'Dig': How USA's New Israel-Set Show Forged On Amid War and Uncertainty
Said Alison Sudol: "Filming in Jerusalem, I feel like we took it with us the whole way. That first five weeks where we were there, it was so powerful. It lives, burning in our hearts."
Jerusalem, the holiest city in the world, was central to Dig from the beginning. The USA conspiracy thriller from the minds of Tim Kring (Heroes) and Gideon Raff (Homeland) was set and shot there intentionally; it was Raff's home city, steeped in the kind of religious mythology that the show would, over 10 episodes, unpack. Yet when the event series finished filming just its 90-minute pilot — shown for the first time Wednesday night at Capitale in New York's Lower East Side — war broke out, extending a planned hiatus and forcing relocation.
"It was hard because we had a whole Israeli crew working very hard with us," Raff told The Hollywood Reporter before the screening. "It was very good for the country and the film industry in the country. It was sad, but the story is still set in Jerusalem, and we're still telling the story set in Jerusalem and representing the city in a way that has not been seen on the American screen."
For the cast, an air of uncertainty hung over the project — not as to whether filming would proceed, but how and where. Jason Isaacs, whose Peter Connelly investigates a murder and discovers much more in the process, said that it was apparent that the network had no intention of abandoning the series, one that marks a darker, dramatic turn for USA.
"There was never any doubt," Isaacs said, seated alongside his co-star and onscreen lover/FBI boss Anne Heche. "Very quickly it was clear that USA wanted to carry on making it, whatever that meant. Whether we had to wait for things to die down in Israel. Would the insurance company cover it? Would it have been safe? Would it have been right? Or whether they'd find an alternative. And very quickly, numbers of alternatives around the world presented themselves.
"To our great advantage, the Romans conquered half the known universe and built similar looking cities everywhere, so it meant there were numbers of places that would double for Jerusalem perfectly well and would actually be more controllable than the slightly chaotic environment of Jerusalem," he continued to THR. "It was a huge gamble of USA to commission it in the first place, artistically, and then there was just the logistical problems. There's the will power and the logic is just about money and smarts, and they have both."
The show found those alternatives in New Mexico and Croatia, and applied a bit of movie magic to blur the seams. As Israeli actor Ori Pfeffer pointed out, "I saw this scene today that, walking in we shot in Jerusalem, the interior we shot in New Mexico, and walking out we shot in Croatia. So nobody knows."
Filming, hiatus included, took approximately nine months, what Heche called "the longest 10 episodes of television I've ever shot. Going away, coming back, and going away, my prayer was, 'Please remember who Lynn is,' and then, 'I hope she arrives on set today with me, because she's been away for a while.'"
While Heche says she used her newly vacated summer to take her kids to the beach, other actors found the respite an opportunity to rediscover their characters. "Sometimes when you get on a roll and you're doing one after the other you start to miss pieces," said David Costabile, who plays a religious cult leader, of the breaks. "The gaps actually allowed us to have a little more time to think about it, to really consider what was going on, and for me, a lot of it was also my character." Kring and Raff said the only necessary rewrite was minor, placing a character in Croatia instead of Morocco.
Recreating a Middle Eastern atmosphere extended to Capitale, as the event space was outfitted with intricately designed lanterns and low ambient lighting, with the show's branded symbol plastered on walls, candle casings and bartender aprons. The evening also included a post-screening panel moderated by Meredith Vieira.
As for its center, its setting and location, Alison Sudol told THR that though they had to leave Israel, it continued to make its presence felt. "Filming in Jerusalem, I feel like we took it with us the whole way. That first five weeks where we were there, it was so powerful. It lives, burning in our hearts and it's going to be amazing to see it again. I think that it's been exactly as it should be. The show has so many twists and the making of the show had so many twists and turns too."
Dig debuts on Thursday, Mar. 5 at 10 p.m. on USA.