Brokeback Mountain and House of Cards star Kate Mara transforms into a successful FBI agent in the new FX drama series Class of '09 (streaming on Disney+ in Canada).
While there's a lot of action and suspense in the show, it was the relationship she had with co-star Sepideh Moafi that really stands out in the experience.
Class of ’09 is centred around a class of FBI agents and follows them through three different time periods. One of these years is 2009, when they were studying and training to be agents. Then there is the present day in 2023 and the future in 2034.
Each of these agents comes from unconventional backgrounds. Mara's character Poet is an ex-nurse, Lennix (Brian J. Smith) comes from a family of politicians, Tayo (Brian Tyree Henry) was in insurance, and Hour (Moafi) is the daughter of Iranian refugees.
While each person is navigating U.S. law enforcement, the series also explores how artificial intelligence and algorithms impact the criminal justice system.
Poet is particularly significant, known as one of the most successful undercover agents in history.
“The relationship between Hour and Poet was one of the reasons why I really loved the first couple episodes when I read them,” Mara told Yahoo Canada. “I was so intrigued with where the relationship and the dynamic between these two women was going to go and I just got really lucky that Sepideh was interested in this and was cast."
"She and I just immediately fell in love with each other. I feel like we've known each other for 40 years.”
Mara was also struck by the way the story positioned the relationship between these two women.
“I just thought it was a really unique way of exploring a relationship between two women, where it's very layered," Mara said. "It's not just a friendship, or it's not just a romantic relationship, there's so many different elements to it."
"They aren't even sure what it is when they first meet. So it was really fun to see where that was going to go.”
Moafi added that their own personal dynamics mirrored the story of their characters.
“Our own personal dynamic and the way that we immediately just felt at ease and felt comfortable and safe around each other, and kind of fell in love with each other as friends, I think that's what happens with Hour and Poet,” Moafi said. “The first time you see them together, Poet is kind of just watching Hour spiral out and then when there's a moment ... that things stop, and she's sort of in the eye, she's able to see Poet and there's this moment where time stops.”
“Having that sort of genuine, timeless, soul connection with someone, seeing two women have that with each other on screen is so beautiful. Because it's not about, ‘Oh are they going to get into bed with each other? Oh, is she the best friend?’ … It's so many different things where at certain points you think, are they deceiving each other? Are they actually loyal to each other? Then other points you think, are they the loves of each other's lives? Other points, you think these two characters are like sisters, they seem like they grew up together.”
'Put the agents, the characters, at the heart of it'
For creator Tom Rob Smith, the idea for this series started with a podcast, "FBI Retired Case File Review," from retired FBI agent Jerri Williams.
“When she retired, she just started interviewing FBI agents, who were also retired,” Smith said. “I thought they were fascinating interviews … and there were agents talking about their career, from why they joined, the case that was most important to them, and then how they saw the bureau in its present state.”
“I thought, rather than being interested necessarily in the crimes they were talking about, I thought they were really intrinsically interesting. The way they spoke was interesting, the way they interacted with Jerri was really interesting. The way they told stories was very different. I thought, wouldn't it be great to do a show that put the agents, the characters, at the heart of it. Build it around their characters and their life journey, rather than the criminality.”
Echoing Smith's comments, executive producer Joe Robert Cole said that what makes Class of '09 stand out from other FBI and law enforcement shows is the way the story focuses on its characters.
“I think that changes the dynamic in terms of the lens at which we look at the narrative," Cole said. "That I found very, very exciting, and was one of the things that really drew me to the project.”
Class of '09 strives to do a lot, flipping between different time periods, where relationship dynamics have shifted for each of the characters, as well as their professional lives. But it also tackles technological changes in these different years, predominantly the proliferation of AI.
From the perspective of the actors, Brian J. Smith, who plays Lennix, particularly enjoyed playing with the timeline.
“It's funny because when I was in drama school, I was always the guy in my class that was playing the old men and you never get to do that, that much, once you get out into your career,” Smith said. “Not that Lennix is an old, old, old guy, but it was kind of fun.”
“You rarely get asked to do that kind of stretchy acting challenge, the further in your career you get.”
Jessica Levin, an executive for the show, also teased that the series will subvert expectations about law enforcement, and AI and sci-fi tropes.
"The way we turn so many of those tropes on their head, the story just takes unexpected turns," Levin said. "I found all of that really compelling for a limited series.”