Ice-cool and in control, Dsi stella Gibson is back.
It’s the last dance for detective Stella Gibson and serial killer Paul Spector in chilling psychological thriller The Fall. Crime Scene talks Series 3, star casting and cliffhangers with the show’s creator, Allan Cubitt.
“Gibson is my hero, she’s my leading character, the heart of the drama,” Allan Cubitt tells Crime Scene. “The way I kind of conceived of the show was by making it the opposite of a whodunit. By identifying the antagonist right from the beginning, it meant that there was a sort of dance going on between them even before they meet, because I was dividing my screen time fairly 50-50 between them. So his presence in the drama has always been incredibly central and important.”
The Fall’s creator/writer/ director is describing the process of devising his psychological procedural thriller for BBC Two. The landmark series about a senior female cop hunting a serial killer who turns the tables, the hunter becoming the hunted, is a ratings hit and has a global following on Netflix.
DSI Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) and Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) are one of the great TV pairings, though they don’t share any screen time for the first 10 hours. Yet there was a creepy proximity – a near meeting in a corridor, a telephone call that concluded Series 1, and a scene in which Gibson was feet away from her quarry – so that their first electrifying confrontation was loaded with shared history.
When Crime Scene speaks to Cubitt ahead of Series 3, he’s understandably protective about his story. “At the moment, I’m trying not to give away whether Spector lives or dies at the end of Season 2, so it’s a tricky one,” he says. “I’d love for people to be unsure what’s going to
happen.” However, the BBC has released new images of Spector that suggest the in-demand Dornan’s filming involved more than a death scene and a few flashbacks. Spector lives, at least that much is clear.
In a season the BBC describes as an “end game” and “last act” for this screen pairing, it’s clear Cubitt can go deeper into these complex characters for the conclusion to this case. “That’s what I’ve attempted to do in Series 3 – to explore their psychology more,” he says. Spector’s past started to unfold in the previous series as it emerged that his mother committed suicide and he grew up in a children’s home, where some boys were preyed upon by a paedophile priest. His fantasy life became increasingly disturbing, though he managed to raise a family and forge a career as – ironically for a killer – a bereavement counsellor.
WATCHING THE GODDESS
It seems this series will involve going deeper into Spector’s mind, perhaps with the help of several new cast members, including Aidan Mcardle, Ruth Bradley, Aisling Bea, Richard Coyle and Kurt Wallander himself – or rather the much loved actor from the Swedish version of the show. “We have the fantastic Krister Henriksson making an appearance, which was a real honour. He’s a wonderful man, a wonderful actor,” says Cubitt. “It was not for Nordic Noir reasons, it was just because we thought he was right for the part. I don’t think he’s done anything else like this before, so it’ll be interesting to see what people make of him.”
While more has been revealed about Spector, the ice-cool Gibson is almost as much of a mystery as when she first arrived in Belfast from London’s Metropolitan Police to review the investigation. There have been glimpses into her psyche as she makes entries in her dream diary, as well as the revelation that she has a sexual history with her boss in Northern Ireland, Assistant Chief Constable Jim Burns (John Lynch). “He has an alcohol problem, he’s compromised and his biggest flaw is his overriding obsession for Stella, which he can’t see past or see around,” Lynch tells Crime Scene.
Gibson, perhaps like Anderson herself, does have a beguiling quality – and she’s steely with it. A journalist who confronts Gibson in her hotel in the first ever episode is calmly sent packing. “My conception of her character was that she wouldn’t come with a lot of baggage, you would have to piece that together little by little,” explains Cubitt. “My thing was always to make sure that she was enigmatic, inscrutable and complex. I think she’s a sort of goddess to me, really.”
It’s a spellbinding, less-is-more performance from Anderson, who slowly reveals the character of Gibson: she’s sexually confident, supportive of junior female colleague Dani Ferrington (Niamh Mcgrady) and a dedicated detective who sleeps on a camp bed in her office at the investigation’s most intense period. “By the end of the second season you don’t know whether she’s got a family,” adds Cubitt. “It would not be very Fall -like for her to go back somewhere, open the door and her husband and children are there. You get the idea that she’s a loner, and she has to be a loner to do what she does. She’s so dedicated to protecting the vulnerable, and putting paid to Spector’s heinous actions, that you feel as though there’s not anything else in her life. I think there’s still a way to go to uncover more about her.”
Cubitt always wanted to bring back both characters for the third season, but that was a challenge since the Northern Irish actor’s career went stratospheric with Fifty Shades Of Grey. He’s currently starring in Anthropoid alongside Cillian Murphy. Having originally cast Dornan when the actor was largely unknown, Cubitt was faced with trying to accommodate the schedules of two big stars for Series 3. The solution was to intensively film all Spector’s scenes by the mid-way point of the shoot – already a “tougher shoot” because it was winter – to allow Dornan to head to Vancouver for Fifty Shades Darker.
“Jamie’s career has changed so dramatically,” says Cubitt. “He was, as everyone acknowledged at the time, a risky piece of casting. I was convinced the moment I saw him that he was a really superb actor and a great Spector as well, and I’d like to think that’s been borne out by what he’s done – and by what you’re about to see as well.”
Dornan was capable of inhabiting the twisted fantasy world of Spector as well as portraying a killer who’s physically strong – a genuinely threatening presence as he prowls his victims’ homes in a balaclava. Crucially, though, Dornan combines seriously creepy with Spector’s other side: caring father. As well as giving his young daughter one of his kill trophies (a necklace), he’s the psychopath hiding in plain sight, stalking one woman during a family outing to Belfast’s Botanic Gardens. “Even a multiple murderer can have his share of good qualities – or a pretty face,” as Gibson muses early in the investigation.
While rooting for Gibson, we’re also compelled by Spector; Dornan has even suggested the audience has to be on his side to a certain extent. “One of the key things that happened in the audition was we tried people talking to their son when he comes home, and a lot of people couldn’t hide their sense that the man was a monster,” says Cubitt. “Whereas Jamie was immediately so completely plausible in that moment – even though he’s manipulating his child and lying to that child, he managed to do it in a way that made you think people on the receiving end of his psychopathic utterances would believe him.”
Cubitt reveals that he initially brought Dornan in to read for the part of James Olson (the cop who has a one-night stand with Gibson) but soon realised he had found his Spector. “I was looking for someone I thought could share the screen equally with Gillian and that’s a really tall order, because of her gifts as an actress, because she’s so incredible on camera,” says Cubitt. “Ultimately, you want the casting to feel as though it couldn’t be anybody else, in the way that with James Gandolfini no one else could be Tony Soprano. That’s how I feel about Jamie and Spector: the part could not be played better by anyone else.”
Even a multiple murderer can have good qualities
Dornan is a native of Northern Ireland, a setting that feels just as right for The Fall as its lead actors. When Burns meets Gibson from her flight, she notes the armoured car (“Welcome to Belfast,” he says) and learns that the first victim has connections to a prominent Unionist family. Like Gibson and Spector, Belfast is a key character in The Fall – and the show draws on local talent for its crew and cast. “I’m a Catholic who grew up in Northern Ireland, and I’m Assistant Chief Constable of the Northern Irish police force, which would never have happened 30 years ago,” says Lynch.
The location allows Cubitt to create a multi-layered drama featuring characters from different worlds, from the sectarian thug James Tyler (Brian Milligan) to police officers haunted by the bad old days. “It certainly informs certain of the older characters particularly, so it’s part of my conception of Jim Burns that he’s been through a great deal that has had a major impact on him,” adds Cubitt. “When you talk to people – certainly people who
policed during the Troubles – then you do realise that they’ve lived through a lot, as indeed have lots of people of the right age out here. So that sort of darkness in the background seems to work well for The Fall – it adds a dimension to the drama.”
Gibson may bristle at Spector’s suggestion that they are alike, but they are both outsiders – in her case a cop from London who’s placed under intense scrutiny in Belfast. The sexual intrigue surrounding Gibson, as well as the shocking assaults on women, provoked claims of misogyny and sexism from some quarters. “I was disappointed by some of the reactions just because I contextualised what happened so carefully, I didn’t think there could be any doubt that it was fundamentally a feminist piece,” says Cubitt. “Obviously, it was always going to be transgressive and challenging. Because you’re invited to spend so much time with Spector, it’s really disturbing. I didn’t know how disturbing it would be when I started.” The Fall’s creator stresses that he is “very squeamish” about violence against women in TV drama and insists his show is “full of humanity” in its portrayal of victims. “I could name any number of shows that start with a dead victim, often female as it happens, about whom you know nothing,” he says. “But I was at pains to do something different, and to try to bring the character of Sarah Kay alive for the audience.” It’s also worth noting that the body count in The Fall is lower than in many crime shows – and more of those bodies are actually male. “What’s one more man to you… Let men perish,” as Spector says to Stella. The Fall is also unusual for extending its sinister storyline over three seasons. “Hopefully the audience will still have an appetite for it,” says Cubitt. Judging by the anticipation for Series 3, he can be confident of another ratings hit. There are intriguing international developments too. “The French are trying to get a version of The Fall off the ground. I met with Virginie Brac, who’s a very experienced writer, one of the Spiral writers,” he reveals.
Before helming his own series, Cubitt wrote for Prime Suspect (“Gibson doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve like Jane Tennison”) and worked on adaptations ranging from Martina Cole’s The Runaway to Sherlock Holmes. “I enjoyed doing The Hound Of The Baskervilles, but I think I’m in a position where I can probably either do more of The Fall or a new idea,” he says.
So what about a fourth season of The Fall – or even a film? “I don’t have a story that I want to tell this minute, but I’m thinking all the time,” says Cubitt. “I think the nature of the story will dictate the form it takes. I’m fascinated by her as a character. But you know, I’m pushing Gibson to the edge, so I wouldn’t want to say that she’s still standing by the end of this season.” As they look forward to Series 3, perhaps The Fall’s fans should prepare themselves for another cliffhanger. The Fall series 3 airs on BBC Two in September.
I didn’t know how disturbing it would be
Does Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) return in Series 3? This promo shot suggests... maybe.
Will we learn more about icy Dsi stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) in Series 3?
John Lynch plays Gibson’s troubled boss.
Dsi stella Gibson: feminist role model or just plain scary?
Dornan: shades of grey indeed...