'Killing Eve': How Season 2 Ramps Up Eve and Villanelle's Scintillating Cat-and-Mouse Game (Exclusive)
By Philiana Ng
Eve and Villanelle's cat-and-mouse game is on for Round 2.
When Killing Eve, BBC America's spy thriller from creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, debuted last spring, it quickly became TV's buzziest hit. Led by Sandra Oh as MI6 agent Eve Polastri and Jodie Comer as captivating assassin Villanelle, the series has catapulted to the top of every awards list. Since Oh earned her historic Emmy nomination last year, the 47-year-old actress has since collected a slew of hardware, from a Golden Globe to a Screen Actors Guild Award. Now, with season two just around the corner, Waller-Bridge hands over the reins to new showrunner Emerald Fennell.
"When Phoebe needed to do [the second season of] Fleabag, I know that she wanted somebody who completely understood her vision for Killing Eve and shared her sense of humor and would come at with total respect and love and admiration," Fennell, Call the Midwife star and Waller-Bridge's longtime friend, told ET in February during an in-person chat in Pasadena, California. "It was an unbelievable roller-coaster and the best possible job. Just thinking of different ways of murdering people for a living is pretty joyful."
As the sophomore season of the acclaimed series returns Sunday, Fennell talks to ET about the latest round of Eve and Villanelle's scintillating chase.
ET: When you talked to Phoebe Waller-Bridge about the vision for season two, what was important to prioritize in these new episodes?
Emerald Fennell: The way Phoebe works is everything is rooted in truth in everything she does. It's why she's such an exceptional writer and performer. She'd established and built this incredible world and these unbelievable, nuanced characters. What she's always interested in is: What do you really do? What do real people, aside from everything, aside from MI6, aside from the fact that we're dealing with murders, what do two women really do? That was the thing that she instilled in everyone, from the actors to the directors to the writers. This isn't James Bond, this is a story of two women who just happen to be in exceptional circumstances. That's the challenge for this show -- making it an incredibly riveting thriller, but also saying we believe in these characters always. I think that's why it's made everyone so invested in it, because we all see them truthfully. But Phoebe's very unprescriptive. You have conversations and you talk about things that seem like they might not even be connected and then things take shape, and it's wonderful.
Killing Eve picks up literally seconds where things left off in the finale. Eve and Villanelle are in drastically different places at the start of the season versus their journeys in season one. Is that the joy of this season -- seeing them out of place and fish out of water?
Yeah, I think so. The thing that's really interesting to me and why Killing Eve is so appealing is that what most thrillers would do is pick up six months later and everyone is healed and all the tough stuff, all the complicated stuff, has been fixed. Where we wanted to start with this season is: What do you do if you're in Paris and you've been fired from your job and you've stabbed an assassin? How do you get home? How are you coping?
Eve is all of us in this circumstance and it seemed like the most interesting thing felt like the aftermath of something cataclysmic. And, also, Villanelle has been stabbed very deeply in a way that makes her practically mortal. We didn't want to shy away from the fact that when you're the most powerful woman in the world, you can kill anyone using a hairpin and suddenly, you're having trouble walking and you're really exposed and lots of people are looking for you. It was getting into the practical nature, in thinking, "Okay, what would I do?" You have to go to the hospital. You have to get your meds. But then, apart from that, how do you get away? What are you doing? Who do you look for? How do you find the person who can take care of you? Those things seems to be particularly female too because, again, we're so used to seeing guys in these situations.
You make an interesting point. Because it's Eve and Villanelle going through the aftermath of a dire situation, how does this affect them moving forward?
[Men] just get a gun and charge through and smash everything up. If you're a woman who's mortally wounded, you have to think very differently and Villanelle, suddenly for the first time, has to use skills she's never used before. And so does Eve. Eve's suddenly not the golden girl anymore, there's a lot of baggage. And the most important thing in the series was never to shy away from those things because we never see them. And to me, they're the most interesting.
There are two scenes in the first episode that really set the table for Eve and Villanelle's journeys -- one dealing with a knife in the security line at the airport and the other at the hospital with a patient named Gabriel. Are those examples of the peeling back of the onion for Eve and Villanelle?
Yeah, I think so. What we didn't want to do was run around the same circle again, and that's the thing about a cat and mouse thriller is it can be cyclical. And so you slightly need to start thinking about ways to make it interesting. If I'd killed someone and I had to get home, of course you would be queuing for the TSA, and you'd realize [that you had the knife]. Where would you put a bloody knife? If you're a woman, you'd put it in a sanitary bin in the bathroom. Those, to me, are the things of Killing Eve that feel like stuff we've never seen before, and it's never taken for granted that these women are going to win because they might not.
Especially at the end of the second episode, there's a sense that Villanelle might not get out of this situation she's in. And the same with Eve. Is that where you want these women to be this season -- to see them struggle?
Definitely. I think there needs to be a threat. There is a threat! The thing is about their meeting is they've kind of made and destroyed each other. That exploded at the end of one, so they're in pieces that they need to put back together again. That takes time and it's complicated and, of course, when you put yourself back together again, you don't look the same sometimes and you don't feel the same. And so, it's getting the innate quality of Villanelle and Eve, but also, they've both learned something. What Phoebe always said is, "Villanelle's maybe becoming more like Eve and Eve's becoming more like Villanelle." But that means that they're both gaining and losing something, so we have to look at what that means. For me, thrillers aren't interesting if I know somebody's just gonna pick themselves up and walk again.
We need to know there are consequences and that the world of Killing Eve is a physical, real world where if you get stabbed you might not make it and, even if you're in hospital, you're still vulnerable. There are no easy answers to anything. It's keeping the pleasure of the original series and all the humor and the lightness and the weirdness. But also saying, "We could lose it all..."
Is it fair to say that Villanelle and Eve may not actually survive the series?
Totally, of course. You have to come into every episode thinking that these are real women, living in the real world in very, very difficult, complicated, violent circumstances, of course they might not make it. Every single character in this show might not make it and I think that's important. Especially as a writer, I never took that for granted. Every time you put pen to paper you think, "How are they going to get out of this?" And if they can't, then they don't. There's no such thing in this show as a locked room that they just magically get out of. If the room's locked, it's locked. What's incredible about this show being populated by women on both sides of the camera is we come at violence and we come at all sorts of things with a different perspective, and we know how dangerous just walking around the world is and how vulnerable we are. And I think that vulnerability and the different strengths that women have make the show something that we've never seen before.
The show been well received. It's been getting acclaim on the awards circuit since its debut last year and Sandra has been making history with every piece of hardware she's collected. How has that informed you on season two?
It's wonderful. It's two things. You really appreciate it and it's really exciting and also you have to be careful to stay focused on what you need to do and what feels real and right, because if you think about it all, for a second, it's incredibly overwhelming for every single person. When you start thinking about the hugeness of it, it's too much. You just sort of focus on the thing you do and that's what's really nice. Everyone's very close and collaborative and so you stick together and make the stuff you want to make. We were lucky in that we were writing it already before the huge response came. I think that was very lucky because we were already on a path by then. It would have been very nerve-wracking if we'd known from the get go.
You're also playing Camilla Parker Bowles in The Crown. What was that experience like?
Heaven. I just feel like the luckiest person in the world, getting to work on the two best shows ever. I like working, and I'm really tired. Really, really tired. But really happy!
Killing Eve returns for season two on Sunday, April 7 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on BBC America and AMC.