By Iain Blair
Killing Eve is more than just one of the most addictive spy thrillers on TV. It’s also a dark comedy, a workplace drama and a globe-trotting actioner that tells the story of two women engaged in an epic game of cat-and-mouse — Eve (Sandra Oh), head of a secret MI6 unit, and Villanelle (Jodie Comer), a beautiful (and strangely likeable) psychopathic assassin Eve’s been tasked to track down.
The award-winning show continues the story of the two women when it returns for its third season, now airing on both BBC America and AMC. Season 3 sees Eve back in action after having survived being shot by Villanelle in the Season 2 finale. Eve is now in Rome and her current MI6 status is in flux after being manipulated by Carolyn (Fiona Shaw), Eve’s boss.
Continuing the show’s tradition of passing the baton to a new female writing voice, Suzanne Heathcote serves as lead writer and executive producer for Season 3, joining executive producers Sally Woodward Gentle, Phoebe Waller-Bridge (who was brought on by Gentle as head writer for Season One), Lee Morris, Gina Mingacci, Damon Thomas, Jeff Melvoin and Sandra Oh. Killing Eve is produced by Sid Gentle Films and is distributed by Endeavor Content.
I recently spoke with Gentle — the BAFTA-winning and Emmy-nominated EP of the dramas Any Human Heart and The Durrells in Corfu — about making the show (based on the books of Luke Jennings) and her workflow.
What can you tell us about Season 3 without giving too much away?
It’s a much more emotional season. We move Eve and Villanelle’s relationship on, and we get to see more of what Villanelle is really about. At the same time, Eve is really tested. We also bring in lots of new characters, which is very exciting, and Carolyn and Konstantin (Villanelle’s handler, played by Kim Bodnia) have got huge roles to play.
The appeal of two female leads seems obvious now, but were there doubts about having them play traditional male roles when you first optioned Jennings’ books?
Not really. In fact, it didn’t even cross my mind. I just felt that people really enjoy having a female assassin, and that it would be great to have another woman chase her. And I didn’t feel that the idea was wildly original. It just felt right, but I knew there were other female assassin shows out there, and I didn’t want people to go, “Oh, there’s La Femme Nikita.” I did feel it was time to do something bolder with it.
Is that how you decided to involve Phoebe Waller-Bridge?
Exactly. I’d read Fleabag and we’d had a meeting, and I just loved her attitude. Back then, she’d only done Fleabag and written some very clever comedy. I loved the idea of putting Luke’s novellas together with her attitude, joie de vivre and love of TV and what it could do. It didn’t feel like, “Wow, this will be earth-shatteringly different!” It just felt like something really interesting to do. Just do it and see what comes out.
You’ve executive produced all three seasons. What are the main challenges of this show?
To keep it feeling really fresh each year, and to not repeat stuff you’ve done. To examine new, different areas of emotional relationships, and to put people under different types of stress. The other big challenge is that we have to turn it around from start to finish in just one year. We have to write all the scripts, shoot them, post them and get them out there in that time. It’s really hard work, both physically and mentally, but a lot of our team’s been here since the start. They love it, and that really helps, and everyone wants to push it a bit harder every season, so we embrace all new ideas.
Is it true that when Sandra Oh was first approached, she didn’t quite believe she was being cast as Eve?
Yeah, she hadn’t pictured herself in the role, but she’s brilliant.
What do Sandra and Jodie bring to the mix?
They bring so much. We were still finishing scripts for Season 1 as we shot, so you can’t help but feed their input into the scripts, and the characters really have so much of the actors’ DNA. They just know them so well and how they’d respond.
You always use great locations. Where did you shoot Season 3?
In Spain, Romania, the UK. We get around!
Where do you post?
All at Molinare in London. We do everything from the edit to the grade, and we do all the sound at Hackenbacker, which is part of Molinare.
Do you like the post process?
I love it and really enjoy it. We have a great post supervisor, Kate Stannard, who’s been on the show since the start. The great thing about post is that you get to rewrite all the raw material and be really creative with it.
Talk about editing. You have several editors, I assume because of the time factor. How does that work?
We have a great team of editors, including Dan Crinnion, who’s been on the show since the start, and an Italian editor Simone Nesti, who does the assembly and who’s also been with us since the start. As soon as a director has finished shooting, we get right in there with the editor who does that block. We shoot in blocks of two episodes,and each block has its own editor and assistants. It’s not a huge team considering the amount of work.
The show is a real genre mash-up — thriller, comedy, action, emotional drama. How do you handle all the shifting tones?
That’s the big editing challenge and the thing we were most concerned about in Season 1 — that Eve’s and Villanelle’s two stories were too disparate to be knitted together properly. But once you start to get a feel for what the show is and what works and what doesn’t, it flows more easily. For me, if it gets too broad and it doesn’t feel truthful, that’s not good. But then it’s also a big piece of entertainment, so you can be really wild with it. We’re not saving lives, and there’s no massive message. We just want to be truthful about human behavior and be very entertaining.
There’s obviously a lot of attention also paid to the sound and the music.
Thanks for noticing. We have a great production sound team. Nigel Heath is our rerecording mixer, and our aim is not to have the dialogue too clean and out front. We like to keep a lot of texture in the background and make it feel quite immersive. Then in terms of the music, composer David Holmes is quite bold in his choices. That’s very tricky, as we try hard not to be too genre and obvious with the cues, so they don’t just reinforce the visuals and what you should feel. So at a very dark moment the score might be quite celebratory and glorious. We’re constantly trying to flip it.
What about the DI?
It’s incredibly important, and our colorist Gareth Spensley has worked on it since Season 1 so he knows the show really well, and he works very closely with our DP Julian Court, who’s done most of the episodes since the start. Sometimes we have to shoot out of sequence, at different times of year, so you have to match all that. We try to find locations that feel fresh and exciting, and then we try hard not to overstylize the look and keep all the skin tones as natural and real as possible, and then enhance the beauty of the rest of it. At the very start of the show, we thought of pushing the look to get a more “noir” look, but it just didn’t feel right, so we just leant more into the pleasure of the visuals.
How important are the Emmys to a show like this?
Hugely important, for both the show and the actors. I think it’s given us far more visibility.
I heard you already got picked up for Season 4. How far along are you with it?
We’re already writing and nearly have the whole season arc worked out, and we’ll start shooting it at the end of September. Of course, it all depends on what happens with the COVID-19 crisis, but that’s the plan.
Will you do more seasons?
I can see us going on as long as we keep refreshing it and move their relationship along. Then we have all these new characters we’ve created who’ll be there in Season 4 and beyond, so there’s plenty to explore.
Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.