Killing Eve writer on Villanelle: "Her responses to normal things make her unbelievably watchable"
Interview with Emerald Fennell - the Lead Writer and Executive Producer for series two of Killing Eve
Killing Eve - season two
Multi award-winning cat-and-mouse thriller returns to the UK on June 8
Were you a fan of season one? And did that give you a fresh perspective on how to approach season two?
I was a huge a fan of season one and I knew a bit about the show and its writing process from Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who is a good friend. However, nothing could have prepared me for how brilliant it was when it came out and, like everyone else, I was obsessed. We actually started writing before season one had come out, so had no idea it was going to be as popular with the world as it was with us.
It is difficult to work on something when you are a fan. It is tempting to do what you have secretly dreamed of doing while watching it. I loved the characters so much and Phoebe was brilliant at building such a beautiful and rich world. Going in to it as someone who really loved the characters was heavenly to do.
Killing Eve is a dance between the hunter and the hunted in season one, how does this dynamic evolve in season two?
Season one was a cat-and-mouse [game] between Eve and Villanelle, and the dynamic is still there. Eve and Villanelle are these two women who cannot help but be in each other’s vortex. The question for season two, is how the power dynamic has changed in their relationship and what it means for these women’s lives.
How does the relationship between Eve and Villanelle evolve in season two?
It is constantly evolving, like all complicated relationships do. All of the hallmarks from last season are still there: the obsession, the fascination and inability to leave it alone, even though it is compromising. What we see this year is that the women are bonded in a sadomasochistic way by an act of extraordinary violence. It has changed their lives massively in different ways and it is now more dangerous than it was.
What are the key story themes that continue and develop in season two?
The theme which was started so beautifully by Phoebe is that of the nature of good and evil: what makes you a good or bad person? What is fascinating about this show is that we have two objectively different characters. It seems clear-cut that Villanelle is an assassin and Eve is this kind, intuitive and empathetic person. But the question of who is good and who is evil isn’t always clear. No matter what Villanelle did people still loved her, and the darker Eve got, people still felt the same towards her.
It is tempting to do the very spy genre thing and start the season six months later where everyone is healed. However, we wanted to pick up directly after the fallout of such a momentous thing. For me, the question is how do you get home - both physically and metaphorically - when you have done something so shocking. I was also interested in looking at their relationship as some sort of addiction and how it is the worst hangover ever. It is the darkest night of the soul where you have done something bad and you have to face yourself. How do you look yourself in the mirror when you do things that you have been taught your whole life not to do? That’s also at the core of this whole series.
Killing Eve is an unusual show about two powerful and deeply imperfect women. Is this helping breathe new life into the spy genre?
Killing Eve is a spy show, but it establishes what it is to be a spy by showing all the mundane, real stuff. So much of the spy stuff that is out there is procedural, whereas in this show we try to shy away from that as it’s less interesting. What is interesting to us is how it compromises your relationships, how you learn to lie to those who are close to you, where you get a coffee if you are working in the MI6 building, and the day-to-day concerns. You rarely see that in the spy genre. It’s showing the ordinary even though you are dealing with extraordinary things.
Do the light-hearted, comedic aspects of the show work to help the dark moments even more disturbing? How do they play off of each other?
The tone of Killing Eve is unique. It is reflected in Phoebe’s writing where there is a dark, savage, rich humour, and it’s a delicate line to tread. You have to be conscious that jokes aren’t too gaggy. The root of it is in the world she has established - things are funny because they are true. They are also surprising because they are surprising, and if people are shocked it is not for plot sake. For example, Eve stabbing Villanelle is a moment of pure instinct. In most shows you would get a big build up for a plot twist like that. But with this show it just feels like a part of someone’s journey. We are so used to seeing acts of violence on screen that we have forgotten to ask what it would feel like to actually look someone in the face and stab them.
The crucial thing is to be honest and then everything else falls into place. It also helps if you have a horribly dark sense of humour and a fetish for violence!
Killing Eve takes place in cities like Paris, Amsterdam, Rome and London. Do these different cities add a unique flavour to the backdrop of the show?
The locations are so important because where they choose to film in a city is very clever and not often obvious. You won’t have the Arc de Triomphe in Paris but you will have an underpass with some old French graffiti. If you are chasing after someone or running for your life, you are not going to be standing beautifully under the Arc de Triomphe! This show is so unusual because we have the means to do things like shut down whole streets in Paris, or take over whole sections of Amsterdam.
How would you describe Eve?
Eve is like all the best characters because she is inconsistent, and that makes her fascinating. She’s also instinctive, which means a lot of the time she doesn’t know what she is doing until she has done it. She is actually much more the maverick character than Villanelle, who is more like the classic slightly unhinged psychopath.
Eve has the elements to even frighten herself, because she does things that she doesn’t expect to. She is always an incredibly kind person with too much empathy. It’s her empathy that makes her vulnerable to someone like Villanelle - how can you empathise with someone who doesn’t have human relations like other people? There are elements to Eve which make her funny and touching. She has the ability to see things as they are even when they are over the top. She is very human and has similar reactions that the audience might have if they were in the same situation.
Eve’s job is also really interesting and it was important for me to root the story in something real. It is actually very difficult to become an MI6 agent or an official agent of any kind, so I needed to think about what kind of role she could have. She is an outsider but still has all the access. In her position she has one foot in and one foot out, which is a dangerous place to be.
How would you describe Villanelle?
Villanelle is an iconic dresser and completely fascinating human. It is important to remember that she is a person who is not quite the same as anyone else - she is a psychopath. There is a temptation to give Villanelle empathy and human emotions, but you have to be careful and maintain that you never quite know if she is telling the truth. Similarly to Eve, who doesn’t know what is happening most of the time, Villanelle thinks she knows but she doesn’t.
Villanelle’s off humour is incredibly pleasurable to write for, and her responses to normal things make her unbelievably watchable. She is capable of making attachments, so there is this ongoing question of how human is she.
What do Jodie and Sandra bring to their roles?
Jodie is a completely, extraordinary genius. Villanelle could have been an over-the-top villain, but Jodie has kept her very real and grounded. She has the ability to transform without really doing much other than changing her face posture and voice.
Sandra is one of the most talented actresses in the world and she brings humour, honesty and charm to Eve. The problem with a character like Eve, who is shambolic, is that there is a temptation to be slapstick. Sandra avoids this by bringing a sense of warmth to Eve. She is also one of the most dedicated and precise actors there is.
What would you like an audience to take away from Killing Eve?
I would like the show to cause you to have a gasp-type laugh, where you can’t help but laugh no matter how horrific the situation. I would also love them to walk away with a feeling of not knowing whose side they are on.
Pictured: Emerald Fennell with Lead Director / Exec Producer Damon Thomas