Cat and mouse. Hunter and, well, hunter. Mutually assured destruction/obsession. However you describe the relationship between Killing Eve’s instinctive, in-over-her-head, off-the-books MI6 agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) and the petulant, sexually omnivorous, artistic assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) — we will also accept “bats— crazy” — that forbidden bond mesmerized viewers and TV critics in 2018. After only eight episodes of the cunning, droll drama, the spy-thriller genre had been reinvigorated and reimagined, thanks to a pink tulle dress worn to a psych eval, a microwaved shepherd’s pie eaten mid–home invasion, etc. Season 1 culminated in a pileup of question marks and exclamation points — plus an Emmy nomination and Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award trophies for Oh — as Eve trashed Villanelle’s apartment before cozying up with her in bed, only to impulsively jam a knife into her stomach, only to even more impulsively yank out the blade in regret, allowing Villanelle to escape. Things further ratchet up in intensity and intimacy when season 2 begins April 7 at 8 p.m. on BBC America (simulcast on AMC). “There’s a duality and a sense of self-examination — both women learning a lot about who they are,” sums up Eve executive producer Emerald Fennell of the new season. “We’re starting to see the mirror-image similarities between them, for the good and the bad. What does it look like when a psychopath starts to learn how to feel things, and when a woman who’s incredibly empathetic and intuitive starts to lose those parts of herself? At what point do they meet?” We met up with Oh, 47, and Comer, 25, in a debugged hotel room, where the actresses opened up about their characters’ killer dynamic, dropped clues about the intrigue to come, and coughed up the scene that almost cost one of them her life.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When you read the script for Killing Eve, what was the single element that quickened your pulse and made you say, “I have to sign on”?
JODIE COMER: Initially it was the tone of the show, the voice that was the undercurrent of all of it. I found myself laughing out loud when I read it, which doesn’t happen all the time, and how [exec producer] Phoebe [Waller-Bridge] has subverted stereotypes in regards to Villanelle. When I read “assassin” I thought, [sighs disappointedly] “I know what this is going to be,” and I shouldn’t have, because Phoebe’s name was on it. I was like, “Wow. This is against what you usually see.”
SANDRA OH: Yeah, you would imagine, “Young female assassin, Russian,” and then you’re just going to go, “Ughhhh.”
COMER: Leather catsuit.
OH: Crawling around in sexy pants. It’s like, “What is this trope?” It’s so interesting how we’ve been trained in some ways to expect it, because the point of view has always been the same, honestly, for such a long time. Suddenly a completely different voice and a different point of view come in.
COMER: It was refreshing. I was really surprised by it. I just knew that it was going to be so much fun. Of course, hard work…
OH: Oh God, all the s— that you did? It was like, “Villanelle has to speak 5 billion languages and then have fights and then ride a motorcycle!”
COMER: They said to me at my initial audition, “You know, she speaks many languages,” and I was like, “Yeah, that’s fine! I can! Great!” [Oh laughs.] And then I kind of forgot about it, and then as each episode came through, I was like, “Ooooh. Oh, you guys weren’t kidding!”
One would think that Eve would have killed Villanelle in the season finale, but after plunging the knife into her, Eve had that panicked change of heart. What was your first reaction to that twist?
OH: I was in Phoebe’s mom’s kitchen when we were working on that scene. Honestly, [in] earlier drafts, it was the other way around. I remember going to Phoebe, “This doesn’t feel right, this doesn’t feel right, I feel like the direction has to go the other way.” Which then sparked a lot of things for her to write. I remember straddling Phoebe with, I don’t know, some butter knife or a pencil, and then we were just basically talking out the scene: “And then it’s like this!” And then the next moment I was like, “What’s the next thing I would do? It would be like this!” [Makes stabbing motion] And then we both were like [astonished gasp]. For me, it was so exciting, not so much to fool the audience or whatever. I found it so exciting as a character to play. Like, “Whyyy?” Why is she doing that? And what does it mean to take it out? And what is it for Villanelle, who basically let her do it? She’s letting her do it, in some respects.
COMER: What I loved about the final scene was that Villanelle thinks she’s in control, and the rug gets completely pulled out from under her feet. And in connection to [season 2], what she feels Eve’s reasoning is for doing this.
What is their dynamic in season 2? How angry is Villanelle at Eve?
OH: She angry. She angry at me!
COMER: She is, but there is also something… do you think she’s angry?
OH: I feel like in their warped relationship, there’s so much. [Sings] It’s a bad relationship! This is what also is so complicated in the relationship. I feel that they communicate on a completely different plane, where things like stabbing the other person mean different things.
COMER: It could be forgivable.
OH: Mmm-hmmm. Or else she could be angrier about me not passing her the bread than me having stabbed her.
COMER: Which I think is probably true, because she loves food. [Laughs] That would piss her off more.
What’s the biggest challenge for the show in season 2? Is it sustaining this cat-and-mouse game?
OH: For me, it’s the: How do you keep the storytelling of the impossible romance? How do you move from a cat and mouse to a cat and cat? Like cats playing with each other. And how do you move [from] the expectation of it into the truth of the characters? It’s like, how do they be together? Or not. How do they be separate? I think that has definitely been a creative challenge.
COMER: I think so too. At the end, their characters are in a very different place now. A lot of relationships were challenged, and it’s a different stage in the journey, and trusting it and finding this new energy.
I heard that the filming of a pasta-eating scene with Villanelle almost led to an untimely demise.
COMER: Oh. My. God!
OH: That was scary!
COMER: This is actually really triggering. I told my brother about it and he was like, “I love this. Of all the things that could have killed Villanelle, it was a mouthful of pasta.” [Laughs]
COMER: It’s a scene where she’s eating some pasta in a very grotesque way. She’s trying to prove a point about something. She’s playing it up, being her usual childish self, and the pasta was extremely dry. And it was extremely thick. I was shoveling it in, and then it just shot down my throat and then I was full-on choking. They must have it on camera — a medic came in and managed to get it out, but my life definitely flashed before me…. I just remember being opposite the other actor and looking at him, and he thought I was making a weird acting choice. So yeah, it’s ruined pasta for me completely.
OH: [To Comer] It’s only funny because you’re fine.
COMER: Honestly, I was full-on crying. It was my most dangerous Villanelle moment.
How much change — how much humanity — is possible in this psychopath?
COMER: With Villanelle, I think it’s important that we never find too much humanity within her…
OH: But we want to! We want to!
COMER: I think she doesn’t know how to deal with the emotions that she feels, and when she’s feeling something, it’s something that she suppresses. So it’s something that we’ve explored a lot because that’s what the audience enjoys and they feel like they get to know her and—
OH: —[we] pull it away.
COMER: Ultimately, she is someone who is dangerous and never should be underestimated, but it’s why people connect with her. Because she does have a level of humanity. She makes you laugh, and you find her relatable sometimes. That’s the conflict that the audience has when watching her. I think with both characters, it’s not black-and-white. Neither of them is good or evil.
OH: All I can say is that they’re in certain situations that push Eve to the limit and Villanelle just…pushes her over. [Laughs]
COMER: Just a little poke. No biggie.
And how much of Eve is lost in this pursuit of Villanelle?
OH: All. I gotta tell you, absolutely that’s what you’re going to see in the second [season]. Then it becomes not even about Villanelle; it’s just like, what is she pursuing that she cannot let go of?… Eve’s drive or desire to get the job done — it’s actually not a job — is a big driving force with her character and her movement in the second season. And I think it bites her [affects British accent] in the buttocks.
What has this spy thriller with a complex female point of view — behind the camera and in front of it — meant to the fans you’ve encountered on the street?
COMER: What I’ve really picked up on is the connection that people have had with Villanelle’s sexuality. [She has] really resonated with the LGBT community, and I know through speaking with Luke Jennings [who wrote Codename Villanelle, the book that served as the basis for the show], he has had so many people write to him and say that they feel seen and are enjoying the fact that this woman is celebrating that. You can have these relationships with women, this fascination, this compulsiveness to know this, and I don’t think that I’ve ever really seen that explored on television. It’s looking into the female psyche and being written by a woman who has an understanding and a knowledge and—
OH: —a very unique and specific point of view on how she wants to express and be in collaboration with two other female psyches.
How would Villanelle and Eve want their stories to end, in a perfect world?
COMER: Villanelle’s perfect world — she thinks she’s on her way to living in that. And she has to get with reality.
OH: They both do. And in a lot of ways, Eve should know better.
COMER: In Villanelle’s perfect world, they’d be on the couch watching TV. She just wants someone to watch movies with!
What would they watch?
COMER: I feel like Villanelle watches a lot of reality television.
OH: I was about to say that! What is…the Housewives?
COMER: I watch Housewives.
OH: There you go. It’s probably the Housewives or something.
COMER: Big Brother. Because she’s a people watcher. The only way she interacts with people is through watching people and—
OH: —and then mimicking it.
COMER: She’s watching reality TV in [season 2]. And she’s like, “I love this.” It’s such a brilliant moment!
OH: Oh my God. Villanelle should go onto a reality TV show. And then she would win — and then she would kill the Bachelor.
COMER: Imagine her on The Bachelor.
OH: People would pay good money to see that.
One by one all the women are disappearing: “I don’t know — she just didn’t show up today.”
OH: “Where’s Ashley?”
COMER: She’s gonnnne.
Eve and Villanelle are placed in a room with a button. One of them has to press the button within 60 seconds to live, but pressing it will kill the other person. If neither presses it, they both die. How do those 60 seconds play out?
OH: Ohhh! We should pitch this.
COMER: It’s hard because we see within Konstantin [Villanelle’s fatally shot (or not?) handler, played by Kim Bodnia] and Villanelle that her life is the first and foremost important thing to her…. I think she’s pressing that button.
OH: I actually think it’s a staring contest.
COMER: We’d probably fight for the button.
OH: But I wonder, at that last moment, Eve is going to give her something that she really needs — I’m not exactly sure what that would be — and distract her and just go boop! It will be boop! [Wicked laughter]
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