Frances O’Connor had to go to some pretty harrowing emotional places for “the Missing,” in which she plays a British mother grappling with the disappearance of her young son while on vacation in France, with the story split between the 2006 incident and the present-day ramifications. On the bright side, “the Missing” follows the “True Detective” and “Gracepoint” trend — adopted from across the pond, naturally — of providing a complete, closed story in its full run of episodes, so it’s only a matter of weeks until the mystery is solved. And they even caught O’Connor by surprise.
How much did real-life stories like the Madeleine McCann case play into the approach to this?
We didn’t set out to make a Madeleine McCann-esque thriller or anything. That wasn’t out intention. I think that’s just one case that’s received so much attention, even in America. I’m sure people will make that comparison, but I don’t think that was the writers’ intention at all. And they’re really kind of adamant about that. I just think they don’t want the McCanns to think, “Oh, they’re making a thriller from our experience.” But I think as you go on and the watch the other episodes you realize it’s actually quite different.
But certainly it came up at some point.
I mean, [director] Tom [ Shankland ] said, “There’s a book that Kate McCann had written, if you want to read it you might find something insightful in there.” I did have a read of it, but ultimately I thought it was so specific to her case and her experience, and I felt like my character was so different from that. My character really just loses it when her child goes missing, and I think actually Kate really kept her act together. Some people have asked me, you know, “Did you want to talk to somebody, for research, who’d lost a child?” And I just thought, that’s none of my business. To have to dredge those feelings up again, I just felt it wasn’t fair. And I just felt the script was so solid.
While reading it, were you convinced you had it figured out?
Yes, I did. I was not right. I was wrong, so wrong. (laughs) That’s part of the fun, though. It is an emotional thriller in a lot of ways because it is about a kid going missing, so in a lot of ways you’re invested. But then having that thriller aspect as well makes it really exciting. As I was reading it — because I didn’t know what happened — I was just like, “Oh God, I hope it’s not me.” (laughs) It’s such a great page-turner when you’re actually reading the script, and I imagine it will be like that when you’re watching it. I would’ve played things differently if I’d only had one or two episodes.
I’ve only seen the first two episodes.
Me too, so we’re on the same page.
Yes, but you were in all of them.
I was in the eight episodes, so I’ll give you that.
Does tapping into the necessary emotions for a character like this leave you drained at the end of the day?
Oh yeah, especially the 2006 stuff. I mean, there was stuff in the 2014 section that was also really draining, but 2006 was just relentless. Even though the 2006 section only takes place over 11 or 12 days, we shot it for two and a half months, so it’s a long time to be in that kind of “my child is missing” thing. Sometimes I’d get back onto the Eurostar back to London on Friday and just be a mess, like, “Somebody hold me for a minute!”
It hasn’t tainted your view of France now, has it?
No, no. (laughs) Belgium maybe. We actually shot in Belgium. France is so expensive to shoot in, and Belgium has a lot of tax breaks. Plus the countrysides look identical, and they speak French so it was really good for us.
So you’re completely off Belgium now.
I will never go there again. (laughs)
Probably not what their Board of Tourism was hoping for.
No, no. There’s actually one town where we shot a lot of the [heavier] stuff. I probably wouldn’t want to go back there in a hurry. (laughs)