'Killing Eve' Head Writer on Season 3 Advice From Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Drama Series - Killing Eve -BBCAMERICA Publicity-H 2020
Courtesy of BBCAMERICA/SID GENTLE

Suzanne Heathcote led both Eve and Villanelle into their pasts to bring them together for a slightly less bloody finale: "We’d seen acts of violence from one to the other both seasons prior."

When Suzanne Heathcote was tapped to lead the writers room for the third season of BBC America's hit Killing Eve (the show brings in a new head writer for every season), she says she didn't sleep "for months. In the lead-up you're going for all the meetings and you think, 'God, I really want this job,' and then you find out you've got it and suddenly you're terrified because the reality of what the gig is hits you." Indeed, the first two seasons of the show were critical hits and resulted in 11 Emmy nominations (and a win in 2019 for Jodie Comer for lead actress). But the third season, which saw Comer and Sandra Oh's characters continuing their cat-and-mouse, enemies-but-maybe-lovers dance, earned eight noms, including actress nods for both Oh and Comer and best drama series.

British writer Heathcote spoke to The Hollywood Reporter by phone from London about the advice she got from executive producer Phoebe Waller-Bridge, collaborating with Oh and Comer, and how she absorbs (or doesn't) fan reactions.

Were there any tips or advice that previous lead writers Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Emerald Fennell gave you as you embarked on this journey?

There was a lot really, but predominantly it was "go with your gut," and really stick to your instincts and stick to your guns. It sounds like an easy thing to do, but actually you do have to shut out the noise — I went offline because, I mean, there are amazing fans with this show, it's one of those shows that's just got an incredible fan base who are so loyal and passionate, but there are so many opinions and thoughts and wants and desires, and you just have to tune everything out in order to really focus on these characters.

When you were starting out, how did you decide the direction that this season would go in for both these main characters?

With season one and season two, there was no gap between that time frame. So it's a really short period of time and Eve's stabbed Villanelle and she's obviously been in huge amounts of danger, and then she has killed a man with an ax and then she's shot and left for dead. Enormous things have happened to her, violent acts both to and by her [at the top of the season]. And so we really looked at where is she in that and who she feels she is right now. I spoke to Sandra a lot about it as well, and it was about her really isolating herself from the world and actually feeling like she is a dangerous person. With Villanelle, she had been really stripped of everything in season two and at the end is left very much on her own. So, it was about trying to reinvent herself and saying, "I want to do everything on my terms now."

This season there were a few nods to Sandra and Eve's Korean background, with her working in a Korean restaurant. How did those moments come about?

That was a lot of Sandra. We had come up with the idea of New Malden — it's the biggest Korean community outside Korea, it's just outside London. A lot of British people don't even know that. So when I spoke with Sandra about it, she really liked that idea, and then she suggested the Korean restaurant. We had come up with something else and she said, "No, no I think she should be in the kitchen, she should be making mandu [dumplings]." It was just a really lovely flourish at the start of the season.

The first and second seasons ended violently, but would you say this third season's ending was different in tone or purpose?

We talked a lot about the ending, and I felt it was very important that it actually wasn't violent. We'd seen acts of violence from one to the other both seasons prior. And I felt whatever it was, they had to be together in some way. So we had loads of versions but ultimately the one we ended with was really about both women acknowledging each other and the importance of the other in their life. So that felt tonally very different and, I think, earned by this season. The relationship has really developed, they are different people to the people we first met in season one. That is evident by the ending.

When you were wrapping up the season, how much were you already talking or thinking about where it goes in season four?

That is handed over to the brilliant [season four lead writer] Laura Neal. I have fully stepped away. I'm seeing Laura tonight actually, but, as with every time I see her, I'm not going to press her for story info. For two reasons: One, I am a fan like everyone else — I just want to tune in next season and see what they've done with it, but also I know what the process is and I understand from Laura's perspective. There is so much going on, and the last thing she needs is me pushing her for story details for season four.

This third season was released in April, during the pandemic. What was it like having it come out during such an unusual time?

It was so intense in as much as I was locked at home when the show aired and there was nothing else for me to distract myself. Obviously I hoped people would enjoy it, but there is a lot of pressure with the show. I would watch the episodes and even though I'd obviously seen them previously, there is something about the experience of watching it knowing that this is what everyone is seeing. I pretty much came off all social media before the show aired. I just felt that I needed to remove myself again. I knew that there would be varied opinions on everything. So I decided to remove myself from the noise of that, which actually also, given the lockdown, was good because I didn't want to spend hours and hours on the internet deep diving into everyone's thoughts and critiques and opinions. I was like, "I just have to know that this is happening and really hope that people are enjoying it and that it's a really welcome distraction at a difficult time."

Interview edited for length and clarity.

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And The Odds Are...

Three could be the magic number in this year's drama race. Five of the eight series competing for the top prize are being recognized for the work in their third seasons, but some have more of an edge than others. For Killing Eve, a darling in its first two years for performances by Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer and a freshman run written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the momentum may have stalled. Ozark and The Crown, also nominated for their third seasons, seem better positioned to win this category — while Killing Eve seems on a relatively even playing field with 2017 winner The Handmaid's Tale and perennial runner-up Stranger Things. In short: It doesn't look great, especially on the heels of a tepidly received third outing, but never discount community favor for Oh or 2019 lead actress winner Comer. — MICHAEL O'CONNELL

This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.