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Archie Panjabi wanted to learn fate of 'Hijack' passengers before taking role

Archie Panjabi can be seen in the thriller "Hijack." Photo courtesy of APple TV+
1 of 5 | Archie Panjabi can be seen in the thriller "Hijack." Photo courtesy of APple TV+

NEW YORK, July 26 (UPI) -- The Good Wife and Departure alum Archie Panjabi says that when she received the scripts for the first few episodes of Hijack, she demanded to know the fate of the flight's passengers before she agreed to star in the high-altitude, nerve-wracking thriller.

"I couldn't put it down," Panjabi said in a recent virtual press conference that took place before Hollywood's Screen Actors Guild strike earlier this month.

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"By the end of the third one, I wanted to know if my character had successfully saved the passengers, so I phoned up my agent and said, 'I need to read [episodes] four to seven,'" Panjabi laughed.

"She said, 'Do you not want to do it?' I said: 'No, I'd love to do it. I just need to know what happens to the passengers.'"

The actress knew then that the seven-episode show would captivate viewers.

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"I thought: 'This is a brilliant script! It's really thrilling. It's going to have audiences at the edge of their seat,'" she said.

Airing Wednesdays on Apple TV+, the show unfolds in real time -- one hour per episode -- and follows those onboard a hijacked flight from Dubai to London.

Luther and Suicide Squad icon Idris Elba plays Sam Nelson, a businessman who uses his unique set of analytical skills to try to save the lives of his fellow passengers and the plane's crew, in part, by secretly transmitting messages to his ex-wife Marsha (Christine Adams).

Marsha then passes on the information to her new police detective beau Daniel (Max Beesley) whose former girlfriend Zahra (Panjabi) just happens to be a counterterrorism agent.

Together, Daniel and Zahra put their personal feelings aside and do their best to get the hijackers -- whose motives remain a mystery until late in the series -- to safely land the plane.

Directed by Jim Field Smith and written by George Kay -- who previously collaborated on Litvinenko -- the series co-stars Eve Myles, Neil Maskell, Jasper Britton, Harry Michell, Aimee Kelly, Mohamed Elsandel and Ben Miles.

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"We very delicately and subtly worked through Marsha's messages from Idris' character, Sam, and then my past relationship with Archie, who is in counterterrorism," said Beesley, who is known for his roles in The Outsider and Hotel Babylon.

"As the dominoes fall, then we realize we're into a very serious situation," he added. "It grabs you quite quickly and it's high-octane stuff. It's really a great drama."

When Marsha initially voices her concerns about Sam, Daniel's first call is to Zahra.

"Zahra's character first learns about the hijacking and gets together all the authorities and starts a big investigation," Panjabi said.

Although the authorities on the ground were in a room bigger than the mock aircraft where Sam and the other passengers were, it still felt claustrophobic at times.

"Those were stressful scenes," Panjabi said. "We all had to stay in one position. We couldn't move because of the number of people in the room. We were watching the monitor with a dart, which was the aircraft."

Elba had one obvious advantage over cast members in the back of the plane and Zahra and Daniel's team on the ground: A lot of Elba's scenes featured him talking to the hijackers from the comfort of the plane's first-class section, according to Panjabi.

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"He was in first! We were kind of packed like sardines," she said.

Despite the tension, long hours and close quarters, the cast and crew enjoyed a sense of camaraderie against the film's high stakes.

"It was intense, right, Jim? We had a lot of fun on the show," Panjabi said.

"The great thing about filming this is that we did it chronologically and, so, the tension just builds," she added. "The tension in that room just escalates to a point where it becomes unbearable."

Panjabi said she was intrigued by the idea of Zahra working with Daniel when the wounds from their failed romance were still fresh.

"I remember when we first met, we were like: 'Well, what's our chemistry? What's our backstory? What's our history?' And I think we both had two different stories," she said. "We both decided each of us had chucked each other."

Kay chimed in, "I think Zahar is strong and managed to kind of see that maybe Daniel is not the right partner and they broke up."

Regardless of who was to blame, Zahra and Daniel put their differences aside for the greater good.

"There's a really nice moment when I'm driving the car and you ask me all these questions," Panjabi told Beesley. "I have a go at you, and, at the end, Zahra just says, 'It's OK, I get it.' I think from then onward we just work together.

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Beesley agreed.

"We're very good at our jobs, which is important, and, ultimately, we do kind of really help the situation," he said.

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