'The Fall' creator on that Spector-Gibson interrogation scene
When writer/producer/director Allan Cubitt sat down to write the second season of The Fall, the hit BBC show that has made its way to American audiences via Netflix, he knew that everything would build toward an unforgettable confrontation between the show’s two main characters. Jamie Dornan stars on the show as Paul Spector, a devoted husband and father by day and a meticulous serial killer by night. On the other side of the law is Gillian Anderson’s Stella Gibson, whose driving goal is to find the murderer the audience knows Paul Spector to be. After season one ended with the two characters speaking on the phone for the first time, it felt obvious that Paul’s time as a free man was limited. But what would season two bring?
For Cubitt, the series became much more of a psychological thriller its sophomore year. “There’s only one female that’s murdered at the start of The Fall by Spector,” he explained to EW. “That’s one of the things that I’m quite proud about, the fact that it’s unlike a lot of these dramas [in that] it does not require successive crime scenes, and more and more brutality onscreen, to sustain the sense that you’re looking at someone who is capable of terrible crimes. In the end, you’re locked into a psychological battle between these people, and it’s a psychological exploration of that kind of mentality. [It’s] not a show that rests on multiple murders or subsequent crime scenes.”
Instead of showing off multiple grisly murders, season two focused more closely on Gibson’s hunt. It all culminated in a spellbinding, 20-minute-long interrogation scene that brought the characters face-to-face for the first time—in which Spector confessed to all of his crimes.
“I knew that right from the beginning that they were on a collision course, that they would at some point sit down opposite one another,” Cubitt says. “And I knew it would come not out of Gibson seeking to do that—because it somewhat flies in the face of the protocol for a senior officer to do—but Spector would request it, would make it a condition of talking further. And from that point of view, it’s a continuation of his attempts to have control and have power. The idea was that, even though he was incarcerated and you therefore might think that his ability to exercise control is gone, he was determined to carry on trying to do that. So in respect to that, [he] requests only to speak to Gibson and [then suggests] that he’s going to take them to Rose Stagg. In both instances, he’s trying to exercise his control over them.”
But Spector isn’t the only one trying to make power moves. Just before Gibson enters the interrogation room, she does something we’ve never seen before: She changes out of her typically neutral wardrobe and into a rather sexy red top. But why?
“I think it’s a power move,” Cubitt said. “I think it’s a color she knows has meaning for him. She’s aware that Sarah Kay had a red coat that belonged to her, and that when he was stalking her, that’s what she was wearing. [Then there’s] the red nail varnish. I’m not sure it’s an especially effective power play, but I think if I get the opportunity to continue the story as I hope I will, then these are questions that will be raised in terms of what she thinks she’s doing when she’s presenting herself in that fashion. But she’s certainly trying to disconcert him in some kind of way.”
Once Spector and Gibson finally find themselves sitting at the same table, the scene begins. The camera hardly ever cuts away from them, locking viewers into what’s essentially nothing more than a conversation for the next 20 minutes. Cubitt shot the scene using various angles and a variety of close-ups to continually play with the tension of the moment, all to keep viewers on their toes.
“I always had in the back of my mind that it would be a lengthy scene, and it would be written a little bit more like a theater scene in a way. It would be a single scene; we wouldn’t cut away from it that much,” Cubitt said. “I was aware that we were doing something that’s not often done [in television]. So it is about people holding their nerve a bit, about just a scene of dialogue. Then it was just a question of writing the thing, really, and ensuring that it didn’t so much resolve things as sort of set things up between them even more, as it were. Because it’s not over between them, is my view.”
About halfway through the scene, as tension builds, the audience suddenly finds itself in the middle of everything. Spector and Gibson take turns talking directly into the camera, another unconventional move for a TV show.
“When I’d seen it done before, I was struck by the fact that it’s quite intimidating as a member of the audience that they appear to be talking directly at you,” Cubitt said. “And so I had this notion that I would shoot the scene like that, and then it was really [our editor] Steve Singleton who put the scene together.” Singleton used the straight-on shot early in the scene, “when Spector seemed to be slightly be in the ascendancy, or at least be defiant,” he continued—”and then he used it at the end of the scene, when Gibson suddenly starts to go for him more. It ups the tension.
“And knowing that she was then going to present him with the Rose Stagg video tapes, I always had the idea that there should be a moment when he’s looking directly at [the tapes] and we should see her behind them, as it were, so that they become almost part of her character. The presentation of those tapes is a sort of challenge to him.”
Using the season’s earlier scene between Burns and the ex-priest as a sort of trial for what could be done, Cubitt knew what he was getting into with an interrogation. As he learned, this moment would really come down to its performers: “You’re relying on actors who have learned their lines and know what they’re doing and can sustain that kind of performance.”
Anderson and Dornan are two such actors. The scene requried them to sustain their performances through 9 or 10 takes; the cast and crew spent an entire day crafting these 20 minutes. Using two cameras, Cubitt’s team filmed the scene all the way through, for the most part unbroken, every time. Two of those takes showed each actor, respectively, speaking directly into the camera for the scene’s duration.
The result was arguably the most exhilarating 20 minutes of the series so far, though Cubitt was quick to note that Paul’s incarceration does not mean the end of his story. “Sometimes people [confess] not necessarily to get it off their chest—not to make a confession in any sense that you and I would understand—but rather to relive it in some kind of way, and to make it part of this attempt to stay in control. And, perhaps, to shock and continue their attempts to manipulate,” he said. “But I was very careful [to include] the line where he says, ‘It’s not over between us. In fact, it’s only just begun.’ [That] was me making sure that the audience understood that there was more to be got out of the battle between Spector and Gibson.”