The Gentle Touch
♦ The BBC has acquired drama Killing Eve, developed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and here’s an interview with its producer, Sally Woodward Gentle, from the BBC themselves…
How did Killing Eve come about?
A colleague of ours had dinner with Luke Jennings, the author of the novellas, and handed these books on to us. We’re a tiny little team at Sid Gentle Films and each of us read the novellas and really enjoyed them because, although it is a genre that’s quite familiar, Luke had an incredibly fresh take on it where it didn’t feel sexually exploitative. It felt that the women were very, very strong in it and, not in a sort of male fantasy – we wouldn’t want to go there.
Why did you think Phoebe Waller-Bridge was the right person to pen Killing Eve?
I met Phoebe after I’d read her stage play Fleabag, and actually before I’d even seen it, and we just got on incredibly well. It was a feeling that she had the black edge that we needed to bring to it, because I love black humour, life is full of it. And if you’re going to do a show about a female assassin, there has to be politics with a small ‘p’ running underneath it, and there was a very strong sort of sexual politics about it.
This was something that came very naturally to Phoebe but at the same time, she completely gets things need to be entertaining. And she’s entertained by things that are glorious, and there needed to be a glory to it. Phoebe has this extraordinary charisma and energy, and if we could get some of that into the piece as well I felt it would be very different to other female assassin pieces that were out there.
Can you describe Killing Eve in five words?
Naughty, glorious, sexy, edgy and fun.
How important was it to you to have a strong key team of women behind and in front of the camera?
It’s incredibly important to us that there are strong women involved, both in front of and behind the camera. There’s been a lot of talk recently about women within the industry, not just the women who have come forward following abuse of male power, but the fact that women are extraordinarily talented and yet there is still too small a proportion of them in front and behind the camera.
And there is a very small proportion of women on screen for shows which have got action in them – they’re still very male dominated. So to have this seen through the point of view of two women was very important, and you know, there are extraordinary men involved in this project too, but you have to keep the balance and you have to have a female voice in there.
This is truly an international production – what inspired you to set the scenes in these places?
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. 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.
What makes Killing Eve unique for you?
I think what makes it unique is actually its tone. We tread a very thin line all the time between reality, humour, 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 that were sort of touchstones, which 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.