The Fall: 'Stella's so at ease with who she is as a woman, there are lots of things I like about her... I wish I was her'
Exclusive: As fans prepare for the return of hit BBC drama The Fall, James Rampton meets stars Jamie Dornan and Gillian Anderson, who play a cat-and-mouse game in the thrilling Belfast-filmed series
The actor Jamie Dornan would like to make one thing clear from the outset: when he is playing the charismatic serial killer Paul Spector in BBC2’s hit crime drama The Fall, he is very much not a Method actor.
The Northern Irishman, who is very happily married to actress Amelia Warner and has two young daughters, laughs that he couldn’t possibly remain in character on The Fall 24/7.
“I don’t want to be Method and stay in character as Spector all the time. If I did, I wouldn’t have a wife any more.” Talking to the Belfast Telegraph at the launch of the eagerly awaited third series at the British Film Institute in London this week, Dornan adds: “Over the last four years, I have found ways of locking myself into Spector’s psyche quickly without too much build-up.
“But when I can, I jump out of his skin because I don’t think it’s appropriate to stay in it for longer than I have to.”
That’s not to say that the character hasn’t got into Dornan’s head.
The 34-year-old actor from Hollywood adds: “I woke up one morning just before we started filming, and on my chest were all these books about murderers.
“I was going to bed reading about these horrible people and, of course, it affects you.” So inevitably there were occasions when the actor simply needed a break from living in the mind of a psychopath.
“There’d be times where I’d see my mates. They’d want to go out for dinner, and I had to say, ‘Look, I can’t do it. I need to lie in a bath and listen to Maria Callas and think about ‘happy’.”
But for all Dornan’s quite understandable reluctance to inhabit the deeply disturbing character when the cameras have stopped rolling, there can be no doubting that Spector has made a splash.
Over the past two series, the character has riveted audiences. They have been spellbound by Spector.
Throughout The Fall, he provides a menacing, malevolent, yet magnetic presence which, maybe against your better judgment, you simply cannot take your eyes off.
Like Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, The Joker in the Dark Knight or Hans Gruber in Die Hard, Spector proves that the devil has all the best tunes. Audiences have been particularly gripped by his mesmerising cat and mouse relationship with Stella Gibson (played by Gillian Anderson), the driven detective pursuing him.
The show’s creator Allan Cubitt describes this relationship as, "A macabre, obsessive dance of death".
Viewers have also been hooked by Spector's astonishingly ironic double life: by day, he works as a bereavement counsellor, helping relatives of those who have died; by night, he is the 'Belfast Strangler', who gets his kicks from murdering dark-haired professional women in their 30s.
The third series, which starts on BBC2 later this month, picks up the action at the cliff-hanger moment where the last season ended. Spector has been shot and, as she cradles him in her arms, Gibson is crying out: "We're losing him!"
As Spector teeters between life and death, The Fall then embarks on a thrilling ride with more twists and turns than an Alpine road.
Anderson (48), already a huge global star thanks to the worldwide popularity of The X-Files, explains why her character is so eager to keep the heinous serial killer alive. "Gibson is fascinated by him and obsessed with bringing him to justice," she says.
The actress, who is sporting a stylish leather jacket over a black jumpsuit, continues: "The idea that he could get away with it and get off easily by dying is a difficult thing for her to grasp.
"But that possibility is playing out in front of her. The families of his victims want justice. For him to die on the side of the road would be beyond devastating for them."
Anderson, who next up will be starring opposite Hugh Bonneville in Viceroy's House, a movie about the Mountbattens during the Partition of India, gives a characteristically enthralling performance as Stella Gibson. She is a character whom the actress freely admits she admires, if not envies.
The American-born performer, who lives in London with her three children, declares that: "Gibson is a great role model. She's so comfortable with who she is as a woman.
"She answers to no one and is uncompromising. I don't think I've ever met anyone like her. There are lots of aspects of her that are not like me which it would be fun and interesting to adopt." With a grin, she adds: "I wish I was her!"
That does not mean, however, that Anderson thinks Gibson is perfect. "She has lots of flaws. She's made morally ambiguous decisions as a police officer that may have repercussions. She's also lied. I find that fascinating."
Such nuanced characterisation is an essential part of the show's success. In the same way, Dornan argues that Spector is less black and white and less unremittingly evil than we might at first imagine.
"It is hard to find redeeming qualities in Spector, but there are a few aspects of him which are commendable.
"For instance, he shows traces of being a good father at times. And he approaches his job as a bereavement counsellor with professionalism.
"He provides good quality support to families who are grieving. That is Allan's genius as a writer. Spector is both so adept at taking life and also at helping people through the grief of losing someone."
Many viewers might regard Spector as a monster, but not Dornan.
The actor, who is currently also starring in Anthropoid, the movie about the plot to kill the Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich, does not find it helpful to view Spector in that way.
"I think it would be wrong to play him as a monster," he says. "One of the reasons that makes Spector compelling and why I found him very alluring from the first moment I read the script five years ago is that there are relatable aspects to him, aspects that other human beings can identify with to an extent."
The actor, who looks particularly dapper today in a light blue jacket and dark trousers, carries on that: "I always felt when I was playing those moments with his children that there should be nothing else, there should be no undercurrent of menace or psychopathy.
"Why would there be? He is a father talking to his daughters. So I don't play him as totally monstrous. I've always tried to avoid that tag."
All three series of The Fall have been filmed in Belfast, and they have proved a terrific advertisement for the city. They have been responsible for an enormous boost to local tourism.
As an example, visitors have been clamouring to book Room 203 at the Hilton, where Gibson stays.
Dornan, a former model who has had to learn to live with the inevitable label of "heart-throb", is delighted that The Fall has enabled people to see his home town in a new light.
"Still today when I say I am from Belfast people say, 'Oh God, how is it there? How was your upbringing? It must have been crazy?', and you're constantly defending it and trying to explain it is a great place, full of brilliant people.
"The show already has an energy to it from the fact that it's set in Belfast and everyone knows its history. So, for me, it's a total thrill to be there and to appreciate it and to show there is so much more to it than what people think."
Anderson has certainly fallen in love with Belfast, describing it as: "A beautiful place filled with beautiful people. I think it is being seen for what it is today. I have just had the most extraordinary experience working there."
The actress was already a Hollywood A-lister, but The Fall has now catapulted Dornan into the American big league too, a fact for which he will always be thankful.
"You know, The Fall changed my life. They are like family to me, and I'm forever grateful that it is part of my life. I would play that character till my dying day if I had the opportunity."
Dornan has already filmed not one but two follow-ups to his box-office smash movie Fifty Shades of Grey, entitled Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.
But the actor says that will be the end of him appearing in the erotic blockbusters. "We have done two movies back to back now, and I'm actually finished with it. I've done Fifty Shades forever.
"I move on very fast in my mind. As much as from the outside people think you are synonymous with one character, I'm very much like, 'Right, that's done'. I move on to the next project and worry about that character."
For now, you sense the role Dornan is most keen to play is that of doting father of two young daughters.
He reflects on the hugely beneficial effect that the arrival of his children has had on him. "Having children is like pressing the reset button. You're like a totally different human being. The fundamentals of your life are altered overnight, all in the most positive way imaginable."
If Dornan has one regret about the last few years, it is that he has been making decidedly grown-up work that his young children cannot watch.
With a laugh, he concludes: "I think that now I'll have to do some stuff that's more family-friendly!"
The third series of The Fall begins on BBC2 later this month