David Tennant on the 'terribly moving' premiere of Acorn TV's Deadwater Fell
Warning: This article contains spoilers from the series premiere of Deadwater Fell, which debuted Monday on Acorn TV.
"It’s sort of impossible to talk about because you don’t want to undermine [the story]," the actor tells EW. "Where you are the end of episode 1 is such a very different place to where you are the end of episode 2, and then again at the end of episode 3. It’s hard to unpack by talking about it because I think you risk robbing it of some of his power."
In fact, the four-episode drama's twistiness is what drew Tennant to the project in the first place. On the surface, it seems like a typical horrible crime in a small town thriller, but it quickly starts "undermining our expectations," says the Doctor Who alum. "Just when you thought [you knew] what kind of story you were in and what these characters were like and where you were headed, it would pull you in a different direction."
Created by Daisy Coulam, Acorn TV's Deadwater Fell begins with a shocking a tragedy: One night beloved town general practitioner Dr. Tom Kendrick's (Tennant) home goes up in flames, claiming the lives of his wife, Kate (Anne Madeley), and their three children. But it quickly becomes clear that this wasn't an accident because everyone in the family was drugged, forcing Tom, his wife's best friend Jess (Cush Jumbo) and her police sergeant husband Steve are forced to consider a few horrible explanations, including that Kate possibly did this on purpose.
"There's something terribly moving in the first episode. You really feel the intensity of what happens and the sense of this community being racked by this awful event. I think it really paid that out in a way that a lesser thriller might not. There’s a big bold bit of plot with some awful things happening but you feel the human cost of that," says Tennant. "Because of the way it's structured — we're flashing back and forward in time [and] we're seeing how we got to this point — we keep being slightly confounded as to what we are believing, particularly with Tom's wife, played by the brilliant Anne Madeley, who does such a great job because you're left not really knowing what to think of her. Yet by the end of the first episode, it's hard to see how she couldn’t be anything other than terribly culpable for this awful event. There doesn't seem to be any other explanation and yet at the same time, [as] someone who watches TV, you're thinking, 'It can't be this straight forward. This is such an awful possibility that my brain won't entertain it.'"
The show's flashback structure also created a challenge for the cast, too. "You're having to navigate, as an actor, the gap between what you know to be true and in that moment what the the audience might understand to be true," says Tennant. "You’ll see some stuff in episode 1 that you’ll see again in episode 4, but perhaps from a certain perspective. Or you’ll see the front of [a] scene that isn’t shared with you in episode 1, which suddenly makes more sense in episode 4 when you have a bit more information. As an actor, you’re having to just make sure you’re being completely truthful while at the same time not signaling anything that might mislead or give too much away too soon because people don’t [in real life] — and that’s part of what I think Daisy is saying with this story."
In addition to starring on the British drama, Tennant also served as an executive producer, which was a first. As the "novice" producer, Tennant enjoyed learning he actually picked up some relevant skills from his years as an actor and that there was still a ton of stuff he didn't know about producing.
"I think you do sort of develop an instinct for how to put a group of people together and how people might work with each other and working with scripts. As an actor on a project, you have a slightly different perspective to someone who wouldn’t necessarily be on set all of the time, and that’s quite useful to have all of those voices, particularly in the last stretches of script development," he says, adding that this experience gave him more appreciation for the "art of negotiation" and the "art of the compromise, which is something I think is often very undervalued. It's a real skill."
The first episode of Deadwater Fell launched Monday on Acorn TV. New episodes available weekly.