Amy Brenneman (L) and Hamish Linklater will be seen in the 10-part thriller, "Tell Me Your Secrets," starting Friday. Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime Video
NEW YORK, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Not even the stars of Tell Me Your Secrets are certain the flawed characters they play in the addictive thriller deserve second chances.
Led by Hamish Linklater (Legion,) Amy Brenneman (The Leftovers) and Lily Rabe (American Horror Story,) the 10-part drama with an unreliable narrator debuts on Amazon Prime Video on Friday.
It follows Mary, a Texas mother and activist who is grieving for Theresa, her college-student daughter who went missing seven years earlier; Emma, the traumatized hairdresser Mary thinks is the key to finding Theresa (Stella Baker); and John, the rehabilitated rapist Mary hires to track down Emma, so she can confront her.
"These are dark, damaged characters and you need to take a shower at the end of the day [after playing them,]" Linklater told reporters in a recent Zoom interview. "John sees Mary as his means to salvation, and actually, she turns out to be a fast train to his destruction."
Redemption might have been possible for John if Mary hadn't come into his life, the actor thinks.
"He might well not have caused harm to other people again. He might have been successful in isolating himself or his demons," Linklater said.
"We're playing with morality in the piece," he added. "All of these characters want to do what's moral, but inevitably end up doing the human thing, given the cards that they've been dealt naturewise.
"They have their fatal flaws. Mary's is her love for her daughter and the trauma of that loss."
Given that Mary is the mother of a violent-crime victim, it is logical that she would steer clear of a man who has hurt women, but who now insists he can control his impulses and only wants to help others.
Yet, Mary develops a dangerous bond with John and, in a way, sees him as her last hope to bring Theresa home.
"Mary loves John and hates him. He mirrors her dark side, and it's probably the most intimate connection she has had," said Brenneman, who plays Mary.
"Both of these characters have this dark wit and, to me, as a viewer, that is real to human beings. When people are feeling sad and frustrated, they don't just feel sad and frustrated, they crack jokes. They are cruel to one another. They do weird things, but it also makes [them] watchable."
When Mary asks for John's assistance, she doesn't anticipate leaping down a rabbit hole of obsession and crime herself.
"Mary doesn't expect to kill another human being. That was a rubicon she crosses," Brenneman said.
"It's like she judges the drunks at the pub and she is one of them -- very much so -- but, with that, there is a certain exhalation where she doesn't have to pretend to be good anymore."
Whether someone can redeem himself or herself after doing something awful is debatable.
"I don't know, man," Brenneman said, noting that in real life she has a "deep belief in people changing."
"What a powerful thing to have a serial predator be able to change," she said, getting back to the show. "It's not until the end of the pilot where [Mary is] like, 'I don't think people can change, so why don't you work for me? Put your disease to some use.'"
Brenneman credited series scribe Harriet Warner with creating complex characters with whom audiences can sympathize.
The actress said Warner also doesn't blame these people's actions solely on sociopathy or circumstances because, had she, audiences might easily dismiss them, believing, "Oh, I would never do that."
"She roots all of these people and their behavior in such humanity. She loves them," Brenneman said of Warner. "Loving means not judging and sort of accepting all these weird facets, but there is such humanity in it, which is good."
Linklater and Brenneman worked well together, despite the fact that their on-screen relationship was fraught with tension.
"I was really determined going into this to be a very serious actor and take my work very seriously and, unfortunately, my first scene was with Amy and she immediately was like, 'Let's talk, let's joke, let's be friends.' And I was like, 'I am a serial predator. I need my space to focus,'" Linklater quipped. "I, luckily, learned that chemistry comes first and character will follow."
Rabe -- who is Linklater's romantic partner in real life -- plays Emma, a woman trying to start a new life in the witness protection program in Louisiana after serving four years in prison for allegedly helping her boyfriend Kit (Xavier Samuel) kidnap and kill nine women.
Despite constant prodding from authorities and psychiatrists, Emma maintains she can't remember important details from her time with Kit.
Whether she is lying about who she was before she went to prison isn't revealed until late in the show.
"I love the ambiguity of the whole story," Rabe said in a separate Zoom call with reporters.
"There is so much held back and I love watching an unreliable narrator as a viewer and, even more than that, I love playing one," she added. "It was like playing two characters, but they have the same soul. There is no one I could compare her to."
Like her co-stars, Rabe enjoyed exploring the theory of redemption.
"That theme is such a big part of the show -- whether people are deserving of second chances and whether they are actually possible," she said. "There is no one answer."
The production was a fulfilling one, but the actress admitted it was challenging to stay in such a dark place for 10 episodes, particularly since many of her scenes were violent or showed her by herself. (She and Linklater don't share any major screen time until the end of the series.)
"We loved each other so much, and it was such a wonderful group, but I found the playing of this role remarkably lonely, and I wouldn't trade it because it was part of the process," Rabe said.
"The sort of relentlessness and running on fumes is such a part of it because it is what Emma had to do in her own life. It was something that I just leaned into instead of away from," she said.
"It wasn't until I was done shooting that I tried to bring as much light back in to counterbalance and equalize again. You just put your head down and get through it."