The Fall’s Gillian Anderson, Jamie Dornan and EP/Creator Allan Cubitt Talk Character, Season 2 and Beyond
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
Series stars Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan, as well as creator/writer/EP Allan Cubitt attended last week’s Winter 2015 TCAs for Netflix. TV Goodness had the pleasure of hearing them speak about The Fall and we wanted to share all the juicy tidbits they were allowed to discuss regarding their characters, this season and what next season and the end of the series might look like.
There’s something interesting about making a serial killer relatable rather than making him out to be some sort of inhuman monster or someone of higher aesthetic perception, like in Hannibal. Is some of the intention behind that to make viewers uneasy? If you relate to this character, doesn’t it make his acts seem a little bit closer to home, less out of the realm of possibility for the rest of us?
Allan Cubitt: â€œI think you’re right about that. One of the reasons why The Fall has some of the impact that it seems to have is because it posits the notion that Spector is on a continuum of male behavior. He’s very much out there, but it definitely suggests that there’s a continuity between all kinds of male behavior and what Spector is doing, so that he isn’t a creation, as you say, that’s got almost supernatural powers.
He’s very much an ordinary man and that, I think, is disconcerting for people. It was a deliberate choice to try and create a character that was closer to what I think is the reality of these situations, than some of things we’ve encountered before in film or in fiction.â€
Jamie, can you talk a little bit about your character? He’s a serial murderer, who’s also tender with his daughter. How do you get to playing him? What do you have to go through?
Jamie Dornan: â€œI think you’ve really got to cling to what makes sense to you. I’m obviously not a serial murderer in my real life, so that’s where you have to delve in and do all the research.
But you have to find something likable in him. There are qualities to him that I wouldn’t say I admire, but there are qualities to him that I think make him somewhat normal and that we can all understand, like being a relatively good professional and being somewhat of a good father and, I don’t think, a terrible husband, for the most part. So you have to find something human in him that makes sense to you.â€
What sort of research did you do to take on this role?
Jamie: â€œAllan, early on, sent me this list of really horrible literature to read, things like InsideÂ the Mind of a Serial Killer. So I read a few books like that and, more specifically, books on Ted Bundy. There’s so much stuff available online these days, obviously, of things like that. So, [I] watched endless interviews with guys like Bundy and tried to get inside the mind of these guys and work out what it is that makes them the way they are and what leads them to do such heinous things.â€
You play some pretty complicated dudes. Do you look for that?
Jamie: â€œI’m a pretty complicated dude myself, obviously. No, I mean, look, you want roles that challenge you and that scare you a little and that you can really discover something, even about yourself, that maybe you didn’t understand.
I’ve been lucky recently to have roles like that. With Spector, I’d never even had an opportunity toÂ â€‘â€‘ I was just never in a room, in a situation, an audition where I was even in a conversation to be considered to play someone like him. With the way my career was at the time, certainly was not being given the opportunities to read, to play people like Spector, never mind to actually attain that character.â€
Gillian, you’ve been working a lot in a lot of different roles in these last few years. What about this role do you find is set apart from those others and what about it do you enjoy returning to when you came back for season 2 and then, hopefully, seasonÂ 3?
Gillian Anderson: â€œI felt very strongly, in doing the first season, that Stella was one of my favorite characters I’ve ever played. I still feel that way. She’s one of the most interesting and compelling and complex characters I’ve ever had an opportunity to spend time with.
This series is probably the favorite thing that I do. That’s everything to do with the way that it’s shot, the fact that it’s shot in Northern Ireland, the company that we work with, the crew, obviously, the quality of the writing. So, I hope we get to do this for many more seasons, not just number 3.â€
Allan, it’s said that you wrote the part with Gillian in mind. What did you do, in writing it with her in mind, to make it something for her?
Allan: â€œI had always thought that Gillian would be the best person to play the part. I’d written three episodes of seasonÂ 1, I think. We approached Gillian and met and talked it through. I was in the incredibly gratifying position of her saying that she was interested in doing it.
It’s not very often that you get your first choice of actor. That sets the project off in a really good way, because I’ve done a lot of work over the years and casting can scupper things completely, particularly if you’re in a position where you’ve got a green light and you’re going and you’ve got to find someone to play a key role and the people you want are unavailable or don’t want to do it and you find yourself sometimes compromising in a way that’s really bad for the project.
So having your first choice available to you is an incredible gift in itself. What that meant was I wrote 4 and 5 of seasonÂ 1 with Gillian in mind; then, of course, all of seasonÂ 2, knowing she was going to play it.
I’ve had the experience of writing for actors.Â You hear their voice in your head. I think you try to play to their strengths as an actor. You have a sense of what it is that they’re particularly good at. I think it means that you can write, for example, really quite an underwritten, concise, payâ€‘itâ€‘back scene, knowing that you have an actor who is capable of imbuing it with all the emotion and the intelligence and the subtext that you want there.
So writing for anyone who’s incredibly brilliant is a fantastic thing to be able to do. Often, otherwise, you’re writing scenes, thinking, â€˜I hope I can find someone who will be able to play this.â€™â€
What were some of the characteristics that the character had that you saw as overlapping with the skills of Gillian?
Gillian: â€œI’m wondering the same thing.â€
Allan: â€œIt was very much part of casting Jamie as well. One of the reasons why I thought she is the best actress of her generation is because she is incredibly focused, understated, truthful, detailed, intelligent, with an underpinning of emotion that she chooses, for the most part, to keep in check.
So given that I had decided, in the creation of Gibson in the first place, that she would be a relatively enigmatic character, that she would not be a character that came to the screen with tons of baggageÂ â€‘â€‘ I mean, the very first time we see her in episode 1 of seasonÂ 1, she’s in sweatpants and she’s got a face mask on.
Obviously, that was, in some ways, symbolic, which is that she is someone who can assume a mask. But, of course, the thing about The Fall is that it suggests that we all assume masks.
One of the exciting things about going into the second season was the opportunity to let that mask slip slightly to show greater depths to her character and so on. But at the same time, as a professional woman in a highâ€‘powered position in media focus and because she believes that what she’s doing is the most important thing that she could be doing in the world, to protect and preserve life, particularly female life, then clearly she’s someone who is going to have to put on a front to meet the world in some kind of way.
So when we see her arrive in Belfast in seasonÂ 1, episode 1, there she is in her coat, her heels, looking fantastic, coming into the thing, going, â€˜Okay. Now I’m ready to do my job of work.â€™ So I don’t know whether that’s an answer or not, but all of those things. What I also knew was that, in finding a Spector, we had to have someone who could in some way hold the screen with Gillian, which is a tall order, to be fair.â€
Talk about the relationship between Paul and Katie. Is it a hundred percent that he’s manipulating her or does he see a kindred spirit in this girl?
Jamie: â€œI think there’s elements of both of that, but I’ll let Allan explain more.â€
Allan: â€œI think it’s got a complex dynamic between them. I find it interesting. Gibson questions him about the need to corrupt someone in that way and what on Earth he could be gaining from it. But Spector’s a character who is always looking to exercise his will, his power in his attempts to control everything around him. She falls into that territory in some way. He clearly sees her as being useful, someone that he feels can do his bidding in some way.
But I was interested in the way in which a lot of these individuals who prey on other human beings are alert to vulnerability. They recognize something in peopleÂ â€‘â€‘ we read about this sort of thing before. The kind of children who are vulnerable to adults abusing them are often conspicuously needy themselves.
So from the point of view of KatieÂ â€‘â€‘ I think it relates to Gibson as well, actually, because Gibson has an affinity with Katie in some way — possibly there’s the business of losing a father at a particular point in your life, being vulnerable and open. So her feelings, I think, are complex.
She’s clearly, in some ways, flattered by his attention. She is perhaps in love with him in some misguided kind of way. It’s a very new experience for her. She uses it to try and impress her cooler, sexier, more experienced friend. I think it’s quite typical teenage behavior in some respects, particularly if there’s an area of vulnerability there. But, of course, to use a cliche, she’s playing with fire and doesn’t perhaps quite realize it.
I don’t think it’s completely clear to me whether she thinks that he is the hoaxer or the murderer orÂ â€‘â€‘ it’s still, I think, for her, in a realm of fantasy in some way. But there is a reality coming through strongly now. At the end of the second season, she’s facing a court case and possibly some proper punishment for her behavior. I think it’s all of those things. I think it’s, hopefully, quite complex.â€
Jamie, you have a lot of intense scenes. How do you make the best of those scenes and get through them?
Jamie: â€œYou just have to rely on professionalism and see it for what it is. You have to keep the intensity there, but you’re still human beings and it’s still a bizarre position to be putting people in, often quite literally in The Fall. It can be uncomfortable.
I personally would just do everything in my power to make the moments before and after the take just very light and try to make jokes with immediate effect because I don’t find it very personally comfortable to stay in the headspace of someone like Spector for too long.Â So, yeah, a lot of apologies. I think I’ve said this before.
If I’m doing something particularly heinous to an actress, I will apologize in advance and say that, â€˜I’m probably not going to derive a huge amount of pleasure out of this. I want you to know that. I hope it all works on screen and it makes sense and it’s all there, but it doesn’t come easy to me.â€™â€
Allan: â€œActors like challenging things to do as well, though. You would say the same thing about the production of King Lear, the blinding of Gloucester or whatever it is. Actors, I think, welcome some of those. But Gillian playing Blanche in Streetcar recently in London to great critical acclaim, what a demanding part that is. It leads up to a complete mental breakdown. But I think those parts are the meatiest and most enjoyable to tackle, I would guess.â€
Gillian: â€œI think that’s a goal of most actors, to stretch and take risks and expand one’s experience and the boundaries of one’s talent. That’s always been my goal and I hear other actors say the same thing. That’s what you do. That’s what we do.â€
If there is a third season, if he dies? Can the story continue with just a different serial killer?
Allan: â€œI can’t answer that at the moment. We’re in a situation where I’m very confident there will be a third season. It hasn’t been officially announced. I think the story can continue, but I’ll have to reserve judgment on that, I think, until I get the green light and the goâ€‘ahead.â€
Do you have an ending in mind? A very popular serial killer show named Dexter was a little disappointing when they finally came to the end of their road.
Allan: â€œI do have an ending in mind. I think the problem for all these longâ€‘running series, even something as substantial as The Sopranos orÂ â€‘â€‘ it remains to be seen how Matthew Weiner comes to end Mad Men.
When it comes to ending those things, you simply cannot please everybody. There’s no possible way around that problem. We’ve seen good shows come to an end, like The Shield or, as I say, Sopranos. Many people were disappointed in the ending of The Sopranos.
I had a an experience when, after James Gandolfini had died, I went back and re-watched the final series. I have to say, the ending of The Sopranos, because I was mourning the loss of him as an actor, I found incredibly powerful, far more powerful than I did when I watched it the first time.
It’s set up so you think that he is doomed in some kind of way, possibly even members of his family are doomed, or at least if Meadow had taken that position next to him, she might end up getting shot, but it just goes to black. It took my breath away, watching it again. But equally you recognize there are people who are going to go, â€˜That’s not a proper ending. That’s an ambiguous ending.â€™
The ending of Breaking Bad, I wasn’t massively sure about myself, but I do think it’s one of those things where, as a writer reaching that point and deciding you’ve come to the point where you’re going to end this thing, you follow your instincts. You do what you think is best, but you cannot please everybody. So there are bound to be people who call it unsatisfactory in some kind of way.â€
There have recently been several sophisticated cop shows with interesting female leads, with The Bridge, The Killing, and even your Prime Suspect. What is it about those shows that has an appeal to an audience? And also, what is it about those kind of shows that appealed to you to write another one?
Allan: â€œThat’s an interesting question. The Killing, I think, acknowledged that Prime Suspect was their reference point, their starting point. For me, the creation of a female character in order to investigate such a dark and complex area as this male violence against women seemed to me to be obvious because I had, broadly speaking, feminist intentions in mind at the start of that. So that was important to me that the main character, the person around whom I built the entire show, was female.
I’ve said this before, but I think, as a writer, a lot of the things we really admire that have been written, there is a desire to put your characters into extreme situations, whether it’s because of some event in life, illness or it’s tragedy or loss, or it could be war, or it could be famine, it could be anything, that allows you to explore human reaction in extreme situations. One of the reasons why The Sopranos was so successful was that it was often a morality play, if you like, where life and death were the stakes.
I think it’s sometimes more difficult to animate domestic drama where the stakes aren’t so high and there’s perhaps less of an appetite for that than there is for the genre pieces like crime genres or whatever. But I think they also allow you to tell complex stories and allow the audience to get involved in the narrative and the way the narrative unfolds. Hospital dramas would be another case in point. These things work, but particularly if you can bring something a little bit fresh to them. They clearly work as genres for people for, I think, all those kinds of fairly straightforward reasons.â€
Edited for space and content.
Season 2 synopsis, from Netflix:
Set in Belfast, Northern Ireland, season two picks up immediately from where series one left off, with Gibson in pursuit of Spector. A personal link from Spectorâ€™s past opens up some clues for Gibson but provokes Spector in a way that threatens to jeopardize the whole investigation. Gibson is forced to take greater risks but the closer she comes to capturing him, the more Spector trespasses into her private world, delighting in taunting and provoking her. As the net gradually tightens around him he becomes psychologically ever more dangerous and destructive.
All 6 episodes of The Fall‘s second season will be available on Friday, January 16th on Netflix.
Season 2 Teaser:
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