CBS’ True Lies: Is the Series Based on Real People?

Created by Matt Nix, CBS’ ‘True Lies’ is an action comedy series that follows Helen Tasker, married to a computer consultant named Harry. Bored of the latter’s workaholic and dull nature, his wife seeks some thrill and excitement to spice up their almost-dead marriage. However, Helen soon stumbles upon a shocking secret Harry has kept all these years — he is actually a highly sought-after international spy! This revelation throws the Taskers head-on into a dangerous mission to stop a deadly terrorist attack, as Helen becomes an unwitting partner to Harry in saving the world.

Featuring thrilling performances from a talented ensemble comprising Ginger Gonzaga, Steve Howey, Annabella Didion, and Deneen Tyler, the show provides a generous dose of entertainment and power-packed action sequences throughout. Besides, the exciting depiction of an ordinary man being an undercover agent and a harmless couple fighting international terrorists makes one wonder if the story draws any inspiration from reality. If you are eager to know the same, let’s find out together, shall we?

True Lies Origin: Inspired by French Cinema

No, ‘True Lies’ is not based on a true story. Instead, it is a TV adaptation of the eponymous 1994 James Cameron directorial, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis. Interestingly, even that is a remake of the 1991 French movie ‘La Totale!,’ directed by Claude Zidi. He wrote the script with Simon Michaël and Didier Kaminka and later sold the remake rights to Cameron. However, the ‘Titanic‘ director revealed in a 2019 interview that Arnold Schwarzenegger pitched the movie’s idea to him.

Image Credit: Alan Markfield/CBS

Cameron shared that the actor watched the movie and asked him to consider creating a remake around the idea of a spy with a regular family. “When I watched it, I got it…[Arnold] was dealing with [the idea] of, ‘I’m a husband, and I’m a father, but I’m also this icon of masculinity.’ He related to it as ‘What if James Bond had to go home to his wife and family?’” said the filmmaker. Since it was Cameron’s first brush with comedy, he incorporated some unique elements into the movie’s script and portrayed action star Arnold in a different light.

The director added, “Arnold knew I could handle the action…But I’d never done a comedy! So I came up with crazy stuff like him doing the tango with this exotic girl he meets at this mansion party. I sent [Arnold] the script, and in the margin, I put an arrow next to the tango and wrote, ‘This is your most dangerous stunt. ’I think he took it to heart because he did learn how to tango!” While Cameron believed he had bought the rights to an original script from French filmmaker Claude Zidi, a surprising controversy changed the course of events.

True Lies (1994)

Around 2001, French screenwriter Lucien Lambert claimed in court that Claude Zidi had wrongfully plagiarized his 1982 script, titled ‘Emilie.’ Though he lost the case that year when the court ruled that he couldn’t establish that his script pre-dated the 1991 movie, his lawyers appealed the verdict and warned Cameron that his name could be cited. Nevertheless, new evidence surfaced in 2004 when actress Sylvie Joly attested that Lambert had indeed sent her his script in 1982, a year before ‘La Totale!’ released.

Joly shared the original script for ‘Emilie’ which she had saved with other screenplays she was reviewing at the time. Based on this new evidence, it was proven that Zidi’s movie had heavy similarities with Lambert’s work, and the latter realized his work had been adapted without his knowledge only when it aired on TV. As a result, the court ordered the French filmmaker to pay the veteran screenwriter an undisclosed compensation from the royalties he received from the success of ‘True Lies.’ Controversies aside, James Cameron’s remake attained cult status over the years, likely inspiring Matt Nix to conceptualize the CBS show based on it.

La Totale! (1991)

In an interview with So Many Shows, the creator discussed how he made the show suitable to current times. For example, he chose to balance the action and comedy elements and not to go overboard with either one when portraying a specific scenario. Matt further spoke about the importance of presenting a story the audience can relate to. He stated, “The thing that we said over and over in the writers’ room when stories would come up and stuff, I was always like, ‘we are making stories that our audience will relate to. I want if the story is on our show, it should be something that feels like it could have happened to you, only not in a spy context.”

“Yeah, I mean, ‘True Lies’ is not a documentary about geopolitical issues. ‘True Lies’ is not about the challenges we are facing in our world. ‘True Lies’ is absolutely a fun escape, but I don’t think it’s trivial in the sense that . . . we’ve been working on the finale, and I keep getting notes on it from people, and everybody says it made them cry. It’s still funny, but it didn’t make them cry because of the geopolitical spy issues in it. It made them cry because it’s two people that really love each other dealing with a really challenging situation and getting through it in a way that is emotional,” the creator added.

In summation, the CBS show is a faithful remake of a fictional movie, yet it centers around realistic characters and situations. Despite delving into the glamorous world of spies and espionage, the protagonist, Harry, is primarily a family man who wishes to protect his wife and child. This human aspect makes him endearing and relatable to the viewers, coupled with the realistic humor the makers have used to propel the narrative. Thus, it can be said that ‘True Lies’ is a realistic work of fiction that pays tribute to the original movie while keeping it relevant in modern times.

Read More: Where is CBS’ True Lies Filmed?