Gillian Anderson in a Homegrown Northern Irish Drama
NI Scene: 10 May, 2013
Allan Cubitt sets Gillian Anderson on the trail of Jamie Dornan's serial killer Spector in a gritty, Belfast-based drama
Gillian Anderson (X-Files, Great Expectations) fans in the UK will be hotly anticipating her appearance as the lushly named, and riskily employed, Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier in hot new cannibal serial killer drama Hannibal. It will be five weeks until her debut episode 'Sorbet' airs over here though, but why wait? Anderson will be playing a starring role in playwright Allan Cubitt's Belfast-based, serial killer drama The Fall, which airs May 13 on BBC 2.
In The Fall Anderson stars as Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, an English police officer brought in to carry out a 28 day review on an unsolved Belfast murder.
'The first thing that struck me was the complexity of the characters, first and foremost, and the quality of the writing,' Anderson says. 'I just really liked Stella and wanted to spend time with her. What appealed to me the most was that you don't see all of her, certainly not in the first episode. You gradually get to see more of who she is, but even by the end of the fifth episode she is still quite a mysterious character. It's organic, though, it doesn't feel like anyone is trying to be clever and make her mysterious. She just keeps herself to herself and gets on with the job at hand.'
In The Fall that job is getting on the trail of nascent serial killer Paul Spector, played by Once Upon a Time alum Jamie Dornan. Although, that almost wasn't the case since Dornan had originally auditioned for a different character. The minute Cubitt saw the Belfast-born actor 'I knew we'd found our Spector'.
In a show that divides its time between the protagonist and the villain, it was important that Cubitt that the audience enjoyed spending with both - narratively speaking. Dornan is, of course, easy on the eyes, but against an actor as established as Anderson ('Gillian is a powerhouse as an actor and an amazing on-screen presence,' Cubitt says), and a character as coolly sharp as Gibson that wouldn't enough on its own. Spector had to be compelling.
'Jamie is actually a very similar animal to Gillian,' Cubitt says. 'They have the same instincts. He isn't showy or grand-standing and he's extremely committed, prepared to whatever we asked. He's great in this, and he's only going to get better with more experience. He's also a joy to be around.'
Off-screen anyhow. Dornan's portrayal of the disconcertingly charming and deeply dysfunctional Spector is more deserving of words like 'creepy' and 'viscerally terrifying' and 'oh god, I need to check I locked my doors'. Already deeply enmeshed in his pathology, the fracture lines of Dornan's paraphilias are easy to track but the source of the damage isn't so clear. There's no clear line of causality between Spector's crimes and some childhood trauma.
'Most of us don't understand why we do the things we do anyhow,' Cubitt points out. 'And whether people think it's a blow on the head or bad genes, there's no answer to the question of why people like Spector do things like that.'
After all, in The Fall Spector is very much functioning member of society. He has a family, a job and friends - none of whom are privy to his secret life. 'What he's doing is reprehensible and disgusting, but - Gibson talks about this a lot - they're not looking for a monster. To all intents and purposes, he's normal.'
For Anderson, that's one of the creepiest things about The Fall - the idea that there isn't that much difference between normal and abnormal.
'Many human beings have thought about doing things that in a normal mind would be out of the question,' Anderson says. 'Reprehensible thoughts cross our minds, but there's a line between thinking and doing. However, the closer they [the killer] appears to be to us - the good parent, the family member - the more that line gets blurred. It becomes confounding and fascinating.'
In addition to exploring the psyche of the killer, The Fall also spends time on the less sensational side of a police investigation. Anderson's Gibson is initially called to Belfast for a standard 28 day review of an unsolved murder. At the time there's no suspicion of a serial killer's involvement, and John Lynch's (Labyrinth, Merlin) AAC Jim Burns, who also has a complicated past relationship with Gibson, is resistant to the idea when Gibson does suggest it.
'That's a big conflict between Stella and Jim,' Lynch says. 'He's constantly have to douse fires with the police board and try and keep them online; the last thing he wants is to deal with a serial killer. So he won't accept what's glaringly obvious - that these aren't separate murderers. Then things start to unravel.'
The important thing to remember in The Fall, he says, is that 'Nobody is who they seem. There are histories untold and things unsaid, it's just not discussed.'
Cubitt and the cast have hopes to return to the world of The Fall for a second series. If they do, Cubitt teases, fans of the show might find out a bit more about Spector's background. This time, though, they might give Anderson's character a different hobby? Gibson is living in a hotel and spends a lot of time in the swimming pool.
'It took about a day to film all the swimming,' Anderson recalls. 'I was like a prune!'