CI5 Operational Control


International espionage TV series steps into U.S. with local episodes


Morning Star - Wilmington, N.C.


4 June 1998



International Espionage TV Series Steps into US with Local Episodes

Not long ago, Edward Woodward stood in the gift shop of the Battleship North Carolina, eyeing a basket of sharp-toothed, two-foot rubber great white sharks. The sharks paled in comparison to the British actor's steely-eyed gaze.

"I have a daughter who is besotted by great whites," he said, hoisting a toothsome specimen from the basket. "I'll get that and put it in her bed."

Such shenanigans are in keeping with the character Mr. Woodward plays in the television series, CI5-The Professionals, which recently filmed four episodes in Wilmington.

As Harry Malone, he heads up a supersecret organization founded by the security chiefs of five nations to fight such modern horrors as ethnic cleansing, nuclear terrorism, the slaughter of protected animal species and the rise of powerful Russian mafias.

In fact, the episode filming on the battleship, "Glory Days," concerns a group of Russian gangsters planning to re-arm the battleship's guns. Their target is the President of the United States, who's hosting an international conference on organized crime at the Federal Building across the river.

The episode ends "with an almighty shootout at the molasses factory," said producer's assistant Heide Wilshire with a winning smile. "We're going to blow up trucks."

Other episodes filmed in Wilmington were "First Strike," about the theft of black-market plutonium; "Orbit," about a scientist who reprograms an old "Star Wars" satellite to zap targets on the ground (parts of Carolina Beach were lasered); and "Choice Cuts," about a gang of thieves who anesthetize people and steal their organs for transplants.

The four Wilmington episodes will be packaged with seven filmed in London and two filmed on the Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa. The 13 installments are already being peddled to TV markets around the globe, including those in this country.

The "James Bond for television with a smaller budget," as producer David Wickes describes the show, has already been sold to ARD, a large German television netework.

CI5 is the first spy thriller-type project for Mr. Woodward since the CBS series The Equalizer, which ran from 1985 to 1989. Since then, he has purposely steered clear of the genre.

Intent on staying versatile as an actor, he has taken such roles as a garbage man for a British television series and "an old, broken-down idiot" in the 1996 television miniseries, Gulliver's Travels, starring Ted Danson.

Throughout his career, Mr. Woodward has played the stage as well as the small and large screens. His film work has included Breaker Morant. He has had major roles in Royal Shakespeare Company productions of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing.

If any show could bring him back to guns and bullets, it would be CI5. The original version of the series, which ran from 1977 to 1983, was the most successful action-adventure series made outside the United States.

It ran in 57 countries. Re-runs still play in France and on the entertainment channels of Virgin Atlantic airlines, Mr. Wickes said.

The original show, simply called The Professionals, died out when cast members wanted to move on to other things. Producers didn't think they could keep it going without their stars, "like Dallas without Larry Hagman," Mr. Wickes said.

But Mr. Wickes, who directed episodes of the original series, thought otherwise. Backed by a consortium of investors, he bought the rights to the series.

The new series is co-produced by Paul Tivers and written by Brian Clemens, who created the original series, as well as the original The Avengers.

Mr. Wickes hasn't entirely given up the director's chair this go-round. At the battleship, while director John Davies was topside, filming the "Glory Days'," final scene with Mr. Woodward and co-star Lexa Doig, Mr. Wickes was below with actors dressed as sailors and Russian bad guys, filming a firefight.

"It's no good being proud, is it?" he said. "I was a hired gun on the last series."

Up top, his own hired gun, Mr. Davies, is leading Mr. Woodward, Ms. Doig and other actors through the final scene in 93-degree heat. Only the shade provided by a couple of white tents and the breeze from hand-held fans keeps their makeup from running.

Crew members buzz the actors constantly, touching up makeup and handing out ice-cold bottles of water.

Despite the heat, Ms. Doig considers herself "absurdly lucky" to have landed the role of Tina Backus, CI5's computer expert. The Toronto native has been featured in Canadian television shows and movies, but CI5 marks her first lead - and possibly the first time she's played a character who isn't warped in some way.

"I've always been the cyberpunk chick or the whore or the stripper or the weird girl," she said. "I think I played a receptionist once."

The roles may have been the result of her exotic good looks, which she owes to her father's Scottish ancestry combined with her mother's Filipino heritage. Lexa is short for Alexandra; Doig, believe it or not, is Scottish.

Ms. Doig, 27, is joined in the cast by fellow Canadian Kal Weber, 28, who plays Chris Keel, a former Navy SEAL recruited by CI5.

"This is the biggest thing I've ever had," he said. "It's kind of hard to beleve it's come along."

Mr. Weber holds dual citizenship in Canada and the United Kingdom and has done most of his work in the latter. His latest role was as the killer, Charles, in the British TV movie The Painted Lady, starring Helen Mirren and Franco Nero.

On the battleship, it was the heat that was the killer. Mr. Weber and fellow cast member Colin Wells probably wished they had some real Navy SEAL training for their final scene.

The pair were working with Mr. Wickes and the second unit, the one that films minor or supplemental scenes. Their scene consisted of sprinting repeatedly down the battleship gangplank, guns drawn, chasing the bad guys.

Dragging himself back up the gangplank after the third sprint, Mr. Wells spied Mr. Davies scouting a camera angle from the battleship bridge.

"Put me back on that unit," he yelled, gasping and feigning heatstroke. "Please!"

Of the three young leads, Mr. Wells, 34, has perhaps the best appreciation of his position as a star of CI5. As a teen-ager, he was an ardent fan of the original series.

"I've probably seen every single one," he said.

He remembers the effect the two leads had on popular culture in Britain. Every pair of pants worn or car driven by Bodie, played by Martin Shaw, or Doyle, played by Lewis Collins, became instantly faddish. If Mr. Shaw wore a certain jacket on the show, Mr. Wells said, "the next day, you ran out and picked out the one Bodie was wearing."

The new series promises all the dash of the old. Mr. Wells may have been sprinting, but he was sprinting in Hugo Boss.

Still, at the heart of CI5 isn't modern fashion, but good old-fashioned thrills.

"Everybody needs an action hero," Mr. Wells said. "It's a good, exciting action/adventure series."

(Copyright 1998)

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