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Kidman on Special Ops: Lioness: It’s strong and it’s powerful but it’s intense

Undated Handout Photo from Special Ops: Lioness. Pictured: L-R Nicole Kidman as Kaitlyn Meade, Michael Kelly as Bryon Westfield and Zoe Saldana as Joe. See PA Feature SHOWBIZ TV Special Ops Lioness. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature SHOWBIZ TV Special Ops Lioness.
Undated Handout Photo from Special Ops: Lioness. Pictured: L-R Nicole Kidman as Kaitlyn Meade, Michael Kelly as Bryon Westfield and Zoe Saldana as Joe. See PA Feature SHOWBIZ TV Special Ops Lioness. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Undated Handout Photo from Special Ops: Lioness. Pictured: L-R Nicole Kidman as Kaitlyn Meade, Michael Kelly as Bryon Westfield and Zoe Saldana as Joe. See PA Feature SHOWBIZ TV Special Ops Lioness. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature SHOWBIZ TV Special Ops Lioness.

There is nothing quite like an espionage thriller to get your blood pumping. The secrets, duplicity, stringent tactics and threat to national security – it is a cocktail that pretty much guarantees an exhilarating ride.

Special Ops: Lioness, the latest offering from Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan, sees the showrunner branch out from his usual westerns into the world of spies and terrorists.

The star-studded Paramount+ series tells the story of a CIA undercover programme that has female operatives infiltrate terrorist organisations by getting close to the leaders’ wives and daughters=.

Featuring a cast including Zoe Saldana, Nicole Kidman and Morgan Freeman, Special Ops: Lioness follows the women at the heart of the operation as they balance their high-octane undercover plot with their personal lives away from the military.

“It’s an intense look at people in the military but it’s also espionage and it’s the CIA, and it’s … emotional, it’s about family,” says Kidman, 56.

“There’s an enormous amount of action but there’s also hopefully that intense emotional drama…

“It’s strong and it’s powerful but it’s intense. And it is female driven, which is so exciting.”

Saldana, 45, adds: “It gives you an inside scope into the lives of women in service.

“And, you know, the characters that they have to not just become but also battle and collaborate with on a daily basis, and while also balancing just life, a personal life.”

Special Ops: Lioness’s plot centres around three women in the CIA: Joe, the Lioness programme director who trains, manages and leads the undercover women; Cruz, a young marine recruited to the programme and tasked with bringing down a terrorist organisation from within; and Kaitlyn, the CIA’s senior supervisor.

Playing Kaitlyn is Hollywood A-lister Nicole Kidman, who says the role presented her with an interesting challenge.

“I work in the CIA, in an office, but I was in the field so it was a really fascinating thing to have that ability to play somebody who can not only function physically if she has to, but her brain power and her ability to make these crazy, hard decisions,” says Kidman, who is known for her roles in the likes of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge.

“I read a lot about people who have no sleep. And I said to Taylor, very early on, I said the thing about this character, and that defines these people from other people, is they make decisions with no sleep. And they make decisions fast. And they make decisions that affect huge amounts of people, including lives. And they do it and then they keep functioning…

“Their emotional ability to compartmentalise and operate under enormous stress is really fascinating. I am not like that!

“I’m always looking to explore different psychologies and the psychology of that.”

“I play Joe,” says Saldana, known for her work in the Star Trek, Avatar and Guardians Of The Galaxy films.

“She’s kind of like an apt pupil that started, I guess, at one point as a Lioness, and then because of choices in her life was forced to transition into a much more paramilitary position, that it would give her the ability to one, stay alive; and two, start a family, without messing any of those things up.

“And that’s exactly what starts happening in episode one. From the beginning, you start out with feeling the tension, feeling the weight on this woman’s shoulders, but once you go back home, and you see how she has to debrief and report and make these decisions and also go off the grid for the sake of another paramilitary colleague, and all those repercussions, every episode, they’re coming back at her.

“At the end of the day, there’s this overall mission that they have to accomplish that makes whatever it is that they deal with on a daily basis, just minimises it… it’s quite brave, it’s quite noble what they do. But it’s also (a) quite complicated, very complex world.”

It is becoming more and more common to see A-list film stars on the small screen and Oscar-winner Kidman, who also served as executive producer on Special Ops: Lioness, says there is a big difference between telling stories episodically rather than in a feature-length film.

“When you’re sustaining eight hours of television versus two hours of cinema, that’s… very different,” says the star.

“And any writer will tell you that, because a lot of it is: how do you keep the drama and the emotion of it and keep people tuning in?

“Whereas a lot of times in cinema, you’ve got a captive audience, hopefully, in a cinema, watching, and they’re in the dark being transported. This is more like, you’ve got to win them each time.”

“But ultimately,” she adds of her decision process for new projects, “it’s about: do I believe in the story? Would I watch it?

“I make all my decisions based on that.

“And what haven’t I done? It’s like, OK, push out of the comfort zone and find things that aren’t sort of in my wheelhouse a lot of times, and explore that, because that’s hopefully exciting to audiences.”

While the story of Special Ops: Lioness is gripping and tense by its very nature, the fact it centres around women in intelligence adds another dimension to this spy thriller, one that is rarely seen in the genre.

“The thing about women is that we’re trying to balance not just our careers, and the weight of the huge responsibilities of answering for people’s lives and making these incredibly dangerous decisions on a daily basis, but we’re also trying to balance domestic life and making sure that our teenagers are not getting into trouble, that our marriages are still functioning,” says Saldana.

“And what I liked about the series is that Taylor never once created scenarios, in the show, where women have to explain themselves or justify why they’re there.

“And he also never created male tropes of men that are constantly putting women down.

“These are people that are working together, that sometimes are working against each other, but it’s always for the sake of getting a mission accomplished.

“And that was truly, truly inspiring for me.”

Special Ops: Lioness streams on Paramount+ from Sunday July 23.