CHANNEL24 SPECIAL FEATURE
In a one-on-one interview with Channel24's Herman Eloff, TV star Archie Panjabi reveals more about her role in Universal TV's new show, Departure.
Cape Town - "There's a fear and fascination when it comes to flying," says Archie Panjabi in a friendly voice over the phone when we connect to talk about her latest work on the high-octane conspiracy series, Departure.
Perhaps best known for her groundbreaking role as the hard-bitten investigator Kalinda Sharma in The Good Wife, Archie returns to the small screen in a six-part TV show that will shatter your nerves right from the first episode.
"I remember when I was sent the script. By the end of episode one, I really wanted to know what was going to happen next. By the end of episode two, I was even more eager to know what the cause was behind it all, and by episode three and four, I was going absolutely crazy to know what happened. When I finally discovered the end…I didn't expect it at all. Literally, it took me on a very interesting ride," the Emmy Award-winning actress describes her first introduction to the show.
Departure, which airs in South Africa from Monday, 5 August at 20:00 on Universal TV (DStv 117), follows the nail-biting mystery behind the disappearance of Flight 716 - a passenger plane that vanishes over the Atlantic Ocean.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
"People are interested in what happens next, and this really gives you a deep insight into what happens behind-the-scenes of incidents like these. It gives a glimpse at the people investigating it and the level of pressure that they are under from the government, and the families of the victims. It shows how stressful a job it is. I think people are just generally fascinated by the actual risk of there being a tragedy such as this. That's what I think people will be intrigued by and then hopefully become hooked, wanting to know what caused the flight to go missing."
Archie adds; "It really does grab you. It really feels like you are there when all of it happens. You feel like you are there with the investigators, you feel like you are there on the aircraft. There is just something about the way this show is that you aren't bored for one second. You are completely gripped.
"Watching the show, I even detached myself from the character, and I was totally gripped. I find it quite an emotional ride, as well. I think that's a good sign. When you're crying even if you know the story and you're moved by it."
The show will be broadcast weekly on Universal TV which in the age of Netflix might seem challenging, but actually counts in the show's favour as well, agrees Archie: "Different age groups will want to experience it differently. There might be a certain age group that will want to watch all of it in one go, but there might be another group of people who want to watch it episode-by-episode every week. People will talk about it, and then more people will want to watch it. Your best PR is the audience."
CREATING KENDRA AND MOVING ON FROM KALINDA
In Departure, Archie takes on the role of aviation investigator Kendra Malley who is called in to lead the search for the missing Flight 716 as the team races against time to pinpoint the missing aircraft and locate possible survivors. Although also an investigator, Kendra is worlds apart from the leather jacket and high-boot wearing Kalinda that we've all grown to love over the years.
Kendra struggles with her own loss as she tries to keep her family together in a time when everyone else is also relying on her to bring them comfort. On establishing an entirely new character and escaping from the shadow of Kalinda, Archie says: "Kendra is created absolutely on her own. I think the great thing about Kalinda was when I left it, I wiped a clean slate from my mind even though she is very much a part of my life because we have so many similarities. But, everything about Kendra, despite them both being investigators, is different.
"Kendra is married, her whole life, her back story, her upbringing, her childhood – everything is so different, and that helped me to create somebody totally different from Kalinda. It wasn't difficult at all to create a new character separately from Kalinda. She had a different way of dressing, costume, make-up, and even the accent is very different. All those things help to mould a different character."
Like with Good Wife, Departure brings with it the challenge of a unique set of technical jargon and specific knowledge on a very highbrow topic that demands a firm understanding of the subject matter. For Archie, this challenge was made a lot easier thanks to the on-set assistance of experts in the aviation field; "There's obviously a lot of research and consulting that went into the show. We did have somebody work on the scripts with us. The script was very detailed, and there was a lot of input from the experts. I also got to work closely with them. I also spent a lot of time just creating the character and trying to find the truth of the character. Really study her backstory. How was she brought up? How did she meet her husband? Her relationship with her stepson. All these different relationships that make her happen.
She adds: "I love the parallels of the character. On the one hand, they are trying to discover what caused Flight 716 to go missing – which is an incredibly gripping story, but I think it's brilliantly punctuated with the brief insights into Kendra's past through her relationships with her work colleagues as well as her personal life. I think you could so easily get carried away with the 'whodunit' element that you don't really allow the personal relationships to breathe, but I think that would have cost the show.
"It's nice to have that little breather from that story of what happened to the passengers on the plane and find out about the relationships. Why I think that is even more interesting is because Kendra has gone through a tragedy herself. She has lost a partner in an accident, so there are parallels to that. From what I can see from the footage, they really allow those moments to breathe."
'WINDOW OR AISLE SEAT?'
But has the show put Archie off from ever setting foot on a plane ever again? Not at all, she says: I've gone through a whole circle of emotions about flying. Because I fly a lot. So, when I started to prepare for this and film it, it made me a lot more aware of what happens on a flight. But then when I looked at the level to which investigators go through when an incident like this happens, I found comfort.
"They go to such levels to find the fault or the truth behind what happens, and once they discover it, changes are made immediately to ensure that whatever caused the problem should never happen again. As we saw recently with the 727 aircraft – they were all grounded as the result of what they found in the investigation. That for me, offers comfort. To know everything has been done to avoid something like that. It is statistically one of the safest modes of transport."
And what would an interview about flying be without asking, surely the most important question of all – window or aisle seat? Archie laughs out loud and then answers; "You know when I've had a lot of water to drink, which I try to do, I prefer the aisle. But I do also love looking out of the window seeing the skies. I just love the view from up there."
Watch Departure on Mondays at 20:00 on Universal TV (DStv 117).