The Netflix spy thriller In From The Cold stands out in a crowded genre for plenty of good reasons, not the least of which is its willingness to give audiences a badass, butt-kicking protagonist who also happens to be a single mother in her 40s simply trying to be a good parent to her teenage daughter. At a time when Hollywood’s big-screen spy game often relies on older men and young women free from the shackles of typical adult responsibilities, In From The Cold has lead character Jenny Franklin juggling an angsty teen, a looming divorce, and a nonexistent social life long before her hidden past as a Soviet secret agent comes back to haunt her.
As if that wasn’t enough to handle, she also has a superhuman — but medically risky — ability to shape-shift she’ll need to tap into to stop a terrorist group’s sinister plans, too.
Sure, it might seem far-fetched, but most working parents will probably find a lot in common with the extreme level of multitasking required of Jenny, a character portrayed by Margarita Levieva across the show’s eight-episode first season. Whether Jenny’s fighting her way through a cadre of lethal assassins or counseling her daughter through the latest teenage drama, Levieva’s performance grounds the role in something refreshingly familiar despite all of the high-stakes espionage and sci-fi twists of the surrounding story.
“There are so many aspects of Jenny that were so exciting for me to play,” Levieva told Digital Trends of what initially attracted her to the role. “There’s obviously the mother, and there is also this kickass spy who’s still alive and who’s still hungry for that. As women, and as human beings, part of life sometimes is forgetting or putting away certain parts of ourselves and saying that part no longer exists. But Jenny eventually realizes she’s still hungry for that part of her life, and [as the story goes on] she understands, ‘Wait, I can do this better than I ever did it before, even though I’m terrified of it.'”
Series creator and writer Adam Glass indicated that the decision to put a woman in her 40s — and a mother, for that matter — at the heart of the story was, in some ways, a refutation of Hollywood norms when it comes to leading ladies and the sort of characters they typically portray.
“We live in a society where women seemingly have an expiration date on them, and [with In From The Cold] we’re saying that’s bullshit,” he told Digital Trends. “They’re only getting better and stronger with age. [Jenny] is a seasoned woman who has lived a life and has had all of these experiences, and now has to come back into this world she thought she left behind.”
“[Jenny] has a great line in the pilot that I love, when they set her up to seduce someone, and she doesn’t think she can do it, saying, ‘I have cracked nipples and a C-section scar,'” continued Glass. “Her handler responds, ‘You’re giving too much credit to men,’ and she says, ‘I’m not talking about men. I’m talking about me, and who I am, and what I’ve been through. I’m a mother.’ You don’t see that in spy shows. She has a daughter and she’s working on that relationship like millions of other mothers out there trying to do. These are the things that make the show stand out.”
According to Levieva, she found plenty to connect to in Jenny’s initially reluctant dive back into past experiences she thought she left behind. A former rhythmic gymnast trained in Russia, Levieva immigrated to the U.S. at a young age and found herself reconnecting with her training as a gymnast and dancer for her portrayal of Jenny.
In the series premiere episode, the truth of Jenny’s past is revealed when she fights her way out of a building through a seemingly never-ending parade of intelligence agents, disarming and incapacitating one attacker after another in an impressively choreographed, lengthy fight sequence that extends through multiple rooms, stairwells, and hallways.
“I still dance, but to be able to come into this show and exercise all those parts of myself, which includes that gymnast training and that physical ability. It was a gift, and so exciting,” she said. “To walk into a room and kick nine guys’ asses and realize, ‘Yeah, I can actually do those moves. I can actually do that!’ That is pretty cool.”
Calling her “the Tom Cruise of our show,” Glass added that Levieva performed much of the stunt work herself throughout the series — another element that sets In From The Cold apart from quite a few other spy thrillers, whether they’re male- or female-led projects.
“At almost every turn when preparing for a stunt or fight, she’d be like, ‘I got this. I got it,'” recalled Glass. “And then she would just go in and do it, and she’d make it look easy.”
While Levieva’s performance went a long way toward keeping the series grounded, not letting the story’s sci-fi elements distract from Jenny’s arc was also important, explained Glass.
“[The sci-fi elements] are in there, but they’re lightly sprinkled throughout,” he told Digital Trends. “We didn’t want the show to depend on that element. Working on Supernatural for many years taught me so much about grounding things in emotion. At the end of the day, that show was about two brothers who loved each other, and with In From The Cold, it’s a show about a mother who loves her daughter. We kept saying we’re making a drama, and that’s the way we thought about it on set.”
And the series’ willingness to defy Hollywood norms when it comes to leading ladies might not be the only sign of the changing landscape in entertainment. With Jenny’s story encompassing her past in Russia, her present adventure — which unfolds in Spain — and the life she created for herself in the U.S., In From The Cold is a “truly international show,” according to Glass.
“We have three different languages spoken on our show, with great Spanish actors speaking Spanish, and Russian actors who speak Russian,” he explained. “It really speaks to where everything’s heading. It’s an international production, and it really is for the world.”
Season 1 of In From The Cold is available now on Netflix.
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