Three years ago I interviewed face-to-face in the lead-up to a new series on BBC2 called The Fall. He was to play a serial killer called Paul Spector, opposite Gillian Anderson’s Stella Gibson, the police officers tasked with tracking him down. He was a lovely, slightly shy man, full of interesting insights, but little did we both know what happen to both the show and him during the next three years. Dornan is now a global star and a household name, while the show has gained awards, plaudits and much notoriety. I managed to get hold of an interview in the lead-up to this series, which you can read after the jump.
The Killing Times: Tell us about Paul Spector?
JD: Paul Spector’s a horrible man who is a serial murderer. He’s being investigated for a number of crimes he’s committed in Belfast by Stella Gibson, played by Gillian Anderson. I think the thing about Spector that has been more harrowing for people is that he is a relatively normal person, outside of the murder aspect! He has a stable enough family life, he has a job, he’s well educated, he’s middle class and he could be living next door to you. That’s what I think is interesting, making the serial killer more accessible and relatable.
TKT: Are there any redeeming features in his character?
JD: It’s hard to think of someone who’s capable of doing what he does as having any sort of redeeming features. But I think he has aspects of being a decent father, especially to his daughter Olivia – that is the closest relationship that he has and it’s probably the closest to love that he is capable of. He’s also quite good at his job as a bereavement counsellor. It’s hard to find good things to say about the guy but if we’re having to then I would say that!
TKT: What impact has that had on playing him?
JD: He’s such a complex character from top to tail, and those complexities get revealed more and more over the three series. In series three particularly, we get an insight into the mind of Spector. Questions are answered about why he is the way he is and the events of his life that has led him to the position that he’s in now. It’s such a treat to get to play someone who’s so layered – even after four years of playing him I am still finding out more about the character.
TKT: This is the climax of the story between Gibson and Spector, what’s the journey from series one been like for you?
JD: Professionally, this job is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I love doing it and filming the third series was like coming home. I’m from Belfast too so it was, literally, coming home as I haven’t lived there for 15 years and it’s been mostly the same crew involved over all three series. The subject matter is so hard but we have a real laugh on this job. It’s focused when it has to be but we still have a lot of fun making it.
TKT: Is that light relief important when it comes to making The Fall?
JD: I’m certainly someone who needs to break away and clear my mind of his mind whenever I can. I don’t think it’s particularly healthy to stay in his head-space too long. I oddly find myself in a position now where I can ease into playing him quite quickly when I have to, but then on the same note I can ease out of it very quickly. Allowing yourself to think the way Spector does is not pleasant.
TKT: How important is it that it’s filmed in Belfast?
JD: It was mentioned a lot in the first series that Belfast is its own character within The Fall. I remember the first time I read for the show, I actually read for a different part, not for Spector. I said to Allan that it was so refreshing to read something that is set in Belfast but isn’t directly involving The Troubles, although you do have to address the issues that the country has had and that is addressed a little bit in the show. The subject matter is so bleak but Belfast still comes out of it looking like a really great place. Someone told me you can go do a tour around all the different places that appear in The Fall, which is good for Belfast. Also I’m glad it was set in Belfast because I don’t have to do an accent, which is nice!
TKT: What’s it been like working with Gillian Anderson?
JD: It’s been four years of our lives. In the first series I had only one very fleeting moment with Gillian, I probably met her more doing press than I did in filming! Obviously in the second series I get more time with her, we had that 18-minute scene, and then in this series we get a lot more screen time together. It’s been great because it’s weird to have people constantly asking “What’s Gillian Anderson like to work with?” and I always said “Well you clearly haven’t watched The Fall then because I didn’t work with her in the first series, I had that one moment!” Now I can say I’ve worked with her substantially, and she’s brilliant. Gillian loves The Fall and playing Stella Gibson, and I think would play her for the rest of her life! That’s pretty telling for someone who’s had a career as varied and as successful as Gillian has. I have not done anywhere near as much work as Gillian but I’d be amazed if I play a character that I enjoy playing as much as I do enjoy playing Paul Spector.
TKT: How would you describe The Fall to people who haven’t watched it before?
JD: The Fall is a rollercoaster between two very differently aligned people who are almost driven by each other. There’s a need for Spector to have Gibson chasing him and, in a way, it drives him on more. He just loves playing the game with her. She would like him to be locked away to pay for his crimes but I do think there’s a need for him in her too. What’s interesting about The Fall and what sets it apart from other crime shows, is that it’s an ‘I done it’ instead of a ‘Who done it’. We get to explore the psychology of people like Paul Spector and also the psychology of Stella Gibson and that’s rare in drama. We reveal in the first three minutes of the first episode in series one who the killer is, which is great for impatient people!
The Fall: Thursday 29th September, 9pm, BBC2