Castle producer and The Rookie showrunner Alexi Hawley’s new project, The Recruit on Netflix, put To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before star Noah Centineo at the center of a CIA spy adventure.
Centineo plays Owen Hendricks, a young CIA lawyer who just finished college and started his first week on the job. Giving the rookie the menial job, his colleagues Violet (Aarti Mann) and Lester (Colton Dunn) make Owen go through letters that sent the office from “the crazies,” individuals threatening to reveal state secrets.
In that graymail, Owen finds a letter from someone named Max Meladze (Laura Haddock), who is in a Phoenix prison for murder. She sent a cryptic note with details only individuals inside the agency would know.
The newbie Owen quickly falls into an assignment generally over his head, which could impact international operations.
“At the end of the day, there are so many shows and movies in this space, in the sort of spy space, what can we possibly do? How can we come at this in a way that just feels like you haven’t seen it before?” Hawley said Yahoo Canada. “Because otherwise, why do it if you’re just going to do another version of the same thing?”
“Coming in through the idea of graymail, of blackmail, of national security. Coming in through the point of view of a lawyer but doing it as he’s right out of law school and a kid who keeps jumping off into the deep end when he shouldn’t, all that stuff just seemed like a way to set ourselves up for being able to be unexpected.”
Owen Hendricks is no James Bond or Jason Bourne
Another defining characteristic of The Recruitfor the showrunner, is leaning on the fact that Owen is not only dealing with this very serious case, but he’s doing it when he’s young and still trying to figure out who he is as a working adult.
“Even the sort of younger characters that come into the spy world are usually sort of very mature, they work hard and they’re super smart,” Hawley said.[Owen] is just figuring out who [he is],…he’s got roommates still and one of them is an ex-girlfriend, and is there still a spark there?”
“To put him on basically the second day of the job, at a place that is full of secrets, just felt like a really identifiable story for people. I cannot go and be James Bond or Jason Bourne, or anything like that, but we ‘ve all had our first job, we’ve all worked with people that maybe we don’t trust.”
For Noah Centineo, he agrees with Hawley’s assessment that telling this story from the perspective of a young lawyer is “a new way” into the spy genre.
“Usually it’s either told from the perspective of a spy and if it is a lawyer, they’re older,” he told Yahoo Canada. “So it’s unique and fresh and fun, and encompasses and marries humor and drama,…and action and romance, and all these different things together.”
The ‘absurdist’ CIA, spy world
That humor Noah Centineo identifies is something Alexi Hawley included right at the beginning of the series, which starts with Owen peeing and singing Taylor Swift “I Knew You Were Trouble” during a dangerous mission in Russia.
“I liked his sense of humor, I liked his tenacity and I liked how lackadaisical he was when it came to something that he truly cared about, like a defense mechanism,” Centineo said.
The humor continues as the series rewinds a couple of weeks to Owen’s second day on the job, while Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” is playing.
There is word that the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee is planning to read a classified document at a public hearing. When Owen’s boss Walter Nyland (Vondie Curtis-Hall) tells his new employee to stop that from happening, Nyland specifically says, “I want you to tell him he’s an engorged ball sack who should walk into an airplane propeller.”
“The world of the CIA and the world of espionage has a bit of an absurdist aspect to it, because of who does that job and also the bureaucracy of secrecy is inherently just absurd,” Hawley said. “So there was a humor that wasn’t making it a comedy, but was sort of pointing that stuff out.”
That being said, it’s still a CIA spy series, so things obviously start to get real and more serious for Owen.
“It needed to be a world with real stakes,” the showrunner explained. “The reason that Owen gets a fingernail pulled out 20 minutes into the first episode was to tell the audience it’s not just fun, bad things are going to happen and there is a risk.”
‘Everything was guttural’
For Laura Haddock who plays Max, this darker character is quite a departure from other characters she’s portrayed, in movies like Downton Abbey: A New Era and Guardians of the Galaxy.
“Not very many people have seen me in this space and I’m genuinely really hopeful and excited about, potentially, what that could do for me as an actress, and what sort of characters I’d be considered for in the future,” Haddock told Yahoo Canada. “I have a lot of gratitude to the team who’ve made this show, for trusting me with this role because I can see that maybe I wouldn’t be the first choice on paper.”
Haddock added that she felt a sense of “freedom” playing Max because the focus was on her personality and her personal motivations, versus having to be concerned about whether she looks nice or whether the angle is flattering.
“I loved in the mornings, putting the wig on and I didn’t really wear very much makeup for Max,” she said. “It was just kind of very stripped back and when I did [have makeup] it was just…making her feel a little bit more edgy and dangerous, and androgynous, especially when I was in the prison.”
“There were no concerns about aesthetic or looking beautiful, or having things be perfect. Everything was guttural.”
The Recruit is definitely organized to be a vehicle for Noah Centineo to show off his leading man skills, but definitely don’t underestimate Haddock throughout the series.