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May 23, 2018

Let Us Prey

Telling cat from mouse is tough in this case.

Ann Farmer
  • Sandra Oh as MI5 agent Eve Polastri

    Nick Briggs
  • Phoebe Waller-Bridge

    Sophie Mutevelian

The BBC America thriller Killing Eve pits MI5 agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) against a psychopathic assassin named Villanelle (Jodie Comer).

But it gets hard to say who's pursuing whom. Executive producer-showrunner-writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Oh spoke with emmy's Ann Farmer.

Q: What inspired you to adapt Luke Jennings's book Codename Villanelle?

PWB: Luke's creations just grabbed me by my bones. He was writing Eve and Villanelle with such detail, such interesting character perspectives and such admiration. And, of course, the idea of two women in a cat-and-mouse felt unique.

SO: One reason was Phoebe. She has a bitingly unique voice that I felt so deeply that I understood. And secondly, Eve is so appealing to me. She finds herself plateaued in midlife and becomes ignited and revitalized by her search and relationship and obsession with Villanelle.

Q: The series opens in an ice cream parlor, where Villanelle is eating a sundae and smiling at a young girl. When the child doesn't respond in kind, she knocks over her ice cream.

PWB: I wanted a small way to show that she lives outside the rules of decent human behavior, and that doing so really cracks her up. She's not a moody, bendy, spider-woman. She's a mischievous, murderous rascal. I also wanted to show that she was indiscriminate: if you piss her off, even being an adorable little kid won't save you.

Q: Soon after, we meet Eve, who's also somewhat inappropriate, but at work. She eats noisily in a meeting, for instance, during a serious discussion. What are we to make of her?

SO: What I hope it shows is that she doesn't quite fit in. That she's not that much of a rule-follower.

PWB: I just loved the idea of secret agents being hungover and snack-y in meetings. There's a darker edge to her that slowly reveals itself, but I wanted her to feel relatable at her core, and for me, eating a croissant hungover in a meeting really, really does that!

Q: Phoebe, you've said you wanted to break this series out of the typical espionage-thriller mold and ground it in a more female narrative. How did you do that?

PWB: Filling it to the brim with believable female characters was the first step. Then I suppose demystifying the "spy" character to make Eve more of an every-woman. I really wanted to focus on the psychology of the women — more than the explosions and gadgets.

SO: Honestly, if you just were talking about the fashion elements, there is so much wrapped up in female psychology regarding the fashion styles of Villanelle and Eve.

Q: Yes, Villanelle is quite the fashionista.

PWB: In truth, she doesn't really have anything else to spend her money on. Her flat is paid for, she eats in nice restaurants, she doesn't have any friends. She might as well buy that insane coat and prance around in it until she gets her next job.

Q: Are we supposed to enjoy watching this killer as much as we do?

PWB: I'm afraid so. I really wanted the feeling of: "Oh, she's hilarious…. Oh God, she's murdering someone." Jodie just came alive when she realized she could do pretty much anything she wanted.

Q: Villanelle uses perfume, hairpins, knives and guns to kill. How do you come up with fresh death scenarios?

PWB: We took a lot of inspiration from the books and then occasionally had the whole office throw ideas at us. I got an email from my agent that just said, "Can you mince someone?" Unfortunately we couldn't.

Q: Does one of them have to die in the end?

PWB: Ha, ha! Nice try!


Viewers can catch up on Killing Eve on demand, on the BBCA app or on BBCAmerica.com.


This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 5, 2018


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