LOS ANGELES — The man’s well-defined profile, highlighted by a duck-wing sweep of graying hair, is sharply etched against the landscape of arid scrub and barren brown hills visible through the window.
The call sheet for AMC’s caper series “Hustle” states that the location for this scene is “a Las Vegas diner.” But, actually, Robert Vaughn — sleek and stylish as ever — is seated in the booth of a shabby coffee shop on the northeastern fringe of the San Fernando Valley, where stunted palms edge a highway and railroad track.
Once TV’s famed “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” Vaughn stars as smooth-talking con man Albert Stroller in this co-production with the BBC. The slickly made series had been set in England but moves to Los Angeles and Las Vegas for the first and last episodes of its third season, premiering April 18 at 10 p.m. ET.
As “the roper,” Stroller’s job is to wrangle the marks. The victims are then taken for all they’re worth by a sexy gang of British grifters, including team leader Danny Blue (Marc Warren), “lure” Stacie Monroe (Jaime Murray), “fixer” Ash Morgan (Robert Glenister), and street-wise Billy Bond (rapper Ashley Walters).
‘We don’t pretend to be plumbing the depths of social wrongs’
Producer Jolyon Symonds says the show deliberately aimed for “a slickness in a good way, not in a disposable way” and that audiences have responded to the charms and wiles of the hustlers, whose first rule of business is, “You can’t con an honest man.”
“There seems to be an evergreen, perpetual appeal about an honest rogue. ... They are slightly dodgy, but you are still rooting for them at heart,” says the British-based Symonds.
“It’s a load of Robin Hood-style morality, I suppose, in as much as we rob from the baddies, but the difference is we keep it!” says Glenister, grinning. “It’s a piece of entertainment. It doesn’t purport to be anything else. We don’t pretend to be plumbing the depths of social wrongs.”
Until this season, all episodes were produced on sound stages in London’s East End and on locations in the heart of the capital’s financial district. But filming moved to Southern California a few months ago — just in time for a late-autumn heat wave.
Symonds says the stateside shooting “enhances the show because we are always giving the nod to and borrowing a lot of things from the best of American movie and TV shows, so it was a liberating and natural progression for us to film in America.”
Slideshow: Celebrity Sightings Of course, the warmer weather wasn’t bad, either.
Like the intrepid pro he plays, Glenister welcomed the relocation because it would “up the ante a bit” on the look and content of the show.
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“I think the stakes are a little bit higher here, perhaps because [the hustlers] are dealing with people who can potentially do them a great deal more damage than perhaps they could in London,” he says, referring to the shady gambling and oil tycoons now populating the plot lines.
Old-timers Wagner and Vaughn team up
The first episode of the new season, which takes place in L.A., guest stars Robert Wagner — like Vaughn, a suave icon of American caper television, including “It Takes a Thief” and “Hart to Hart.”
Wagner plays Anthony Westley, a wealthy movie memorabilia fanatic whom the hustlers try to sting into buying the Hollywood sign.
Vaughn explains that the new season’s second episode, set in Vegas, will have an added element of tension because the powers-that-be recognize Stroller “from the old days when I used to be a grifter and play against the house.”
But nobody wants to give away series plot twists, which on this show, Vaughn admits, allow for a little “winking at the camera” and occasionally rely on some suspension of belief by the audience.
“I think there is an overall feeling of being a story well told, but also it’s not that serious and if you find some holes in the plot, don’t worry about it, because nobody else does,” says the 74-year-old star with a smile.
Vaughn’s career history makes his presence a win-win situation for a clever caper show like “Hustle,” and his fellow cast members know it.
“This show does sort of pay homage to the best of ’60s and ’70s American television,” Glenister says. “And to have one of the icons of that period involved is a great bonus for all of us.”
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