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Peter Facinelli Tackles ‘American Odyssey’ Thriller After ‘Nurse Jackie’

“Nurse Jackie” enters its seventh and final season April 12, but even though the Showtime dramedy is wrapping, Peter Facinelli is staying plenty busy with NBC’s political thriller “American Odyssey,” which debuts Easter Sunday.

“After doing a movie like ‘Twilight’ where it was very fantasy-orientated, which I loved, and after ‘Nurse Jackie,’ which for me was a comedy that I love, I was kind of itching to do something more dramatic,” Facinelli tells Variety of his move to drama. “This show came along and it’s just so meaty and the stakes are so high that I felt like this would be something that is fun to tackle.”

“American Odyssey” revolves around an American female Special Forces soldier, Odelle Ballard (played by Anna Friel), who comes across computer files that prove a major corporation is funding jihadists in North Africa. However, before she can tell anyone, her unit is killed, leaving Odelle the only survivor and the only witness to her team’s true assassins overseas.

“People ask if it’s a political show, but really, it’s not,” Facinelli explains. “We don’t talk about Democrats and Republicans. It’s really a show that’s built on tension.”

The conspiracy thriller unfolds over global politics, corporate espionage and military secrets, and finds the lives of three American strangers unexpectedly intertwined — a corporate litigator (played by Facinelli), a young political activist (Jake Robinson) and Odelle — as they all know the truth about the international cover-up.

“How we’re trying to bring that truth to light is interesting to watch,” Facinelli says. “How it effects our lives is interesting to watch.”

Facinelli tells Variety more about “American Odyssey:”

This is a very different role for you. Why is it the perfect fit for you, after your previous work? 

The writing was so good and I met with [exec producer] Peter Horton, and he had such a great vision for the show.

What hooked you to the script?

The conspiracy element to this is where you have people trying to cover something up, but how do you expose that when they have so much money behind their cover-up that they try to squash you? You have this David and Goliath kind of story when people don’t have the means, but they have the courage to stand up to these giants with nothing but a slingshot. In this story, you have three individuals — a political activist; me, who’s in the corporate world; and a soldier — and we don’t have superpowers, but we uncover the same truth. All three of us.

The story is deeper than a political thriller. There are strong undertones of human hope and power. Is there a certain message the show is trying to convey?

It asks questions: Can one person make a difference? For me, that’s an important question we can ask and we should be asking in what’s happening in today’s world. We say we have freedom of speech, but it’s really hard to speak your mind in this day and age because you get labeled or people attack you.

The series comes at a time when there is a lot of horrific news of Americans troubled overseas. To what extent is the show inspired by real-life headlines?

Were not taking headlines out of the paper and putting it into our show, but I think that the themes of our show are happening today.

A lot of television series and films lately are putting troubled Americans overseas at the forefront. Why is that?

There are a lot of events happening in our world, and these shows are exploring those themes. It’s very poignant in what’s happening in our lives.

Do you think the show is an inspiring reprieve from the news?

For sure. It’s a show that I hope will entertain and will keep people on their toes and keep you on the edge of your seat, and give you a lot of surprises and twists and turns. At the end of the day, we’re in the entertainment industry, so this show is meant to entertain. It’s not meant to be a platform.

What research was involved for your role?

I watched a lot of documentaries. I’m a big watcher of documentaries — I love watching conspiracy documentaries. I watched documentaries on political activists and I watched documentaries on Eliot Spitzer, who I kind of thought had a similar figure for taking down big giants. I didn’t apply to law school or anything! Although I did do pre-law in college so I had some prep there.

Did you speak to any families who have soldiers overseas?

No, because that’s more of Anna’s world. In my world, he’s a father and I’m a father so I understand what it means to be a father. He has a family, he has a job and then, all of a sudden, he opens up Pandora’s box. Once he opens up Pandora’s box, his job is at risk and his family becomes at risk. These aren’t things that I could necessarily do research on, but I tried to figure out what drives him and what makes him human.

What drives him?

For him, it’s for the greater good. The knowledge that what he has affects so many so he has to get it out there. But it is sad how it affects his family and how it affects his personal life, but in that sense, it takes a lot of courage to continue doing that. He vigorously tries to expose them.

What will viewers love about the show?

Visually, I think it will be fun to watch. It’s three Americans in this show, but it has a global scale to it. Anna’s [Friel] storyline is shooting in Morocco, and then your cutting to New York’s cement and corporate world to the political activists parts of New York, and then all of a sudden, you’re cutting to war zones.

Will there be cliffhangers at the end of each episode?

Yes. I love that new model of doing 13 episodes because sometimes with 22, it becomes quantity over quality and it starts to get soapy because you’re reaching for storylines. But with this, it’s 13 episodes that are really sharp and concise. Like a novel, will unfold.

American Odyssey” premieres Sunday, April 5, at 10/9c on NBC.

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