‘Hot Zone: Anthrax” looks at deadly period in American history

Rick's Reviews
The Hot Zone Anthrax

Daniel Dae Kim (center) stars in “Hot Zone: Anthrax.” (Photo courtesy of National Geographic)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET)— The country was in the middle of dealing with the physical, emotional, political and spiritual impact of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. There was little time to deal with those issues when a second wave of attacks began through anthrax letters.

The six-part limited series, “The Hot Zone: Anthrax,” set to debut at 9 p.m. Nov. 28 on the National Geographic channel and then Hulu, looks at the efforts to stop those who were targeting journalists and politicians with anthrax powder. Five died and a new panic raced across the country.

Executive producer David Zucker is confident this is the right time to look at the deadly moment in history because it is tied to the 20th anniversary. He knows that this is a nation that tends to recognize such milestones.

This is the second time that National Geographic has depicted a deadly moment in American history under the “Hot Zone” banner. Julianna Margulies starred in the 2019 version of “The Hot Zone” that was set in 1989 and dealt with the Ebola outbreak.

Zucker says, “The Ebola story was one that was entirely behind the scenes that most people who hadn’t read the book, ‘Hot Zone,’ knew nothing about.  In this instance, this was a very public, horrific series of events that actually extended for seven years, in terms of the investigation.

“It was a fascinating undertaking.  It was one of those unique opportunities to examine a period in history that had a profound effect both on the heels of 9/11, as well as both politically, socially, and otherwise.  How something like this transpired, how it came to pass, and ultimately, what the resolution is which I bet if you asked most people in this country, they have no awareness of.”

“The Hot Zone: Anthrax” follows parallel stories of Matthew Ryker (Daniel Dae Kim) and Dr. Bruce Ivins (Tony Goldwyn). Ryker is an FBI agent with a specialty in microbiology who risks his career to convince his superiors of the unthinkable just three weeks after the 9/11 attacks.

“Hot Zone: Anthrax” is based on a true story but Kim’s character is made up of an amalgamation of agents who worked on the case. Kim saw his role in the miniseries as being the kind of job in which he would not usually be cast.

“A lead investigator who looks like me is probably something that would not have happened even in 2001,” Kim says. “I think it’s a sign of progress and it’s a testament to our producers and everyone associated with the show who are making decisions that they thought an Asian-American face could represent the face of the FBI.”

Kim – whose credits include “Hawaii 5-0” and “Lost” – was drawn to the project because it was a character he had not played before. The other element that compelled him was the story.

Goldwyn’s character of Ivins is a brilliant microbiologist who becomes embroiled in the hunt to find the 2001 anthrax killer’ He works closely with the FBI to uncover who is behind the deadly anthrax letters, while his growing instability and paranoia give way to even deeper and unnerving discoveries.

Goldywn prepared for his role by doing as much research as possible.

“There was a very interesting biography that I discovered about my character, Bruce Ivins, who is a very interesting and complicated guy called ‘Mirage Man,’ which was like a bible,” Goldwyn says. “It was extremely helpful because it had lots of details about his life and his psyche and the investigation itself.  And then a number of other books about the investigation and really just tried to steep myself in it. “

He then spoke to different experts in different fields related to both microbiology and psychiatry to get a better understanding of some of the issues that impacted his character’s life. 

The cast also includes: Dawn Olivieri as FBI Agent Dani Toretti, one of the first agents on the ground at the 2001 Capitol Hill anthrax attack; Ian Colletti as bureau newbie FBI agent Chris Moore (Ian Colletti), a graduate of Quantico eager to learn under a seasoned agent; Dylan Baker as high-ranking FBI lifer Ed Copak;  Morgan Kelly as Eric Sykes, a cocky FBI agent; Denyce Lawton as Sheila Willis, a pharmaceutical lobbyist; Carlos Gonzalez-Vio as Dr. Simon Kurz, a USAMRIID colleague of Ivins; and  Enrico Colantoni as Mayor Rudy Giuliani (who emerges as a bold advocate for the citizens of New York City after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Two episodes of “The Hot Zone: Anthrax” will air over three consecutive nights. It will also be available through the streaming service of Hulu. No decision has been announced as to whether or not there would be a third production under the “Hot Zone” banner.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.