Prime Video’s new espionage and relationship drama Mr. & Mrs. Smith distinguishes itself from the 2005 movie of the same name right from the start.
In the film, which famously starred Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in the eponymous roles, the pair becomes acquainted and falls in love during a steamy and romantic vacation, only to learn years into their eventually rocky marriage that they were both spies working for rival organizations.
In the small-screen version, headlined by Donald Glover and Maya Erskine and premiering Friday, February 2 on the streaming service, this John and Jane Smith are recruited as spies and united through an arranged marriage that gives them the cover story they need to covertly—and effectively—complete explosive and bizarre missions. Mr. & Mrs. Smith also boasts an impressive roster of character actors and guest stars, including Alexander Skarsgård, Michaela Coel, Paul Dano, John Turturro, Sharon Horgan, Parker Posey, Wagner Moura, and Ron Perlman.
“I feel like an arranged marriage, you know, not giving people the chance to leave, makes the stakes feel higher,” Glover explained in an EPK interview. “It’s so easy to just give up on any sort of relationship. There are a lot of ways out. I just felt like it was more interesting to stuff people together and be like, ‘There’s no way out.’ Then you start to make something new that’s beautiful, you know?”
The dichotomy of finding and sustaining love in a bleak-but-exciting occupation filled with violence, deceit, and death became known as a “spy sandwich.” It’s a phrase Glover and Erskine coined to make sense of the Mr. & Mrs. Smith universe, in which they are just one spy couple in a shadowy organisation where all the married spies share the same moniker.
“A ‘spy sandwich’ is sort of the perfect peanut butter of the spy stuff and the action, and the perfect jelly of the romance stuff, and bringing them together suddenly becomes subversive,” observed Francesca Sloane, who co-created the series with Glover and serves as showrunner and writer. “In order to be a really good spy, you have to lie. But on the other end of that, in order to be in a really healthy relationship, you have to be really honest. So, what happens when you bring those things together? That is sort of the heartbeat and the impulse of the entire series.”
Slowly watching Jane and John evolve from professional partners to lustfully awkward lovebirds is one of the aspects that drew Erskine to the role.
“They start off with the agreement of, ‘Let’s not make this romantic. This is just a business partnership.’ And we have to learn to trust each other,” she said. “But of course, as they start to get to know each other and start to like each other, it gets a little more complicated and they do fall in love. … Jane is someone who has come from a broken background and is not very trusting in this world. She’s a person who’s not trusting, entering a partnership that’s fully based on trust.”
It’s a type of vulnerable and complicated love, Sloane said, that can be found not just in the original Mr. & Mrs. Smith, but in other past and present works in film and television.
“The biggest inspirations for this show would be things like Scenes from a Marriage, Mikey & Nicky, [and] Elaine May-type films,” Sloane revealed. “But more so, if I’m being totally real, Married at First Sight, 90 Day Fiancé, and Love Is Blind. Part of that is this notion of being really lonely, and desperately wanting an answer for companionship or the ‘why?’ of their existence and their identity. And the strange, amorphous companies coming together and telling you, ‘Here’s your life. Here’s your perfect person. Here’s where you’ll live.”
For the action sequences, Glover and Erskine relied on stunt coordinators to help fine-tune their martial-arts inspired fight moves and weapon use. But when it came to love scenes, this Mr. & Mrs. Smith aimed for a level of chemistry and intimacy that surpassed smoldering smooches.
“There’s a lot of romantic stuff,” Glover concluded. “There’s the sex scenes, like all that stuff. But when we’re laughing, that feels the most like, ‘I’m not supposed to see this.’ We touched a lot on voyeurism with Hiro [Murai, who directs Episodes One and Two]. What’s intimacy, really? It should feel like you’re seeing the parts that you shouldn’t see. … ‘Yes, I fart. I poop. Yes, I’m gross when I’m angry.’ That’s what we were kind of looking for, and we got a lot of that out of the two of us, because we got really comfortable.”
It’s a level of comfort and familiarity Erskine said all sorts of couples will understand.
“I think couples should watch this show together,” she explained. “Couples of all ages should watch this show, because I think there is something in it for every couple to relate to. It really runs the gamut.”
Watch Mr. & Mrs. Smith streaming on Prime Video starting February 2.