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Disney+ has expanded the National Treasure franchise with National Treasure: Edge of History, but this time the story was written with a specific intention to put women, including women's history, at the forefront of the adventure.
“I think it's exhilarating. I think it's very reflective of just the time,” the show's lead star Lisette Olivera told Yahoo Canada. “I think what our series does well [is] reflect a world that I'm used to."
“I have very strong women in my life…and other people do in this world, and I think everyone deserves to see their own hero.”
'It's literally history'
National Treasure: Edge of History largely revolves around Jess Valenzuela (Lisette Olivera), a DACA recipient living in Baton Rouge. Through an interesting and mysterious family connection, Jess starts off on a search for a centuries-old treasure with her friends, tech-y Tasha (Zuri Reed), energetic Oren (Antonio Cipriano), the logical Ethan (Jordan Rodrigues), and Liam (Jake Austin Walker) who also has a family connection to the treasure. In order to get to that treasure, Jess has to outsmart a black-market antiquities dealer Billie, played by Oscar winner Catherine Zeta-Jones.
“It's literally history. It is a really women-driven show and I think there's something extra special about having a woman in the forefront," Zuri Reed told Yahoo Canada.
“I was really excited about playing someone who was so smart, yet so confident and always spoke her mind. Tasha is so lovely and she's a literal tech genius, but she will always tell you what exactly is happening and she won't really sugarcoat anything.”
Lyndon Smith plays FBI Agent Ross, who was top of her class at Quantico but one mistake got her sent to the Baton Rouge office. Smith highlighted that National Treasure: Edge of History doesn't just have women at the centre of the story from a character/actor perspective, but it also highlights women-centric history as part of this adventure.
“I think a lot of the stories, the history stories that I grew up learning about, were male-forward moments in history,” Smith said.
“So I learned a lot on the page and then…we have very, very strong women leading this forefront. It's kind of cool to see women taking history by the reins... These were like OG feminists.”
Also particularly unique to this narrative is Jess' struggles as a DACA recipient being on display. People who receive DACA in the U.S., which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, are undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children and are protected from deportation.
“I'm really grateful to have had the opportunity to step into her shoes for a couple of months,” Olivera said. “I learned a lot about what Jess goes through on the day-to-day, people who are recipients of DACA have a lot of limitations and they live with a lot of caution and fear, most times, and they're taught to keep their head down.”
“But I find with the stories that I've heard, a lot of them have very similar qualities in the sense that they're all very determined, hardworking and have a really big heart to do good. I think that's really special, especially with Jess. The treasure is incredibly important to her because of the connection [with] her family, because she cares about her family very, very much. I think that's really special, everyone will get to see a young woman become the hero that she was always meant to be.”
'We're not redoing this, we're reopening this world'
With the National Treasure films beloved by many, starring actors like Nicolas Cage, Jon Voight, Justin Bartha, Diane Kruger and the late Christopher Plummer, the cast of National Treasure: Edge of History is certainly facing an audience with existing thoughts and feelings about what this story, and this franchise, should look like.
“We definitely knew that there was going to be a weight on our shoulders, we have a mantle to uphold here, but what I tend to say to people is that we're not rebooting this,” Lyndon Smith said. “We're not redoing this, we're reopening this world. We're expanding it.”
“We're making room for it to continue to live on, hopefully, for years and years and years… You get a lot of favourite characters coming back... I always say, you might not see some people that you wish you were seeing but we're just opening this up to continue to exist.”
One of the links to the original film is the presence of actors Harvey Keitel, and even more-so Bartha, to maintain that connection to the previous story.
“He's so funny, it was really great to finally connect our worlds officially,” Lisette Olivera said. “I think to have Justin there…was just really a dream come true.”
“I couldn't believe, like being able to just watch him do his coverage while I'm off camera for a different scene thinking, ‘oh my god, I'm gonna be in a scene with Justin Bartha'... I think he brought something fresh to every take, that was really cool, to see his process.”
Additionally, the story is crafted by the original writers, which maintains that link to the tone of the film.
“I think the main thing to remember is that it does take place in the same world as the original movies, so there are characters that come back, there's a lot of hidden easter eggs in there from the original movies,” Antonio Cipriano said. “So I think just going in expecting, very much, a very similar kind of story.”
“It really just has that nostalgic factor, like Indiana Jones who’s treasure hunting, and we really want the audience to be solving these clues with us in real time,” Jordan Rodrigues said.
“It's like putting on an old jacket, it just fits just right,” Jake Austin Walker added. “It's also 20 years later, the technology is right on and the way the clues are hidden is just a bit more complex.”