New ‘Patriot’ series brings spy world to Chicago

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Australian actor Michael Dorman stars in the new Chicago-set “Patriot” | Provided Photo

Michael Dormanhad never spent time in Chicago when the Australian native came to Our Town last year to film episodes for the new spy thriller “Patriot,” debuting Friday on Amazon. “But I fell in love with the city,” he said, “straight off the bat. It was a great introduction, helped by the fact I had made some nice connections with the people I was working with [on ‘Patriot’] in Montreal and at the locations where we shot in Europe, prior to coming to Chicago.”

The actor, who lived downtown, said he immediately connected with the city’s music and nightlife scene. “We worked long hours on the show — as is always the case with these projects — and so it was great to find inviting cafes and a good music scene for those late after-hours. I love the blues, and I loved spending time at Blue Chicago. I could go there late nights, after work, pull up a stool and just get into the cool music scene there.”

His own musical talents were put to good use in “Patriot,” where Dorman’s character, an undercover intelligence agent whose cover is working in a Midwestern manufacturing plant, also turns to playing guitar to relax.

“You have to understand, it serves as an outlet for John Tavner [his character],” Dorman said. “We don’t really dive into this aspect on the show, but John is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from his time fighting in the war in Iraq. Because there is so much more going on in ‘Patriot’ — the family dynamics, the undercover intelligence officer stuff, and so forth — the PTSD isn’t something we delve into too much. But the reality is, the guy is really suffering, and his only solace is to play music.”

Tavner is not only an undercover agent but also the son of a top State Department official (played by “Lost” star Terry O’Quinn) and the brother of a U.S. congressman, portrayed by Michael Chernus (“Orange Is the New Black”).

The new series is the brainchild of Northwestern University alum Steve Conrad, who previously wrote the Chicago-made movies “The Weather Man” and “The Promotion,” which he also directed here. In addition to filming much of “Patriot” in his adopted hometown, Conrad loved the fact this 10-part first season of the series is “such a great way available to us today for storytelling on television. I love the fact that it’s commercial-free, long-form storytelling. It’s like a 10-hour movie.

“But when you work in this new format that has been so well advanced by Amazon, you have to have a good plan. This has to be a compelling piece of suspense — a spy thriller — that you have to make good if you expect the audience to commit to all those hours of their time.”

As for his lead actor — Michael Dorman — Conrad could only rave about the actor, who is not yet that familiar to American audiences. “You just watch,” said Conrad with great confidence. “This guy is built for speed, as I call it. He is an interesting leading man — and in a whole new way. He’s going to make his mark in a big way very soon.

“We have classes here in the U.S. in home economics and wood shop, and things like that. In Australia, I think they must have classes on how to become a cool actor — because they have so many of them!”

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