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‘The Missing’ stars weigh in on divisive season finale (spoilers)

Starz aired the season finale of “The Missing” Saturday. If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading. Spoilers ahead.

PASADENA, Calif. — The first season of “The Missing,” Starz’s time-togging drama about a child who goes MIA while vacationing with his parents in France, ended Saturday with a finale left open to interpretation — a fact that didn’t sit well with some British fans who’d watched it earlier on BBC One.

“The end was quite controversial,” said Frances O’Connor (“Mr. Selfridge”), whose turn as young Oliver’s grief-stricken mother earned her a Golden Globe nomination. “A lot of people got kind of angry about it. I think it’s because people don’t like a lack of closure. The series is rather avant-garde in that way.”

The final scene saw police dragging away Oliver’s hysterical father, Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt, “The Hobbit”), who was convinced he’d tracked down his missing son to an apartment complex in snowy Russia. We’re left looking at a boy — a child who could pass for an older Oliver — as a distraught Tony screams that he’s the child’s dad.

“There’s a slight ambiguity and a slight sense of hope that maybe he’s still alive,” O’Connor said during an interview Friday at the TV critics’ winter tour. “You’re either: He’s obsessed and crazy, or he still believes he’s alive and I do, too. They’re both valid endings. I like things that are open-ended.”

Adding to the uncertainty of Oliver’s fate was a shot of the boy’s trademark, big-eared stick figure drawn onto a snow-covered window in Russia, lending credence to the theory that Olly was still alive.

Nesbitt had a different take on who drew the stick figure: “My opinion is Tony did it,” he said. “It’s also not beyond the realm of possibility that it was done by another child. It’s a stick man. We only associate it with Oliver but kids draw things like that all the time.”

The actor admitted that even he doesn’t know if Oliver is meant to be dead or alive at the end of the eight-episode season, written by British brothers Harry and Jack Williams.”One of the brothers might say he’s dead, one of them might say he’s not. I like the ambiguity.”

Either outcome would have had the same result for Nesbitt’s character: Tony would continue to search for his son.

“Even if Oliver was dead, Tony would never accept that,” Nesbitt said. “What interested me was that Tony had gone demented. Maybe his refuge is actually being mad. What else would he do? He devoted so much of his time to finding his son. It became his life. That’s the only way he can keep living. His closure is to remain in a world of obsession. It’s sad.”

Nesbitt has two daughters of his own, ages 12 and 17.

“I thought I would use them as a kind of crutch in terms of finding Tony,” he said. “I discovered early on that would be impossible. You almost disallow yourself imagining that. There’s a natural instinct where you can’t imagine that happening to your own.”

Nesbitt, who shot the new Sundance TV series “Babylon” while working on “The Missing,” had to rely on other ways to get into character.

“I turned my whole life into Tony’s,” said the actor, who filmed the French-set series in Belgium. “I stayed in an apartment by the hotel. The art department gave me everything Tony would have: all the police cuttings, all the newspaper reports. They were all over my walls. I went out by myself. I got a bit drunk sometimes.”

The troubled Tony grew on Nesbitt.

“I got to love him so much and all his flaws,” he said. “It took me quite a long time to leave him, actually, because I was so close to him. It’s awful when actors talk about their characters like that but it’s true. I was so fond of him. I can almost hardly talk about it now, six months on.”

Starz and co-producer BBC One have greenlit a second season of the Golden Globe-nominated anthology miniseries. Starz CEO Chris Albrecht said the next installment will focus on a different case with a new cast, but he hinted that there may be some carry over from season one to two.

“There will be an element, aside from sort of the overall concept, that continues,” Albrecht said.

Tcheky Karyo, who played French police detective Julien Baptiste, said he would welcome the opportunity to come back for another round.

Does Karyo think Oliver is still alive?

“I think he’s alive in a lot of hearts,” the Parisian actor said. “The end is provoking. It gives you a lot to think about. That’s why I like it.”