TV - Killing Eve

Ahead of the start of the BBC’s new eight-part thriller, Killing Eve this Saturday, read an interview with Bafta Award-winning writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge...

Produced by Sid Gentle Films Ltd (The Durrells, SS-GB) and adapted by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) from the novellas Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings, Killing Eve centres on two very different women as an MI5 security officer and a talented killer go head to head in an epic game of cat and mouse.

Eve is a bored, whip-smart, pay-grade MI5 security officer whose desk-bound job doesn’t fulfil her fantasies of being a spy. Villanelle is a mercurial, talented killer who clings to the luxuries her violent job affords her. Killing Eve topples the typical spy-action thriller as these two fiercely intelligent women, equally obsessed with each other, go head to head in an epic game of cat and mouse.

Starring Sandra Oh as Eve, and Jodie Comer as Villanelle, the series - a combination of brutal mischief making and pathos - is filled with sharp humour, originality and high-stakes action.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Lead Writer and Executive Producer, explains more in this interview from the BBC.

"I always wanted to be an actor when I grew up; for as long as I can remember and I’ve always been obsessed with stories and plays and films and TV shows. I’ve been writing TV for the last few years and I did a couple of sitcoms, but the first was a full-on ensemble sitcom called Crashing and the second one was called Fleabag which balanced humour and darkness in a way that really appeals to me and it’s something I always wanted to do.

So when Sally Woodward Gentle from Sid Gentle Films approached me with Luke Jennings’s novellas, I was so surprised because I thought I was just considered a comedy writer in the industry and luckily she saw beyond that and said, "no, these are dramatic novels but we would like them to have a different, more humorous slant" and she generously gave me a shot at it, and the rest is history.

What is the premise of Killing Eve?

It's a story about a psychopathic assassin and the agent who has to chase her around the world and hunt her down, but it’s also an exploration of the psychology of two very different women who’ve had very different experiences and lives, who somehow in the murkiness of their own lives focus on each other and are drawn to each other professionally and unprofessionally.

How important was it to you to have two strong female lead roles like this?

Well it certainly feels important and it just mainly feels refreshing and a bit of a relief to be able to see that relationship play out. It’s exciting when you don’t have a blueprint for that sort of thing - of course there were lots of references from other shows that we could draw on, but it was actually the small details of the female psyche that were the fun bits, and because ostensibly it’s the same, it’s the same set up. It’s just the details that make it different, it’s how these women would do something in a way that men probably wouldn’t, and that to me is new and fresh.

How did the two worlds of Killing Eve get pulled together?

It’s been the most amazing journey. From the moment I read Luke’s novellas I was captivated by these two characters who were such polar opposites, their worlds were polar opposites, and yet they fixated on each other. The challenge of making these two worlds exist in one show was something that really appealed to me and I feel across the whole production everyone has nailed that.

Villanelle’s flat is shabby chic, Parisian, heavenly, kind of a paradise pad, and we cut from there to Eve’s adorable, cozy little home in the corner of London, with a husband, and in so many ways that could feel like two different shows. And I think the main thing that keeps pulling them together is these two characters and the fact they do not spend a waking minute of either of their days not thinking about the other one.

This is truly an international production - which European locations have you been to?

We’ve been all over the shop! We’ve been to Paris, Berlin, Tuscany, London and Romania - we were filming the Russian element of the story there. We really wanted to have a sense of scale, and how Villanelle could be thrown into any corner of the world to do a job and then for Eve to follow and show the realities of travelling.

Villanelle gets there first class, chic as hell, she just turns up and we didn’t ever need to show how she got there because she just arrived, she is just there - whereas we get the taxis, the luggage of Eve, and you see the everyday nightmarish thing of travel, and those were the little fun things about the two people being in these same places at the same time, two very different characters experiencing these cities in very different ways.

But it’s been incredible, we’ve actually been able to go to these places - and filming in Paris, I mean, it just looks beautiful.

What makes Killing Eve unique for you?

I think it's unique because these two characters crossing each other’s paths feels unusual, as they are in such different times in their lives and such different places in the world, and they come from such a different place in the beginning of the show. One of them is a psychopathic female assassin living it up in Paris, the other one is an ever-so-slightly depressed and bored woman in London, in a job that she doesn’t like - and they kind of set each other on fire.

I think the kind of cat-and-mouse aspect with females isn’t that common. Also the fun we had playing with the heightened elements of the show, allowing them to be humorous as well as it being a thriller, is unusual, I hope in a good way. So I guess it’s just a very unusual game of cat and mouse.

Tell me what Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer bring to the characters of Eve and Villanelle respectively?

Sandra, oh my God! She has brought the guts, the heart, the courage, the vulnerability, and the intelligence of Eve right to the fore - I cannot imagine anyone else paying this part.

She's so bold, she’s so smart and she’s so across the scripts and cares so much about the character. I was worried it would be tricky to balance the humour of this show with the drama, but with Sandra at the helm it’s been a dream to watch because she can flip from desperately trying to gnaw on a croissant because she’s hungover to becoming fixed with an assassin who’s implicated in a huge political conspiracy, and she can do that like that [snapping finger]. Yeah, she’s an absolute genius.

Jodie is a force to be reckoned with. This is a really challenging character because obviously she’s a psychopath, so "how do you make people care about a psychopath?" is the question that kept coming up early on - and the answer is to cast Jodie Comer!

She is the warmest, cheekiest, most alive and present actor. She can create this inner world in a person with the type of psychology that could easily be dismissed as one thing; she’s brought so much complexity to this character and so much vulnerability to her that she’s bizarrely relatable in Jodie’s hands. This wild and otherwise probably fantastical kind of character has been brought down to earth; she’s charming - and you’ll make the mistake of falling in love with her and then she will kill you.

Can you tell us anything about Villanelle’s first kill?

We liked the idea of taking her into the countryside, into the lush landscape of Tuscany, and placing her in an intimate and family environment. So she has to travel across these beautiful landscapes to ambush a man at his wedding anniversary and sneak into his big posh mansion villa.

This is the first time that Jodie got to play the more murderous side of Villanelle, because before then we see her kicking around her flat and mucking around with her handler, and this is her really in action and it was really brutal actually. Jodie has this amazing lightness about her which is so necessary for Villanelle and we saw this character be so light and friendly and charming and then in the moment of the kill Jodie found a darkness and a pleasure in that, that was really menacing, very easily.

Finally, does it feel different writing something that you’re not in? Does it change your thought process when putting pen to paper?

I think writing and acting in Fleabag was a unique experience because first of all, I’m the fall guy for any bad writing, but also because I knew that character so well and I could explain my intentions on set every five minutes if necessary. Whereas with this, the discipline is actually firstly more liberating because the pressure is not on me to act it, and the moment you have actors in your head it’s a joyful experience, knowing you’ve got Sandra to write for or Jodie, Fiona David or Kim, who I’ve adored for ages.

With Killing Eve I’ve learnt a lot more, like how to articulate exactly what the tone is. Some scenes might read quite straight and actually perform in a completely different way, they would be funny or even more violent, and those are things I suppose I might have taken for granted when I was playing the part myself.

But the real joy of it is getting this cast to play with, and knowing that you’re doing such a small percentage of the job and once it goes into their mouths and their bodies on set then they’re the geniuses who can turn it into good stuff.

Episode one of Killing Eve begins on BBC One on Saturday 15th September at 9.15pm to 10pm and will be available on iPlayer as a box set to binge-watch at the same time.

Images & info - BBC

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