By Zach Johnson
ABC’s new series promises all is fair in love and lies.
In The Company You Keep, based on the Korean Broadcasting System series My Fellow Citizens, a night of passion leads to love between con man Charlie (executive producer Milo Ventimiglia) and undercover CIA officer Emma (Catherine Haena Kim). “These two are on a collision course,” Ventimiglia says. “Professionally, they are two sides of a coin who have compartmentalized lives; she is a CIA officer who, for national security, really can’t discuss her job. And he is a criminal who, for personal security, doesn’t want to land in jail. So, when you have that—but you also have this undeniable connection and love and foundation—there’s [an added layer of] complication. The honesty, which takes a while to ultimately get, hopefully will put them closer together.”
Kim adds, “We all know what it’s like to fall in love. We know it’s exciting and it’s terrifying: ‘Can I trust you? Can I trust you with my heart? What’s real? What’s not?’”
According to executive producers and co-showrunners Julia Cohen and Phil Klemmer, the series’ premise is rife with storytelling opportunities. “I was compelled by the idea of two professional liars who see one another’s truths. And what is love if not seeing somebody’s truth?” Cohen asks. “What breaks the pattern for our two professional liars is their relationship and the fact that they ultimately see the real Charlie and the real Emma.” However, Klemmer cautions, “Not all lies are made equally; we all know about white lies and necessary lies.” In fact, Klemmer argues, “Lies make the world go ’round, in a way. When it comes to dating somebody and presenting your best self, perhaps you’re lying, or perhaps you’re presenting the version of yourself that you want to be.”
So, who are the real Charlie and Emma? The simple (although perhaps frustrating) answer is… it’s complicated. “Seemingly, they’re so different, but they happen to meet at the exact same moment in their lives,” Kim says. “It’s that moment when you look over at somebody and you think, ‘Oh, it’s you. It’s going to be you.’ And then, it’s on.”
Ventimiglia says his role as Charlie allowed him to “stretch into something new creatively,” and he enjoys getting to discover that opposite Kim. “This series explores real intimacy. Sure, there’s the physical [aspect], and you’ve got two people who are just kind of thrown together and drawn together and pulled together like magnets,” the actor says. “But really, what makes that stick is that emotional vulnerability, that intellectual vulnerability. It’s the willingness to open that raw nerve and show it to somebody else and be like, ‘Hey, can I trust you?’ And I think that’s definitely something we explore quite a bit within the parameters of who these characters are.”
All the while, Charlie and Emma will be forced to reckon with the lies they’ve told so they can save themselves and their families from disastrous consequences. Ultimately, The Company You Keep is an “escapist” fantasy, Cohen says. “I am a romantic at heart,” she explains. “There is an epic romance at its core—a very sexy one at that!”
The Company You Keep—produced by 20th Television, a part of Disney Television Studios—debuts Sunday, February 19, at 10 p.m. ET/PT and streams next day on Hulu.