‘He is an Unreliable Narrator of His Own Story’: Creators Adina Sădeanu and Kirsten Peters Talk HBO Max Espionage Drama ‘Spy/Master’02/22/2023
HBO Max’s period drama “Spy/Master” is more John le Carré than Ian Fleming, state its creators. Following Victor Godeanu, a high-ranking officer in Romania’s secret service, advisor to president Nicolae Ceaușescu – and a spy – who decides to defect in 1978.
“As a child, I used to watch James Bond, which is a very cartoony version of espionage. It was something we really wanted to avoid. We wanted it to feel real,” says Kirsten Peters.
Adina Sădeanu adds: “John le Carré’s novels, for example ‘A Perfect Spy,’ are so complex. These characters run away from their own humanity. I have always wondered: How do they live? How do they wake up in the morning, after saying so many lies?”
For Sădeanu, her journalistic background – as well as Romanian roots – came in handy as well.
“Over the years, I met many people working in intelligence. They weren’t these ‘James Bond’ types, with an exception of maybe one guy. It helped me understand the way they hide.”
Their stoic hero is played by Alec Secăreanu. In 2017, he starred alongside Josh O’Connor in Francis Lee’s “God’s Own Country,” later adding “The Bike Thief” and “Happy Valley” to his resume.
Parker Sawyers and Svenja Jung also act in the show.
“You are not able to read him – that’s his job. He is an unreliable narrator to his own story. But he does break in the end, in his own way,” says Peters, with her collaborator adding:
“He is ambivalent. As Kirsten has said, he has been doing it for his entire life. We wanted to give him a weakness and have him deal with that, too. He has to confront himself. He has no choice.”
Mostly because Victor is a family man: Husband, father. Which makes things even more complicated.
“At that time, during communism, you had to have a family. Otherwise, people would get suspicious. His family gets to play a role in this too, because leaving his daughter behind is such a big thing,” says Sădeanu.
“In some ways, in Romania this regime was much tougher [than in many communist countries]. People were afraid to talk. It really plays an important part in the way he is and how he survives.”
The Berlinale Series title, produced by HBO Romania and Warner TV Serie, was also overseen by Proton Cinema and Mobra Films, the latter co-founded by arthouse darling Cristian Mungiu.
“So many people are looking into producing shows in Romania right now. I am sure there will be more,” says Sădeanu, even though the future of some European HBO Max Originals seems shaky.
“We are happy to break the ice as the first Romanian show in Berlin.”
Winner of HBO Romania’s screenwriting competition, it was developed as a standalone series – with six episodes directed by Christopher Smith – but “we all like to dream,” laughs Peters.
Observing that although the challenge was to keep things fresh while staying close to the era, the shifting political landscape – and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – suddenly made it timely.
“I definitely think the show will be seen differently now than when we first started to develop it. But my interest at that time was not about making a political statement about West versus East. It was about these characters, trying to navigate very precarious situations.”
They decided to embrace Victor’s duplicity, they state.
“I loved watching ‘The Americans,’ because that was really the core of that show: Leading this double life,” says Peters.
“You can sense that he is enjoying it sometimes, you can see it in his eyes. Because he thinks he is going to win.”
Victor’s ever-changing fortunes in the CIA, Romania’s Securitate or KGB, and his fight for survival once he is about to be exposed, allowed them to combine multiple storylines right from the start.
“All these people [he meets] are crushed by history, in a way. He has a plan, he is the king, he used to have everything at his fingertips. But then – boom – something happens. He becomes a pawn in somebody else’s game,” notes Sădeanu.
“He wakes up one day and realizes that no one is welcoming him with open arms. The only way for the pawn to become a king once again is to make it until the end.”
“Spy/Master” will be available to stream on HBO Max in May. In Germany, it will air on Warner TV Serie this summer.
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