“Too big to fail” takes on a new meaning in this 10-episode tale about a near-future world ruined by climate change and run by large corporations that have divided the population between the Green Zones for the wealthy and the Red Zones for the poor. Caught in the middle of this dystopian landscape is Ben (Reign’s Sean Teale), a man born in a Red Zone who has infiltrated a Green under a false identity to find a missing woman from his past. When she resurfaces years later, he struggles to leave his wife (Allison Miller) and his cushy white-collar life as a junior executive behind. “It’s a corporate espionage show,” executive producer Ted Humphrey says. “Ben is living a lie…but what began as a deceit has become real.” Or, as Teale puts it: “It’s just so bloody tempting to stay.”
But just because the suit fits for now doesn’t mean Ben’s in the clear. As he attempts to climb the ladder of Spiga, the corporation for which he works, he’ll find it harder and harder to keep a low profile, especially when it comes to his wife’s mother, Spiga CEO Elizabeth Krauss (Julia Ormond). And along the way, he’ll have to fend off threats from head of security Julian (Dennis Haysbert), impress executives around him, and continue to keep in touch with his Red Zone contacts.
EW spoke with Humphrey and Teale in August for the Fall TV Preview, below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why is it important to tell this story now? What were your goals going in?
TED HUMPHREY: The goal first and foremost was to tell an interesting story. The show is a dystopian look at a possible future that we certainly hope we don’t get to, but is something that could happen if certain trends in society [move forward], with climate change and the growing power of corporations and big business and the decreasing power of government… It’s a show set in the future that holds up a mirror to the present day and deals with issues in a suspenseful and, in many ways, satirical way.
As you mention, this show covers many trends. How did you research what a possible 2074 would look like, and what sci-fi entertainment influenced the look and feel of this world?
SEAN TEALE: There was a bunch of content I connected with this project, like movies like Gattaca and Soylent Green. [To play my character], I did a lot of research into refugee camps and the migrant crisis, because you’ll see some things from his past when he was a child. I did a lot of research on the psychological effects of what he witnesses and the personal response he would have to the loss that he feels.
HUMPHREY: David and Alex [Pastor], who wrote the pilot, are huge sci-fi fans and have done a lot of work in science fiction, though I like to use the term “speculative fiction” rather than science fiction, because it’s grounded in reality. You can look at Children of Men, and you can look at 1984, a very important, formative book in all our lives.
How did you choose when this story would take place? 2074 doesn’t seem that far away.
HUMPHREY: It was very important to us from the get-go that the show be grounded. There are no laser beams, there are no flying cars. All of the technology in the show is either technology that at least exists in beta form today. For instance, Google already has self-driving cars, so it’s not at all far-fetched to posit a future with self-driving cars in 60 years. We wanted it to be just far enough into the future that we could plausibly create the circumstances we wanted in terms of the environment, the climate, and the change in societal order, from what is a government-dominated society to a world where the de facto power in society is big, multinational corporations rather than governments and yet close enough to our time that the clothes people wear is not that different. A big part of the show is the question, What will happen when American cities look like cities in certain parts of the developing world today?
TEALE: Our props department and our set designer made the world so vivid. [When I’m performing with the futuristic technology,] it’s actually just glass, and I have to imagine in my mind what is appearing in those holograms, because they don’t exist. That’s been an interesting challenge to go through, but I relish in it. It’s a little weird to work with a tennis ball in thin air, but that’s part of the job. [Laughs.]
Ben Larson is a man who must blend into the background in the Green Zone, but still holds onto his true identity and name, Aaron, as his connection to the Red because he can’t leave that life behind. What can you tease about where his character goes?
HUMPHREY: Ben is living a lie, and it’s a lie he’s taken on voluntarily, because there is a woman from the past he needs to rescue, who he’s been searching for for six years. There is a strong love story there, but the complicating factor to that is this lie that he’s living… He has married this woman who is the daughter of a very powerful executive in this corporation, so he really is torn, that what began as a deceit has become real.
TEALE: It’s really a story about love. He wants to save this human being from the horrible world she’s been placed into thanks to Spiga. He’s from a world that’s the entire opposite of this, so the fact that he’s having to pretend to be this person means he’s behind enemy lines at all times. The arc, I guess, comes down to seeing more and more of both characters. You start to realize the reason why Aaron’s now Ben, you start to see the people who have influenced him, and the love of his life who he lost. It’s really great to get to distinguish between the two.
Sean, we last saw you on the costume drama Reign. Ben is a very different character for you to play, so what drew you to the role?
TEALE: It was a no-brainer. I always thought the people on board were great, and I always wanted, at some point in my career, to move toward [work in] the U.S. It’s a great story, it’s a love story, and Ben’s a noble hero who’s living in this horrible world, and he’s doing these dark, epically challenging things, and his morals are called into question. I love the fact that he goes deeper into the abyss and the only way out is to go all the way through. It’s a really wonderful role. Who wouldn’t want to be running around in three-piece suits fighting bad guys and trying to save someone, you know? [Laughs.]
What was it like learning all the future techno-speak and corporate lingo?
TEALE: [Laughs.] Well, I really enjoy it. I mean, I speak at a thousand miles an hour so that transition was never really in my mind. Somehow I found myself in more period dramas in the last four years than I’d assumed I’d do at the beginning of my career.
And Ted, what was it like writing The Good Wife to writing this sci-fi fare?
HUMPHREY: The Good Wife was a show about law and politics that riffed off of present-day events, so you don’t have those world-building aspects of “what do people wear” and “what do people eat” and all of that. When you do a show like this that takes place in a different time and a different world, you are faced with many challenges and also a lot of fun, so personally for me, it was great to have a new set of tools to play with in a toolbox.
Speaking of present-day events, how much does the political climate now affect the stories in Incorporated?
HUMPHREY: The show predates any of the contentiousness of our current political climate and it’s not about any one political figure, current or past, or any of the dilemmas in our political system that have come about. The show is about the product of our systemic trends in our world that have been going on for decades… There’s not a ripped-from-the-headlines aspect to it like in The Good Wife. We never thought The Good Wife was ripped from the headlines, but in some ways we got very lucky with that, with stories that almost seemed to predate the headlines. These [problems in Incorporated] are problems that have been going on for years that we haven’t done anything with. If anything, what we do seems to make them worse… Some people may not even realize or care that it’s involving trends [like these], and other viewers may come at the show on a deeper level. We welcome everybody, because we hope this is a story that we can tell that stands on its own.
Incorporated premieres Wednesday, Nov. 30, at 10 p.m. ET on Syfy.