On the Set of ‘The Fall’: Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan Set the Stage for a Final Showdown (2016)
The first and most obvious question about the third season of The Fall, Netflix’s murky British serial-killer thriller, is answered as soon as we spot Jamie Dornan on the set.
“I’m here,” he says in passing, sporting the beard that he’s worn ever since he first played the loving-dad-slash-homicidal-maniac Paul Spector. “I guess that’s a bit of a giveaway.”
Dornan’s mere presence in Belfast counts as a spoiler because watching the final scene of last year’s run of The Fall, you could be forgiven for thinking Spector was decidedly dead. Two seasons of cat-and-mouse between TV’s most toothsome psychopath and his icy nemesis, detective Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), culminated in Spector lying bleeding out in Gibson’s arms, having just been shot. Gibson had got her man but she’d been denied the chance to bring him to book. Given The Fall has always been about the minds and the motives of Gibson and Spector — we’ve known from the very first episode who-dunit, just not why — this was a very unsatisfactory ending for all concerned. (Not least the many Jamie Dornan fans who had tuned in to The Fall in the first place to see what Christian Grey did in his downtime).
Well, fear not, Jamie Dornan is most definitely involved in the new season — which airs its finale this week in the U.K., so beware larger spoilers online — and not in flashbacks or dream sequences but right front and center.
“There’s a lot of… hospital action,” Dornan says on set, suggesting that he spends much of the early episodes flat on his back with a respirator as doctors, trying to keep his character alive, perform their duty of care even if they might rather let Spector die for his crimes.
Just as Dornan looks as if he might reveal whether he’ll make it out of his sickbed in the new six-part season, creator and director Allan Cubitt comes in and shuts him down.
“I don’t want to tell the audience anything about whether he lives or dies past the first five minutes,” Cubitt says. “I would rather they tuned in going, ‘Well, we don’t know if he’s gonna survive episode one, and the whole thing’s then gonna be about something else.’”
With respect… fat chance. What exec or writer is going to kill off a trump card like Jamie Dornan, who over the three seasons of The Fall has gone from former model to movie star, thanks to his starring role in Fifty Shades of Grey? More to the point, Dornan is here today, he’s not on a gurney, he’s wearing a sweater and we’re filming in a vacant school. Gillian Anderson is on set, too, and from that you can deduce that Spector and Gibson’s macabre, obsessive dance of death has some way to run. What form it will take is anybody’s guess, but there are still questions about bodies, murders, and motivations that only Spector can answer. Given he’s made outsmarting Gibson his mission from the minute she came on the case, expect Spector to be as creepy in cross-examination as he was stalking random young women.
“I think if Spector’s able, then he is always wanting to manipulate and mess with Gibson,” says Dornan. “The whole show has been distilled down to a psychological thriller, really. Last season, [once Gibson had Spector in custody], there was a move in to a sort of existential, internal kind of quality to the thing — even in their big scene together [when Gibson got to grill Spector], they’re exploring one another’s psyche and trying to undermine one another in some sort of fashion. What I will say is I have had more asked of me as an actor to portray Spector this season than any other season, I think. It’s been the biggest challenge, but I love that and it’s why you do it.”
Also on set today is the Swedish actor Krister Henriksson, best known as the original Swedish Wallander before Kenneth Branagh took on the role in the English-language version. Henriksson says he will play a psychiatrist. “My specialty is memory loss. You can read in to that what you like!” he adds, before wondering if he’s given too much away.
The point about The Fall, of course, is not just what happens, but also the effect of those happenings on the hairs on the back of your neck. This is a series that has always come with some discomforting psychological underpinnings, starting with casting one of the world’s most appealing men as one of its most unappealing human beings.
“Right from the start,” says Dornan, “this is a guy who has a family, who lives on a quiet street, has a very solid professional job, looks normal, you know. Often these guys who’ve committed multiple murders are like that, so there is an element of, ‘It could be the guy next door,’ which I think is more frightening. I think it could almost get lots of people asking questions about themselves and the people around them.”
That’s probably unsettling enough for most of us, but in Gibson and Spector’s grim pas de deux, you’re being shown an obsession that goes way beyond professional commitment. Dornan describes it as follows: “I think there’s an understanding of each other that’s deeper than a standard detective/murderer understanding. I think they both very much get off on the relationship in their own ways. There’s a part of Spector that has sort of needed Gibson throughout the first two series, and now for Stella, although she wants to just stop him and solve the crime, there’s also like a need for her almost to have Spector.”
Later on, we put it to Gillian Anderson that their mutual mania might be something akin to love. She’s not having it. She points to a line last season where Gibson said she found Spector “repulsive” and “detested him with every fiber of her being.”
“I think she is absolutely disgusted by the degree of violence against women in the world, period, and the amount of time that perpetrators end up getting off or getting a couple of years for raping a few girls and ruining the rest of their lives or whatever it is,” Anderson says.
Yet The Fall has been criticized for not being disgusted enough at violence against women. Earlier this year, Lucinda Coxon, the writer of The Danish Girl, singled out The Fall for using “voyeuristic” thrills and casual misogyny in its depiction of female murder scenes.
“People can think what they like — I know what this is,” Anderson counters. “It’s so wrong-headed — were people to maybe sit back and look at Allan’s intention, which is the opposite of what they are claiming, they would see something very different. I think that Allan is so emotional and invested in the fact of how women are treated in the world, and I really feel like this is his way of getting to say a lot through this script.”
The Fall, Anderson points out, has, over the course of its run, shown a cross-section of women from the young to the elderly. And in every case, their psychology and treatment have been represented properly.
“You get to see the devastation that can be wreaked by the various levels of misogyny that exist in the world. By pointing at it, Allan is inviting debate,” Anderson says. “I don’t think that there is anything that he does that is gratuitous. There seem to be a lot of people who do get it; those that don’t and don’t like it don’t have to watch.”
For her, the criticism is particularly wrong-headed because she (and many viewers) see Stella Gibson as one of the strongest female characters on television.
“I love how she carries herself and how ballsy she is and what she stands up for and what she believes in. And yet, I am confounded by her,” Anderson says. “That’s clearly Allan and his writing, but she fascinates me. The way that she operates in the world I find incredibly compelling; she does things that don’t match up with her supposed reasoning and morals. It’s not often that I read a character that is mysterious and yet I still want to know about them: so much these days is given to you in the directives between the lines, and so it’s easy to figure characters out very early on in scripts.”
It’s little surprise that Anderson wants to do more of The Fall. While it’s hard to see how Paul Spector can go anywhere other than to prison at the end of this series, Stella Gibson, Anderson suggests, could keep on Falling.
“This year, how it ends is very much how I wanted it to end. But as to where it could go? This is something where we could potentially take a break and then come back in five or 10 years. It would be actually quite interesting to see where Gibson is in her life and her work,” she says. “She is my favorite character I’ve played on television, my favorite of them all alongside Blanche [Dubois, in A Streetcar Named Desire].”
If Jamie Dornan is unlikely to return (though stranger things have been chronicled in the rich annals of television), The Fall will go down as his launchpad to bigger things. Yet he hopes that his many Fifty Shades devotees will come back to the earlier work.
“I don’t know what Fifty Shades fans think of Paul Spector,” says Dornan, “and the two series are nothing alike, obviously, but I think there’s probably lots of people who watch The Fall because of Fifty Shades. If Fifty Shades has opened more eyes to The Fall, then that’s only a good thing for all of us.”
Anderson helped cast Dornan in The Fall, and she has watched as his fame has skyrocketed. She compares it to her own experience when the sudden success of The X-Files made her a global star.
“I remember when journalists used to say to me, ‘God, your life! You have gone from nobody, no one knowing you, to this woman. What’s that like to suddenly have this?’ I remember thinking, ‘It’s all right, I just get on with it, I am just at work every day, you know,’” she says. “Actually, the reality is that for someone like Jamie, well, we went out for a meal the last time we were up here, and in Belfast Jamie cannot walk a square inch on a sidewalk without being mobbed. He’s incredibly generous with his time. The amount of times he stood up during our meal to take a picture… he has an incredible amount of grace and patience.”
He’s needed every ounce of that good grace, because with his background as a model and with the stratospheric sales of the Fifty Shades books, everyone had an opinion on who was cast as Christian Grey and the subsequent movie adaptation.
“There were some horrific things said about me after Fifty Shades,” Dornan says. “I mean the critics? They’re just being honest, you know; they’re doing their job like we’re trying to do our jobs, and so they’re totally entitled from where I stand. The only time I get ruffled by bad reviews or whatever is I just feel bad for all of the people working their balls off to make movies and then someone else will just say, ‘Well, that’s shite.’”
He laughs off the recollection of an Instagram image where someone had cut together all of his poor notices.
“Someone forwarded me it, and I’ve read them out a couple of times on jobs just because they’re so funny. One of them says, ‘Dornan has all the charisma of oatmeal’— I quite like oatmeal!”
You don’t sense he particularly cares: his old friends from Northern Ireland, who he sees when he’s back filming The Fall, wouldn’t let him get too wrapped up in all that; he describes himself as “not a very serious person”; and anyway, he can always hold up his performances in The Fall, or this year’s Anthropoid, as counterevidence.
“I back myself as an actor,” he says. “I do believe that I can do it, and I’ll continue to try and prove that. I’ve always sort of wanted to be an actor, but I didn’t really give a f–k to be honest early on; I wasn’t very committed to it, I was lazy. Now I surprise myself in terms of how much I care about it. I think I just didn’t realize quite how much I wanted to do it.”
Season 3 of The Fall premieres Oct. 29 on Netflix. Seasons 1 and 2 are streaming now.