Noah Centineo's CIA Lawyer Fakes It Till He Makes It in Spy-Thriller Send-Up The Recruit

Centineo, his co-star Laura Haddock, and show creator Alexi Hawley discuss the inspiration behind the show and how it offers a new spin on a classic genre.

by | December 16, 2022 | Comments

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In Netflix’s new espionage series The Recruit, Noah Centineo plays Owen Hendricks, a fresh-faced lawyer who’s having a rough go acclimating to his new gig at the CIA. As he quickly finds out, this isn’t the desk job he thought he signed up for.

“He didn’t want to be in harm’s way,” Centineo told Rotten Tomatoes. “So, he thought that a good way to do that would be joining the CIA as a lawyer, and not an operative, which, as it turns out, was a mistake.”

Mistake is an understatement. The eight-episode series follows Hendricks in his first week on the job as he gets sucked into a government conspiracy involving a former asset named Max Meladze (Laura Haddock) that sends him around the world looking for answers. On the way, he dodges everything from seedy henchmen to top-level European assassins. This is probably not the on-the-job training he was expecting.

(Photo by Netflix)

Vondie Curtis-Hall, Fivel Stewart, Daniel Quincy Annoh, Kristian Bruun, Colton Dunn, and Aarti Mann star alongside Centineo and Haddock in the series, which one could technically describe as a spy thriller, but as show creator Alexi Hawley pointed out, The Recruit takes the genre and spins it on its head. The show doesn’t just focus on Owen in all his cocky-young-lawyer  swagger as he struggles to thrive out in the field, but it also digs into the everyday workplace minutia of the story.

“There is an absurdism to any bureaucracy, to any institution, and I did try and channel sort of the Catch 22, Dr. Strangelove elements,” Hawley said. “On the operation side, they do a lot of highly dangerous, highly technical, really sophisticated things … but it’s still a workplace. It’s got lawyers, and it’s got an HR department, and it’s got all the stuff that any other institution has, and there is an absurdity to that normalcy in a world of secrets.”

Operating in a world of secrets when you haven’t fully figured out how you fit into said world is a complicated way to live, and that’s the driving character dynamic that really lights up The Recruit.

(Photo by Netflix)

“To come in through the General Counsel’s Office through a lawyer who’s just out of law school who doesn’t even know who he is yet, because he was a child yesterday … basically, we felt that was a really interesting way to put somebody in a world that the audience knows so well,” Hawley added.

Which brings us to the choice of casting Centineo in the starring role. Up until recently, audiences mostly recognized the actor as the heartthrob in Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, The Perfect Date, and of course, as the romantic love interest Peter in Netflix’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before movie and its two sequels. Between his reluctant-hero turn here and his recent appearance in DC’s Black Adam, where he played Atom Smasher opposite Dwayne Johnson, it looks like Centineo is breaking new ground as an actor.

“There’s just such an exuberance and a charm to him which was inherent in the character,” Hawley said. “His character in the show is complicated. He is at times selfish, and he is at times self destructive. So, to have the audience fall in love immediately with this character, it helps them be a little complicit in the journey that he’s going on.

“In no way is he an antihero, I find the antihero thing a little overdone at this point,” Hawley continued. “But to get somebody who is larger than life, but yet also flawed is … to find an actor who can pull off all the different nuances and tone that we do in the show, whether it’s the humor or the stakes are the emotion — it was a joy to watch him get every single nuance that was in my head when I was writing, to have it come on screen so naturally from him.”

(Photo by Netflix)

On the surface, Owen Hendricks is a self-assured young man striving to be the very best in his new profession. Some of his choices, however, point to a deeper grief from the loss of his dad and disconnection from his mother that repeatedly push him head-first toward increasingly dangerous scenarios.

“I think he’s just always tried to fake it until he’s made it,” Centineo said, “to make sure that things were OK, to bury all of his emotions and push everything to the side.”

Why deal with your own emotional baggage when you can instead pack up and head around the world to solve a conspiracy that may potentially pose a huge threat to national security at home and abroad? It’s definitely a choice.

(Photo by Netflix)

And if it weren’t for one pesky little graymail letter, Owen could have settled into a boring little existence at the CIA.

“Graymail is a sort of blackmail in National Security,” Hawley explained. “It is really sort of compelling: The agency gets hundreds of people a year reaching out, going, ‘I know stuff and you’ll get in trouble unless you do something for me.’ Most of them are crazy, but some of them are not.”

The graymail letter is what links Haddock’s character with Owen and kicks off this crazy journey, to begin with.

“It is everything,” Haddock said. “It is the reason why these two ended up meeting each other and doing what they do, which is trying to exonerate Max of a crime that she’s committed. If that letter hadn’t have reached Owen, then The Recruit wouldn’t exist.”

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