American audiences know her best as wicked witch Hecate Poole from Showtime’s dearly departed Penny Dreadful, but Irish talent Sarah Greene will add prime time U.S. network TV to her calling card soon enough with CBS crime thriller Ransom. Kicking off 2017 with a January 1 premiere, the series from Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files) and David Vainola follows Eric Beaumont (Black Sails’ Luke Roberts), a world-renowned negotiator called in for high-stakes hostage situations.
Greene plays Maxine Carlson, a young trainee under Eric. A product of the American foster care system with a storied and mysterious past, Maxine has fought her whole life to join his ranks. Now finally given the opportunity, Greene teases that Maxine’s skeletons start knocking from inside the proverbial closet.
While she’s used to playing dark and magical on the small screen, Greene was nominated for a Tony Award for her “blissfully fiery performance” in the 2014 Broadway revival of Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan, which starred Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter).
And now she weaves a new sort of real-world sorcery with Maxine and her colleagues’ ability to read minds and desires with the smallest twitch or tell. Greene rang Rotten Tomatoes from London the week before Christmas to chat about Ransom, carrying the weight of her characters (both good and bad), and why she refuses to read reviews of her work.
Benjamin Lindsay for Rotten Tomatoes: Tell me about Ransom — it seems like such a fun project to be a part of.
Sarah Greene: Yeah, amazing. I feel very privileged to be a part of this, especially working with someone like Frank Spotnitz, who’s such an incredible mind in this business and a wealth of knowledge on how to run a show. It was a really incredible experience. It follows a man named Eric Beaumont, who is the top negotiator in the world, and his team of people. They’re not cops — they work with the authorities sometimes, but their job is to save lives, basically.
It’s inspired by real-life negotiators Laurent Combalbert and Marwan Mery, so it’s taken some stories that they’ve given us and the writers worked with them. They’re fascinating men. These people, they use their emphasis on human behavior and compassion to resolve these kidnaps and hostage situations. It’s a fascinating world. They’re adrenaline junkies, basically. They don’t use weapons; they don’t use violence. They use their words and they try to figure out why someone is doing it. No one ever kidnaps someone just to be evil; their back is against a wall, they want something. The negotiators figure out what they want and help them get it.
RT: So playing this role, do you feel like you can psychoanalyze someone a little better than you could before?
Greene: I’m always psychoanalyzing people! It’s kind of [actors’] job to figure out why people do what they do, and I’ve always been — well, I hope I’ve always been — good at it. But I know more tricks now. I know looking at the eyes, little tells, little twitches. There’s some tells.
RT: What about your character, Maxine Carlson? She’s pegged as an aspiring investigator with a secret from her past. What should we know about her going into this premiere episode?
Greene: She’s a very resourceful, ballsy character. I love playing her. I find her fascinating because she’s unsure of her past. She didn’t grow up with her parents, so she has a lot of questions she wants answered about herself. She figures out who she is as the season went on, so I was learning more and more about her. When I started, I didn’t really know her because she didn’t know herself, if you know what I mean. But her whole life, she’s wanted to work with Eric and be a negotiator and help people. Her goal is to get on the team. Obviously, she does — I’m on the whole season — so she gets on the team, but you find out as the season goes on what Eric’s connection to her is.
RT: So going into this not really knowing how all her cards were going to fall, what preparation went into playing Maxine? How’d you break into this character?
Greene: I had a week! [laughs] I booked the job on Wednesday, and I flew to Toronto on the Friday, so it was all a little bit mental. We just sat around ourselves talking and researching and working on the script, basically. I didn’t have months to prepare for the character, but it’s kind of good because that’s the kind of character she is anyway. As I said, there’s a lot she doesn’t know about herself, so she kind of goes to be on this team to find out more about herself. We were green-lit very last minute, so it was a big rush. I spent more time working on the accent, really, more than anything else.
RT: At least it sounds like you’re given a lot to play with in addition to the accent.
Greene: Yes, which is a joy, you know? It doesn’t always play out like that. She’s a strong female character, and they’re few and far between. So I feel very lucky to have gotten the part.
RT: Looking to some of the other roles you’ve taken on, do you yourself notice any through-lines? Are there any patterns to the sort of roles that interest you?
Greene: I don’t know, I’ve never really thought about that, actually. When I finish a character, I leave it there. I don’t really compare them, to be honest. The last part I played was a witch, so no, I don’t really compare them. I’m more trying to find something in myself that I can relay through the character.
RT: You can’t really get much more different than Maxine and Hecate from Penny Dreadful (pictured).
Greene: Exactly. [laughs] I’m so lucky I get to play it. I don’t get pigeonholed into one typecast. It’s good.
RT: You star in Ransom with Luke Roberts. What was sharing the screen with him like?
Greene: Oh he’s such a lovely guy. We’ve never met, but we have friends in common, and from the get-go, we got on like a house on fire. We all did, actually. We were lucky. The four of us got on so, so well, and that doesn’t always happen. It’s tough in Toronto, you know? The hours are very long, and because it was green-lit so last minute, some days were very tough. We really bonded. We were a great team. And, yeah, I miss them terribly. We all became like a family. It was a really special time. Because it gets lonely! You’re working away from home a lot, and it’s nice to get on.
RT: I imagine that’s important for most any project you’re working on.
Greene: And it makes a much happier set, as well.
RT: Have you remained friends with your Cripple of Inishmaan costar Daniel Radcliffe?
Greene: I haven’t heard from him in a long, long time, no. It’s funny: You become so close with people, and then you go off and start your new job and you’ve got a new group of friends and family. I think the last time [we talked] was for his birthday. Our birthdays are a day apart, so we always check in on our birthdays. But I wouldn’t see him every day, no — but he’s an amazing human being. I barely have time to keep up with my own friends and family at home, so to try and keep up relationships with everyone you’ve worked with is quite difficult. It’s a joy, though, because when you meet your friends again, the people you worked with, you pick up where you left off from and there’s no, “You didn’t call me!” None of that. It’s all good.
RT: Do you have any plans to go back to the stage?
Greene: I do, yeah. Next year. I can’t tell you what yet, but yes.
RT: Is that in London or is that going to be in the U.S.?
Greene: It’s going to be in London. It’ll be springtime next year.
RT: Looking back to Penny Dreadful for a moment, what was your biggest takeaway from playing Hecate? Do you remember it fondly?
Greene: Oh, yeah. I loved playing her. It’s a funny one because she was so dark. I ended up getting a little bit depressed. I’m like, “I’m working! Why am I sad?” But she has such a dark mind. I’m not Method, but these characters do get into your psyche, definitely. You can’t really leave when you’re constantly thinking of them when you are working. Even if you’re off for a few days, they’re there somewhere in the back of your head. Yeah, she’s well dark. But I adored playing her. She was so much fun. Especially the last season, as well. She really came out of her shell.
RT: For any other actors out there, do you have any tips for tackling these dark characters?
Greene: Don’t take it too seriously, I think. Don’t get swallowed in it. It is, after all, work, and the time of your life, as well. Don’t get consumed by these characters. But just have fun. Enjoy it. Our job is to entertain! I love working. I’m the best version of myself when I’m working. So just feel privileged that you’re doing a job that you love.
RT: Do you ever read reviews of your work?
Greene: No. If you read the good ones, you have to read the bad ones. I read a really bad review a few years ago when I was on stage, and they commented on a certain point in the play, and every night when I got to that point in the play, I lost my confidence. It’s not healthy, you know? It’s one person’s opinion, and I try not to. They’re not all going to tell you you’re wonderful, so I try to avoid them as much as I can.
RT: Going into the new year, what are you most looking forward to leaving behind in 2016?
Greene: I had a great year! I know 2016 was horrific, and we lost all the greats this year, but I loved it. I moved into a house with my friends and family, my sister. I’ve had a really, really special 2016.
RT: So going into 2017, what are you most excited for?
Greene: Going back onstage, I suppose. And hopefully Ransom doing well and getting a second season! That’d be nice.
Ransom premieres on CBS at 8 p.m. ET on Jan. 1