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Making a Killer Serial Killer Series

"'Killing Eve' is a character study on two lives, two women and their circumstances... it's just that one happens to be an assassin and the other a spy."

Killing Eve is a character study on two lives, two women and their circumstances, their homes, their wants, their fears and what keeps them from ending it all,” explains series lead writer, showrunner and executive producer Phoebe Waller-Bridge. “It’s just that one happens to be an assassin and the other a spy.”

The BBC America show centers on Eve (Sandra Oh), a bored, smart MI5 security officer whose desk job doesn’t fulfill her fantasies of being a spy, and Villanelle (Jodie Comer), a mercurial, talented killer. Killing Eve follows these two women, equally obsessed with each other, as they go head to head in a game of cat and mouse.

“Both Eve and Villanelle are equally as flawed and disarmingly insane as the rest of us; they have simply had lives sprung on them that we have happened to avoid,” Waller-Bridge explains. “Outside of their adventures, I’m interested in the sides of them that make these women human, however spectacular their lives become. 

“Villanelle is a psychopath, but a real one. The kind that psychoanalysts dedicate their lives to investigating. Lacking in empathy, deluded by their own egos, but often functional and normal to the naked eye. Eve is her opposite—warm, insecure, frustrated—but they are as funny and as ambitious as the other and together they will take us down a rabbit hole of a psychological thriller.

“I want to subvert the genre, the expectations and every cliché that is tied up in the spy-action-thriller,” she continues, “and even more so, in the female characters that populate them. This is not a ‘oooo badass woman show’ where everyone’s clothes fall off after an impossibly long fight scene. Nor is it a humorless, plot-driven show about a mystery. This is a meditation on murder, on loneliness and the potential for a world without conscience. It’s funny and frightening.”

Sarah Barnett, president and general manager of BBC America says, “It is a startling, fresh take on the cop/assassin genre that is on-the-edge-of-your-seat entertaining and very funny.”

Of the production, executive producer Sally Woodward-Gentle recounts, “We worked with all the teams—the director of photography, the designers, costume, with Phoebe and the directors—to come up with an aesthetic that we felt was both real but was also a massive treat. 

“One of the bywords for the entire show was to have a ‘glory’ in all of it. We want the show to feel like a guilty pleasure but also extraordinarily thrilling and edgy, interesting, and psychologically detailed. What we were going for was film noir, but with color.

“For example, we were in Paris and Villanelle has just been invited to see a psychologist, which frustrates her because for her this is a form of criticism over who she is and where she is at that point in her life, so she really plays up. She turns up, and she’s wearing the most extraordinary big pink dress. 

“Afterwards she’s out in the street with Konstantin, her handler, and you see her in this beautiful Parisian square, set against the gray of the cobbles and the Haussmann architecture, alongside Konstantin, who’s very stylish – but he always wears blacks and grays. And you have Villanelle in this amazing frothy pink dress with her big, black boots on and her blonde hair and she just looks extraordinary.”

“We didn’t want to find one location that doubles for everything, so we set ourselves the rather awkward challenge of filming a story where the series is set,” Woodward-Gentle continues. “And so we filmed in Tuscany for Tuscany, and we filmed in Paris and Berlin, and we filmed in Romania. And they are all extraordinary locations that all feel incredibly different. But what we also wanted to find were what I call the ‘grubby operatics’ of those areas. We didn’t want to be skipping around the Eiffel Tower or leaning up against the last bit of the Berlin Wall. We wanted to show different sides of those cities.

“Quite often we were naturally drawn to hubs of public transport. So it’s the U Bahn in Berlin, the Metro in Paris; we tried to find locations that people hadn’t used before but were quintessentially of that town. We also really wanted to put our characters in amongst the real people of those cities because as it’s quite a heightened show, we also wanted to ground it by thinking that these people are genuinely in our midst and you could be sitting next to a psychopathic killer.”

“We’ve been all over the shop!” Waller-Bridge agrees. “We’ve been to Paris, Berlin, Tuscany, London and Romania—we were filming the Russian element of the story there. We really wanted to have a sense of scale and where Villanelle could be thrown in any corner of the world to do a job and then for Eve to follow and show the realities of traveling. Villanelle gets there first class, chic as hell, she just turns up and we didn’t ever need to show how she got there because she just arrived, she is just there. Whereas then we get the taxis, the luggage of Eve, and you see the everyday nightmarish thing of travel. Those were the little fun things about the two people being in these same places at the same time. Two very different characters experiencing these cities in very different ways but it’s been incredible, we’ve actually been able to go to these places, and filming in Paris…I mean, it just looks beautiful.”

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“I think what makes Killing Eve quite unique is actually its tone,” says Woodward-Gentle. “We tread a very thin line all the time between reality, humor, emotion and pathos. We like to kill people that shouldn’t be killed. We like to do things that shouldn’t be allowed. We like to laugh at points when we shouldn’t be laughing. We like to cry when we’ve just been worrying our heads off. So that is, I think, where it feels different.

“It’s a very delicate balance, but there are certain films which were sort of touchstones that managed to do that like No Country for Old Men, and Wild Tales, which I adored. In television, you tend to be incredibly serious or you tend to be quite funny. Life isn’t like that, and I hope that is what we’ve been able to achieve with our show.”

“Make no mistake, lady detectives and secret agents have been great before–if you want to look further into history, just ask noir superfans–and they will certainly be good again,” writes Valerie Ettenhofer. “For now though, in the age of peak over-saturation, shows like Killing Eve are worth clinging to like a life raft in a sea of garbage.” To read the full article, click here.

“You end up feeling like you’re getting the best of television in one very well-executed show, which constantly goes in unexpected directions, yet never lets you down,” says Nasim Mansuri. “It’s proof that great things happen when talented women come together to write, direct, produce and act together.” To read the full article, click here.

“If I’ve done my job right,” Waller Bridge concludes, “the audience should feel equally chilled as they are excited by the determination of these women, their journeys and how drawn they are to one another.”

Read more: In Killing Eve, Female Spy Hunts Female Assassin

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