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Exclusive interview: Berlin Station star Leland Orser talks ripped from headlines season, the Russia problem

Berlin Station features Robert Kirsch, played by Leland Orser Pic credit: EPIX
Berlin Station features Robert Kirsch, played by Leland Orser Pic credit: EPIX

Robert Kirsch, the Deputy Chief of Berlin Station suffers no fools and has one more heightened alert and tour of duty before he allegedly exits Berlin Station.

This compressed 11-day season, back Sunday night on EPIX, will have so many twists, turns, shocks, and surprises, you might need a neck brace to keep it together.

Leland Orser inhabits the role of Kirsch with such gusto and physical command that you almost imagine in real life he IS like Kirsch. But Kirsch’s place in the Berlin Station story has a really ramped up.

Now that Michelle Forbes’ character Valerie Edwards is squarely in charge replacing BB Yates (Ashley Judd), and Keke Palmer’s April Lewis is heavy in the mix, Kirsch’s abrasive and direct personality is a welcomed returning blast of male energy in a talented cast full of 800-pound gorillas.

And that’s exactly what we love best about Berlin Station.

Leland Orser's Kirsch is a complex and vexing character inside of Berlin Station. Pic credit: EPIX
Leland Orser’s Kirsch is a complex and vexing character inside Berlin Station. Pic credit: EPIX

The opener commences in a flashback to the wall coming down on 1989, cut to the American team managing the Berlin CIA station in Germany’s capital celebrating July 4th. The season’s premise is centered on Estonian political unrest and interference by Russia all written in parallels to real-time actual news, and its jarring.

Season 3’s sexy spy thriller resonates with real-world events and the pacing is so fresh and compelling, those not immersed in previous seasons who have no idea what happened before will have no issues falling into the narrative’s sticky web of intrigue.

EPIX’s fantastic series (no hyperbole, it is one of the best shows on TV, bar none) boasts esteemed actor James Cromwell as new character Gilbert Dorn, a CIA legend with a penchant to overshare and talk too much, not qualities the CIA much cares for.

Also, one of the Berlin Station spy operatives, Hector DeJean (Rhys Ifans) was presumed dead as he took a bullet before being arrested last season as a political assassin, but it turns out his death was all cooked up.

Ifans is mesmerizing in scenes with Orser’s Kirsch and equally talented Richard Armitage who plays agent Daniel Miller, these two leads who are in the thick of it from the get-go in the premiere.  We can imagine (and hope) that Hector will resurface at some point in this tightly wound tale.

Last season, our man Kirsch and his boss BB Yates were briefly a romantic item, but she was relieved of her position. Where she turns up this season is to be determined. Daniel Miller (Armitage) and German spy Esther Krug are still hot and heavy.

But the wildcard served up to Orser’s Kirsch is a new entry, the MENSA-level smart upstart, Rafael Torres (Ismael Cruz Córdova) who is a cunning, high energy and almost sociopathic operative, and a total blast to watch as he sorts out his targets.

And Torres drives Kirsch absolutely bonkers which, of course, makes for memorable scenes and great lines from our man Leland Orser who never disappoints.

Monsters and Critics talked to Leland Orser about Berlin Station’s ripsaw season where Russia is a big pain in the kishkas:

Monsters and Critics: The first episode man,  how timely and interesting how it dovetails with reality.

Leland Orser: Yeah, it’s kind of alarming. I think what Jason Horwitch – our new showrunner – calls it a cautionary tale that is strangely, bizarrely, and frighteningly unfolding.

M&C: Ukraine is dangling in the wind like Estonia in your fictionalized, dramatized teleplay. And we have a person in charge of this country who seems to whistle past the graveyard of Russian transgressions.

Leland: Yeah, I think it’ll be very interesting to see that fictionally unfold in the season this year. These are two world leaders who are friends, quite good friends it appears, and it’ll be interesting to see in the story just how far one of those friends is willing to push the other.

M&C: Well I love to see Robert back in fine form. I think your first line in the first episode was, “F**k you, f**king f**k.”

Leland: [laughs] Oh good, so my first word in the season is f**k. As it should be.

M&C: How much fun do you have playing this character? He’s wiry, smart, suffers no fools, and has no filter.

Leland: It’s going to be a really interesting season for my character. He’s in the field again. He’s come to terms with his station in life, and I think he has accepted that he’s better at his job than he is at anything else in his life. He’s screwed up his marriage and screwed up in many ways being a good father.

And I think he understands that he’s been put on the planet to do the job that he does and that he does so well.

And all of that will be tested this year I think. His journey is one of long decisions and guilt and disappointment and dealing with the effects and repercussions of those decisions.

And I think you’ll see a not so gradual descent into a rabbit hole for Robert this season, that doesn’t necessarily end well. It’s a very, very tough season for him.

M&C: Your character, it’s mentioned in the first episode that Estonia is your last assignment, at Berlin Station. Is it really, or are you going to continue on?

Leland: To tell you the truth, I honestly don’t know the answer to that. It’s sort of like Morgan Freeman in Seven, Morgan Freeman was retiring in Seven. Robert is moving onto another assignment, and he’s headed to Asia, to run a station there. And that’s where we meet him.

And everything is light and A-okay in his life on the first day that we meet him. This season takes place over 11 days, and his life changes drastically and terribly over those 11 days.

M&C: In that first episode, you’re waiting on Daniel, and he takes a horrendous beating. He deliberately draws the heat and the chase away from you.

He gives you something very important for you to examine, Henrik’s DNA. And your character is quite torn when you’re talking back with Valerie, Michelle Forbes’ character. You want to talk about that scene for a moment when you were filming that?

Berlin Station sees Valerie in charge (background) as Orser's Kirsch is serving out a last tour. Pic credit: EPIX
Berlin Station sees Valerie in charge (background) as Orser’s Kirsch is serving out the last tour. Pic credit: EPIX

Leland: Robert’s not happy with that decision. Robert’s not okay with it. And he has to make a very quick decision to break protocol because that piece of evidence is critical to the mission that Valerie has sent them on. It’s everything. So that’s one of the choices that Robert makes in that high octane moment, he makes that choice.

And that’s one of the choices he has to make this season. He makes several choices this season, and working in the world of intelligence, decisions that you make, they can go one way or they can go the other.

And I think Robert will see his choices go the other way this season, a lot more than he would want.

M&C: There is an interesting interplay between your character and this new guy, Rafael Torres, Ismael Cruz Córdova…

Leland: Yes. He’s very much in the vein of Hector and the way he does things. He’s unconventional, he’s rogue, he doesn’t do things by the book. He’s a hotshot. And Robert is distrustful of that, he’s not okay with that. And determined to get to the bottom of that in the beginning of the season.

It’s interesting, the relationship that is then forged between the two of them, they are at odds from the get-go, and events force them to turn to each other, rely on each other, and ultimately make it through together all of the things that are to transpire later in the season, which is really over a matter of days as we’ve discussed.

It takes place over 11 days. The season is fast paced, it’s visceral, it’s emotional, it’s frightening. The stakes are incredibly high.

If you are a fan of the show from the first two seasons, Jason Horwitch our new showrunner has basically taken the reigns and made it his own. And yet kept intact everything we all are committed to and love about the show, and have loved about the show for the first two seasons. He goes back in time and reveals things about the station and about the characters that we didn’t know the first two seasons.

And he pushes them forward into new experiences, maintaining the integrity and the characters of the characters, and the characters themselves.

He understands them as if he wrote them from the beginning, which is really a very, very high compliment, and an extraordinary accomplishment.

M&C: Does your character interact with James Cromwell? I know that he’s going to be on the season.

Leland: So that’s a great thing to watch is the story between Richard Jenkins (Steven Frost) and James Cromwell, two amazing American actors. I think the crew, Hungarian, German, American, French alike, people gathered at their monitors and on the set and watched in great appreciation as these two performed together. There’s nothing better than two great actors working together, and the viewers are in for a real treat.

M&C: Does Robert interact with Gilbert Dorn, Cromwell’s character in a significant manner?

Leland: If I tell you that, I’d have to kill you! Let’s put it this way, nothing, nothing is as it appears. In that first episode, make no assumptions.

M&C: Got it. Will there be any other guest starring roles or surprises?

Leland: We have such a terrific guest cast this season. From the States, from England, from Germany. I mean nothing but the cream of the crop. And that’s one of the great things for us, an American production being in Europe, is that we get to take advantage of this incredible pool of talent over there. And I won’t single anybody out, because there are so many, young and old.

M&C: Without spoiling it for fans, any last tidbits?

Leland: I would truly say brace yourself. It’s going to be crazy, it’s going to be terrifying. And deeply troubling, disturbing, upsetting. Things are going to happen, big things are going to happen.

And if you want to know what’s going to happen, read the news. Read the front page every single morning, because yeah.

Berlin Station airs Sunday, beginning Dec. 2, at 9 PM ET/PT – Sign up for a free trial of EPIX and watch the entire first episode of Berlin Station, Season 3 before it airs! Learn more here.

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