I had to find my darkest side for The Fall; As excitement builds around the gritty new thriller set in Belfast, stars Jamie Dornan and Gillian Anderson talk to Maureen Coleman about their roles.
By Maureen Coleman
Hispanic Business: May 11, 2013
Portraying an evil psychopath who preys on young women isn't a role one would normally associate with supermodel-turned-actor Jamie Dornan. Perhaps it's his rugged good looks and expressive blue eyes that seem slightly at odds with the stereotypical image of a serial killer.
But that's the beauty of casting Dornan in the BBC's upcoming psychological thriller The Fall. He brings just the right balance of creepiness, intensity and warmth to the part of Paul Spector, a man with a complex dual personality. Writer Allan Cubitt was keen to dispel any myths that men who murder are unattractive loners incapable of engaging with the opposite sex. There's no danger of that misconception with Dornan -- his poster-boy looks have us hooked from the start.
As his co-star Gillian Anderson's character states: "Even a multiple murderer can have his share of good qualities -- or a pretty face."
To prepare for the part of Spector in the gritty new drama, Dornan had to delve deep into the psyche of men who commit heinous crimes against women. In the weeks leading up to filming the show, his bedtime reading material took on a more sinister nature as he immersed himself in the Jekyll and Hyde character.
The 31-year-old Hollywood man plays a loving husband and father of two, who, in an ironic twist, works as a bereavement counsellor by day. But his evenings are spent stalking the streets and nightspots of Belfast for his victims --pretty, dark-haired, professional women.
Dornan says it was a challenge to play such a complicated and twisted character, but that it was an incredible experience and one he loved.
"It was such an amazing drama to be involved with," he says. "But I have to admit, certain parts did not come easy to me. I had to put myself in some pretty awful head space to allow myself to do the role justice.
"I spent several months reading books about terrible, unspeakable acts carried out by psychopaths. I read some lovely books like Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer and Why Men Kill. A lot of these guys carry out repeat killings. There's an imbalance there, something is chemically wrong.
"Some of them have been spurred on by things that have happened in childhood, like abandonment or abuse. I wanted to try and unearth something like that in Spector.
"But I had to get the balance right between this doting father and a guy who goes out and strangles pretty brunettes. It was an odd experience to do."
Dornan, who previously starred in the film Marie Antoinette and US fantasydrama Once Upon A Time, says he approached Spector as two different characters. The ritual of changing into the clothes worn while he is out on the hunt made it easier for him to differentiate between Spector the family man and Spector the serial killer.
"I read up a lot about Ted Bundy," he explains.
"He was a fascinating character, who referred to himself in the third person and did not associate himself with Ted Bundy, the killer.
"He had a girlfriend, a good job, a great circle of friends, was good looking and bright.
But there was this other side to his personality, who carried out unspeakable stuff. "The thing with Spector is that we know after five minutes that he is the killer, so those bits where he is with his children and wife or at work have to be all the more sincere. I had to show that there were characteristics about him that are likable, endearing.
"The audience feels some softness towards him during those moments and then when we see the horror of the other side of his personality, there is no sympathy at all."
The tense five-parter is shot entirely in Northern Ireland, with Belfast playing a bigger role than a mere backdrop.
Dornan, who last month wed his long-term girlfriend, English actress and singer Amelia Warner, had been keen to work at home for some time. He admits to feeling "slightly jealous" of the tight community of Northern Irish actors and crew, so when the chance arose to audition for The Fall, he jumped at it.
However, it wasn't the part of the killer that he initially went for. Dornan tried out for the role of one of the police investigators and was shocked when he received a callback, asking if he'd be interested in auditioning for Spector.
"To be honest I was terrified, bewildered but absolutely flattered to be offered the biggest male part," he concedes.
"I knew I'd have to work my backside off to convince them that they weren't crazy in making that judgement."
He's not sure what qualities Cubitt and director Jakob Verbruggen saw in him that made him stand out as their perfect psychopath, but says he is grateful for the chance to prove his worth.
"I don't know what that says about me," he laughs. "But I guess I'm flattered. I mean, it's a huge compliment. I must have done something that day in the room that made them think 'he's the guy for the nasty stuff'."
Shaking off Spector's spectre wasn't as easy as Dornan imagined it would be, though. For several months, he tells me, the character lived in him. And when he did eventually manage to put him aside, he had to revisit him for promotional purposes.
"Allan Cubitt will tell you what I was like," he says. "It took me a long time to say 'him' instead of 'me'. It must have been quite scary for those closest to me. "For six weeks before shooting began I knew I was playing this part and then there were three months of filming. That's a big whack of time to spend with a character. It took me a while to shake off."
The former face of Calvin Klein and Dior Homme, who has given up modelling to concentrate on his acting career, says it was a privilege to be part of such a "brilliant cast" and to have the opportunity to spend so much time at home with his family and friends -- the first time he has done so in 10 years.
"Name any great actor in Northern Ireland, apart from maybe Liam Neeson or Ciaran Hinds, and they're probably in this," he says.
"I loved every minute of it. It was a wonderful experience too. I really hope there'll be a second series."
From the start of the project, Cubitt was determined to have Anderson on board, playing his main female character. As producer Julian Stevens points out: "When you cast Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan as the two main leads, you are off to a fantastic start."
Former X Files and Great Expectations star Gillian Anderson plays Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, who is drafted in from the London Metropolitan Police to help the PSNI catch a killer when a murder in Belfast remains unresolved.
As Gibson travels across from London, we are introduced to Spector and know straight away that he is the killer. The drama follows the police investigation uncovering the intricate story of the lives entangled by a series of murders both within the killers' and the victims' families.
While Dornan plays one kind of hunter who transgresses moral boundaries, Anderson plays another kind, who works within the rules of society to track down her prey. As DS Gibson, she is seconded from the Met to review the investigation into the high-profile, unsolved murder. The PSNI is under mounting pressure to make an arrest, but they have no suspects. While the police force is no stranger to sectarian murders, they have no experience of dealing with a sexually motivated serial killer.
Gibson has -- and suggests she heads up a Task Force dedicated to bringing the killer to justice. But to begin with, her superiors, including ACC Jim Burns, played by Newry actor John Lynch, are unwilling to accept a serial killer is at loose.
Chicago-born Anderson, who now lives in London with her two youngest children Oscar, (6) and Felix, (4), says she was drawn to the script because of the quality of Cubitt's writing and the complexity of her character.
"I was sent the script and wasn't necessarily intending to do another series but I was struck by the writing and the character of Stella," she says. "It's not enough to say she's a strong woman. She's also very independent and comfortable in her own skin and sexuality but there's also something mysterious about her. She gives nothing away. "I like that she's undefined and ambiguous.
But there's something else about her and her attitude that I can't put my finger on.
There's something quite special about her. "We don't see all of her, certainly not in the first episode. Gradually we get to know a bit more about her. We see how she reacts to situations, how her relationships develop with the people in her team.
We find out aspects about her personality, like where she comes from and that she does have a sense of humour. "I was really intrigued by the character and wanted to spend time with her." Anderson has played plenty of lawenforcement officers before -- from Dana Scully in The X Files, which made her a household name, to an MI5 boss in Irish spy thriller Shadow Dancer. So it's a massive compliment to the skill of Cubitt's writing when she adds: "I really liked Stella from get go. In fact, I probably like her more than any of the other characters I've played." To prepare for her role as Stella Gibson, Anderson read a Detective Superintendent's handbook and talked to a retired PSNI officer, who was employed in a consultancy role.
"There were a couple of people on set when it was necessary to talk to us about how things should be handled," she says.
"The complexity of the environment she is working in is that the police in Belfast haven't dealt with this type of thing before. They don't have the manpower or resources. It's more conventional for these crimes not to be linked or carried out by a serial killer and that's what she's up against. "She is operating in a world that is not unfamiliar with dead bodies, but because this is something they've never experienced before, they need to go back to square one.
"In the case of a 28-day review, there is often the preconception that someone else is brought in to investigate when something has gone wrong, or people aren't doing their jobs properly or maybe evidence might have been e hidden to take attention away from a suspect, but that's not what Stella is doing.
She is there to get results, to go through the evidence step by step and find the killer. She's not there to accuse." It's not the first time Anderson has filmed in Northern Ireland. In 2005 she starred in Pearse Elliott's film The Mighty Celt opposite Ken Stott and Robert Carlyle.
This time round, her heavy work schedule meant less time to explore the sights and she took advantage of Belfast's proximity to London to fly home at weekends to see her children. But the boys also came over to Belfast and Anderson brought them to the beach and museum. "I love working in Northern Ireland," she says.
"Being part of The Fall was such a positive experience. There's a wonderful cast and crew here and from the start, they made the decision to cast Northern Irish actors instead of English actors putting on accents.
There's enough of a talent pool in Northern Ireland to fulfill all those roles and I have to say, there are some stand-out performances in this series. "I was made to feel very welcome and part of the team and hopefully I'll get to come back for another series." As Anderson points out, The Fall boasts a stellar line-up of local actors, many of whom are established, while others are up-and-coming.
The cast also includes John Lynch, Niamh McGrady, Ian McElhinney, Frank McCusker, Ben Peel, Laura Donnelly, Gerard Jordan, Seainin Brennan, Eugene O'Hare and former Hollyoaks stars Gerard McCarthy, Bronagh Waugh and Karen Hassan. Lynch is no stranger to Northern Ireland-based dramas, having starred in Cal, Some Mother's Son, In The Name of the Father, and Mo. But he says he didn't accept the role of ACC Jim Burns because The Fall was moving away from the Troubles. "It wasn't as conscious as that," he explains. "The script was just so layered, so complex.
There's a history there with Stella, a history that is not discussed but is touched on and that has coloured Jim's decision to have her there in Belfast. She is damned good at her job. "Nobody is who they seem. There are histories untold and that makes the drama more complex. Jim is interesting to play, he's constantly having to douse fires with the Policing Board. The last thing they want is a serial killer, which will unleash a whole storm of worry, stress and fear."
"There's a big conflict there for him, but he has to accept what is glaringly obvious when things start to unravel." The Fall's writer Allan Cubitt said he had always intended the series to be filmed in Belfast and that it gave him the opportunity to team up again with BBC NI's Head of Drama, Stephen Wright, with whom he had previously worked on Murphy's Law.
He said: "Setting The Fall in Belfast and the surrounding area was an easy choice for me. I've always found Northern Ireland a fascinating place, culturally and geographically and I already had a great working relationship with Stephen Wright and BBC NI.
"Having the city as a backdrop -- hopefully almost a character in itself -- also allowed me to draw on the disproportionate amount of home-grown acting talent there is.
I really hope that seeing those actors -- some relatively new to the screen -- working alongside someone as iconic and potent as Gillian Anderson will make for compelling viewing." Cubitt said he had never wanted to write a whodunit as viewers were often left disappointed by the big reveal and were none the wiser as to the killer's motives. "For me there were two things I wanted to examine," he says.
"Firstly, the psychology of the criminal and the psychology of the person trying to hunt him, and secondly, I wanted to accord some significance to the victims." Spector is a compulsive liar, he says, someone who carries out "reprehensible, disgusting" acts. And though Cubitt acknowledges the audience may warm to his softer side, he stresses: "We certainly don't want to turn him into a hero." Nor does he want to "sanitise or sensationalise" the story but explore the possibility that someone like Spector could actually exist in our midst -- "the killer who blends in". Casting the role of Spector, however, proved more difficult than expected. Several actors were considered but deemed unsuitable for the role.
And then Dornan walked into the room. "If we were going to be spending that much time with the character we needed someone special," he says. "Gillian is such a powerhouse and has such an onscreen presence and look that if we cut from her to Spector, we didn't want there to be any awkward bumps. "There was something very special about Jamie.
He's clearly very attractive and we wanted to avoid that cliche that serial killers are men who can't get women. "While Jamie might just be starting out, he has the instincts that Gillian has honed over the years, like how to be still and find the beat in every moment.
He was a joy to be around. He was very committed to the role and was prepared to do anything asked of him. He's a complete revelation in The Fall. "When he left the room, we knew we'd found our Paul Spector."