A Conversation with Tracey Alexander
Q: How did the idea for this limited series develop?
A: Like most Americans, I was devastated by the events of 9/11. I realized one way of dealing with it emotionally would be to create a limited series about the subject matter. Larry Seaquist (technical advisor) and I had worked on another project together and had a wonderful working relationship. We started speaking on the phone all the time after 9/11, trying to understand why and how it happened. We decided that we should go to Washington and interview people. Larry introduced me to myriad of wonderful thinkers from the State Department, Pentagon, CIA and National Security Council. They were very generous with us. After speaking with them, I wanted to depict the terrorists and counter-terrorists in a very gray light, unlike the black-and-white caricatures you see in the news - unlike the villains. I thought that it was important to portray as many angles on the war of terrorism as possible.
Q: How did you research the Muslim characters?
A: One of the things we didn't have access to initially were the Muslim thinkers. We were introduced to an Islamic law professor at UCLA, Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl. He was incredibly helpful. Every time we finished a script, we would pass it along and he would go through it with a very critical eye. He also helped us select sections from the Koran for the moderate Muslim characters to challenge the fanatics. It was important to us that we create moderate Muslim characters. We have several characters who are stunned to discover that their siblings or children are involved in terrorism. They have to wage their own battle within their families.
Q: How did you balance maintaining the realism in this story with still being entertaining?
A: If you start with a really good research base, you can create captivating drama. That's why all the trips to D.C. and interactions with advisors were invaluable. We always felt we were working off of material that was based in reality. But creating a drama and making a program entertaining is about movement, pace and action. We had to balance the character development with real, raw action, and I think we have a good blend.
Q: What do the actors bring to their roles?
A: The actors completely embody the characters I envisioned. It's a testament to Mikael and the actors' talents. We're lucky to have this cast. Julianna is a gift. I think she's an amazing actress and such a strong woman. We implemented some of her ideas into the script. Dylan is remarkable. He has family members who worked in the police, and I think he understands that lifestyle. He also spent some time with a counter-terrorist unit in Los Angeles. He was able to take away their body language, their mannerisms, the stress they live with - all of the tensions in their lives. Jemma is such a bright actress and created this very intelligent performance. I've met women like her working in counter-terrorism, so she's really brought this character to life in an extraordinary way. Bernard Hill took the script and elevated it with his performance because he brought some levity. He would improv on set and really made his part better.
Q: What was life like on set?
A: There was never a time when we did not have discussions on set. We would have these long conversations, and I found it really stimulating. I think we all felt lucky to be a part of this. If there was tension, it arose from the pace of shooting. We wanted to give this a theatrical look but shoot it like an episodic series. We moved very quickly, sometimes doing scenes only in two or three takes. We needed to be very concentrated, very precise, very driven. Fortunately, everybody was on board.
Q: What is the major theme of this story?
A: The major theme is the casualty of war and the impact of war on everyone. The impact of war on the counter-terrorists is that it consumes their lives. They are devoted to their work and commitment to this country. It's heroic, but their personal lives are sacrificed. We wanted to capture that in Dylan and Julianna's characters. In the case of the Muslim characters, you have the impact of violence on their lives. For example, the impact of the torture on Raghib's life - he turns to a more fanatical brand of terrorism. To see his transformation from a very spiritual man to a fanatic is heartbreaking. While writing this, we would think, "What price are our characters going to pay for this later in the story?"
Q: Why do you think audiences will tune in?
A: THE GRID illuminates a world we haven't see before. I think anytime you present a new perspective, people are interested. There's a freshness to this material that I think audiences will find very interesting.