We’re a brilliant and terrible species, all things considered.
“Lying is number two on the list of things we need to survive,” says Chris Haddock, talking to the Straight from the set of his highly anticipated new series for the CBC, The Romeo Section, premiering tonight (October 14). “We’re such manipulative beings. People who manipulate and can lie well have great chances of success, and those who lie easily and imperceptibly seem to rise to the top of the heap.”
As the mastermind behind Da Vinci’s Inquest and Intelligence, Haddock has some authority in these matters. Like his previous work for the Ceeb, The Romeo Section burrows into the deep political ground right below our feet, in this case rabbit-holing its way through the Chinese-Vancouver drug trade and its partner in quantum entanglement, international espionage. Wolfgang McGee is the rumpled University prof at the centre of the intrigue. In reality he’s a spook, but he’s the kind of spook who’s going out of fashion.
“He’s an old school guy who believes in HUMINT [human intelligence],” explains Haddock. “A guy who’s seen technology overwhelm the world but who still believes in a good source being flesh and blood. Despite the fact that we’re all deviates, you can still get a little bit more truth out of somebody who’s been the private secretary to the prime minister than you can from tons of mega-data.”
Beyond a plot that hinges around Triad activity in Vancouver’s Chinatown, The Romeo Section derives a chunk of its tension (and its human interest) from the precariousness of McGee’s double-life. His relationship with a handler played by Eugene Lipinski is becoming markedly uneasy. Furthermore, a former agent (Nicola Cavendish) senses that the middle-aged McGee is facing the painful business of being left out in the cold.
“Guys who are too young and too slick for the job? I’m not interested in seeing them,” sniffs Haddock, adding that he has even less time for the tropes of the modern American spy thriller, which usually requires somebody like Jessica Chastain to bark orders into her wrist as she barrels between rows of computer monitors in a command centre built into a mountain.
“It’s not of cinematic or storytelling interest to me,” he continues. “When I was pitching in Hollywood or elsewhere for the last few years, it was always, ‘Well, I need a noisy show, bring me something that has some spectacle to it that can attract attention in this very competitive atmosphere.’ And I just felt very counter-intuitively that there are some people who are screaming at their TV sets and movie screens: ‘Shut up! Take a breath! Let’s have a conversation!’”
He’s been right about this sort of thing before, of course. With Andrew Airlie, meanwhile, Haddock's counter-intuition zeroed in on an actor with the the weary mix of experience and brains that the part of Wolfgang McGee required. “Believe it or not, and I didn’t know this until after I cast Andrew, but he actually was a professor of political science at some point before he started getting regular employment as an actor,” says Haddock. “I guess I saw that little spark of intellectual adventurer in him.”
That native Scottish accent doesn’t hurt either, he adds. “It gives him a little bit of steel. That Glaswegian tough guy aspect,” says Haddock, who knows better than anyone that in a world of liars, manipulators, and cold political realities, his Romeo Section chief is going to need it.