Earlier this year, Starz introduced the world to a parallel universe in Counterpart. In it, Howard Silk (J.K. Simmons) — referred to by the series’ writing team as the “Alpha” Howard — met his counterpart from the other side, the “Howard Prime” (also Simmons).
Howard Prime got Howard embroiled in spying between worlds. Howard took Howard Prime’s place in a Berlin that fell into disarray after a devastating plague that the Prime world blamed on the Alpha world.
Season 2 of Counterpart premieres on Sunday, less than a year after the first season. That’s because Starz was so confident in Counterpart they ordered two seasons back to back. The success of season 1 proved that was a wise investment.
Counterpart stars Simmons, Nazanin Boniadi, and Betty Gabriel, along with creator Justin Marks and producer Jordan Horowitz, spoke with Rotten Tomatoes about the season 2, providing 10 things you should know about it before you watch.
When Howard agreed to play Howard Prime for a short mission, he never expected to be stuck on the other side. It’s bad news for Howard, but good news for Simmons the actor.
“Especially as both of them, to one extent or another, get a little bit better at pretending to be the other version of themselves, it definitely continues to add levels of complexity and continues to be an interesting challenge,” Simmons said. “I feel like these are two remarkably similar looking and yet distinctively different characters.”
And which Howard does he know better after two seasons of playing them both?
“My knee-jerk reaction was to say the kinder, gentler Howard,” Simmons said. “I think that may be starting to skew in the other direction. I obviously empathize with whichever one I’m playing in a given moment, but I’ve kind of always viewed the kinder, gentler Howard, the milder, meeker Howard, as the protagonist from when I first read the first episode. The scales are beginning to tip.”
They tip further when Howard finds out about more secrets Howard Prime was keeping from him. Stay tuned.
In season 1, Peter Quayle (Harry Lloyd) found out that his wife Clare (Boniadi)’s other took over their marriage and even had his child. Season 2 finds them trying to fall in love now that both know the truth.
“Can they find love in this place of they need each other to survive,” Boniadi asked. “I think season 2 for them is more about redefining the relationship and being completely honest with themselves, discovering themselves and therefore discovering themselves as they relate to this relationship.”
But Clare still has a day job. Now she’s going on spy missions with a sense of doubt about whether her mission is truly just.
“As the season goes on, you’ll see how that doubt plays out between her and Peter and the baby and the decisions they have to make, together and individually,” Boniadi said. “It’s a huge season of self-discovery for Clare. Season 2 is about her figuring out to live for herself.”
Gabriel joins the cast as Naya Temple, new to the Office of Interchange. Her job is to find the others who are there spying for the Prime world. You’ll see as she interviews Howard Prime and others, she takes a very gentle approach to spycraft.
“It’s an approach that is designed to lull, I think, the people she’s investigating,” Gabriel said. “I think people let their guards down when they think that they’re not being intimidated or they’re not being threatened. Yes, people can crack under pressure, but I think people can also let things slip out when they’re comfortable. I think she definitely employs, at different moments, both tactics.”
Naya is also dealing with her own personal crisis upon finding out the other universe exists.
“I think there’s the awareness, the shocking awareness that there is this other version of her, but she doesn’t know who and where she is and what she does in her life,” Gabriel said. “She could be in a very different line of work. She could be part of a different religion. Who knows?”
The arrival of Naya complicates the season for every Prime character trapped in our world.
“The whole season 2 is about everybody from the other world being on the run,” Boniadi said. “Clare and Howard Prime have to worry about that.”
A big part of Howard’s domestic life revolves around visiting the hospital to read to his comatose wife Emily (Olivia Williams), who wakes up in season 2. Marks offered a few clues about the secrets a waking Emily could reveal.
“Emily and Emily Prime [are] both chasing after the Emily of the past,” Marks said. “So you have the present with two counterparts and then you’ve got this past that is a whole other version of oneself.”
“It was awesome,” Simmons said of sharing scenes with Cromwell. “He came in and really had the vast majority of the heavy lifting in most of our scenes together, certainly in our first couple of episodes. I was almost a spectator sitting there watching him, because my character just doesn’t have a lot to say early on in our relationship, and his character does.”
Horowitz explained a little more about Yanek.
“The Cromwell character with Howard as his prisoner furthers what I think the Howard/Howard stuff was doing in season 1,” Horowitz said. “[It] continues to have our Howard learn more about himself through seeing himself through his other character who is his peer in some respect.”
Yanek’s theory is that when there are two of anything, one must ultimately destroy the other.
“We call it the ‘Highlander theory,’” Marks joked, referring to the 1986 film in which “There can be only one,” among a murderous group of immortals that pick each other off. “Now he may not be right, but he’s certainly got some really good points.”
In the case of Clare, one already has destroyed the other, but Boniadi doesn’t feel every counterpart will meet a violent end.
“It’s like you have two voices in your head or there’s two sides of you,” Boniadi sad. “Eventually for there to be some kind of resolution or survival, one has to win over the other one.”
Naya has not met her counterpart, but she’s not out to destroy Naya Prime either.
“I think ultimately there’s a spirit of reconciliation in her,” Gabriel said. “I think she wants to believe that two possibilities can exist so perhaps that applies to how she would approach her counterpart. I think she would be more curious in her other and more interested than threatened.”
After the terrorist attack on our world, the door to Prime world remains shut. While politicians work toward a diplomatic reopening, many counterparts are stranded in their others’ worlds.
“Both Howards are stuck on the other side,” Simmons said. “When season 2 opens, they are both in their other’s world and neither one is entirely happy about it.”
This means there will be few scenes with two Howards, but each Howard will learn more about the other on their own.
“We also elevate the stakes of the world through Management, which was introduced briefly in season 1 and is really the big player in season 2,” Horowitz said. “We really get a sense of what that hierarchical structure is of the worlds and who’s actually controlling and pulling the strings between those two worlds. I think that has really interesting effects on Howard and that core pursuit of which Howard is the true Howard.”
Marks wouldn’t reveal exactly when the door might reopen, but teased, “Nothing can stay closed forever.”
As introduced, Naya regularly prays to Mecca as part of her Muslim practice, and Gabriel said her religion remains a prominent theme in season 2.
“It’s not leaned into too heavily, which I think is a good thing,” Gabriel said. “It is very much about her relationship to God and how that’s being challenged with the awareness of this other world; that she’s primarily there to do her jobm so we’ll see that more and more, her getting closer to the truth.”
Naya also reveals to colleagues that she’s a mother. Tune in to see how motherhood plays into Naya’s role this season.
Episode 7 of season 1 was Clare’s flashback to show her past. Boniadi said the new season’s eighth episode is just as significant.
“It doesn’t go into backstory, but it’s an evolution to Clare,” she said. “It was a very raw and meaningful episode. Episode eight is more about who is Clare? The real Clare, not the one that was made that she thought she was or believed she was. That’s what begins to unfold for her in episode eight.”
The two-season order allowed the creators of Counterpart to parse out some of the plot twists over two seasons. Even though they’re still waiting to hear if there will be a season 3, they have the confidence to hold a few more surprises.
“Also there were things that we were going to reveal in season 2 that now we’re just like, ‘Well, let’s hope for a season 3, and we’ll hopefully get to reveal it then,’” Marks said.
Simmons certainly hopes Counterpart continues, but he’s not putting any pressure on Marks.
“Obviously people like to have jobs, but both creatively and — whatever — lifestyle, it’s very much a one-season-at-a-time mindset,” Simmons said. “At least for me and I know for Justin as well.”
Counterpart stars and producers have some major upcoming projects; for one, Simmons hopes to reprise his role as Commissioner Gordon in Matt Reeves Batman film, The Batman.
“I have not met with Matt as of yet,” Simmons clarified. “I know that I signed up to do as many as three moviesm and I would love to get a chance to expand on Commissioner Gordon. I kind of dipped my toe in that water — so yeah, I hope so. There’s a lot of DC stuff going on so I hope it’s the Matt Reeves Batman. If not, I hope it’s something else.”
Horowitz is producing Damien Chazelle’s upcoming Apple TV series.
“It will be ambitious and interesting and will hopefully approach the TV space in a new way and find a fresh way of using that medium to tell story in a way that hopefully you haven’t seen told before,” Horowitz said.
“I think music is always going to be a part of Damien’s filmmaking,” Horowitz said. “Even in First Man, I think, music is a huge part of that film even though the film isn’t specifically about a musician or music itself.”
Horowitz is also producing the movie Star Girl for Disney’s Streaming service, based on the YA novel by Jerry Spinelli.
“It’s really a story about two kids in high school and ultimately about young love and not being afraid to be the person you want to be,” Horowitz said.
Marks, a screenwriter on Top Gun: Maverick, has already completed a screenplay for The Jungle Book 2. He told Rotten Tomatoes that he and Jon Favreau co-wrote the sequel to their blockbuster film in December 2017, but they have to wait until the director finishes work on The Lion King revival before they start production. Marks revealed that the character Mowgli has aged along with the young actor, Neel Sethi, who starred in the 2016 film and has said he’s up for a sequel.
“Jon and I saw The Jungle Book story as a coming-of-age story and the second movie continues in that direction,” Marks said. “Really, if it’s done right, it should break some hearts with where it goes.” He added that the sequel will pull in more animal characters from author Rudyard Kipling’s book because “there’s such a wealth of characters in that world.”
“It’s a story of what we do when we are faced with such tragedy and how are able to set aside our differences and band together just to survive,” she said. “Bullets don’t discriminate based on religion and ethnicity and race. She’s a Muslim woman, so these Islamic terrorists and extremist don’t stand for what she has been raised to believe is her religion. More than that, it’s about the resilience of the human spirit to overcome and set aside differences.”
Counterpart returns Sunday, December 9 on Starz.