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Emerald Fennell says she could talk about Killing Eve “forever — my husband says I could talk a person to death.“
Fennell knows a thing or two about death, as the showrunner of the second season of BBC America’s breakout drama. The season saw Eve (Sandra Oh) trying to avoid her own demise but also grappling with her darker side and her feelings for her friend/foe/flame Villanelle (Jodie Comer).
Fennell, who took over the showrunner job from Phoebe Waller-Bridge, spoke to THR about the show’s Emmy nominations, why Eve and Villanelle have a unique connection and where the show may go in season three.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge had a golden rule that Villanelle would never use her beauty to get what she wanted. Are there other golden rules?
In general it’s “be honest,” which sounds very extraordinary for a show about murders and assassins and spies. But I think the show is about saying, “OK, well, if I was in such an extraordinary situation, what would I realistically do? As women in peril, what might we do? How do you wash your knickers if you’re on the run? You go to a laundromat.” It’s little things like that — which particularly genre stuff doesn’t address — but the mundane things that come with thinking on your feet are what make this world very detailed and rich and very specifically female, too.
Like when Eve commits a murder in the finale?
Yes, it needed to feel like a woman who had never killed someone having to do it. It needed to feel as horrendous and brutal and sort of inadvertently funny as that would feel. What Phoebe is genius at and what she establishes for everything is psychologically rooting it in the truth. I think that’s why it’s a show that people really feel connected to.
Did you always know you would lead up to that “Killing Eve” title? Or at least so it seems?
Yes, I think so. From the get go, the most pressing question at the end of season one was, “Who’s killing Eve?” Everyone in this world, actually, in a funny way is conspiring to kill her. Whether it’s Villanelle in a literal sense. Then there’s Niko [Owen McDonnell] and how stiflingly domestic we made her life this season. She’s always doing laundry. She’s cooking. It’s the kind of thing that kills a lot of women, domesticity. Historically, women have felt very oppressed by it. And there’s Carolyn [Fiona Shaw] and Kostantin [Kim Bodnia] and someone like Hugo [Edward Bluemel], who is one of those characters who will get what he wants however he wants it and can see people’s weaknesses. But the thing that’s most true to me was Eve herself is the person who does the killing, really. It was important that the conversation at the end of this season is that it needed to be her. She puts herself in peril because the rejection of the thing that she has been so tempted by is the thing that puts her in so much danger. Eve is a good person. At the root of it, whatever that means, she’s a force for good.
Why are Eve and Villanelle so intoxicating to each other?
We talked a lot about heat. Eve is hot and warm and attracts people to her. She is incredibly intuitive and humane. Villanelle is cold. She’s analytical. What’s so electric is the convection of that heat between them. They’re obsessed with each other. But after Eve stabs Villanelle at the end of season one, that is a hard, narcissistic wound to forgive. But this central relationship is incredibly complicated. It’s a love affair. It’s an intellectual obsession. It’s a sort of weird friendship. It’s so many different types of relationships that change a lot because the foundation was built on a quicksand of horror. What would Villanelle and Eve together look like? What is it? Villanelle has a fantasy that’s very clearly drawn of being in a cabin and making each other pasta. But as we know, as Eve knows, and Villanelle probably knows somewhere, the truth of it is that that’s not a life that’s possible in any conceivable way. So when something is completely impossible, what happens then?
They both feel so betrayed by their mentors in the finale and like they can only be loyal to each other that it’s hard not to root for them to run off and pull a Bonnie and Clyde.
You’re quite right. As a writer and as someone who’s obsessed with the show in general and with Jodie and Sandra and their electric chemistry, of course we all want them to do a Bonnie and Clyde and a sort of Natural Born Killers and go on a rampage wearing couture. The wish fulfillment there is so intense. But if you’re a real woman, you’ve just made puree of a man with an axe and the woman who has killed your best friend and isolated you from everyone else could have stopped that from happening. What ruins it for Eve, for both of them, really, is it becoming real. Even though they’re in these ruins, even though they’re in the most beautiful city in the world, even though it’s meant to be that the path is cleared for them, it’s madness. The sheer madness of it is suddenly completely apparent. But you can only see that when you get what you want. Aren’t we all the same? Haven’t we all craved something, desired something, and the anticipation is the thing. The thing itself is too frightening. Or too decadent or too weird. I don’t think Eve was going to be there yet. Villanelle’s disappointment is so immense because she does think they are the same. Eve deep down probably believes that, too, but one of them is a psychopath and one isn’t. Psychologically, you can’t shy away from the fact that they are different creatures fundamentally, on a chemical level. It remains to be seen to what extent Villanelle has been changed by Eve.
Season two ends in a mirror image to season one but reverses on who is violently injured. What’s next?
What will be really interesting in season three is, we’ve got them both now. When I came on to season two, we were all like, “How do we get around the fact that Eve has stabbed the most violent psychopath and the most efficient assassin?” And, of course, what Killing Eve always does and what it will do for season three is it will say, “What would we do?” So much for me that was intriguing about season two was the fallout from season one. It’s really easy to skip forward a few months and everyone’s sexy again. But how do you survive something? Imagine stabbing someone. Imagine killing someone with an axe. It’s completely unfathomable, and it can’t be brushed to one side. Ever. Honestly, it only gets more interesting and dark from here because we never say in this show, “OK, now everything’s just changed. People just fundamentally change.” It’s a constant ebb and flow. It was important that Eve dipped her toe in that shark tank and then understandably recoiled. Because that’s who she is. But you know, how long can it go on before it is completely fatal? That was always our question. It’s already fatal. It’s a proper fatal attraction that these two have.
What other show is a hot topic in your writers room?
My complete obsession at the moment, which obviously hadn’t come out yet, is Succession. It’s savage, oh my God. When Kieran Culkin tears up that million-dollar check — for me, that was as bad as when Villanelle murdered Gabriel, the boy in the hospital.
They’re already shooting season three of Killing Eve, but would you want to pop up as an actress and get killed in a savage way by Jodie?
Oh my God, can you imagine? Everyone wants Jodie to stab them in the throat, don’t they? Jodie could axe me in the face any day. She’s welcome to. (Laughs.)
Speaking of acting, we’re going to see you onscreen in the third season of The Crown. Why did you want to play Camilla Parker Bowles?
It’s the most riveting show. I think I started shooting a couple weeks after Killing Eve wrapped. These characters are real people, of course, but they’re kind of characters to all of us. Making them real has been amazing. I said to my agent a couple of years ago when The Crown first came out, “One day they’re gonna want Camilla. Please make sure that I can go in for it.” She’s always really fascinated me. There’s so much to that relationship [with Charles] that I didn’t know about and I think isn’t widely known. It’s a very interesting exercise. I have played people who are real in the past, but certainly not as vividly known in the public eye, and especially someone who is a controversial figure. What’s so, so great, and in a way not unlike Killing Eve, is taking things that are ambiguous and really getting to the human side of someone who has just existed in the tabloids, I suppose. I’ve been so lucky. It’s the most joyful set. The most lovely people. Josh [O’Connor], who plays Charles, gives the most brilliant performance I’ve ever seen. All of a sudden I’m in a scene with him and I’m just kind of watching and then I forget I’m supposed to be acting. (Laughs.) He’s so good. These last couple of years working with so many incredible people and, particularly, so many incredible women, have felt like once in a lifetime.
Oh, I know! Oscar winner! God, is she extraordinary as the Godmother. Everyone on Fleabag should have an Emmy. The fox should get an Emmy! But I mean, I cried the whole way through it. It’s just so heartbreaking. It was like falling in love actually. It was absolutely as bad as being heartbroken. For Phoebe to have created two shows like Fleabag and Killing Eve literally on top of each other that are so brilliant yet so different is just a testament to her genius. When you look at Phoebe, and you look at this Emmys, you see all the women that have been nominated because of her and whose lives have been changed because she really, deeply believes in collaborating and being incredibly generous. Someone used an expression the other day, which I’ll get wrong, but it’s something about “a rising tide carrying all ships.” Her tide has carried so many people. Only someone like her has the ability to do that. I feel so grateful to be able to do all of the different things that I love. I can’t believe it. It’s been wonderful.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Two Networks Are Better Than One
After Killing Eve became a hit in season one, BBC America called in sister network AMC — which is available in about 10 million more homes than BBC America — to maintain the momentum for season two. Both channels simulcast all episodes of the series. “When we launched Killing Eve on BBC America last year we had high hopes, but no idea it would become this obsession,” said Sarah Barnett, president of entertainment networks for AMC Networks, of the move. “We want to expose this brilliant series to the largest audience we can.” Eve was one of only a handful of shows to consistently grow its audience week to week in 2018, with the season finale drawing 1.25 million viewers with three days of delayed viewing, 86 percent more than the premiere. The show also doubled its adults 18-49 and 25-54 viewership from premiere to finale. — T.B.
The drama made a huge stand with season two, entering the drama series race and upping its overall nominations tally to nine after the modest deuce it earned for its first season. Stars Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer are vying against each other, as they do on the BBC America series, only this time in the lead actress race. Oh has been on a real tear of late, hosting and winning at the Golden Globes, but Comer heads into the Emmys fresh off of a win at the BAFTAs. Can Eve crack the series race? If you could take a certain network out of the equation — cough, cough, HBO — it wouldn’t be out of the question. — MICHAEL O’CONNELL
A version of this story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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