In Epix’s BERLIN STATION, in its second season on Sunday nights, Leland Orser plays CIA operative Robert Kirsch. In Season 1, a mission went bad, Robert’s fellow operative, Hector DeJean (Rhys Ifans), turned out to be leaking secrets to the German press, and Robert’s boss and good friend Steven Frost (Richard Jenkins) was fired from the agency.
This season, there’s a new head of station, BB Yates (Ashley Judd), who develops a different kind of relationship with Robert as the Berlin station tries to prevent a neo-Nazi terrorist attack. At the same time, Robert’s adolescent son Noah (Brandon Spink) comes to stay with him. The man has a lot on his mind.
San Francisco native Orser, originally from San Francisco, has appeared in a wide variety of films and television, including RAY DONOVAN, SEVEN, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, INDEPENDENCE DAY, ER, 24 and all three TAKEN movies.
Speaking by telephone, Orser provides his dossier on this year’s BERLIN STATION.
ASSIGNMENT X: What would you say are the changes in Robert this season? He seems to be the one person really gung-ho about going into a situation that looks like it could have the same issues of last season, where the station is embarking on an off-the-books op that’s getting more complicated by the minute …
LELAND ORSER: [laughs] Good intuition. I think he’s even more distrustful than he was. I think he’s even more heightened in the world of alertness and suspicion and I think he takes his job extremely seriously. I think that he has left behind the terrible things that happened. He’s back up and running, he’s powering through. You’ll see some of the other characters are still badly bruised and kind of suffering a post-traumatic situation, what happened in the events of last season. But Robert is doing his job, like a good soldier would do his job, like a good leader in the military would do. Certainly they’ve suffered a defeat, another defeat, and then a victory of sorts, but not without casualties. And they’ve got to continue on. So he has his eye on the prize, which is doing his job, keeping the station running, and keeping everybody operating at well over a hundred percent.
AX: Are there any things about Robert that you have either suggested or requested that have been put into the character?
ORSER: I wanted him to be a human being, not a stereotype or an archetype. He happens to be a spy. He happens to work for the CIA. But he’s a father, and he’s a divorcee, and he’s a single guy. And his personal life is very important this season. You’re going to see a lot more to Robert than you did last season. I just wanted him to be three-dimensional, I wanted him to be flawed, and I didn’t want him to be a stereotype. I didn’t want him to be always adversarial, I didn’t want him to always be profane. I wanted those to be characteristics of a living, breathing, feeling man with hopes and disappointments and loves and regrets.
AX: Do you have a preference for the scenes where he’s showing his softer side, or the scenes where everybody is about to burst into flames because they’re so angry?
ORSER: No, I don’t. We’re so lucky with the writing team. The action scenes are fun for one reason, the angry, confrontational, heightened emotional scenes are fun for another reason, and then the quiet emotional scenes [are enjoyable for another reason].
AX: Robert seems to have mellowed somewhat in his attitude towards his fellow operative Valerie Edwards, played by Michelle Forbes …
ORSER: I think he feels for her, I think he understands that she went through some major events four months prior [in Season 1), and I think he wants to allow her space and room to heal. And so I think he’s very aware of how hard she took the death of [operative] Claire and the betrayal by Headquarters back in the States, and I think he’s trying to give her room.
AX: Is Robert still trying to suss out BB, or has he made up his mind and just trying to look like he’s still trying to suss her out?
ORSER: I don’t think he ever makes up his mind completely about anybody. There are levels of trust for those who work in the CIA, and she has not, by any stretch of the imagination, passed through even the first level of acceptance and trust for him. So he will suss her out and continue to suss her out.
AX: What does Robert think of undercover operative Daniel Miller, played by Richard Armitage, at this point?
ORSER: I think he thinks he’s a good soldier.
AX: And Robert’s current friendship with Steven Frost?
ORSER: [Steven Frost] was his boss, and is probably his closest friend in the world, but Steven Frost is no longer working at the station. He remains in Berlin, and takes a private sector job. Their intentions are always to get together, and to talk and to eat and to drink and to be together, but Robert is incredibly busy, so I think that there’s a little bit of a growing apart. But he loves him, he cares for him, and then you’ll see that that friendship gets complicated.
AX: What does Robert think of new operative April, played by Keke Palmer?
ORSER: Loves her. He distrusts her, as he distrusts anybody, he admires her record, he watches her like a hawk, and he ultimately sees himself maybe in her, and how he was when he started out. She’s young, she’s filled with energy, and ambition, and hope, and it reminds him of why he got involved in the CIA in the first place. It reminds him of, again, why he’s doing what he’s doing.
AX: You’re not a CIA agent in real life, but you are a father in real life. Does that help you play a father in BERLIN STATION?
ORSER: Yes, of course it does. I have a beautiful boy who is a teenager, and who I couldn’t be more proud of, and he is actually older than the character of Noah, Robert Kirsch’s son. So he has taught me a lot that I’m able to bring to the storyline of the relationship between Robert and Noah.
AX: In Season 1, Robert tied himself in knots in some ways. Has he mellowed at all, or is he going to tie himself in new knots this season?
ORSER: He’s a perfectionist, and he feels deep responsibility for all those people who work for him, and all those people that they are meant to protect, in Germany, in the States, all over the world. He takes it to heart, he takes it seriously, he lives it and breathes it, every minute of every day. So yes, he has a very hard time leaving the job at the office. His personal life this year will become complicated on two fronts. One, on a family front, with the introduction of his son into the season, and that’s a beautiful, beautiful storyline, and it forces him to confront his own self, his own relationship to his work, what it is that he does and why he does it. And then on the other front, let’s see how to put this …
AX: He becomes involved with someone?
ORSER: There are glimmers of the possibility of that, yes.
AX: How was it coming back to Berlin for you for Season 2 in real life? Did it feel more familiar, or …?
ORSER: No. It was a totally different city, because we came back in the spring [Season 1 was made in winter], and the city basically comes alive. Everything blooms, and there’s green, and there’s flowers, and there’s leaves and the neighborhoods that seemed cold and barren and uninviting just burst into life. And there are café tables and nobody’s wearing overcoats. It’s beautiful and warm out on the streets and people stay up late. It stays lighter there longer, so the days are longer and people stay out longer and have long dinners and long walks. It’s really a beautiful city in the spring and summer.
AX: Is the BERLIN STATION production company being granted the same sort of access you got in Season 1, where you’re allowed to film around some government buildings in Germany?
ORSER: You’ll love the locations that we have shot at this season, all over the city again, from the Brandenburg Gate and beyond. But more interesting than that, or just as interesting, is that we also shot in Switzerland, we shot in Spain, and we shot in Norway. So that’s going to be cool. We go places.
AX: What do you think of this season’s themes? The story last season seemed to be something that would more likely happen in Europe than in America. Whereas this season, if you swapped out the CIA for the FBI, it would be something that you could easily see happening in the U.S.
ORSER: I think [series creator] Olen [Steinhauer] and [executive producer/show runner] Bradford [Winters] last year were so on it with the whistleblower storyline, and it was interesting how it almost predated what we then saw with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. This year’s theme and story was alarmingly prescient and shockingly reflective of what happened [regarding the rise of fascism] and continues to happen in Germany and in Europe.
There was a neo-Nazi march in I think it was Hamburg or Hanover while we were over there, and Charlottesville happened while we were over there. Once you see the rest of the season, it’ll blow your mind. These scripts were written a long time ago. The season was conceived before our presidential election, and so once you see and understand that this all was conceived of and predates what actually happened in real life, in the current political climate, it will kind of amaze you how ahead of the story Bradford Winters and the writers were.
AX: Robert is Jewish. Does he feel any kind of personal stake in the rise of fascism in Germany?
ORSER: A hundred percent. I think he’s somebody who kind of left his family faith at a very young age, and he feels the pull of it, but certainly being in the city of Berlin, a city with such a history of intolerance, and now being one of the most tolerant cities in the world, and one of the most tolerant countries in the world, with one of the most tolerant leaders in the world, absolutely, he has a personal stake.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about Season 2 of BERLIN STATION?
ORSER: I think it’s going to be exciting, I think it’s going to be emotional, I think it’s going to be surprising. I think it’s going to make viewers react, think, get angry, want to act. But it’s also an hour where you can escape into a really fun world of spying.
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Article: Exclusive interview with BERLIN STATION star Leland Orser on Seaosn 2 of the Epix series