Lies make the world go around.
But, also, not all lies are made equally.
Or so says Phil Klemmer, executive producer of the new series The Company You Keep.
Based on the Korean format My Fellow Citizens!, The Company You Keep begins with Charlie, a conman, and Emma, an undercover CIA officer meeting at a bar and unknowingly ending up on a collision course both romantically and professionally. With Emma investigating the woman that holds Charlie’s family’s debts in her hands, the ongoing question is will they figure each other out.
The series stars Milo Ventimiglia as Charlie and Catherine Haena Kim as Emma.
Klemmer goes on to say, “We all know about white lies and necessary lies. And when it comes to dating and presenting your best self, sometimes perhaps you’re lying, but perhaps you’re presenting the version of yourself that you want to be.”
His fellow EP Julia Cohen agrees, adding, “When you think about it, what is dating if not sitting across from somebody else trying to convince them that you’re someone that you’re not or that you’re better than you are? That theme runs through the idea that lies are necessary for us as humans and an endemic part of our lives. So, we’re really playing with both truth and lies in a big way in this show.”
Cohen says this aspect is what drew her to the idea of the series. “I was compelled at first by the idea of two professional liars who see one another’s truths. And what is love if not seeing somebody’s truth? And so, the thing that sort of 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.”
Ventimiglia, coming off six seasons of the drama This is Us, says that this project ‘rose to the top very fast.’
“[It had] a wonderfully architected pilot. This was just one of those undeniable [things]. The right pieces were assembled, and then other pieces were brought in to enrich and make it even more full.”
Of his character, he says, “The dynamic of who [Charlie] is individually but then on the greater stage of this story — D.C. politics, law enforcement, CIA, crime, international drug syndicates and getting into bed with them and realizing you don’t want to be there — it just allowed me an opportunity to be a part of something that I thought I would watch. So, I was running toward a character like this.”
As for the storyline, Klemmer says, “It’s a show about the American dream, and I don’t think there’d be a way to tell a story about the American dream without looking into the immigrant experience.”
Cohen expands on this bit with, The family [is] actually loosely based on Gary Locke’s family, who was the first Asian American governor, and we liked the idea of imagining the Asian-American Kennedys now in D.C. and Emma as the kind of the black sheep of that family.”
She adds, “It’s obviously very important that we tell these stories authentically, and the makeup of the [writers] room very much reflects that. We have three different Asian American writers: Korean American, Japanese American, and Filipino American.”
This, in addition to the chemistry between the two leads is what really propels the story, says Klemmer as he explains, “It’s an interesting dynamic, because I think Charlie is a romantic at heart, which you wouldn’t expect from a con man, and Emma is a real pragmatist and is much more guarded. And just to feel that tension between two people, who shouldn’t trust one another, is a dance.”
However, he says that the duo won’t play a ‘Will they or won’t they,’ game. “[The] answer is: They do, immediately,” says Klemmer, with a sly smile.
It’s not just about the physical attraction and connection between the two, says Ventimiglia, as he surmises, “You’ve got two people that are pulled together like magnets, but really what makes that stick is that emotional vulnerability. It’s the willingness to open that raw nerve and show it to somebody else.”
But, this is true of all relationships, says Kim, “Not all of us are con artists or CIA officers, but I think we know what it’s like to fall in love. We know it’s exciting and it’s terrifying. It’s, c’an I trust you? Can I trust you with my heart? What’s true? What’s real? What’s not?’”
Klemmer says that this feeling is universal, and thus so is the narrative of the series, because, “We want to believe. We want to fall in love.”
‘The Company You Keep’ premieres Sunday at 10e/p on ABC, and episodes are also available for streaming on Hulu.