Diane Kruger and Demian Bichir in "The Bridge." (FX Network )
FX's new summer drama "The Bridge" has many common elements of contemporary thrillers: a sadistic serial killer, mismatched detectives and a desperate race against time.
But "The Bridge" is distinguished by a hot-button issue that brings an edgy topicality to the usual formula — the politics and controversy behind the border between the United States and Mexico.
In this drama, the detectives aren't the only ones at odds. It's a tale of two cities that couldn't be more different: the serene metropolis of El Paso and the more dangerous region of Ciudad Juárez in Chihuahua, Mexico, where large drug cartels wreak havoc and murderous mayhem.
"It's such a high-stakes situation that just seems ripe for human stories," said executive producer Meredith Stiehm. "I feel like it's been in the news for a long time, but we haven't seen it dramatized successfully."
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Fellow executive producer Elwood Reid added, "Mexico is the biggest character and yet the unseen character in the room. It gives the show immediate stakes. The war on drugs and so many other things are all played out on the border. Our show starts out with a body, but what's really complicated is the border."
"The Bridge" stars Demián Bichir, who was nominated for a lead actor Oscar for 2011's "A Better Life," and Diane Kruger, whose film credits include "Farewell, My Queen," "Inglourious Basterds," "The Host" and the "National Treasure" franchise.
When a body is discovered at precisely the center of a border bridge between the countries, Mexican homicide detective Marco Ruiz (Bichir) and El Paso Police Det. Sonya Cross (Kruger) reluctantly team to track down the killer. The case becomes more complex when it's learned that the murderer has a political agenda related to immigration and the tensions between the countries.
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The series, which also stars Annabeth Gish ("The X-Files," "Pretty Little Liars"), Ted Levine ("The Silence of the Lambs"), Thomas M. Wright ("Top of The Lake") and Matthew Lillard ("The Descendants"), is based on the Swedish series "Bron," set on the border of Denmark and Sweden.
Stiehm, who was an executive producer on "Homeland," said that recent headlines will bring an extra urgency to "The Bridge."
"I believe there's a complacency about the whole drug situation as long as it stays on the other side of the border," she said. "These cities are side by side, but most people who live in El Paso haven't been to Juárez in 15 years." She cited a 2010 statistic showing the disparity in danger between the cities: That year, El Paso had five homicides; Juárez had 3,000.
Bichir said he was drawn to the project because of its relevance: "With these two countries being together, you can't blame one for what's happening to the other. We share the same responsibility."
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Still, there is plenty of human drama among the characters.
Ruiz is one of the more upstanding cops working in a police force that is corrupt but overpowered by the drug cartels. Cross has an even more troubling dilemma: Though she is a determined investigator, she is hampered by an undiagnosed disorder that falls within the autism spectrum. Her unapologetic frankness and lack of emotion poses problems for both colleagues and outsiders, including survivors of the deceased.
Both performers said they were excited by the opportunity to play complicated people.
"He's a really well-written character," said Bichir. "He believes he can make a difference, which is not an easy thing to do given the circumstances. But he knows how to walk on fire and not get burned."
Kruger said she did extensive research for her role.
"I read every book about autism and Asperger's syndrome I could get my hands on," she said. "This character is a real challenge to me, but I also really connected with her. She's not blunt or cold. She's has aspects of her that are very endearing. She thinks she's one thing, and then she's not."
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