If you didn’t catch the first episode of WGN America’s original series Manhattan last week don’t worry, the drama is just getting started and, man, is it creepy and intense. Focused on the secret community whose even more secret mission was to develop the first atomic bomb, there are so many lies and coverups going on set against the ’40s backdrop you’ll be on the edge of your seat in anticipation from week to week. Knowing that the series is based on a true story makes it all the more disturbing. To bring you up to speed for episode two, airing Sunday at 10/9c, here are five things you need to know about the WGN America original series.
• Manhattan films at an old Army hospital in New Mexico.
“It was ready to be torn down,” says director and executive producer Thomas Schlamme. “I mean days away. If we had gone location scouting two weeks later it might not have been there. It was, the actors don’t know this, filled with asbestos. We were able to clean everything out. We abated everything. We basically took 10 acres and created a world. Part of the hope was we could create a world they could walk into and not feel like they were on a sound stage, it really felt what maybe it could have felt for the men and women who were transported from their homes on the East Coast and West Coast and just plopped into the desert.”
• The actors visited Los Alamos, the town on which Manhattan is based.
“There is a museum, there is a historical society, and there are many documented testaments of the people who who established Los Alamos in the first place, both the physicists an the wives and the children and anybody who lives there,” says series star Olivia Williams. “And any anecdote we’ve found that’s been interesting from those testimonies I’ve emailed them off to Sam (Shaw, the show creator) and, quite often, they appear in the story. The ones that are fun to play as an actor are based on the experiences of people who lived there and established this secret base in the first place.”
• The filming location is a blessing…and a beast.
“We shoot outside 60 percent of each episode,” explains star John Benjamin Hickey. “We shoot on a ranch. As far as the eye can see it looks like 1942 or earlier. The amount of weather that affects your performance, that dominates your performance, it’s about surviving the wind as much as it is playing an objective. It’s so liberating for an actor not to be confined by lights and space. It’s amazing. If one more person says to me, “You don’t like the weather in New Mexico? Wait five minutes.” I’ve never seen weather more wacky in my life.”
• The cast has been approached by locals with stories of Los Alamos.
“Both in Santa Fe and Albuquerque it’s extraordinary since starting this project how many people I’ve met who are like, ‘Oh, I know somebody who still lives in Los Alamos,'” says actress Rachel Brosnahan. “I met somebody at the airport the other day and we started talking about The Manhattan Project and she said she knew somebody who was a teacher at Los Alamos during the war. This particular story will be fascinating. It’s a story that hasn’t really been explored through the lens yet in a way that’s so accessible.”
Manhattan airs Sundays at 10/9 c on WGN America.
Have you caught Manhattan yet? What do you think? Tell us in the comments or tweet @OKMagazine.