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ABC's 'Missing' spies a world of exotic filming locations

The show starring Ashley Judd as an ex-CIA agent has been shot in France, Italy, the Czech Republic, Russia and other faraway locales.

June 14, 2012|By Hugh Hart, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Ashley Judd stars in ABC's "Missing."
Ashley Judd stars in ABC's "Missing." (Rory Flynn / ABC )

TV dramas routinely confine actors to dank soundstages or a few square miles of exterior streetscapes, but "Missing" offers star Ashley Judd loads more room to roam. Filmed in France, Italy, the Czech Republic, Russia, Croatia, Turkey, Bulgaria and Austria, the ABC spy series traffics in the kind of international beauty shots commonly found in James Bond or Jason Bourne movies but rarely seen on the small screen.

Judd, who plays Becca Winstone, an ex-CIA agent in search of her kidnapped son, savored the opportunity to soak up local culture in between takes. "When we shot in Istanbul, I'd lie on my back on these ancient stone floors that were laid in 420 AD while I pondered the inscrutable," she says. "We shot on the rooftop of the Suleiman Mosque — no tourist goes to the … rooftop! We'd be in the middle of a take and have to hold the roll for the call to prayer. It was fabulous."

"Missing's" 10-episode hell-hath-no-fury-like-a-spy-mom-scorned saga incorporates exotic locales including an eye-popping Czech castle where college student Michael is held prisoner; Croatia's ancient city of Dubrovnik, which adds picturesque oomph to one episode's climactic chase scene; and a 15th century clock tower in Prague, Czech Republic, that looms over a covert intel swap for the helicopter-stealing, train-hopping, motorcycle-racing adventuress.

"The locations are eye candy in some ways, but they're not just that," show creator Gregory Poirier says. "In Rome, we might film the Trevi Fountain as a landmark, but we don't do the action scene there. We use it as a way to get down a street in an alley in a real part of the city. Everywhere we went, we tried to incorporate the reality of the city."

Poirier and his writing team outlined their heroine's overall itinerary, then relied on Czech producer Gideon Amir to scout unusual locations that might inspire site-specific rewrites. "As the writers would be breaking stories, Gideon would call us and show us photographs of what we could achieve if we managed to rethink the scene a certain way," says producer Gina Matthews. "Instead of just setting something in an underground bunker, he's found a beautiful castle in Vienna that happens to have an underground bunker."

"Missing" is hardly the first TV show to enrich its storytelling textures with specific settings. The Pacific Northwest's rain-soaked skies reinforce the somber tone of AMC murder mystery"The Killing," and the lush backdrop forCBS'"Hawaii Five-0" contributes to a more buoyant crime-fighting atmosphere. Baltimore, New Orleans and Albuquerque have infused"The Wire,""Treme" and"Breaking Bad" with distinct variations on urban grit.

And while "Missing's" producers wouldn't discuss the show's production budget, they may have had their eyes on a broader viewership than just North America. "We really wanted to make television for the world," says Matthews. "From the very beginning, we designed 'Missing' so that every episode would take place in a different city in Europe because we wanted to create this complete global show. That's the reason it has this kind of scope."

Working primarily with a Czech crew, "Missing" recruited local production companies that cut through bureaucratic red tape and secured access to off-the-beaten-path locations. "That kind of authenticity is important to us," says Poirier, whose wife is Russian. "I loved the idea of making a show that brings the world to American audiences in a more real way, and that extended to casting as well." Italian actor Adriano Giannini and the Czech Republic's Tereza Vorísková play the respective love interests of Becca and her son.

For Judd, "Missing" rekindled the wanderlust she experienced in her 20s, when the actress spent every spring in Paris. "I think it's very cool that they wrote to the locations," she says. "In Dubrovnik, you've got this incredibly enchanting city made of marble, one of the great old capitals of Europe. Doing chase sequences through the narrow stone alleys and over the rooftops of this walled city was magnificent. The whole point was to film outdoors and capture the beauty of this setting."

Had "Missing" been renewed for a second season, Poirier had planned on a fresh influx of locations — in fact, he had hoped to "do a different continent every year," he says. And while that now won't come to pass, they'll always have Paris.

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