There's not a lot of time for character development in the pilot episode of Crisis, NBC's hostage thriller that premieres Sunday. The first hour is more preoccupied with immersing viewers into the action and getting a couple of major twists out of the way than delving into the depths of its major players.
But here's what we do know: A bus of children is taken hostage by a group of highly trained criminals while on a field trip. What do the bad guys want? It's unclear. But the children's parents all hold positions of power in Washington, D.C., ranging from the CEO of a major corporation (Gillian Anderson) to the president of the United States. There's also a nearly unrecognizable Dermot Mulroney playing a shlubby parent chaperone who's an embarrassment to his daughter, but who defies expectations when it comes to the events that unfold. And in a made-for-TV coincidence, the no-nonsense FBI agent in charge of the case, Susie Dunn (Rachael Taylor), is the estranged sister of Anderson's character, Meg Fitch.
"Often with network TV, you read about female characters that are really invested in their job, but at the same time they really just kind of want to be a mom," Taylor tells TVGuide.com. "I like that [Susie] wasn't trying to achieve this certain perfect balance of femininity, that she really is kind of fragmented in certain ways. ... I really saw her as someone who ... probably goes home and has one stiff drink and reads over her notes from work and then goes to bed and then gets up the next day and does it all again."
Taylor hasn't had much luck when it comes to TV shows in recent years, having starred in the ill-fated Charlie's Angels and 666 Park Avenue. And her discussion of Crisis seems to be informed by these experiences. But this latest role also marks a departure from her previous ones.
"You're looking for something that is quality and complex and that you can see yourself doing over a period of time, should you be so lucky to have that happen," she says cautiously, explaining her reasons for taking the part. "I was very surprised that they were prepared to put me in this role. It's not something that I would usually do. ... [Susie] is not glamorous in every way. And I felt like that was an important thing for me to tackle. I'm about to turn 30 and I was like, let's embrace this new chapter of more slightly interesting parts."
The emotionally detached female law enforcement figure has become somewhat of a television trope in recent years — think Claire Danes in Homeland and Diane Kruger in The Bridge. But unlike those characters, Susie doesn't suffer from any mental illness (that we know of). She's just kind of salty — something Taylor says she found off-putting at first, and wonders if viewers will as well.
"There is a certain vanity ... that the characters you play, you kind of like them and you become attached to them in a way and you hope that people like them too," Taylor admits. "I watched a couple episodes and I was like, oh, she's quite frosty, this young lady. ... She's probably a very rageful person [who's] probably eaten up by a lot of anger on a day-to-day basis. She's not very nurturing towards herself, and not very nurturing towards others. She just doesn't have that ability — which is actually kind of really moving to play. It's a very damaging quality, but it was interesting as an actor to step into that kind of coldness."
Adds Taylor: "I think what people are going to see — and maybe, I hope, love to hate — in the character of Susie Dunn is she's just stuck in her ways, that she kind of just is who she is. ... There are a lot of characters on TV who I like that are like that. The people that we go, 'Oh man, you're kind of just not a good person,' but for whatever reason on a chemical level I'm still kind of rooting for you. That is my hope. That's how I feel about her."
A big reveal at the end of the pilot hints at the reason why Meg and Susie haven't spoken in 16 years, but Taylor says that there are a lot of elements to their relationship that will be unpacked as the series progresses.
"For all of Susie Dunn's kind of detachment and her emotional baggage, I think what's interesting about it is, these two women really do need each other," says Taylor, who adds that she also feels a "sisterly connection" with Anderson. "They need each other in ways that are very practical. [Meg's] child has been taken, and they both need to come together to get this solved. But they need each other on emotional levels as well."
Crisis is built around an interesting premise and has the star power of Anderson and Mulroney to boot. But the show invites comparisons to CBS' all-but-canceled Hostages — which also tried to build an entire show around a singular standoff situation. Will Crisis be able to hold the audience's attention, or will it be resigned to the same fate?
"I had similar concerns," Taylor admits. "This is really about, every week, the exploitation of somebody's love for their child or somebody's love for their loved ones. And that is a concept that doesn't really get old. ... I spoke to [creator Rand Ravich] and he said, 'The point is to make people feel like the crisis is solved and everything's safe, and then we just blow it back up."
"This is very concerning for me as an actress," Taylor adds with a laugh. "I was like, this is quite possible that I will not be in the second season, I guess. But I like that idea, and I can see how that pans out. Just when we think we have an ending, I think what Rand wants to do is create a sense of security and then blow it up all over again."
Crisis premieres Sunday at 10/9c on NBC.