Revenge feels good. It nicely scratches the itch many of us feel from life’s annoyances, indignities and outright betrayals – even when we’re only getting it vicariously through a television character.
Mothers, in particular, may find pleasure in Red Widow, a new ABC drama about a devoted stay-at-home soccer mum in tiny Marin County, just north of San Francisco, who finds herself dragged into the Bratva, the world of Russian organised crime, when her husband is gunned down in their driveway. To the Bratva way of thinking, she now owes them her husband’s debt.
It’s a world she understands; her father and brothers are part of it, as was her husband. But as a ferocious mama bear out to protect her three cubs, it’s a world she’s been trying to break away from for years. Now, as she defies the mob and the FBI in her hunt for the truth about her husband’s death and struggles to keep her kids safe, she must rely on her ingenuity, determination and her own Bratva DNA like never before.
Marta Walraven, played with steely grit by Radha Mitchell, is the kind of flawed, complicated character usually reserved for men on TV, says Red Widow’s creator Melissa Rosenberg, who also wrote all three movies – New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn – for the Twilight franchise, and executive-produced Dexter.
“We’ve had on cable and then on network these male characters who are very flawed and complex, such as Tony Soprano [The Sopranos] and Dexter [Dexter] and Vic Mackey [The Shield],” she says.
“And then we’ve just begun to have that on cable for women in the form of Edie Falco on Nurse Jackie and [Mary Louise Parker on] Weeds. And now I think this show is bringing that kind of a character to network. It’s a very tricky character to sell to an audience, because women are held to a higher standard. But as played by Radha, you have compassion for her. You are with her. Her experience is universal.”
Marta’s nemesis – and crime boss – in the San Francisco Bratva is Nicholae Schiller, a handsome, immaculate wolf in very expensive clothing. He forges an uneasy and unpredictable alliance by forcing her to repay the debt by working for him.
As Nicholae, the Croatian-born actor Goran Visnjic – best known for his stint as Dr Luka Kovac on ER – proves himself up to the challenge of being a diabolical charmer.
“We start pretty much with him being impressed by this woman who walks into his office with half a million dollars in cash and says: ‘You killed my husband, and this is all I owe you.’ And he’s kind of like: ‘Whoa, wait a second. I never experienced anything like this.’ People don’t do that to him,” says Visnjic, who recently wrapped shooting Ridley Scott’s The Counselor alongside Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt and Javier Bardem.
“I don’t think I ever played anybody like this before, so it’s kind of like unusual. It’s different. It’s a very sharp guy dressed in suits all the time, walking around killing people,” he says. “They write all this kind of cool stuff. I play with the toys. Good cars. Planes. All that stuff. Martial arts scenes. It’s a fun character to play.”
“What’s interesting,” Mitchell says of her character Marta, “is that she’s managing this life as a criminal with her life as a mother. So she’ll be negotiating a deal with Schiller and then, five minutes later, be on the phone, trying to get her son to eat his soup”.
Mitchell was most recently seen in leading roles for the feature films Surrogates, opposite Bruce Willis, and The Crazies, alongside Timothy Olyphant.
• Red Widow premieres at 9pm Friday on OSN First HD
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