Harry Lloyd Breaks Down the 'Counterpart' Finale and Teases Season 2

Counterpart, Starz, Harry Lloyd

When Harry Lloyd's gig on the WGN period drama Manhattan came to an end, he packed his bags and moved all of his furniture from the show's New Mexico location back home to London, which he said was "a nightmare" to arrange. "I was like, 'I'm not going to move back to America again!'" he recalled, laughing. But on the day his furniture arrived, so did the pilot script for a new show called Counterpart. Lloyd read it and had to reconsider his declaration.

"It was like reading the Manhattan pilot, or the Game of Thrones pilot," said Lloyd, who memorably played Viserys Targaryen on the HBO epic's first season. "You read these kinds of pilots every now and again, and even though you don't get that much information, it's extraordinary enough to sign away potentially seven years of your life. I thought, 'Surely this is some masterpiece 20th-century novel that's been adapted.' No, it's completely an original. So straight away, I was like, 'I don't know what this is, but I'm in.'"

Still, Lloyd had some concerns. Was the show's concept -- a spy-fi thriller in which two sides of a Cold War happen to be states existing in parallel dimensions -- too big, or too geeky? Would series creator Justin Marks be able to navigate this premise and stick the landing, or, Lloyd wonder, "Would it be like Lost, where they promise stuff that never quite turns up?" To lure Lloyd aboard the project in the important role of Peter Quayle, a director of strategy at a shadowy UN organization based in Berlin, Marks shared not only his plans for Season 1, but also several seasons beyond that, since Starz commissioned two seasons upfront. "I kind of felt like Season 1 was a 10-hour movie," Lloyd said.

Already in production on Season 2 in Berlin, Lloyd called to talk about Sunday's finale and tease us ever so slightly about the next chapter.

Harry Lloyd, Counterpart, Richard Schiff

Thrillist: You sometimes write personal histories for the characters you play, so that you can understand their point of view. Did you feel you had to do that with Peter Quayle?
Harry Lloyd: That's a very good question. You know, I didn't, really. They had a short history of Peter Quayle, and I took that with a pinch of salt, to be honest. And then I realized, Quayle is someone who we don't actually know anything about, beyond his wife. What about his family, his friends? He doesn't actually have a real social life, or family life, or even a real marriage. And yet, or maybe because of that, he's kind of a hollow dude. On Season 2, I'm working with this director, Charles Martin, and he said, "It's really simple. He just doesn't want to be on his own." And I was like, "Oh! Yeah!" He's someone who clearly cannot be on his own, and he's just now realizing that.

Maybe that explains why he seeks out prostitutes all the time. Perhaps he does that because, deep down, he sensed that something was amiss in his marriage to Claire. Not that he knew she was a sleeper agent who'd infiltrated his life, precisely, but...
The thing with Claire, she's spent her whole life training to be that girl. To me, the question is, once he knows, why didn't he turn her in? However much he rationalizes it, he just can't do it. If he gives her up, he'll lose his job, possibly, but he'll also lose his daughter, all these things he's taken for granted. "Without these things, I really am nothing." Deep down, he knows that. So he'll fight to the death, to keep someone he doesn't love. Or maybe, fuck it, he does love her. He loves the baby, at least. I don't think he realized what that little girl would mean to him. Little does he know she's named after a kid from Claire's school of sleeper agents on the other side. That's why from Episode 6 onwards, he's running. He's realizing his time is up. "I'm so stupid. I've been so blind." And he hates himself.

Peter Quayle is kind of the epitome of the Peter Principle, the mediocre guy who fails upwards.
He was chosen randomly as someone who could be trusted, to be the deputy director of Strategy, because of his father-in-law, but he's not actually good at his job. He gets away with it, because he knows how to appear to be good, but I don't know how interested he actually is in politics, or philosophy, or life on the other side, or what it means. He's vapid. And yet, that's a great place to start, because these people keep pushing him and now he's going to snap, and we're going to find out what he's really made of.

Howard Alpha and Howard Prime are becoming more like each other as dormant qualities in their nature awaken. Do you think that could happen with Quayle Alpha and Quayle Prime?
Totally. Unfortunately, I cannot talk to you about Quayle Prime. I would like to, very much. But... to be continued.

OK. I'm going to take that as a hint that we'll see Quayle Prime next season, which I don't expect you to confirm or deny.
Yeah. [Laughs] No matter how much of your life your share, if you're Peter Quayle or Claire, your point of departure from the other world, you were born just after the split. So you could have a very different life, like the sweet innocent little princess Quayle thought he was marrying, versus Claire Prime, who was a child soldier from what, the age of 11? So I wonder, how much nature do we share? Some people, they share nurture or nature, and their personalities are completely different.

harry lloyd, counterpart

Did you realize that Quayle Alpha would provide so much comic relief?
When I got to the fifth episode, I realized, the rest of the show is so god-damned serious, someone needs to take the piss out of it! And what I kind of love about him are the little glimpses into how he doesn't really know what he's doing. Did you notice that bit with pulling the gun on Howard Silk? They used the take where I got the gun caught in the bag. That's why I love the way they edit it, the little bits that they use always have a bit of mess in it. They like the take where you're like, "Oh, fuck." They like it when the actors kind of futz around with it and find little colors. I always think they're watching all the takes very carefully. It's a lovely thing to go back for Season 2, knowing that.

The moment in the finale when he talks to Management, however, is very tricky. And he gives an answer that works for his own agenda, but also theirs as well.
That's a tricky one. By Episode 10, after he's crashed that car, he wakes up and realizes Claire's master-minded the murder of 11 innocent people. And yet, his father-in-law thinks he's done a wonderful job. He's going to be promoted. You get these little moments like at the end of that scene, "Well, Mr. Quayle, we want to thank you," and because he's Quayle, he can't help but smile a little bit. He's like, "That's quite nice, even if I know it's terrible." It's very difficult to know how to play a moment like this, which is so contradictory and the stakes are so high, and you're terrified, because at any moment it could all come crashing down.

It blurred into the scene with Howard Silk at the bar. I remember thinking, "I don't know how long this can go on. I've just buried the man my wife just killed in the kitchen, and now somehow I'm still alive, but I'm about to find out Aldrich is dead, so hold on a second, this is the first time in five days where I think I am going to die today." We hadn't rehearsed it like this, but that moment where Howard says, "Yeah, everyone's going to be looking for the mole now," and Quayle says, "Yeah, they made me the head of the operation," at that, we both kind of laughed! And again, they kept that take in the cut. I love that. You can't play it so serious, and so scared, and so fucked at every moment, like a little mouse. It was so fun to be like, "Bring it on." You're trapped. Everywhere you turn, you're fucked. So just hold on, I guess?

One of the things that is fun about the show is the level of attention paid to world-building. There is so much in the background that tells you which world you're in, from the architectural skyline to even the kinds of the lights used.
Lloyd: Someone just told me that recently, and I hadn't noticed that before, but you're absolutely right -- they do halogen lights on our side, and LED lights over on their side. And there lots of things coming up like that in Season 2, and hopefully three and four. Justin spoke to us in the very first meeting about an episode that is only now coming up in Season 2, and he had mentioned an idea for Season 3, which showed they were planting these seeds now. The detail is absolutely there.

One thing I learned about Justin is that he has a background in architecture, so the set design, the art design, and the details of it, those are the things that help him get into a situation. He gave us these pamphlets or "instructions" for each world, and one of them was mainly a handbook about the OI, the Office of Interchange where Peter Quayle works. And in that, I have this flowchart where it shows all the departments and how they're interlinked. Management is at the top; then Diplomacy where Roland Fancher, which is Richard Schiff's character, makes the deals with the other side; Strategy is my department; Housekeeping is hands-on spy guys that Aldrich was working. Justin had which floor each department is on, who had hierarchy over the other, and how they all link together. And then you get down into Customs, and there were instructions for the passports and how you stamp them, and information on when people travel contraband across, how they do it.

I think it works really well when you have two genres that don't go together, and you force them together. It gives you such good chemistry between the two that you've always got somewhere to go. And the idea of another double world, we have a good handle on it, because otherwise there would so many stories to tell. If the people in these worlds actually found out about each other, there would be anarchy and chaos! So to just have just this single tunnel, this crossing that they can pass through via customs, and to keep it in this spy genre, and to keep it tight, and to make sure it's exciting, it's a thriller, it's a plot that moves so that every episode isn't some kind of indulgent philosophical rant, I think that's such a clever vehicle. You still get these wonderful scenes where you do think about the philosophical aspect, and all the doors that it unlocks, but at the heart of it, it's a fucking car chase, which is such a smart combination of these two completely different genres.

Would you ever think, the person you need to get you out of a jam is your counterpart? Would you be like Howard Silk, and say, "I need my Harry Lloyd?"
Lloyd: I wouldn't trust him at all. [Laughs]

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Jennifer Vineyard has written for New York magazine, MTV News, and The New York Times.