Based on a series of stories by Luke Jennings, “Killing Eve” follows the underachieving British intelligence agent Eve Polastri (the “Grey’s Anatomy” alum Sandra Oh, also an associate producer) as she tracks a glamorous, young female assassin known as Villanelle (Jodie Comer) across Europe. Spy thrillers almost never cast women as both the cat and the mouse, and this one also features an equally rare female presence behind the camera: The English writer and actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who created and starred in the pitch-black comedy “Fleabag,” is the series’s lead writer, showrunner and executive producer.
Ms. Waller-Bridge realized early on that Eve and Villanelle were more than just hero and villain; they were two broken women whose flaws bound them together in a twisted pas de deux. “Female obsession with other females is rife,” she said recently. “I’ve been obsessed with too many women — way more than I have been with men.”
Killing Eve” is an unusual show about two powerful — and deeply imperfect — women. What attracted each of you to it?
PHOEBE WALLER-BRIDGE I felt an affinity to Eve. And I knew Villanelle would be a challenge, but the idea of writing somebody who is utterly unforgivable was too delicious to turn down. To me, everyone has the side they present, and then they have their inner darkness. I picked up that that’s what Luke was really writing about. These two women were so polarized that it felt like one of them was the shadow of the other.
JODIE COMER As soon as I saw that Phoebe had written it, I wanted to do it. When I thought of [a character who was] an assassin, I pictured a woman in a black leather leotard and thought, “Oh God, I don’t know if that’s me.” But then I read the script, and it was like nothing I’d ever seen on screen. Villanelle wasn’t a stereotype. There was a lot of humanity and humor to her.
SANDRA OH Television is potentially multiple years of commitment, and what you’re going on [when you sign on to a show] is the relationship and the idea. I loved the idea, and I wanted to see if Phoebe and I could fall in love. The first time we spoke, on Skype, we were wearing the same color, red. The next time we met, we were wearing the same pants. Those things are neither here nor there, but when you’re falling in love with someone, they become magical.
It’s rare that the hero and the villain of a spy thriller are both women. How do you think gender shaped Eve and Villanelle’s relationship?
WALLER-BRIDGE I loved the idea that these two women don’t even have to see each other to feel each other’s presence. They give each other life in a way that’s more complex than a romantic relationship. It’s sexual, it’s intellectual, it’s aspirational. And I loved experimenting with how women can [expletive] each other up — like Villanelle sending Eve clothes. She doesn’t send her a finger. She sends her a dress that fits her better than anything has ever fit her, and that suits her better than anything has ever suited her.
While the women are playing cat and mouse, many of the men play traditionally female roles. Eve has to save her former superior, Frank (Darren Boyd), who becomes a sort of damsel in distress. Eve’s husband, Niko (Owen McDonnell), tends to wait at home worrying about her.
WALLER-BRIDGE: I was aware of the gender flip, but it wasn’t something I was consciously trying to do. All I’m ever striving for is to make the characters feel truthful, but also surprising. And the glory of it is that the men in the show — even the good men — still underestimate or miss the point of Villanelle. That they haven’t for a second imagined she might be a threat — whereas every single woman in the world imagines for a split second that the man she is about to go on a date with, or the man that she just met in the corridor, might be a threat. That’s a calculation you make all the time that men don’t make — and it’s catnip for Villanelle.
There is a physical urgency to Eve and Villanelle’s mutual fascination, even though they only have a few scenes together.
WALLER-BRIDGE You can feel that there’s an unrest in both of them at the beginning. In the books the characters don’t meet until much later, but I felt strongly that they needed to cross paths in the first episode — because something physical and raw happens in that first meeting.
COMER Villanelle’s ego goes through the roof when she finds out there’s this woman after her. Eve has a job and a home and is happily married, and Villanelle craves that. Human behavior captivates her, and she wants to be a part of it, but she’s such a complicated person that it can’t happen.
Did Sandra and Jodie observe each other’s performances in the scenes they didn’t share?
WALLER-BRIDGE Not at all. They were only on set [at the same time] when they were acting together. It helped, because of the anticipation of knowing that half the show is being carried by your character’s nemesis, and that you never get to see their world. Sandra and Jodie were both so fearless about imbuing each other’s characters with complexity that by the time they did meet, in the kitchen scene at the end of Episode 5, their chemistry was really fizzing.
OH The first iteration of that scene was the audition scene for Jodie. I learned that she was a fantastic dance partner, and I couldn’t wait to see how she surprised me. Then, we basically didn’t see each other for three months.
Read all at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/25/arts/television/killing-eve-sandra-oh.html