Anna Gunn Faces Grief, Grit and Heartache with ‘Gracepoint’ Role

Anna Gunn did her homework in preparation for playing a police detective in “Gracepoint.”

Gunn undoubtedly felt plenty of pressure in taking the role, not only because it would be her TV followup to the supernova that was “Breaking Bad,” but also because “Gracepoint” is a redo of the British drama “Broadchurch” that was so solidly embraced by critics on both sides of the Pond.

In Fox’s remake of the ITV series, Gunn stars as Detective Ellie Miller, partner to David Tennant’s Emmett Carver as they investigate the murder of 12-year-old Danny Solano.

Gunn told reporters during a conference call Thursday that she went straight to real-world sources, and spoke to police detectives that work similar cases, two of them also mothers like her character. “It was important to understand having that balance — having to balance that job and having to drive home and be a mother,” Gunn said.

Such conflict arises in tonight’s installment of the series, as Ellie must allow her son to be interviewed by Carver. “It’s just that motherly instinct – the protective sort of impulse,” said Gunn of Ellie’s trouble with the situation, “and she feels like her son has already experienced such trauma.”

Gunn added that the interview will be another point of contention between Ellie and Carver, because “she does not understand his way of approaching things and he doesn’t agree with her way…she’s a really good cop – she’s really good at what she does but she’s a human being,” said Gunn. “It’s a constant push and pull between what she’s experiencing emotionally internally and what she has to do to continue her job.”

The internal struggle was not so foreign to the actress, who said that she has faced a similar challenge in letting herself get lost in roles. She pointed out the similarity between herself and her character, and their shared need to compartmentalize the job from family. “There would be times in the story that would really get to me but I would think ‘you have to go along and you have to do your job,’” she said.

“I would get so immersed in the story because when the writing is that good you can lose yourself in it,” she said, “and when you’re going through grief for 13 hours a day sometimes it’s hard to shed that at the end of the day.”

Gunn found herself in such a situation, filming the discovery of the boy’s body on the beach in the series premiere. “That was just truly heartbreaking,” she said. The actors did not rehearse the scene, which led to going into the performance with a similar sense of shock as their characters. “There’s nothing more heartbreaking that you can imagine than the death of a child. I remember that being just a devastating scene.”

Gunn said that she couldn’t help but cry in between takes, and credited her cast mate Virginia Kull for maintaining an emotional performance throughout. “There are some scenes that you do that you can drop it between takes,” she said, but sometimes “you can’t help but think of your own kid.”

Gunn also shared that viewers can expect Ellie to evolve as the series progresses. “In the beginning she and Carver approach things so differently. She has a much softer approach to what she does and he charges in there and has a viewpoint that everyone is a suspect and everybody could be guilty, and that really bothers her.”

“In a way she goes through a loss of innocence,” she said, noting her character’s inherent trust in the citizens of Gracepoint. “She has to slowly change her viewpoint and the way she approaches not only her job but the way she looks at the world.”

Aside from the mystery, Gunn hopes that audiences will find themselves engrossed in the “real character study” aspect. “What I think is really interesting and what will drive you is the fabric of that town that starts to get ripped and torn away and I think it’s something everyone can relate to,” she said. “What happens to human beings when they’re faced with that kind of crisis?”

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