Stana Katic previews new thriller Absentia, opens up about ‘harsh’ Castle exit
Following her highly publicized exit from ABC’s long-running Castle, Stana Katic returns on Amazon’s psychological thriller Absentia, bringing another resilient cop to life — with a twist!
On her new series, the 39-year-old actress plays Emily Byrne, a presumed-dead FBI agent who returns six years after being kidnapped, only to be framed for murder. Though Katic is playing another cop, the star says this character is very different from Kate Beckett, whom she portrayed from 2009 until her untimely exit in 2015, ahead of what was supposed to be a season 9 renewal for Castle, which was subsequently canceled less than a month after her ouster.
Below, EW goes in-depth with Katic about her new project and about her Castle exit.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it about Absentia that really attracted you to this project?
STANA KATIC: I liked the idea of telling a story about an anti-hero survivor. First of all, one of the things that I said when I spoke to my agent, and they were like, “Oh, yeah, what do you think about doing next? What kind of story should be on the lookout for?” I said, “Listen man, the mom thing, no.” And they’re like, “Why?” And I know that’s horrible to say in one capacity, however, the issue with playing mom and girlfriend in a lot of stories is that that is a character that doesn’t actually drive the story in any way. And I was like, “I don’t wanna have the character that’s not a part of the actual story line, that’s relegated into the backdrop of it. I wanna be an active member in how a story is told, even if it is an ensemble piece.” And, often times, in the past, characters that have had that kind of role in a story, the main quality is that they worry. That’s it. They’re worried about their kid, who is going through the journey of the story, or they’re worried about their love or partner, who is going through the journey of the story. And then I read [Absentia], and I thought, “Oh, this is really interesting,” because Emily had all of those roles packaged into one person, and she’s still a badass, and she’s still an active member in storytelling.
What I was concerned about was that this would be more of a stereotype, or a storytelling tool instead of a fully fleshed out, complex, beautiful female character. And what I ended up getting instead was someone that had all of those qualities and then some. And I was like, “Oh, this is exciting. This would be really wonderful to play.” That said, I’ve also done reading about women survivors of World War II and the Holocaust, and so forth, and I thought it takes extraordinary amount of grit to come out the other end of something like that, and to actually be able to live life again fully, to embrace it. And I thought that would be an interesting world to explore. So, those are some of the elements.
Then I got offered the opportunity to be a part of it as [an executive producer] as well. And, I’ve had that title in the past, but this time they have welcomed me to the discussion table for development on the project, for even the editing process, and so on. It’s a whole new experience sitting at the producers’ table, and it’s so exciting to be a part of that element of storytelling, especially now, right? I think, as a woman in Hollywood today, it’s a wonderful opportunity to be invited to the table, and it behooves me to take that seat.
Talk about Emily as a character. How does she compare to a character like Kate Beckett? And what is she dealing with emotionally during this story?
Kate was awesome. I loved playing her, but the characters don’t have a tremendous amount of parallel other than they bear a strong resemblance to one another. [Laughs] So, Absentia is a psychological thriller, Castle was obviously a romantic dramedy procedural. And although Emily was an FBI agent in the past, it’s not really a character-defining element, so, it essentially plays in the background of the story’s trajectory in Absentia.
You’re dealing with a woman who was abducted six years in advance of our story, and she was believed to be dead. She was declared dead. And she suddenly reappears in a world that has gone on without her — her husband’s remarried, her son’s grown up calling someone else mom, and her dad, who was a pillar in her life, he’s fallen ill, her brother has danced with various addictions, and everyone has somehow found a space that they feel comfortable with that doesn’t include her. And now, suddenly, she shows up. And all of these secrets in each of the characters are slowly unearthed as we continue from episode to episode.
And then, on top of that, this character is eventually forced into a fugitive life, because the act that sent her into captivity, which was, as an FBI agent, she was tracing a believed-to-be serial killer, and on the day of him being convicted for it, we discover that she’s still alive and that begins the whole run of the show. So, now, she’s being accused, at one point, of these horrific murders, and she has to go and try to defend herself. So, on top of all of this interesting and crazy family drama, there’s this ticking time bomb of who’s behind this horrific murders.
While there’s this conspiracy that Emily is being set up, did you ever wonder while playing her whether she was actually in on it?
Well, I think that’s part of the journey. The audience is doing that dance where they’re walking alongside, at points, a character who isn’t completely clear on what happened with those six years, and isn’t completely clear of how or where she stands in this new world, and I feel like she is also a part of the mystery. So, yeah, we’re searching for the serial killer, but we’re also searching for who is this person that we’re walking alongside throughout the series.
Is it more fun for you to get to dive into a psychological thriller, rather than a straight procedural?
I think that’s one of the opportunities that we get to explore, often times, in cable, right? We get to explore anti-heroes and what that means. I look at great series like Peaky Blinders, where they’ve done an amazing job of creating a character that is relatable on so many levels, and has this dark side that could be repulsive if the writers weren’t deft at handling that balance. As an actor, of course it’s exciting to go and explore characters. It’s exciting to explore human psychology and relationships, and that’s really the drive at the end of the day for me. It’s no fun just clocking in and clocking out, it’s nice to try to dig deep, even if it is a comedy, right? I kind of feel like, at this stage, I’m ready for a comedy too, right?
How did your experience on Castle inform what you wanted to do next? Did it change how you picked roles?
Interesting. What is always a challenge is the 24-episode schedule, and what’s really nice about a cable show is that we shot it in three months, right? And this one was specific, or unique, in that we shot it like a feature. We crossboarded the entire show. So, we had 10 episodes within which, in the morning we could be shooting episode 7, in the afternoon, a scene from episode 1, and then in the evening, a scene from episode 5.
That must’ve been difficult jumping from each of Emily’s different mindsets.
Oh yeah, no, it was a challenge. The way that they shot it, it was styled like an independent film. It, definitively, wasn’t, “Okay, this is a television show,” it was like, “Okay, let’s go at it as if we’re shooting an independent film.” And, what was really nice is there’s an international cast, there’s an international crew. Everyone was committed to it full force, and you can only do that when we have a group of people who were as invested in telling the best story that they could. I think that was something that was exciting for me to explore. I wanted to go and play in a world where we would be able to tell a story that was, perhaps, more serialized, that could delve into human psychology and I didn’t mind. I’m open to doing goofy comedies, I’m excited for that, and I’m also really excited to do something like this, which was an independent style thriller.
Yeah, you certainly don’t get to smile a lot on this.
Holy mackerel. [Laughs] I was joking, like, “Is there a musical out there for me?”
How do you feel about the way your abrupt exit from Castle was handled?
I’m actually still not clear on the thought process behind the way that it went down. It hurt and it was a harsh ending, but now, nearly two years later…I met so many beautiful people on that project, and we collaborated on something really unique in that it’s not every day that you get a show, or a series, that has eight seasons and that it was a hit for the network. It would be a disservice to those people, to the work that we did together, and to my work, which I feel contributed, in part, to the success of the show, to be anything but grateful because, at the end of the day, that was a fantastic platform. It was a formative experience, and we told a love story that I feel moved people, touched people, and I can’t be anything but glad that I was a part of something like that. I hope it remains something special in viewers’ minds forever.
You got a lot of offers after Castle, so why did you decide on doing an international series?
This is the thing, I was kind of thinking about that, and I kind of feel like it’s the wild west, right now, in television in that there’s a lot of cable companies, there’s a lot of new sources for television, and for media, and for film, that are changing what the game looks like. It’s not predictable any longer, and you have French and German companies that are the ones who are the starters for producing projects. And, yeah, some of those project do start off in the U.S. and then go in the other direction, however, there’s a lot of stuff that’s coming from the international market back into the U.S. Even look at networks like Netflix, and Amazon, and so forth, they’re airing content that originated in countries outside of the U.S. and it’s the original version. It’s almost like watching Girl With The Dragon Tattoo on a major U.S. outlet, and I think that’s really phenomenal, and it’s gonna make the next few years so interesting, because the world’s wide open now.
Your character Emily is such a badass in this, which recalls how you ever so briefly got to play a Bond girl in Quantum of Solace. Is Absentia a little more in the vein of where you’d like to see the Bond franchise go next, maybe even see Bond as a woman?
Oh, man. I think Bond can come in so many colors, shapes, and sizes. I would love to see Bond — a little bit of Bond in everybody. I’ve been thinking about that as well. There are characters, I would say, I have related to, that I have walked their story with, and I’ve never said, “Oh, well, this is a guy. I would never experience this.” I’ve very closely related to a lot of those journeys. And I’m excited to see how stories are going to unfold moving forward with everything that people are expressing now, and have been, for quite a while. However, I feel like it’s being made manifest, now, on screen. And I know how much it affects the entire planet. I was in Mongolia, and I was watching — I couldn’t believe it, somebody got a satellite in their yurt, and we’re in the middle of the Gobi desert, and they’re screening K-pop on the screen. And I’m watching these guys do this hardcore rap thing on the K-pop channel, and it was almost identical to a music video that you could’ve seen Snoop Dogg in, or whatever. And I go, “Wow, look at how far of a reach Hollywood actually has, how far of a reach the entertainment industry has.” So, I think, opening up stories to different races, different genders, different anything, it’s going to have a reverberating effect across the globe. And I feel like that’s exciting.
Any word on season 2 for Absentia?
I can’t answer that one. I gotta let Amazon do what they gotta do.