There's a scene in the film Crash where Thandie Newton's character is hanging upside down in a car and the situation goes from physically precarious – a nearby car could blow at any moment – to psychologically treacherous when the police officer who comes to her rescue (Matt Dillon) turns out to be the same cop who assaulted her during a creepy roadside pat-down.
This is the scene Matthew Parkhill was thinking of when he envisioned Newton in the role of Grace Travis for his new television series, Rogue.
"All of that pain, all of that agony, all of that anger, all of that rage, all of that was Grace," said Parkhill during a break in filming season one's final episode last November in Vancouver. "That was the character. In one image, that's Grace."
In Rogue, premiering this week, Grace is an undercover cop living a double life, tailing crime boss Jimmy (Marton Csokas). But after her son is killed – this takes place early in the first episode – she is pulled from her undercover duties. Four months later, she returns – thinking she might be able to solve his killing.
A gritty procedural with influences such as The Shield, The Wire and The Killing, Rogue is a Canada/U.K. co-production, commissioned by The Movie Network and Movie Central in Canada and U.S. satellite provider direcTV (it will air on its Audience Network). Originally envisioned as a three-part miniseries set in London, Rogue transformed into a 10-episode series set in Oakland, Calif., with Vancouver standing in for the Bay Area.
Coincidentally, Vancouver is where Parkhill originally wrote the script, while living here with his partner Rachel Shelley, who played Helena Peabody in The L-Word.
"I sat and wrote the script on a tiny Ikea table … in the corner of her room in Kits," says Parkhill, referring to Vancouver's Kitsilano neighbourhood. "And then cut to three years later or whatever it is, we're now living around the corner about 100 metres down the road, with a daughter," says Parkhill, who with Shelley has a three-year-old girl. "I have a bigger desk now."
Newton – who also coincidentally happens to live down the street from Parkhill in London – accepted the project within 24 hours of seeing the script, attracted by "that strong a female role" that was "not gratuitously tough or violent."
She was also happy to return to British Columbia, where she earlier shot 2012.
"This project … went back and forth between Toronto and Vancouver, and I pushed very hard for Vancouver, because I wanted to come back here," she said on set in Vancouver's Gastown.
To prepare, Newton, 40, read books about international crime, and trained in Krav Maga, the self-defence system used by the Israeli military. She also, along with other cast members, received a couple of days of police training in Vancouver.
"We went to a shooting range and it turns out I'm a really good shot, which I'm sort of disappointed by in a way," said Newton, who describes herself as a "passive sort of Buddhist."
She approached her character as a sort of "everywoman" who "was a working woman like I am."
Parkhill says the theme of the loss of a child was informed by something that happened in his family – he won't go into specifics – and that it was something he wanted to explore, even though, particularly as a father now, it's difficult.
"There [have been] a couple of times on the show when I got very emotional when I was watching a couple scenes. But I have to deal with the fact that I process things and I explore things but I hope I'm not exploiting things too."
Season one is close-ended, with the whodunit solved, but Parkhill says he has more seasons in him, should the show be renewed.
Newton says she welcomes the opportunity to deeply explore a complex character over a long period of time – but adds the intensity has been challenging.
"Crash for me was eight days' work. Eight days, that's it," says Newton, who won a BAFTA Award for her work in the Paul Haggis film. "This … has been Crash every day for four months."
Episodes 1 and 2 of Rogue premiere Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET/MT on The Movie Network and Movie Central.