Alexander Cary wanted the next project he worked on to be intriguing.
With the MGM+ series, “A Spy Among Friends,” he got exactly that.
“I wanted to get in deep into a friendship and betrayal that, you know, happened over 23 years. I also wanted to explore the aftermath of what it meant to be these two characters and whether there was any hope for these two characters.”
The series is based on the New York Times bestselling book written by Ben Macintyre.
The six-episode limited series dramatizes the true story of two British spies and lifelong friends – Nicholas Elliott and Kim Philby, played by Damian Lewis and Guy Pearce, respectively.
Philby became the most notorious British defector and Soviet double agent in history. His deeply personal betrayal, uncovered at the height of the Cold War, resulted in the gutting of British and American intelligence.
The series is produced by ITV Studios in collaboration with Sony Pictures Television.
The cast is rounded out with Anna Maxwell Martin, Stephen Kunken and Adrian Edmondson. Cary is the creator of the series.
Pearce says he found stepping into Philby’s shoes intimidating and exciting at the same time.
“Of course, he’s a really wonderful and complex character to play,” Pearce says. “There was a lot of dialogue that I had to learn. Thanks, Alex. But just really quite specific is how (Kim) should be viewed. I was very conscious of each step we were talking along the way.”
Pearce also felt like Philby had a lot of layers to him.
“I couldn’t really get where Kim was going because he’s so good,” Pearce says. “You don’t know what he was thinking when he’s presenting something completely different.”
Cary wanted to bring this story to the screen because it is so complex in all the facets of being a spy story, a friendship story and an investigation story.
There was also a little pressure because it’s based on a true story.
“I chose first of all, to find a sort of lens, where we could see this friendship and examine it through the Lily Thomas character,” Cary says. “But then I also chose to make life really tough for myself and come up with this very nonlinear structure. I was hard to do but it was satisfying. It took quite a lot of mental carpentry to get the various pieces of the puzzle to drop into place.”
Pearce spent months on set portraying Philby and after production wrapped, he took a moment to think about what he learned from the character.
“I just learned that I probably don’t understand him as much as I thought I might,” he says. “He is a very complex material character. I believe that he believed in communism and he has this view from early on and he hung onto that. But I think there is so much more to it than that as well. I also learned to probably wear rubber soled shoes on the ice.”
As the series has been released to the world, Pearce hopes that viewers will see what he also saw in the production.
“I hope (viewers) will have the same response that I did when I read it,” Pearce says. “It’s a brilliantly made production and it was as fantastic script. The spy and double agent stuff is fascinating. But the fragility and the nature of the friendship and the way it can actually go wrong is as gripping to me as any other story out there.”