Dan Brown’s bestselling thriller The Lost Symbol comes to television as the new series following the early adventures of young Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon makes its Canadian debut on Showcase this Monday, Oct. 11 at 9 p.m. ET.
Taking on the role of Robert Langdon, which was previously played by Tom Hanks in the film franchise (2006’s The Da Vinci Code, 2009’s Angels & Demons, and 2016’s Inferno), is Australian-American actor Ashley Zukerman, who TV fans will recognize from his roles on Designated Survivor and Succession.
The Lost Symbol finds Robert Langdon trying to solve a series of deadly puzzles to save his kidnapped mentor and thwart a chilling global conspiracy. The TV Watercooler had the opportunity to chat with Ashley Zukerman ahead of the Canadian premiere where Ashley speaks on how familiar viewers need to be with the original source material, how he was able to get into the role, and how he was able to build onscreen rapports with Eddie Izzard (Peter) and Valorie Curry (Katherine).
You’re filming in Canada, in the Toronto area. I hope that we’ve been kind to you!
[Laughs] You’ve been very kind. You can always safely say that Canadians have been kind. I think that’s a national necessity.
Good! I’m glad on behalf of that nation. It must have been hard filming during a pandemic because not everything is open and the heightened health safety protocols on set. What was the experience like for the cast and how did it impact how you all got to know each other?
Probably less so [on getting to know each other quicker] because we were not able to do as much outside of work. Also, we left quarantine just before the City started opening up again. So, City-wise, it was open, but the effect is more on the production itself and that’s been an amazing thing to watch.
Film crews have an incredible ability to adapt to any situation. So COVID is just another situation and we luckily have an amazing COVD team to keep us safe. We haven’t had any complications, shutdowns, or positive cases at all.
That’s amazing. How much familiarity should viewers have with the source material before they watch this? Should they read the books or watch the movies, or can they just dive right in?
I think whether you have a connection to the books or films, or you don’t – you’ll get a different thing out of the experience. Although this is based on the third book, we use it as an original story, so there’s a freedom. We also set it in today’s world, so we have a contemporary lens on it.
We have the freedom to set ourselves from the books and films, but yet we lean on those ideas. People have a connection to that character and that’ll be fun for them to see how the person we’re portraying ends up becoming the person that they love.
Or if you don’t have a connection, you get to find our world fresh. I think that’s going to be enjoyable as well.
What about yourself, how familiar were you with this world before this project?
I hadn’t read the books, but luckily, I was cast despite that. It ended up being just very lucky that I hadn’t because then I was able to read these five books and mine them for information and read them through the lens of a character that I was going to play. Which was so rare. Had I already had a connection to it, I would have brought in pre-conceived ideas.
But I could read them with the knowledge that I was not only going to be playing the character but that I was going to be playing a younger version of the character. So, I could look for clues and little openings in him that I could sort of just wedge and try to find the cause of that behaviour, rather than just replicating it.
Is there added pressure from taking over a character from Tom Hanks?
I don’t think anyone’s taking anything over from anyone… It’s just very lucky that I get to play a role that’s so loved by many people. I think for some reason, feeling pressure is not something that is foreign for me, but for some reason in this experience, that wasn’t a pressure that I carried because we had the mandate of making it someone else, or making it a younger version of. It allowed me some immediate distance from everything that has come before.
At the same time, the work that we’re doing…the scripts are so occupying and deep and they ask a lot of me. That really occupies me enough. There’s not really enough room for anything else.
Your character is searching for his missing mentor, Peter Solomon, played by Eddie Izzard. I’ve only seen the pilot, but both your characters have this established friendship. And then there’s also some history between your character and Valorie Curry’s Katherine Solomon.
A lot of it was within the writing. Robert Langdon already has a high standard of anyone that he would respect, so you need a foil for that. Eddie thinks like no one else. Such a unique mind who works on another level. She’s an incredible person. It became very easy to just be pulled into that.
To think of Peter Solomon as someone I could admire, need something from, and look to as a father figure, it was something that came very easily.
And then with Valorie, we just connected very easily. Even off-screen, we have a similar report. She picks at me and we’re constantly ribbing each other. I think we were both just very well cast and that we work very similarly.
That really does come across from what I’ve seen so far. I think viewers will ship it.
The series was developed for broadcast on NBC and then they decided to pick it up for streaming, on Peacock in the U.S. There’s way more freedom, creatively, with streaming, so that must have been great news? Did you feel that the tone of the series kind of shifted a bit?
I think that in television anyway, there’s a sort of Darwinism that happens. You see what works and see where the story needs to take us. It is a harrowing story. I think that it’s great that we’ve moved to streaming where there is a little more freedom, but I don’t know what the sliding doors would have been if we kept the story moving on broadcast.
We do get to tell the story that has to be told. I haven’t seen any restrictions or obstructions. But, I wouldn’t say that the pilot was designed with those obstructions either. I think that the pilot still gives us a pretty fun and engaging entrance into something dark.
Succession fans need to know…Will Nate be back in Season 3?
[Laughs] I’ll say that he’s done dead. He’s in the universe. He’s around.
Dan Brown’s The Last Symbol airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on Showcase and will stream on STACKTV, the Global app and at https://watch.globaltv.com/ in Canada. In the U.S., the series streams on Peacock.