“Villanelle is in a completely different, vulnerable setting [at the beginning of series two], and her clothes are completely different,” explains Sandra Oh.
Everyone’s favorite fashion-forward assassin and the MI5 agent that’s totally obsessed with her, Killing Eve, proved to be quite the television phenomenon. The Phoebe Waller-Bridge penned series starring Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer felt like a total revelation of the spy thriller genre. Equal parts hilarious and haunting, terrifying and topsy-turvy, it seems as though everyone we know is on absolute tenterhooks waiting to know where the series will land when it finally returns (TBA in the UK, 7 April on BBCAmerica in the States). Naturally, we felt compelled to find out more.
Thankfully, as an intelligence agent of a different source—gaining insight into the inner workings of entertainment media—we had the opportunity to hear directly from the women of the series just what to expect at the Television Critics Association’s 2019 Winter Press Tour in California. And given that this was the first time the press was meeting the series’ new showrunner, comedian, writer and actress Emerald Fennell, there were plenty of things to discuss…
New showrunner, new situations
We know, we know: Phoebe Waller-Bridge is our favorite, too. But there seems to be nothing to worry about when it comes to the show having a new showrunner: Waller-Bridge hand-picked Fennell to take over running things before the show premiered.
“I don’t know how much you guys know,” Oh explained, “but Emerald and Phoebe are friends, and had been for a long time. I just feel like they have a kinship; the sensibility, where they come from, their humor, their style. And Emerald has her own voice entirely, but it really moves from one hand to a similar hand.”
When we asked Fennell about taking on the show that had become a phenomenon very closely associated with a creator celebrated for her singular voice and style, she was candid. “It’s terrifying but amazing. I think I was lucky that I came on board before it came out, so the explosion of joy and interest, and attention, kind of came after we’d already sort of started envisioning series two. Otherwise I might have been hiding under the bed, really.”
Actress Fiona Shaw, who plays Oh’s character’s duplicitous MI6 boss Carolyn Martens, was also quick to support their new woman-in-command. “I was summoned to meet Emerald very early on, and there she was, looking beautiful, very witty. And you think, ‘well, you know, has Phoebe Waller-Bridge gone sort of twin?’ or something. It was just gorgeous, and she was so confident. You just charged straight in. It was great.”
She went on to champion the extensive behind-the-scenes work of Executive Producer and series mastermind, Sally Woodward Gentle, whom Shaw called a, “genius to put Phoebe and those books together. That was a sort of gold panning idea … a very good combination.” But she also made sure to show why these two women are perfect arbiters for the series itself.
“There’s something about Phoebe’s humor, and Emerald’s humor, that is about the instability of the time that we’re living in now. And, maybe you’re not in any instability in America but we certainly are in the UK.”
Cat vs. Mouse? Cat vs. Cat? Or Mouse vs. Mouse?
Naturally, the relationship at the center is certainly the series’ biggest draw, and the way the actresses at the heart of it tease that out will expand deliciously in season two. Particularly because of where we left things in season one: Eve Polastri (Oh), having finally tracked down an increasingly in-trouble Villanelle (Comer) following a double-cross of aggravating proportions by both of their bosses (Eve’s being the aforementioned Carolyn), has stabbed the assassin-y apple of her eye. With an injured Villanelle on the run and an emotional and erratic Eve on her tail, things are only going to get more complicated than they already were.
“I think what is most interesting about Eve’s stabbing Villanelle at the end of series one is Villanelle’s reaction to it,” explained Comer. “And how she perceives that, emotionally. And I think it both affects them and changes them in a way neither of them are quite expecting.”
Oh quickly added, “I think you see them vulnerable in slightly different ways. They’ve crossed the line and there’s kind of no going back. I think we have a lot of energy at the beginning of the series that pushes both of them into a different place of vulnerability.”
And it’s something the other actors and creatives involved love to watch play out, both on-screen and in-person. “when you ask about the relationship between [Eve and Villanelle], they almost don’t know—no more than any of us know—what we’re gonna be like tomorrow,” explained Shaw. “So it makes everybody act differently, I certainly feel it, and I think the other two too.”
“I actually really like the fact that we can’t put our finger on it,” Comer added.
Plus, Shaw responded, “Jodie’s a chameleon, I mean it’s fantastic to have such a chameleon in the middle of this show. She could turn into a lizard tomorrow.”
“Literally any minute,” Comer quipped back.
This reptilian quality, based on the two new episodes that were screened for critics, will certainly come in handy for what comes next. “[A]t the start of the series we Villanelle in a very different way. She’s completely – she has no control of the situation.”
And that’s putting it lightly. Comer is referring to a new guest star this season, played by the unnervingly funny Julian Barratt of The Mighty Boosh fame (among other things). His character is…a bit of an oddball, to say the least. And with him, Villanelle must tread incredibly lightly. “Julian Barratt is just the greatest, we had so much fun shooting [his scenes]. And I think that can be seen through the storyline, you know?”
But Comer won’t be the only one with a new person of interest: a replacement female assassin working for The Twelve, the shadow organization with ties to both Villanelle’s handler Konstantin, and Martens. Will her obsessions be tested? If Fennell’s musings have anything to say about it, yes. “Eve has a particular sense for women and female assassins. And so what is really interesting is saying, ‘Okay, well, what do we do when somebody else comes along? Do we find Eve is an assassin expert, female assassin expert, or is she a Villanelle expert? And what does that mean for her? What does mean for Carolyn for her job?’ Because we know she’s brilliant and she knows Villanelle inside-out.”
And don’t worry, Woodward Gentle has already thought about the repercussions of that when it comes to our equally-as-enamored assassin. “What would happen to Villanelle as well if she thought that Eve’s gaze wasn’t always on her? That’s really interesting.”
The pull of side-interests aside, Fennell knows what the heart of the series is and always will be: Eve and Villanelle. “It always comes down to a fundamental sort of Harry Potter-ish core: the gravitational pull that Eve and Villanelle feel towards each other.”
Oh, and also all the murder and the fashion.
Exploring that addictive intersection of psychopathy and style
“When I started working on the show I’d get texts from people saying, ‘Did you ever think about maybe if someone like poison?’” Fennell explained to laughs. “I suddenly realized how homicidal my friends were, because I would get texts in the middle of the night of ways to kill people, mostly from the mother. A bit worried for my dad.”
It seems as though everyone is obsessed with murder and psychopathy these days, what with all the documentaries and true crime podcast, to say nothing of the fictionalized adaptations. But Fennell believes it’s not as surface-level as a gawkering interest. “I mean, I think it shows how many of us are monsters, because the darker the humor gets, the more people get it, and appreciate it,” she offered. “That’s sort of Phoebe’s genius and the genius of the performers, knowing where that line is. … There’s never a sense of mugging, there’s never a sense that this is a workplace comedy. I think the realness of it is what feels so appealing, certainly to me.”
Woodward Gentle went on to add that, “It’s the freedom to be naughty and to enjoy being naughty. Because we all really want to do that, but so many of us are sort of too buttoned up.
“What Villanelle does to a degree of sorts is wish fulfillment—we all wish we could do stuff where we don’t feel the consequences, and yet most of us as human beings feel that consequence and it stops us being bold or taking difficult decisions, so I think that’s what’s such good fun about it, too.”
Of course, several journalists in the audience were curious, given Villanelle’s seeming love for Eve, and her obsession with fashion: is Villanelle really a psychopath? Or can Eve actually save her?
Comer, naturally, was quick to jump in. “I remember having a lot of conversations with Phoebe before we started, and it was something that we didn’t want to kind of be stuck to,” she explained. “I think she has a lot of traits. There are these characteristics of her—her lack of remorse, the lack of humanity—but it’s something I never wanted to be stuck to. I think what we explore within the series [are] these little moments where you think, “Oh my god, we know her, she’s showing remorse, she has feelings.’ And then just as you think that, she does something where you go, ‘No, I just don’t even know this girl at all.’ So I think what we’ve really played with and explored a little bit more [this year, as well as] the kind of exploration of her emotions through the personas that she’s having to put on.”
Fennell also informed the press that the series has a person on-staff that is a—their words—psychopath expert. “We have a psychopath expert on the show who we’re all completely obsessed with. And the thing is about psychopaths is they show traits, but [they’re] still looking for a connection. In fact, for a lot of psychopaths, what is very distressing [is the awareness] that there’s something you’re missing and you can’t find it. And in a way that’s a very human, deeply human trait.”
And there may be no more human trait in Villanelle than her consumerism when it comes to clothes. Perhaps the biggest breakout star—even more so than Comer or the awards darling Oh—is the show’s costumes. The dresses, coats, shirts, and other sartorial items are as refined as they do define the characters who wear them, especially if Villanelle has something to do with it. So while it may seem like all extravagance and fun and filler, it’s one of the things the team considers the most.
“It’s much more particular when it comes to costume, on this show, almost more than any other, because Villanelle fetishizes clothes,” Fennell explained. “She’s a woman who’s a planner, but she also takes great pleasure in clothes, and that’s something I personally really relate to. We have an amazing team of people who come together and bring amazing stuff to us, but also you have to be pretty specific. Something that Phoebe really established is precision and detail, just because clothes often are thought of as being something frivolous—maybe because they’re thought of as being feminine—but we all know, as women, how powerful clothes and appearance can be as a weapon, and so it’s important that each thing is very singular.”
“Villanelle is in a completely different, vulnerable setting [at the beginning of series two],” Oh stated, “and her clothes are completely different. So then when moves out of [that] setting, we see how much her clothing means to her.”
The first series of Killing Eve debuted on BBC America before hitting British screens in September last year. Season two is set for a Spring 2019 premiere in the U.S. but it is likely that BBC One will look to broadcast the show in the U.K. soon after this. We just don’t know when yet…