Killing Eve has an established tradition of bringing on a new female lead writer for each new season of the hit drama. For Season 3, AMC and BBC AMERICA welcomes Fear the Walking Dead alum Suzanne Heathcote to the family. In this Q&A, Heathcote describes what it’s like to helm a cultural phenomenon in its third season, how new characters are going to shake up the series, and hints at Eve and Villanelle’s journey this season.
Q: Were you a fan of the show before coming onboard as the Season 3 lead writer?
A: Yes, I was actually, a huge fan. I’d known Phoebe [Waller-Bridge] a bit, we worked together years ago at her theater company. I’d been a playwright for a long time. I’ve seen everything she’s written, and as soon as I heard about Killing Eve, I was already a big fan of Sandra [Oh], and I knew Jodie [Comer]’s work as well, so I was just really intrigued by it. Once I started watching it, I was just instantly hooked. There was a lot of buzz around it in Los Angeles where I lived, and lots of people were talking to me about it, because it’s such a British show. So I liked it a lot before I ever knew I’d be working on it.
Q: What was it like for you to come into the third season and helm this cultural phenomenon?
A: I can’t lie, you certainly feel that you’re taking something on that so many people love, and you do feel the responsibility of that walking in. And particularly, Phoebe’s a very loved person as well, so it’s a combination of that, and that her voice is so specific and unique. Obviously Emerald [Fennell] had taken up the helm the year before me as well, so then of course honoring what Emerald had done and where she’s taken these characters, and making sure you’re taking it to a new place while still keeping intact who these people are and the rules of the show. It was about keeping all of those things in check. But ultimately, you have to stay true to the story that you’re trying to tell.
Q: How do you balance honoring the path that Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Emerald Fennell have already laid, while also carving your own way going forward in the story?
A: I think it’s really about examining where these characters have come from and what places would you like to put them in. It’s really about looking at the characters. Where do you want that person to start at the season emotionally, and where do you want them to end, and how can you build the story to get them on that journey, organically? And with Season 3 of any show, it’s about trying to find new notes, and taking the characters to places we haven’t seen them, so we’re not repeating and you don’t feel like you’re treading water, but rather remaining organic to those people and just taking them places that feel true to the people we know and love.
Q: You’ve been writing for a long time and studied at The Royal Court Theatre. Can we ask what your “a-ha” moment was, when you knew this was what you wanted to do and that it was going to work out?
A: Well, it sort of crept up on me, writing as a career. I trained classically as an actor, and then I worked as an actor in the theater, predominantly, for about five years. And it was really my frustration at the lack of parts for women, especially on the stage, that started me writing. It’s a very cliched story. I thought, “I’ll write a play that I can be in, I’ll write a part for myself,” because of the lack of roles for women. And I was very fortunate to get into the writing program at the Royal Court. But then the play that I wrote while I was in that program, I actually realized as I was writing it that I wasn’t cast-able in any of the parts I’d written. [Laughs] I was too old for the parts I was writing because it was about a fourteen-year-old girl, who was the main connector, and her best friend were the only female characters in that play. And I thought, “Oh, you know, I could write her a bit older so I could play it myself, but it wouldn’t really work for the story. So I’ll see if I can finish a play first, and if this is really something I can do, I’ll write myself a part in the next one.” And then that play got me my agent… and from that, I’ve just never written a part for myself in anything I’ve ever written. I just got hooked on writing. [Laughs] Before I knew it, I moved to New York to continue writing as a playwright in New York for four years… It took a long time, really, but it was during my time in America when I really knew there was absolutely no turning back, it was my life one hundred percent, writing. And from New York, then moving to Los Angeles and writing for television. It’s a long, slow process, no one ever makes their living as a writer first off. It’s impossible. You’re writing for free for a long time, so it’s always a slow process. But you know, when you’re doing it, if it’s your real passion, the joy of writing is that no one can stop you from doing it. No one can stop you, if you’re in your room, from writing a script.
Q: It’s amazing to hear how you started wanting to write more roles for women, and here you are heading a show lauded for some of the most compelling female characters on television.
A: It’s funny how those things come back in on themselves. You never plan it that way. I never thought I’d be writing for television. I just thought I’d write a play that I could be in. I never in a million years thought that I’d be living in Los Angeles and writing for TV. None of this was stuff I planned. But if you just work hard and stick with what you’re really passionate about, the things that come your way are often much more exciting than you’d anticipate. But it’s hard. None of it is ever easy. Even this job. It’s a brilliant job and I can’t tell you how excited I was and am to be part of this show, but it’s hard. It’s really hard work, trying to create something that’s exciting and new and keeps within the world of the show. As with any job, as with anything you’re doing. It’s never easy, any of it, but it’s never meant to be. If you’re saying, “This is all very easy,” odds are, something’s gone wrong.
Q: You previously worked as a writer for AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead in Season 3. How do you feel coming back into the AMC Networks fold?
A: It’s great, I had such a good time on Fear the Walking Dead, and I really cut my teeth as a producer on that show. I did a lot of on-set work. I ended up producing more episodes that I didn’t even write, just as the way things worked out. I’m still very good friends with everyone I was working with on that show. AMC always felt like home. And it’s funny how it all comes back in that way. I never would have predicted that it would be on a show like this, and that I would be back in the UK, and all those sorts of things. I feel very welcomed back at AMC, and I just love the network. They have such a great approach to the work and the way they are with writers. It’s just terrific.
Q: Of course, Killing Eve is no zombie apocalypse, but there is a similar gnawing sense of that constant threat of danger. Did you take any of the things you learned on Fear to Killing Eve?
A: Well funny enough they were both Season 3, so we faced a lot of the same challenges that I did on Fear. You know, the world is very established and yet we need to do something new and take the characters places that no one has seen before. It’s a challenge to think of things that are new and shocking and surprising. And they’re both shows that really trade in the element of surprise. On Fear, you need to find new ways to create “zombie gags”: new ways of killing zombies, new ways of getting zombies into situations that didn’t feel predictable. With Killing Eve, it’s about, well Villanelle, obviously, and what she does, and how she approaches her work, and you need to keep that fresh and new. It’s important that it never felt trope-y or that every week we wouldn’t just see different versions of the same thing. So it’s about keeping all those characters, and of course Eve and her approach to Villanelle, and the way she feels about her, we need to keep that constantly evolving while still staying true to the relationship that’s being formed.
Q: In Season 2, Fiona Shaw’s character, Carolyn asks Eve, “Why are you and Villanelle so interested in each other?” We never really get a finite answer. Of course, we have our own theories, but how do you describe their mutual obsession?
A: It’s about two women who are only seen by each other. I think Villanelle, and her gifts, as it were, which as it happens, tends to be killing people — it’s an art form for Villanelle, and that’s something that Eve actually appreciates in itself. She appreciates the brilliance of what Villanelle does, and sees her as a human, fully in a way that no one else does. And Villanelle can feel that. And similarly for Eve, the things that she grapples with and her truly deeper, sometimes darker self, is truly seen by Villanelle, and elements of herself that she might have suppressed or hidden – or may not even be aware of – are seen by Villanelle, and she feels fully seen. I think it’s about these two women understanding each other in a way that no one ever has.
Q: The last we saw Eve and Villanelle in Season 2, they were not on “great” terms. Can you tease how the season will follow this new arc of their “relationship”?
A: So interesting, that one. I think for this season, it’s about these two women coming to terms with who they are, and what that means about their relationship with each other. Obviously we had to deal with the aftermath of what happened in Season 2; we couldn’t just pick up and pretend those things hadn’t happened. And obviously those things had a deep effect on both of them and where they are. So it’s really about finding these women where these events have taken them, and then rebuilding from that.
Q: The new season has added a lot of new characters. How can fans expect these new personalities to affect Season 3?
A: Well you always have those two women as the lynchpin relationship of the show. Their journeys are always at the spine of the story. But in a third season of the show, in order to make that world evolve and put your characters in new situations, you need to create new characters and new people to confront and challenge and drive the characters into new stories. So these characters are varying levels of good and bad in terms of their moral compasses, but all of them have a really exciting energy, and really challenge the main characters.
Q: Speaking of new dynamics, at the end of Season 2, Carolyn cut off Eve from MI6. How will their estrangement affect the new episodes?
A: Carolyn’s estrangement is very real, and Eve’s anger towards Carolyn is significant. It’s not something she’s forgiven and forgotten at the start of the new season. And their relationship as a result takes a new turn, and there’s a dynamic to it that’s different, but circumstances beyond their control force them back together in a way that neither of them could have ever imagined.
Q: What are you most excited for fans to see in Season 3?
A: I’m really excited about Villanelle’s journey this season. I think we see elements of her character that we’ve never seen before and begin to understand who she is as a person. Similarly with Eve, we really get to see deeper layers of Eve, and her really coming to terms with the person she is now. She’s forever changed because of what happened to her and what she’s been through, and it’s really about seeing her now, this new version of herself, and her acceptance of herself, which is very exciting and really takes her into new places. And with Carolyn and Konstantin, it’s about seeing these characters in a deeper way as well this season, and understanding their personal lives, and how those personal lives really feed into their professional lives. It’s about getting into deeper pockets of the characters and seeing them in a new way.
Q: Killing Eve has already been renewed for a fourth season. What are you looking forward to sharing with the next female lead writer?
A: I was very, very fortunate in that I had a lot of support from Phoebe and Emerald. [Phoebe] read the scripts, and it was invaluable having that support, and talking to Emerald and really getting her insights into it. I think the most important thing, for the new writer, is that they will have their own visions and desires to take the characters somewhere new. And I never felt that I had to alter that or change that for anyone else. I felt really supported in that way. So it would be to really support that new writer and tell them to stick to their guns and really take the characters where they believe they should go, and at the same time, to just support them and let them know that you’re there for them should they need anything. You do sometimes need to pick someone’s brain, just to make sure that what you’re thinking will fit into that world. But Phoebe is brilliant in that sense and very, very supportive. Just to know that they have all the support of the three of us going forward, and that we’re all here cheering them on.
Killing Eve Season 3 returns Sunday, April 12 at 9/8c.
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