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Role brings home the reality of terrorism

Special to The Times

Julianna Margulies says she loves the life-affirming character she plays in TNT’s miniseries “The Grid,” which premieres Monday. But she admits the emotional, grueling drama about the international fight against terrorism took quite a toll on her.

“When we finished, I walked away with a great sense of sadness, I have to tell you, because I just can’t believe that here we are barely into the new millennium, and there is so much rampant anger and hate running loose in the world, and that we’re in this horrible war,” Margulies said in a recent interview. “It’s like we learned nothing at all from past experiences, and that’s both scary and very, very depressing to me.”

Some of her friends who saw a preview of the two-hour opener “freaked out” at some of the grim events depicted, especially viewers who, like Margulies, were actually in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. That’s one of the reasons she’s glad her own character, anti-terrorism team leader Maren Jackson, stands as a reassuring icon of compassion and reason.

“That’s exactly what drew me to this role, because so much of this series is just very, very bleak,” Margulies said.

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“ ‘The Grid’ probably will strike different viewers differently, as politics seem to do these days. But I see Maren as this calm spot in this sea of inhumane, reactionary attitude around her.

“Clearly she understands the difference between responding to something and just reacting to it. When you respond to something, you’ve taken its measure and try to act maturely and responsibly, whereas if you merely react, too often that comes from a hot head, without thinking clearly.”

Just minutes into the premiere episode, Jackson, as deputy director of the National Security Council, is authorized to assemble a special team of agents in the wake of a poison-gas incident in a London hotel.

Helping her spearhead the hunt for Al Qaeda operatives behind that terrorism plot gone awry are FBI Special Agent Mike Canary (Dylan McDermott, “The Practice”) and CIA analyst Raza Michaels (Piter Marek).

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If Jackson is savvy and level-headed, however, she’s also a mite idealistic, as she learns when she travels to London to enlist the assistance of her British counterpart, Emily Tuthill (Jemma Redgrave), who curtly sizes up her U.S. colleague and is not impressed.

“That’s a very frustrating [moment] for Maren, because she’s been given the go-ahead to put together this international team ... so she is determined to make this work,” Margulies said.

“Then she goes to London and immediately hits this resistance from Emily Tuthill. I think Maren is doubly disappointed because on some level she expected that two women working together would sort of intuitively cooperate with one another.

“Part of the reason that first meeting [goes] badly is that Emily is very cynical after having ... endured so many personal losses. That’s something Maren hasn’t experienced at that point, so she’s more idealistic, not to say a little naive, perhaps.”

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Margulies admits the issue of terrorism on the world stage has taken on a resonance for her since the New York attacks.

Before that day, if she thought of terrorism at all, it was only in terms of isolated events, which was how she viewed the earlier, far less disastrous bomb attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.

The recent hearings into the 9/11 attacks only reinforced what Margulies said she had long suspected. Too many of the officials in charge let ego get in the way, Margulies said. Their determination not to let others steal their thunder prevented them from working harmoniously and productively with other defense agencies, she said. That kind of counterproductive attitude is reflected in many of the drama’s characters, including McDermott’s heroic FBI guy, who is driven mainly by a desire to avenge the memory of his best friend, who died in the towers.

“If you listened to the [9/11] hearings, it seemed apparent pretty early on, I think, that the various departments clearly were not working together on this,” Margulies said.

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“Everyone wants to take the credit, and that ego just gets in the way. Some people may hate this phrase for whatever reason, but it’s true: It takes a village.”

Margulies says she is proud of the way “The Grid” shuns the facile “we’re good and they’re evil” finger-pointing in favor of portraying flawed and conflicted human beings on both sides. “When are we going to grow up and take our place in a world community with other nations? It’s going to take many years to repair what this war in Iraq has set amiss.”

John Crook writes for Tribune Media Services

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‘The Grid’

When: 9 to 11 p.m. Monday, then 9 to 10 p.m. Mondays with a finale 9 to 11 p.m. Aug. 9.

Where: TNT

Rating: TV14-LSV (may be unsuitable for children under 14, with advisories for coarse language, sex and violence)

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