Gillian Anderson on "Crisis." | CHUCK HODES/NBC
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Updated: March 12, 2014 8:16PM
The Chicago set of NBC’s new thriller “Crisis” is swarming with actors and extras in FBI jackets.
“I was like, ‘Wait, how come I don’t have one?’ ” joked Gillian Anderson, who spent nine seasons as special agent Dana Scully on “The X-Files.”
Wearing Louboutin heels and pricey tailored threads, Anderson runs no risk of being mistaken for a fed while shooting the penultimate episode of “Crisis” last month at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios. The series debuts Sunday.
It marks the former “X-Files” star’s return to television in her first U.S. series regular role since the Fox sci-fi classic went off the air a dozen years ago. Anderson recently could be seen counseling Dr. Lecter in a recurring guest role on NBC’s “Hannibal.” But most of her TV work — including a lead gig on BBC’s acclaimed crime drama “The Fall,” which began season two production a couple weeks ago — has been based in the United Kingdom.
“I was starting to look for something in this part of the world again,” said the 45-year-old Chicago-born actress who calls London home. “This was just one of those projects that I couldn’t stop thinking about. I gave [the pilot script] to my teenager. She couldn’t put it down. And so that was it.”
Anderson plays Meg Fitch, a deep-pocketed, powerful CEO and mother of a 16-year-old girl who’s taken hostage — along with a bus full of the privileged progeny of Washington, D.C.’s, power players, including the U.S. president.
“The kids have been kidnapped by an evil mastermind who’s using the parents to fulfill the rest of his plan by using their kids as leverage,” Anderson said about the series. The promising pilot has some intriguing plot twists.
“One of the best ways to end a serial story is with a question mark; we do it every week,” said Dermot Mulroney (“August: Osage County”). He stars as Francis Gibson, a down-on-his-luck dad chaperoning the high schoolers’ hijacked bus. “You’re going to end every week wondering what’s going to happen that very next second. Old-fashioned cliffhangers.”
If all of this sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because another recent TV show — one that turned out to be a dud for CBS — was built around taking people hostage in Washington. “Hostages” starred Dylan McDermott, who’s often mistaken for Dermot Mulroney. So much so that “Saturday Night Live” built a game show skit around the confusion.
Mulroney didn’t find the similarities too funny when I brought it up.
“We’ll take another question,” he said politely but definitively.
“Crisis” creator Rand Ravich told TV critics earlier this year that he and co-executive producer Far Shariat — the same duo behind NBC’s Damian Lewis-starring drama “Life” — have never seen “Hostages.”
“It would be remiss of us to compare [‘Crisis’] to anything else,” Ravich said. “It would detract from where we’re going.”
Suspense is the stock in trade of “Crisis,” which also stars Rachel Taylor (“666 Park Avenue”) as an FBI agent assigned to the case because she’s the sister of Meg Fitch (Anderson). She joins forces with a secret service agent played by Lance Gross (“House of Payne”), who was last in Chicago filming the 2008 Tyler Perry movie “Meet the Browns.”
“I come from the comedy world,” Gross said. “I’ve been waiting to sink my teeth into something like this.”
“Crisis” takes place in the greater Washington area. The pilot was filmed in Los Angeles, while the remainder of the 13-episode season was shot in the Chicago region. The teens are held captive in Lake Forest’s Schweppe Mansion, a replica of which has been built at Cinespace on the Near West Side.
“There’s a scene that takes place where people are putting flowers outside the fence of the White House,” said Mulroney, a Northwestern University alum. “They found a fence that approximates what the White House has. They put up yards and yards of green screen. You see the shot and you can’t believe it.”
Shooting in Chicago was a selling point for Anderson. It made for a relatively easy trans-Atlantic commute. It’s also been a homecoming of sorts for the 1990 DePaul University theater grad, who remembers paying $400 a month for the Bucktown apartment she rented all four years of college.
“I certainly haven’t missed the snow or the minus 35-degree wind chill,” she said.
The decision to film the TV series here — a trend that’s turned Chicago into a mini Hollywood by the Lake — was made because “we needed a strong city,” Ravich said, “and it’s impossible to shoot in D.C.
“I’d love to come back and shoot Chicago for Chicago,” he added. “You guys can have a crisis here. Maybe season two.”