Falling in love with Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan in The Fall
As the acclaimed Belfast-based serial-killer drama The Fall returns to RTE, the show’s stars Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan talk to Anne Marie Scanlon
Imagine you are working in a charity shop when in comes Paul Spector, the serial killer made famous by the TV show The Fall (a character who has also been dubbed ‘The Belfast Strangler’) and donates a box of books about murder, serial killers and the pathology of men who slaughter women.
Well, just such a thing happened recently when actor Jamie Dornan, who returns as serial-killer Spector in the third season of The Fall had a clear-out at home and decided to get rid of a big pile of books he’d read as research for the character.
I ask Dornan how the person in the shop reacted and he replies, laughing: “I hid them away under other books.” (Mind you, the person in the shop might just as easily have been shocked at seeing Christian Grey, a role he also played as the sado-masochist hero of the movie Fifty Shades of Grey rolling up at the ‘donation station’.)
Dornan is, in many ways, like Spector – good looking, soft Belfast accent and a father of two. That’s pretty much where the similarities end. Many actors playing “baddies” search for their good points or things they can sympathise with in order to inhabit the role. I ask Dornan if he likes Spector.
He takes his time in answering. “No,” he says eventually. “I don’t like what he stands for and I don’t like him per se, but I find him fascinating and there’s a huge allure about him that got me early on and I think that’s important. But I don’t like him, God no,” he adds almost shuddering.
I wonder if there are any parallels with the other role that’s made Dornan a household name – Christian Grey. This time there is no hesitation.
“No,” Dornan replies emphatically. “No?” I prod further. “I don’t think they’re anything alike,” Dornan insists but adds: “I do understand why people think they’re alike. I think it would be wrong as an actor to find too many parallels.”
Dornan goes on to tell me that the aspect of Spector’s character he found most disturbing was the proximity of his crimes to his children.
“I didn’t even have kids (when they made the first series) and I found it very disturbing that he would be tucking his kids into bed and then going and murdering an innocent woman.”
Since making the first series of the hit show, the 34-year-old actor has married English actress Amelia Warner and the couple now have two daughters, one just under three and a baby. Dornan says he would find the first series “harder to watch now, especially having little girls.”
Since the first series of The Fall was screened in 2011, the show has often been accused of misogyny and, oddly in my opinion, that Dornan was too good-looking to play a depraved serial killer.
“Who said that?” Dornan demands jokingly and, like a typical Irishman, tries to downplay any compliments about his appearance.
Frankly, the notion that someone is too attractive to play a killer is rather absurd. As Dornan himself points out, one of the reasons the show resonated with audiences was it terrified people “that someone like Spector can live amongst (them), he can be your neighbour, your bereavement counsellor (Spector’s profession) and, as hard as it is to accept, that is the reality. A lot of these guys who have committed multiple murders have seamlessly fitted into society and people very close to them, wives, girlfriends, best friends have had no idea.”
Dornan’s co-star Gillian Anderson who plays steely detective Stella Gibson is quick to refute claims that the show is anti-woman.
“Yes, we are showing violence against women,” Anderson tells me, “but acts like (these) against women do take place in real life. Worse things against women occur in every city and every country in the world. Showing it is not support of that.”
“The episodes,” Anderson continues, “also show the impact that this malignant human has on everybody’s lives – it’s so horrendous and atrocious, he affects everything. I don’t think (The Fall) romanticises his acts in any way, shape or form.”
Whatever the viewers’ opinion on misogyny or the lack of it on screen, The Fall has produced one of the greatest feminist icons of our times in Anderson’s Stella, who is strong, driven and wholly unapologetic.
When I tell Anderson that Stella is my role model and who I want to be when I grow up, she eagerly replies: “Me too, me too!”
Ironically, like that other iconic female cop, Sarah Lund from The Killing, Stella’s wardrobe is almost as much feted as her take-no-prisoners character. While Sarah Lund had jumper sales go through the roof, Stella’s trademark silky blouses are much lusted-after by the fashion-conscious.
“When I try and put her blouses on in my own life,” Anderson confesses, “they don’t look right. I’m telling you, it’s weird, I can’t pull it off.”
The star who became a household name in the massive ’90s TV show The X Files goes on to describe herself as a “wimp”. So is there any crossover between you and Stella, I ask. “Maybe,” she replies.
From the beginning, The Fall has been brutal and horrifying but the violence isn’t contained to Spector acting out his dark fantasies, it also encompasses domestic abuse and sectarian rivalries. Part of the impact of the show is that not only does it show the new glossy post-Good Friday Agreement Belfast but acknowledges the divisions that are still so close to the surface.
Anderson agrees. “That adds to the amazing tension,” she says. “I don’t think the show would have worked so well if it had been shot (anywhere else) in the UK.” The star goes on to say that she loves Northern Ireland. “It’s beautiful, the food is delicious and gets better every time.”
Fans of the series will know that Season Two ended on a cliffhanger with both Spector and DS Anderson (Colin Morgan) collapsing, injured after being fired on by Jimmy Tyler (Brian Milligan), who has a personal grudge against Spector.
Tellingly, Gibson rushes to cradle Spector in her arms and not the young policeman she had just slept with.
Anderson defends Stella’s actions as “empathy for the victims”, going on to explain that if Spector died the victims would lack closure, which would be “completely devastating”.
“And,” she adds in a more Stella-like tone and waving her hand dismissively, “Anderson’s shot in the arm. Please!”