There’s a new TV thriller that is sure to make your blood run as cold as an Arctic blast: Absentia. Having premiered on Amazon Prime on Feb. 2, the story fits right in with the recent crime drama phase everyone seems to be going through. But, if you're curious whether Absentia is based on a true story, you should know that they are all just really convincing actors portraying realistic fictional writing. However, the series’ lead star Stana Katic tells Bustle via phone that her portrayal does have real-world inspirations. "It’s not difficult to get on Google and find parts of the world that are under extreme duress," Katic says. "To read, and see these human experiences that are horrific to imagine from the comfort of our U.S. homes. So that was a part of my exploration as an actor."
Fans of Katic will recognize her from the long-running show Castle, but don't expect Absentia to be anything like that series. "Castle was unique because we carried some scenes through the years and of course it was a romantic dramedy procedural. However, [Absentia] is a psychological thriller so it’s very, very different in tone," Katic says of any attempt to compare the two.
In Absentia, Katic plays Emily Byrne, a former FBI agent who is abducted and held for six years by a deranged captor. She's presumed dead, with her husband and child moving on with their lives in her absence. (Get it? Absentia?) The series picks up after her rescue, and tells the story of her attempt at assimilation back into her life, though nothing is as it seems for Emily. The result is a dark, gritty, psychological thriller that bends the viewers' ideas of what they think they know about this missing woman and the life she led (but can't remember) as a tortured captive for nearly a decade.
In addition to starring in Absentia, Katic is one of the executive producers. Having that level of input was a major reason Katic wanted to get involved with the series. “Being an executive producer was something that was exciting because I could participate in and cooperate on the other parts of filmmaking which are intriguing for me ... and really stimulating. So, that was really fun,” she says. Katic also speaks highly of the show's co-creator and writer. “It came from the mind of Gaia Violo,” she says of Absentia's unique story. “As far as I know, it’s not based on anything real-life. It comes from the wonderful, creative mind of our originating storyteller.”
The creative premise is what gave way to an anti-hero role reversal on screen. The way the show frames it, Emily Byrne is seemingly more than just a victim, and is possibly being framed as the perpetrator of some of the more horrific killings of the series.
"In many cases the anti-hero is a male character and in this one it’s a female character," Katic says. "I think that’s really interesting for me as an actor to explore, but also for an audience to navigate. There’s the Tony Sopranos, there’s the Thomas Shelbys, there’s Tom Hardy’s character in Taboo. All characters that I absolutely loved watching and am utterly invested in. In our case it’s Emily Byrne."
"The audience thinks they know what’s happening and who’s behind it, [then] there’s another piece of information that says, 'Nope try again.'"
And, just because the series is not explicitly based on real world circumstances doesn’t mean Katic didn’t use real-world scenarios to research her character. While she says she is certainly aware of modern day kidnappings and events that may seem similar, she ultimately took her inspiration from older happenings — those of World War II, to be specific. Along with reading books showcasing the vital role women played in during the war, she says she also took inspiration from the book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Written by psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, it tells the experience of his time in Auschwitz during the war.
“[Frankl] analyzes who survives and why,” Katic says of the book. “Two of the things he cited as reasons why people were able to come out alive, was, first of all, having something to hope for. Having something outside that world to look forward to and hope for. In the case of Emily that was her son. The hope she can reconnect with him … [the second reason is] a really dark sense of humor.”
While Katic says that much of her inspiration comes from the past, fans are probably equally as curious about the show's future now that all of the episodes have dropped on Amazon. Katic seems to think it's less of a question of if, and more of a question of how it would come together. “I think that the current conversation is aimed at what would a Season 2 look like?” she says. “I think that as far as it being fully green-lit I just have to leave that to Amazon to talk about.” However, what is crystal clear is her desire to keep playing Emily. When asked whether she’d return for a possible Season 2, she had only one word to say: “Yes.”
And, there's plenty of story for further episodes to explore, given the mysterious nature of the show. "It’s one of those sorts of stories that, as soon as the audience thinks they know what’s happening and who’s behind it, there’s another piece of information that says, ‘Nope try again,'" Katic notes. "I think that’s going to be exciting for audience members, especially lovers of mysteries and so forth. Because I know that people enjoy putting the puzzle together."
So, Absentia may not be based on a singular true story, but that certainly doesn't make it any less gripping. This show has twists that would make M. Night Shyamalan gasp, and viewers can try to solve the puzzles themselves with the Season 1 episodes all streaming now on Amazon Prime.