Hamish Linklater and Lily Rabe have acted together a few times over the course of their eight-year relationship without too many issues. But when they were filming their most recent project — he plays a former predator, she’s a survivor in witness protection — the couple stopped bringing their work home with them.
The new Amazon Prime limited series “Tell Me Your Secrets,” premiering Friday, involves Emma (Rabe), who is starting a new life after an encounter with a killer, and John (Linklater), an ex-serial predator hired to track her down. Amy Brenneman plays Mary, a mother who suspects Emma is involved in her daughter’s disappearance and hires John to find out.
Viewers won’t know if they’ll ever see Rabe and Linklater meet, but the idea of it is terrifyingly exciting — both actors say they transformed into someone unidentifiable, even to each other.
“Sometimes, when I look into [Linklater’s] eyes, there is this person that I trust and that I feel safe with,” said Rabe in a Zoom interview. “And yet there’s something utterly unrecognizable there.”
But that familiarity, however precarious, lets the actors push further and take more risks.
“I think with something as violent and scary as this show can be, having that familiarity makes it also feel really safe,” said Linklater. “So you can sort of like go broader and it gives you latitude to go to scarier places yourself.”
A Great Barrington native and Amherst College graduate, Linklater grew up around professional actors; his late mother, Kristin Linklater, was cofounder of Shakespeare & Company in the Berkshires and a celebrated voice coach. His extensive acting credits include the TV series “Legion,” “The Crazy Ones,” and “The New Adventures of Old Christine.”
Though they share careers, a Los Angeles home, and are raising kids together, Linklater and Rabe went their separate ways to prepare for their roles in the psychological thriller.
Linklater, 44, wanted to know nothing of John’s past: “I think my character probably would have sublimated those details as deeply as he possibly could. So, gosh, I was as horrified as audiences will be when the truth was revealed.”
On the other hand, Rabe, 38, who has appeared in dozens of shows, films, and stage productions, wanted to know as much as she could about her character.
“I actually was constantly asking Harriet [Warner, the series creator] for more and more information, and that was useful to me, because there’s so much to Emma,” said Rabe, the daughter of the late actress Jill Clayburgh and playwright David Rabe. “Not only does she not trust other people, but she doesn’t trust herself — nor should she.”
The tenuous relationship between the two characters also meant that Rabe and Linklater never visited each other on set or rehearsed together.
“It’s not that we ever really said, ‘Listen, let’s not talk too much about this’ or ‘Let’s not run lines with one another,’” said Rabe. “But we kind of just inherently did that. We were withholding in a way that was really useful.”
What they did share, however, was the physical training for their roles; when Rabe started working with a trainer, Linklater decided his character should probably get in shape too.
“As you start having these families, it’s hard to have like a date night. But we started working out together!” said Linklater. “It’s a very Hollywood, actory-coupley thing to do, but working out with Lily was a really great thing for our relationship.”
For Rabe, working out also meant the chance to take up space — physical space — on the screen. As a dancer, actress, and woman, Rabe had spent a lot of her career subconsciously attempting to be smaller. But after her takes on “Secrets” when she heard she “looked huge” or her arm “looked really big,” she took it as a compliment.
“We had wanted for the character to have built up a certain kind of physical armor,” said Rabe, who recently starred in HBO’s “The Undoing” alongside Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant. “But as someone who has spent a lot of time wanting the opposite feedback after a take, it was really profound to have the experience of the opposite. That’s something I hope to carry with me.”
While Rabe and Linklater finished filming the show before the COVID-19 outbreak, they said it’s the perfect thing to watch when you’re in lockdown. Much like their characters, each has varying perspectives on how viewers should take in the show.
Rabe suggests pacing yourself, taking however much time you need to get through the 10 episodes. Linklater has a different take.
“We hope you don’t see March without having finished the show. This is your February show,” he said. “Our hope is to give you some full-caloried — not empty calories — but full-caloried twisty, turny, sexual, sensual, obsession, dark, violent, villainous, victim food for thought and food for loins. We hope this is your new binge.”
TELL ME YOUR SECRETS
Starring: Lily Rabe, Hamish Linklater, Amy Brenneman, Marque Richardson, Enrique Murciano. All 10 episodes stream Feb. 19 on Amazon Prime.
Natachi Onwuamaegbu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.