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Frances O’Connor talks about harrowing drama The Missing

Frances O’Connor, centre, and James Nesbitt, right, in the series The Missing.In The Missing, Frances O’Connor plays Emily Hughes, who faces every parent’s worst nightmare when her five-year-old son disappears on a family holiday. The stylish, chilling and highly acclaimed thriller drew a huge response when it aired in Britain and the United States, and now SBS is giving the series another look.

The Missing had a huge impact and became a real talking point. Did you expect such a big response?

When I read the script I was just excited because I thought, ‘God, this is such a great script.’ When we were filming it, [we knew] we had something special and we worked hard to try and make it authentic, but we didn’t realise that it would have quite the reaction that it did. Friends would say I just can’t watch any more and then would call me a few months later and say I ended up binge-watching the rest of the show. I think it just disturbed a lot of people, a small child disappearing at a swimming pool. It’s something that we’ve all had moments when our children have just gone missing for 30 seconds and that feeling of panic.

Was it hard being a parent [to son Luka, 10] and doing the role?

It’s very hard to kind of not go there because you’re doing those scenes. When we were establishing it in the first couple of weeks, I did go there in terms of substituting and thinking that that could happen. But then it very quickly just started to feel real in the moment, especially with Jimmy [Nesbitt, who plays the father, Tony]. He’s so good and we really started to believe in our characters and essentially really missing Oliver, the kid. It was a tough one but the script was so good we both felt really passionate about going there.

What is the most compelling aspect in the way the story is told?

I think because it’s not linear and there are lot of different time jumps, the audience are not really spoon-fed so they’re participating in putting the information together, and so that’s very thrilling for the audience and it’s also very thrilling for us. We shot in blocks, so we shot all of 2013 first and then we went back in time to shoot the summer where the child goes missing, so it meant you had a great continuity in terms of how you played your character and the history of what they’d been through. The good thing was Jimmy and I knew each other so well by the time we got to the summer when Ollie went missing, we had a great sense of intimacy and connection because we’d done all the other work first.

What were the demands on you personally?A British tabloid reported that you’d get home and burst into tears.

I never said that! I said there were times when you’d get home, and I was talking about it in context of being away in Brussels Monday to Friday [where it was filmed], sometimes you’d be a bit teary when you’d get picked up from the train station on the Friday, but just because you missed them [her family]. I guess what I was saying is that it could be emotional, I wasn’t saying I was a nervous wreck.

Why would anyone want to watch such a harrowing subject?

I think it moves pretty quickly off the experience of being in a situation where your child is abducted and moves on to the mystery of it. A lot of it is to do with who did it, and the way that it it tells the story. It doesn’t sit with the parents for eight episodes, it moves on to other characters and explores their motives and their reality, so in that way it is palatable. They do find a way of exploring the issues without dragging the audience through the mud too much. The truth was, people were coming up to me in the schoolyard and going, oh my god, did you see yesterday’s episode, can you tell me what’s going to happen?

You received a Golden Globe nomination for your performance, how did that feel?

It was nice. We were so happy with how the show went and we got so much out of working on it. It was just nice that we all got to go to LA and get dressed up and celebrate. The show got nominated, and Jimmy should have got nominated, he was so brilliant in it, but it was just really nice. We got to have a party and a glass of champagne, it felt karmically that we had deserved it after we’d finished shooting [laughs].

The Missing airs on SBS on January 6 at 8.30pm.

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