The Twisted Thrills of ‘Killing Eve’ – Rolling Stone
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The Twisted Thrills of ‘Killing Eve’

How the British TV series about female assassins and obsession became an insanely huge hit — and where it’s going in Season 2

BTS, Sandra Oh as Eve Polastri, Fiona Shaw as Carolyn Martens - Killing Eve _ Season 2, Episode 7 - Photo Credit: Nick Briggs/BBCAmerica

Sandra Oh and Fiona Shaw on the set of 'Killing Eve,' Season 2.

Nick Briggs/BBCAmerica

“I live on quite a murdery street, so I don’t want you to hear me getting murdered,” says Emerald Fennell over the phone as she fumbles with her keys outside the gate of her L.A. home. Then she reconsiders: Her untimely, violent death might make for a good story. “The best, I think,” she muses. “Maybe you’re not as bloodthirsty as I am, but I would be absolutely delighted to be on the other side of the murder call.”

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This tells you a lot about Fennell’s psychology and, by extension, volumes’ worth of info on the upcoming second season of BBC America’s Killing Eve (which kicked off on April 7th), the bulk of which Fennell wrote and the whole of which she executive-produced. Based on a series of e-book novellas titled Codename Villanelle — about the cat-and-mouse game of an assassin and an MI5 agent — the first season came about after author Luke Jennings was seated next to one of producer Sally Woodward Gentle’s colleagues at a dinner party. The co-worker talked up the stories, and Gentle thought that they might do well to be adapted by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the writer of a then-yet-to-air series called Fleabag. “Everybody loves a female psychopathic assassin,” says Gentle. “And I just thought, ‘Put something like that through the Phoebe kaleidoscope, and you could get something that felt dangerous, fresh.'”

When the show aired in America last April, viewers immediately embraced its complicated, subversive, feminist tale of obsessive codependency wrapped into the darkest of comedies. From the moment Sandra Oh’s ambitious agent Eve appears onscreen — waking up screaming — it’s obvious this will not be a typical thriller. (“I fell asleep on both my arms,” she explains to her rattled husband. “It was scary.”) And as Eve closes in on Jodie Comer’s killer Villanelle, it becomes unclear just who’s chasing whom. The Guardian named it the best show of the year. Oh won a Golden Globe. Comer became an overnight star, playing a winsome, cheeky psychopath flouncing about in a frothy pink gown and biker boots.

BBC America announced that there would be a second season before the first even aired. (“I was in New York doing press,” says Comer of the moment she found that out. “I had dinner with Sandra and had my first-ever martini.”) By that point, Waller-Bridge, swept up in the phenomenon that Fleabag had become, suggested her friend Fennell be tapped as her surrogate. “They’re both really bold,” says Gentle. “They both have a fantastically wicked sense of humor. And they’ve both got an extraordinary female outlook.” Waller-Bridge laid out the ground rules — Villanelle never uses her sexuality on her victims, for example, and never dresses for men — which created helpful parameters for Fennell. “She built this world like a beautiful dollhouse,” Fennell explains, “where [I] could come in and move the furniture and dolls around. If ever there was a moment where I thought, ‘I don’t know,’ I’d call Phoebe.”

Not that Fennell needed hand-holding: It was her idea to begin the second season precisely 30 seconds after Season One ends, to allow the audience to watch the immediate aftermath of that final, shocking scene. “What we really explored within the new season are these moments when Villanelle’s forced to face the effect that Eve has had on her life,” says Comer, who happened to be simultaneously experiencing the effect that the role had on her life. The cast was several months into filming the second season when the first began airing in the U.K. “The weekend after the show had gone out on the BBC, Jodie was walking to a meeting and there was only her and this man in the alleyway,” says Gentle. “And he turned and saw her and apparently went, ‘Oh, my God, I really thought you’d come to kill me!’ He had a moment of total terror.” She laughs. “So that was quite jolly.”

That visceral reaction is part of the goal. “I always wanted it to feel like Villanelle could sit next to you on the tube,” Gentle says. “I want to keep that sense going.” Fennell agrees: “Normally, you skip past the ‘boring’ stuff. But Killing Eve is so vivid and fascinating because it never skips that. The real-world stuff is what, to me, is terrifying.”

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