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Remote Controlled: ‘Killing Eve’ Team on Making a ‘Witty’ Spy Thriller

Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera.

In  this week’s episode, Variety‘s executive editor of TV, Debra Birnbaum, talks with the creator of “Killing Eve,” Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Fleabag”) along with stars Sandra Oh (“Grey’s Anatomy”) and Jodie Comer.

Killing Eve,” a new thriller on BBC America, traces the paths of two women who become obsessed with each other: Comer’s female assassin Villanelle, and Oh’s Eve, the MI-5 operative who’s trying to catch her.

Oh says she was drawn to the role for the opportunity to work with Waller-Bridge. “I love this character,” she says. “I love that the show centers around the relationship between these two women who are hunting for each other.  I’m fascinated by that and by upending our title, ‘Killing Eve.’ People immediately assume that Eve is the one who’s going to be killed as opposed to reading that title in a different way.”

Comer says she too, was drawn in by Waller-Bridge’s script, and the opportunity to play a character unlike anything she’d ever seen before. “The more free I was with her, the more fun it was for me,” she says. “She just came to life more.”

Waller-Bridge says once the actresses were both cast, she started writing to them and their abilities, infusing the characters with what they brought with their performances. While Comer infused Villanelle with a greater sense of mischievousness, Waller-Bridge says Oh’s intelligence helped shape Eve as well. “Knowing that Sandra can in the space of a second can make you laugh and then can frighten you,” she explains.

Finding the right tone for the show was key for her — it’s darkly comic as Villanelle completes a series of highly stylized murders. “Villanelle is entertaining herself and that’s hopefully the magic trick of it,” says Waller-Bridge. “Because Villanelle doesn’t take the violence seriously, that means that when we’re with her, she’s flippant about the violence, so that’s part of what’s so shocking about it — that she can kill somebody or stab somebody or do something horrendous and then just walk away. But then it’s balanced in the show because Eve doesn’t feel like that about violence.”

Just as “Fleabag” was one of many recent half-hours that allowed some drama into comedy, Waller-Bridge strove to bring comedy into h0ur-longs.  “How do you keep that sense of urgency and plot and an epic scale, but keep those little moments of heart and humor in it?” she says. “It’s not so much hiding a drama in a comedy, it’s more kind of slotting a little bit of comedy in a drama.”

And while the murders are virtually bloodless, Waller-Bridge acknowledges that was more of a standards-and-practices decision than a creative one. “I would’ve had it way bloodier if I’m honest,” she says with a laugh.

Listen to this week’s podcast here:

New episodes of “Remote Controlled” are available every Friday, and you can find past episodes here.

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