digging a hole to put some rodents into that had been tested upon,” says Fraser. “I found this interesting because it’s counterpoint to, I think, a lot of the choices that I’ve been asked to make in the scope of my career.”

“And I find it exciting to be able to work in the format of episodic television to pay off the arc of a story throughout the span of episodes, almost like chapters in a novel would do, rather than the challenge of working inside of 110, 120 minutes, whatever a feature film would be. So it was mostly satisfying for me, and my challenge was not to do any mustache twisting.”

Bob Balaban, who plays the CIA’s deputy director, says he relishes the opportunity to extend the story over several episodes.

“It’s kind of like a microscopic view of something that went by like a lightning bolt,” Balaban says. “And you get to watch in between all the cracks and crevices, which is, to me, where the juicy stuff lies — that you can really spend the time to examine on a television series, which you can’t do in a movie.”


10 episodes

Start 10 p.m. Wednesday

Audience on DirecTV


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