[Editor’s Note: The following interview contains spoilers for “Killing Eve” Season 3, Episode 5, “Are You from Pinner?”]
Most famous actors get used to fans screaming “I love you!” or seeing similar affections pop up on social media. But after breaking out as the beguiling assassin in BBC America’s hit drama “Killing Eve,” Jodie Comer gets slightly more targeted requests.
How does the actress behind Villanelle respond when fans ask her to “stab me to death with those stilettos?”
“I don’t!” Comer said, during a phone call with IndieWire. “The thing is: I couldn’t be more different from her. I’ve got no coordination, and I’m so clumsy and fall on my own feet. So if they want me to kill them, it would not be as cool as Villanelle. It would be awful.”
As for her violent character’s mysterious allure, Comer thinks she offers viewers a vicarious thrill.
“There’s always that element of, ‘Oh, I really want to have a drink with her, but then do I?'” Comer said. “Forget the killing and that stuff, but there’s something about her that makes people want to live through her, and there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had there. But yes, there is definitely an intense support, which has been incredible […] but it’s definitely, definitely intense.”
With such obsession comes other questions — questions relevant to “Killing Eve’s” ongoing story and Villanelle’s role in it. Specifically, Season 3 chose to address a lingering revelation from last year’s finale: Villanelle’s family. Long thought to be dead, Konstantin (Kim Bodnia) let slip that the woman formerly known as Oksana still has relatives in Russia, and new showrunner Suzanne Heathcote felt such a major admission couldn’t be ignored.
“Suddenly, in that one line of dialogue, she discovers that not all her family is dead,” Heathcote said. “So there’s something about her [past] that needs to be explored — she was Oksana, she made herself into Villanelle, and she really needs Oksana to be destroyed, in a way, to make sure she’s in control of herself.”
But part of Villanelle’s charm lies in her capricious nature; she’s always surprising in what (or who) she wants and inventive in how she carries out each assassination. Every explanation provided for her unpredictable behavior threatens to erase the reason audiences are enamored with her at all. Could revealing her backstory open a door that can’t be closed?
“By Season 3, you’ve earned the right — as an audience and a storyteller — to get a peek at who this person really is,” Heathcote said. “And she’s still ethereal and enigmatic; you’ll see in the later episodes that it’s not like everything about her is now explained. We’ve just seen something of who she is beneath it all.”
“I don’t want her to become predictable,” Comer said. “I have to move forward with her, and that’s what we tried to do in this season: to find a new way of growing with her.”
Des Willie/BBCAmerica/Sid Gentle
That path led back to Russia, where in Episode 5, “Are You From Prinner?”, Villanelle walks into a house filled with blood relatives, including her mother, Tatiana (played by Evgenia Dodina) and a half-brother Boris (Temirlan Blaev). The two of them provide a window into Villanelle’s past, as Tatiana’s treatment of Boris triggers Villanelle. While their mother is able to keep up appearances most of the time, Villanelle knows why Boris keeps hitting himself — Tatiana had pushed little Oksana to similarly harmful extremes.
“We’ve seen her interact with children before […] and this is the first child she has a different relationship with,” Comer said before adding she and the producers had conversations about how nice Villanelle could be to Boris. “There’s a weirdness she connects with and an innocence as well. […] She sees a vulnerability in him, [and] she sympathizes with him, which is something we don’t really see Villanelle do — that can seem out of character, but I think she wanted to set him free. She could see the road to the life he was going to lead.”
Heathcote agreed. “Jodie would always say — and I felt this was really important to honor — that Villanelle doesn’t kill just for the sake of it. They may be professional reasons, but there’s a reason behind why she kills people. She’s not a serial killer. She doesn’t just go out and kill people because she’s in the mood for killing people. With that in mind, she understands the manipulation of the mother with [Boris]. In her mind, she’s setting him free. It’s almost giving him the chance she didn’t quite get.”
Over the course of the episode, Villanelle observes her family like she studies past obsessions: by getting too close. She walks right into the house; she sits around watching TV and joins family game night; she goes to the local harvest festival and chucks pieces of cow poop. But when she’s found all the amusement she can in her family, she has to confront reality: Tatiana thought her child was evil, that there was “a darkness” over her, and abandoned her because of it. Villanelle isn’t just pissed off by such a hateful belief, but she’s seen over her time in the house how Tatiana’s wicked ways are infecting the rest of her family, especially Boris.
So she kills her mother and burns the house down — guiding little Boris outside to safety and a hidden envelope full of money.
“We had to make that moment significant,” Comer said. “It can’t be an easy decision for her to make about her mother. It has to have depth and take the audience on a journey with her.”
Des Willie/BBCAmerica/Sid Gentle
“I really wanted you to see the journey of the mother,” Heathcote said. “From when she drops her shopping [bag] upon seeing Villanelle to the end when there’s something a little inherited about what Villanelle has, in terms of the ability to mask [emotions]. Did the mother have real love for Villanelle, or was she able to portray that in a way that only true psychopaths can?”
For Comer, it was important that Villanelle respond to her mother in a human way, not only to mark the significance of this moment but to help dispel long-held myths about Villanelle’s mentality.
“I hate the idea of, ‘Oh, she wouldn’t cry, she wouldn’t feel things because she’s a psychopath!’ I always wanted to break up that box,” Comer said. “That’s how the character was described in Season 1, but actually, we gotta give her room to move.”
“We have an amazing psychologist who helps us with the psychopath element of Villanelle, and he said something very interesting,” Heathcote said. “‘A lot of psychopaths love their mothers. They have this thing where they’ll do anything to protect their moms. They still want their moms to love them.'”
Heathcote took that advice and ran with it, making sure Villanelle feels the effects of her decision over the rest of Season 3.
“The end of Episode 5 kind of alters her for the foreseeable [future],” Comer said. “That action is so personal as opposed to everything she’s done before. […] Hopefully you can see that continue in the following couple of episodes. It’s like she’s on another planet. Her mind is definitely elsewhere. […] Definitely between Episodes 5 and 8 is where we really sink our teeth into Villanelle in a much deeper way. There were a lot of things that took me by surprise.”
With three episodes left in Season 3 and Season 4 already ordered, surprises are key to keeping audiences hooked for years to come. No one wants to see Villanelle’s next kill coming — even if she’s coming for them.
“Killing Eve” airs new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.