Who’s made a KILLING out of EVE? ALISON BOSHOFF on who has struck gold on the TV juggernaut that has lavished fortunes on its creators
A transgressive, complicated game of cat-and-mouse that has rewritten the rules of espionage fiction, TV’s Killing Eve returns tonight for its highly anticipated second season.
We know, of course, that the show has made a bona fide star of the previously virtually unknown actress Jodie Comer, who plays stylish, psychopathic assassin Villanelle. Having picked up a leading actress Bafta, she is now off to Hollywood to star in an action film opposite Ryan Reynolds.
Her co-star Sandra Oh, who plays MI5 operative Eve Polastri, was already well known, thanks to the hit hospital drama Grey’s Anatomy, which she left in 2014. However, she has become hugely in-demand again, and will soon start filming a big-budget sci-fi series for Amazon.
The lead actors (Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer are pictured) are not the only ones to be propelled into the stratosphere by Killing Eve, which has generated huge ratings and nearly universal critical acclaim
But the lead actors are not the only ones to be propelled into the stratosphere by Killing Eve, which has generated huge ratings and nearly universal critical acclaim.
So who’s made a killing from Eve? From the writer who dreamed up the concept, to the executive who spotted its small-screen potential, and the friends who have jumped on board, ALISON BOSHOFF has the story of the many people who have struck gold on the show . . .
The Fleabag star who is now worth £3 million
Phoebe Waller-Bridge wrote the television adaptation of Killing Eve
By the time Killing Eve came out, Phoebe Waller-Bridge was already a star, thanks to the 2016 TV series Fleabag, based on her stage show.
But the hype around Killing Eve soon catapulted her to new heights, and it was announced earlier this year that she is helping to rewrite the new James Bond film, because actor Daniel Craig is a big Killing Eve fan and wants her to bring some of that sensibility to the venerable spy franchise.
By the time Killing Eve came out, Phoebe Waller-Bridge (pictured) was already a star, thanks to the 2016 TV series Fleabag, based on her stage show
Waller-Bridge is thought to be being paid somewhere north of £500,000 for this job and worth around £3 million and rising.
Later this summer, she will perform for the last time as Fleabag in 30 sold-out performances in London. She will then continue her career as a leading TV and film writer and director.
American cable network HBO has hired Waller-Bridge, 33, and her regular creative collaborator Vicky Jones to work on a comedy series, Run. Written by Jones, it will be executive-produced by Waller-Bridge. Starring Domhnall Gleeson, it’s about a woman who fulfils a pact she made as a teenager to run away with an old flame.
Luke Jennings, on whose e-books Killing Eve was based (see below), says Waller-Bridge is a brilliant collaborator who likes to get her own way. He said: ‘I’d protest at some preposterous Villanelle slaying: “She’d be caught in five minutes.” At which point, Phoebe would smile vaguely, wait for me to finish, and carry on as before. And of course she was right. Procedure, in this context, wasn’t the point.’
She split from husband Conor Woodman, a documentary film-maker and presenter, in 2017 and, for the past year has been dating Martin McDonagh, an Oscar-winning writer/director who is based in London.
It’s unlikely that Villanelle will allow Eve to get away with trying to kill her
Novelist made a millionaire
Luke Jennings wrote the original bestselling e-books
Part-time author Jennings had written well-received literary fiction before getting the idea of writing a thriller.
The Observer’s dance critic, he ended up self-publishing the Villanelle books as novellas on Amazon — as he was worried it would take too much time and not bring in enough money if he wrote full-length books.
Part-time author Jennings (pictured) had written well-received literary fiction before getting the idea of writing a thriller
He said: ‘Most authors write part-time, and many are only able to do so because they have a supportive spouse or partner. So when I dreamed up the idea of a fiction series based around a female assassin, a project that might tie me up for years, I hesitated.
‘My wife, Nicky, is an art historian and was then working on a PhD. I was The Observer’s dance critic with a back catalogue of politely received, but unprofitable, novels. Our income was, to say the least, patchy. Was this a risk we could afford?’
Jennings is a devotee of the James Bond novels, admiring the spy’s ‘style’, but didn’t like modern male thriller heroes, finding them ‘humourless bores’. He was inspired to write about two women, both brilliant, imaginative — and underrated by their male superiors. ‘And so was born Villanelle. She came to me all of a piece. I woke up and saw her standing there, fixing me with her icy, sociopathic stare.
‘A child of post-Soviet chaos, as brilliant as she was ferocious, she was employed by an avant-garde global corporation as their in-house murderess. I fell in love with her on sight.’ He heard that Amazon was launching a new concept called Kindle Singles, which were short novellas for publication as e-books. He talked it over with his wife and decided to go for it.
Actress Jodie Comer, 26, was best known for playing a mistress in Dr Foster before landing the role of Villanelle
Screen veteran Sandra Oh nets £1.6million as newcomer Jodie Comer scores 100k an episode
BBC America gave Killing Eve the green light on the condition Eve was played by an actress well-known in the U.S. Sandra Oh, the star of Grey’s Anatomy, came on board.
The 47-year-old told producers: ‘Thanks a lot for giving her such awful fashion sense. Jodie [Comer] gets all these fabulous designer outfits while I get slacks and sockettes.’
This year, Oh will start Invincible, an animated TV series that should earn her £750,000, and for series two and three of Eve she’ll earn £1.6 million — up from the £600,000 she netted for series one.
BBC America gave Killing Eve the green light on the condition Eve was played by an actress well-known in the U.S. Sandra Oh, the star of Grey’s Anatomy, came on board
Actress Jodie Comer, 26, was best known for playing a mistress in Dr Foster before landing the role of Villanelle.
She and Waller-Bridge met for the first time at an after-party during the 2017 Baftas.
Following her audition, Waller-Bridge observed her performance was ‘super smart, dangerous, seductive and stroppy’.
The show has made Comer a big star, not least in the U.S., and she is now filming action-comedy Free Guy opposite Ryan Reynolds, which will earn her around £1.5 million.
She is in series two of Killing Eve and has been signed up for the planned — and final — series three.
Comer is reportedly earning £100,000 an episode for these two series (that’s £1.6 million), a whopping increase on the £350,000 she earned for series one.
The first one was published in 2014 and the second in 2015.
In 2014, the managing director of a writers’ and actors’ agency, Lyndsey Posner, read Villanelle and passed it on to Sid Gentle Films, which bought the rights.
Jennings, who’d had books optioned before without reaching the screen, was not too excited.
Producer strikes gold with £5.1 million profit
Sally Woodward Gentle, series producer
Profits have soared at Sid Gentle Films, the maker of Killing Eve. Accounts for the year ending March 2018 show it made a gross profit of £5.1 million — up from £1.3 million in 2017. Total income is declared as £2.55 million, a huge rise from £539,000 in 2017.
The company is run by Sally Woodward Gentle, who was best known for producing ITV drama The Durrells. Next year’s accounts will no doubt rise as the second series has been made and sold and a third has been commissioned.
Sid Gentle Films, is run by Sally Woodward Gentle, who was best known for producing ITV drama The Durrells
Woodward Gentle, 55, founded Sid Gentle in 2013. She said: ‘A colleague had dinner with [Killing Eve book writer] Luke Jennings and handed these books on to us . . . Each of us read the novellas and enjoyed them because it felt that the women were very strong in it and, not in a sort of male fantasy — we wouldn’t want to go there.’
Sally had met actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge after reading the stage play of Fleabag and hired her to adapt the novellas.
She said: ‘It was a feeling that she had the black edge that we needed to bring to it, because I love black humour — life is full of it.
He said: ‘Sally [Woodward Gentle, from Sid Gentle Films] and I talked about who would lead the script team, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s name immediately came up.
Her one-woman stage show Fleabag had run successfully at the Edinburgh Festival and was now at the Soho Theatre in London, where I went to see a matinee performance.
‘I ambushed her at the stage door. We spent the afternoon talking and, the next day, after reading the novella, Phoebe emailed me: “Oh God I looooooved it. It’s suspenseful, dark, cruel, sexy, glamorous, dirty, clinical, epic and immediate all at the same time. Villanelle has captured my imagination completely.” ’
Jennings was then set to work writing more novellas, as Phoebe needed more material. ‘I felt like Stalin, planning murder all day and watching Swan Lake in the evening,’ he said.
Sky Living was interested, but, in 2015, it got cold feet and backed out. There were rewrites to emphasise character of Eve. BBC America then came on board in 2016 and the series was transmitted — first in the U.S. and then in the UK in 2018.
By that time, Jennings’s original four Villanelle novellas had been published as the novel Codename Villanelle, which was a bestseller. A sequel, No Tomorrow, came out in October 2018 and a third novel, Endgame, will be published next year.
Combining book sales of £30,000 with the TV rights, Luke may well be £1 million better off than he was before Villanelle came along.
Playwright hits career jackpot
Suzanne Heathcote will write Killing Eve season three
British playwright Heathcote will be the lead writer and executive producer for the third season of Killing Eve.
She previously worked on the U.S. TV show Fear The Walking Dead, set in a zombie apocalypse. She’s a graduate of the Royal Court Theatre’s Young Writers programme and has written several plays.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge explained the change in showrunner as a ‘tradition’ that would give a new woman a chance to tell the story every season.
- Killing Eve series two starts tonight at 9.15pm on BBC1.
Call The Midwife actress taking over from Phoebe
Fennell, the daughter of society jeweller Theo, is an actress best known as Patsy in Call The Midwife and a friend of Phoebe Waller-Bridge who boasts baronets on both sides of her family tree
Emerald Fennell wrote Killing Eve’s second series
Fennell, the daughter of society jeweller Theo, is an actress best known as Patsy in Call The Midwife and a friend of Phoebe Waller-Bridge who boasts baronets on both sides of her family tree.
The pair met as actresses on the set of the 2011 film Albert Nobbs, which starred Glenn Close as a woman pretending to be a man to get work as a butler in 19th-century Ireland.
She was hired as the head writer for the second season of Killing Eve, starting before the first series had even been broadcast. Fennell had previously written episodes for the sitcom Drifters — about three young women living together after finishing university.
Executive producer Elinor Young said: ‘She’s been writing for a long time and she’s very good friends with Phoebe, and there’s no doubt it’s got all the same humour, but Emerald is her own person, so she definitely hasn’t tried to do an imitation of Phoebe — that would be really limiting and might become a pastiche.’
The series picks up within moments of where the first one ended — with Villanelle having been stabbed by Eve. Eve’s first move is to go to a sweetshop. Emerald said: ‘Whenever I was riding a terrible hangover back in the day, the first port of call was I had to get my hands on some candy as soon as possible. If I had to kill a man, I would get it.’
She added: ‘We all want Eve to go bad, but the pleasure of Killing Eve, for me, is showing it in a way that is far more honest and weird and distressing than what we expect.
‘I was also interested in looking at their relationship as some sort of addiction. How do you look yourself in the mirror when you do things that you have been taught your whole life not to do?’
However, not everyone is convinced by what she has done with the show, which has already shown in the U.S.
Rolling Stone magazine said: ‘The new episodes were entertaining in spots, but never fully convinced me. The magic in this relationship seems gone.’
Fennell is not returning for the third series as she is busy filming the next series of The Crown, in which she plays Camilla Parker Bowles. She has written a film thriller, Promising Young Woman, which will star Alison Brie and Carey Mulligan and marks her entry into Hollywood movie-making. Plus she’s working with Andrew Lloyd Webber on a musical of Cinderella.
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