he theme of duality permeates every level of the acclaimed drama
. The sci-fi espionage series takes place in a Berlin where, 30 years earlier, a scientific experiment created an entrance point to a parallel Earth which contains an equivalent (a "counterpart") for everyone and everything in "our" world.
Since then, the two worlds have evolved separately, and relations between the sides have been strained. Counterpart follows the workers at the Office of Interchange, a United Nations agency tasked with interacting with the other side. Which means that almost every actor on the show either has, or will end up, playing at least two versions of their character.
So it fits with this theme of duality that Weekend is speaking to two actresses from Counterpart: Nazanin Boniadi (Homeland), and new cast member Betty Gabriel (Get Out).
"We're lucky, we have a lot of strong female roles in the show," says Boniadi.
here were major revelations about Boniadi's character, Clare, in season one. Introduced as the wife of Office of Interchange director Peter Quayle (Harry Lloyd), it was eventually revealed that Clare is actually a sleeper agent from the other side (Prime) who came to our dimension (Alpha) and killed and replaced her counterpart in order to exert influence on Peter and the Office of Interchange.
Clare's duplicitous nature adds another level of complexity to Boniadi's performance.
"I'm literally playing three versions of Clare," says Boniadi. "Because I played Clare Alpha, which is the Clare that the other Clare ends up killing. Then the other Clare [Clare Prime], and you see her being villainous and doing bad things, and also the bad Clare assuming the role of the good Clare, for lack of a better way of explaining it, because it's really not that cut and dried."
Nothing in Counterpart is cut and dried.
"That makes it really layered and complicated," says Boniadi. "That's the beauty of a spy drama. But it makes it more complicated when there are two versions of someone..."
Gabriel's character is a new addition to the show. Now that the Office of Interchange knows that sleeper agents from the Prime side are infiltrating the Alpha side, they bring in a spycatcher to try and flush them out.
"The character that I play, Naya Temple, is a former FBI agent," Gabriel tells Weekend. "She's hired by the Office of Interchange to help them hunt the spies that have infiltrated their office. It's fun to play a character that's both intimidating and charismatic. She has this very push-pull aspect to her. But yeah, I like making people uncomfortable."
Gabriel's star has risen considerably with a prominent supporting role in the smash hit horror film Get Out – she played Georgina the maid, the character who memorably articulated the title of the film to the hapless Chris (Daniel Kaluuya). Like Get Out, Counterpart effectively uses genre storytelling to comment on issues in the real world.
"I think [genre storytelling] provides just enough of an escapist tool," says Gabriel. "It allows you to separate yourself enough from it to then get the truth shoved into you if it's done well. But I think it won't succeed if it isn't packed with humanity and truth. Genre is great and I love sci-fi. I don't love horror, I respect it as a genre. But yeah, it doesn't work unless it has that underbelly of truth."
The Iranian-British Boniadi, whom Vanity Fair reported briefly dated Tom Cruise in 2004-2005, believes Counterpart has plenty to say about contemporary life.
"I play this character who is radicalised to do very bad things," says Boniadi. "And it's not in the context of religion, but she is radicalised. In this day and age, we see all these terror attacks happening across the world, there's this tendency to look at people who commit these crimes as animals and savages and we have very little patience for understanding why these things are happening.
"That's not to excuse or justify what they're doing, but unless we understand why these people are doing what they're doing, we won't be able to stop it from happening. And what the beauty of this character for me is, she's doing terrible things, but if you look at her personal story, she is so human, and there is a reason why she's ended up where she's ended up, and with that comes a better understanding."
The bifurcated nature of reality in Counterpart rings especially true for Gabriel.
"We are a very polarised country," adds Gabriel. "We have people believing one thing, and people just down the street believing the absolute opposite and we can't find common ground, we are just at war with each other in our country and it's quite scary and there's a myriad of issues. So I think it's quite relevant, this show, and hopefully, through it and through all our stories we can find answers and we can find ways to connect."
Season two of Counterpart premieres Thursday, February 14th at 8.30pm on SoHo