Behind Her Eyes director breaks down the series' shocking twists
Warning: This post contains spoilers about the limited series Behind Her Eyes.
Netflix's latest limited series, Behind Her Eyes, has audiences talking. Based on Sarah Pinborough's 2017 novel of the same name, the series follows single mom Louise (Simona Brown) as she embarks on a new relationship with her married boss, David (Tom Bateman). At the same time, she befriends David's mysterious wife, Adele (Eve Hewson). But what begins as a story about secrets turns into something else completely by the series' end.
Viewers learn via flashbacks that Adele knows how to astral-project, and she uses that ability to watch those around her and learn about things she otherwise wouldn't know (like, say, her husband's affair). After Adele teaches Louise to project as well, it all culminates in the series' final hour: Louise shows up to Adele's burning home to stop her from committing suicide. When she can't get in, she projects her way into the home. And in that moment, Adele, who's also projecting, steals Louise's body and kills Louise… who's now in Adele's body.
Confused? The twists don't end there! We then discover that Adele hasn't been Adele in years. The Adele we've been watching is actually Adele's old friend Rob (Robert Aramayo), who swapped bodies with her about 10 years ago. Translation: David thought he married Adele, and then when Adele died, he thought he married Louise. But all along, he's been married to Rob, a guy he met once many years ago.
EW talked to Behind Her Eyes director Erik Richter Strand about crafting the twisty new series. As he puts it, "Some people love it and some people hate it, and a lot of that comes down to the ending." We get into all that and more below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: If you watch the first few episodes of the show, you have no idea what kind of show it actually is. What went into the decision to hold off on the astral-projection reveal?
ERIK RICHTER STRAND: If you pay really close attention, there are some clues that are spread along the way that can lead you not to guess astral projection per se, but I think there are some clues that have been left in there that you can pick up on if you ever were to see it again as to how this is shot and how it's made. We did things with shot selection and sound design that leads you to believe, "Wait a minute, there's something not quite right here, who's watching this?" But yeah, astral projection is not something that you're going to be guessing. [Laughs] If you understand that this is a crazy, wacky show that can surprise you, then you're the right audience.
Did you all discuss how exactly you'd use astral projection in this story and what the limitations would be?
Absolutely. You're trying to describe something that we're going to have to translate from paper onto the screen; something that is metaphysical is going to have to be physical in a sense that still feels like it's tasteful and not completely sci-fi. Those were long conversations that we had to have to try to figure out the right way to bring that to life and put it on screen in a way that didn't throw the audience out of the story.
I assume the actors had to know the entire plot in order to play their parts correctly?
Once we started filming, they knew everything. At an early stage when some of them were cast, like Eve Hewson for example, she'd only read the first episode, maybe the first two. So she actually gave a hilarious audition tape where she didn't know anything about the character. In a way she's playing someone else, she's a person playing Adele in the show, so we had a lot of fun trying to find the right way of keeping a strange distance in her performance that you're not quite meant to understand. And then finally when the other shoe drops, you understand that there's meaning behind the madness.
But they do need to know, and because they know, getting your head around that is a big deal. You have to play the character straight. You have to create an Adele that the audience can relate to, so therefore you have to play her straight as a real person, even if she is in fact a different person. You have to then give those clues along the way and in the flashbacks, getting to know Rob in the flashbacks, seeing if there are things you can do to give the audience a little bit of a hint and then, in the end, both Eve Hewson and Simona Brown have scenes where they play Rob where the audience also knows that it's actually Rob. So they have to do several different layers of acting. Keeping track of all that as we were shooting it out of sequence was a challenge that the actors and I worked on.
I want to talk about the final scene and that final shot. Watching it, once I came down off the high of the twist, it really hit me that this story is a tragedy, both for David and Adam, who seems to sense that that is not his mother.
It is. The book ends in a very similar way. The show is quite a faithful representation of the book, and in the book it goes even further. It sort of says, "Here I am with the man of my dreams, and he's married me and now we are off to our new adventure, but then there's this kid." Then she looks at him and it's like, "Well you know what they say, accidents happen to children all the time." And that's the ending. That's a really bleak, hard, gut-punch of an ending that can really get you angry. I think it did for a lot of people. Even though it's clever, it's also really horrifying. We tried in the show to find the right balance of leaving the audience gut-punched but not like, "Oh my God, what's going to happen?"
You're right, we tried to get across the idea that the boy knows that something's not right with his mom. And at one point maybe even David does. There's a shot in that scene where David looks over to her because Adam says, "You always said you hate boats." There's a shot of David looking at her. You know that Rob may have won the battle, but is he going to win this lifelong war of keeping this facade up for a second time? He's done it for 10 years as Adele, and now he's going to have to do it for I don't know how many years as Louise. I love that scene for that reason.
Speaking of the lifelong war, did you all ever discuss potentially continuing the story?
Sarah Pinborough has gotten that question many times. That would have to be up to her. I don't think there would be a series created without her involvement. If she were to write another book based on this then that would be fantastic, but I don't think she has any plans to do that.
My final burning question is this: Why did Louise go to that house to save Adele? You all laid the groundwork of her mother's suicide through her night terrors, but I still wanted her to stay home!
We were sowing the seeds for that scene from episodes 1 and 2 as we got to know her dream life and that she is suffering from presumably a sense of guilt form having not been able to prevent her mother's suicide. This is something that's haunting her to this day in her dreams. It was combining that with the very overt manipulation of Adele. Adele has so very carefully crafted her own suicide with the specific intention of getting Louise to come. She knows about Louise's mother's death and that she feels guilty for it. There's that scene in episode 2 where Louise opens up to Adele and tells her about she spoke to a clairvoyant about her mom. Adele picks up on all that and creates this perfect storm in which Louise cannot not come to help her. She even sets the house on fire knowing that she's going to come in and save her. She really goes out on a limb to trust the fact that Louise is going to come and save her. I also think Louise feels a little bit of guilt for having embarked on a secret relationship with Adele's husband, she feels guilty for having placed her in this situation of utter despair to the point where she's going to kill herself. I think Louise feels guilty for what she's done as well and wants to avoid a repeat of what she experienced with her mother.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.