Fiona Shaw (‘Killing Eve’) on the ‘mystery’ of Carolyn Martens [Complete Interview Transcript]

Fiona Shaw earned her second consecutive Emmy nomination this year for her performance as Carolyn Martens in “Killing Eve.” She was a double nominee last year, also earning kudos for her guest spot on “Fleabag.”

Shaw spoke with Gold Derby contributing editor Riley Chow before this year’s nominations about the Season 3 finale of “Killing Eve,” Carolyn’s relationship to her daughter and how she sees her character as a mystery. Watch the exclusive interview above and read the complete transcript below.

Gold Derby: In that climax, we have a loaded gun, the four core characters of the show and one other guy. So what do you think Carolyn deduces from all the information that she gets in that scene before pulling the trigger and do you feel that you are on the same page as her with the conclusions that she’s drawn, whatever they may be about how Kenny died and who has betrayed her? 

Fiona Shaw: What do I think? I was very surprised that Carolyn would go towards a gun because there’s no doubt that she had a very exciting earlier life in the Secret Service, but I never had to face the fact that any of it might ever have included a gun. I’ve always thought that Carolyn allowed other people to have guns and would take responsibility or sort of, for the paperwork, but never actually be pulling the trigger. So it was an amazing fact that we were heading towards this scene. But of course, like anybody else, this really wasn’t about the formality of the Secret Service. It was about the fact that a mother was trying to find some resolution about her son’s death, and that’s a completely different kettle of fish, isn’t it? She’s pretty sure. She saw Konstantin with Kenny so she knows he had something to do with it and by then, he has lost all credibility and nobody trusts him an inch. But what is really cruel is somebody who you may have been very intimate once with, even though you play games of betrayal, actually really betrayed you. I think that was very, very… what would you say, unrecoverable from? I don’t think their friendship will recover.

GD: Why did that scene take days to shoot and what changed over the course of shooting it?

FS: We shot it for days and I only saw it the other day. I hadn’t seen it, and we shot it, I think it took three or four days to shoot and the majority of that shooting was the camera on some angle of me or from me or around me. So I was standing for four days with that gun and the two girls, Eve and Villanelle, just came and joined to watch it and they just sat on the sofa for four days. So they had a ball. And of course, when the scene is edited together, I was laughing the other day thinking, “My goodness, it looks like we all just shot one afternoon and they were half the scene.” They were about 100th of the scene. But of course, edited they’re a good half at the scene. And we did get hysterical laughing. I just love that thing about the toxic workplace that Villanelle justified her kill with. But I think it was a very, very hard thing to do in that both Kim and I, Kim, who plays Konstantin and I, found that in order to believe such a scene, you have to work very, very hard, and we did. We didn’t enjoy ourselves particularly. We really concentrated and disappeared and didn’t talk very much with anyone. So I stayed very, very tightly concentrated for four days. It was just before Christmas and I was about to go to Sri Lanka, but I was exhausted when we finished it, and sad. I was very sad.

GD: So much of the show is about them tracking Villanelle and the Twelve. But in this finale, Villanelle, Paul and Konstantin, they can all easily be apprehended, I think. Yet it doesn’t even seem to cross Carolyn’s mind. So what is her goal these days? 

FS: Oh, no, no. I think she would like to get the Twelve. Whether she at this moment thinks the Twelve are real or whether they’re some amorphous power, whether the Twelve are 12 people or whether it’s just one little man like “The Wizard of Oz” behind a curtain, who knows what the Twelve are, or whether they’re an idea. I think she’s so upset about Kenny but she begins to think it’s a sort of atmospheric idea, doesn’t she? She says you’re never going to catch the Twelve, she says to Eve, But Paul is near the Twelve. I mean, clearly, Paul has got bosses or had bosses who are higher than him and I think Carolyn in the series needs to get nearer the Twelve. I think she will (laughs). That’s all I can say. Of course, a lot of people are suspicious that Carolyn herself is part of the Twelve but she’s certainly done a lot to try and track them. But the capturing of Villanelle, I don’t think Villanelle worries Carolyn at all. She’s been a terrible distraction for Eve and has stopped Eve being the kind of wonderful protege that Carolyn thought she would be, and I love my scenes with Sandra [Oh]. I’ve enjoyed since the beginning, whenever I have a scene with Sandra, I feel a sort of G-major chord. I feel we’re absolutely on track and we have a lovely scene in a restaurant in this one and I feel like really going back to basics when I’m acting with Eve but I have had very little to do with it because they fall out so frightfully. But it’s partially because Eve has distracted herself with this obsession with Villanelle but Carolyn isn’t bothered by Villanelle. Not particularly. She’s interested in her murders, but she’s not interested in her as a person. She recognizes her. They have similar traits. They both love clothes. They both are quite unsentimental about death and they’re both sort of addicted to that life that is not domestic. 

GD: You mentioned that Villanelle’s been a distraction for Eve. But how much responsibility do you think Carolyn actually feels for Eve? Because I feel like as viewers, we kind of assume that they are these great friends but I think really they’re only seeing each other over the course of this investigation in this show. 

FS: Well, in the last two series, I was very surprised. I thought that by Series 3, Eve would be back under Carolyn’s wing. They fell out rather spectacularly in Series 2 and Eve went off and did her own thing and began turning up at the house and speaking to Konstantin at Carolyn’s house. But my deep feeling goes back to Season 1, actually, which is that Carolyn knows that Eve is very talented and very instinctive and very emotional, and that, of course, to be a very, very good person for MI6, you’ve got to kind of harness your emotions and Eve just can’t do it. She’s a bit of a mess, but she’s also very intuitive and she’s very ambivalent about her private life, and Carolyn is not interested in that. She just wants her to be good at this job and I mean, normally, we never see Carolyn at home. We never see her in her private life. But due to the death of Kenny, the camera sort of snuck in and began to follow Carolyn from the office to home. So that was a big part of my season. But I just keep hoping that Carolyn will resolve with Eve because the two of them could do great things. 

GD: Yeah, we did see Carolyn at home this season. You got a grown daughter named Geraldine who you booted at the end, which weirdly seemed to please the fans. Why do you think there is such a poor response to Geraldine? 

FS: I have to say, a lot of women I know of that age say that their relationships to their mothers are quite difficult. A mother can absolutely mutilate a daughter. I have a mother and she can mutilate me in a phrase. It’s usually something to do with my hair. So I think Carolyn is very tough on her daughter because literally, as is the fault line of genetics, is just that Carolyn could not be more different to Geraldine. Geraldine is pure emotion, unrigorous, unable to be analytical, just deals in instinct. And I have no doubt sympathetically to Geraldine she’s become like that because she’s in profound reaction to her mum. But the result is that they’re never, ever going to be a natural partnership and Carolyn says, “This isn’t good for you to be here thinking you’re doing good by helping me. But in fact, you’re just wasting your life.” It’s tough.

GD: This season picked up six months after last. Did the writers tell you what Carolyn was up to over the hiatus or what do you think she was getting up to?

FS: Not over the hiatus. You wait. In fact, I do know a bit a little bit about Season 4, which I’m not going to tell you now because it would ruin it for you. But we normally have a conversation around this time of year before they start writing the vague arc of the next season. Really, the thing that has surprised me is how Carolyn has caught maybe the imagination, maybe the older viewers, who knows, but a lot more has been written for Carolyn and I always thought I would swoop in and swoop out again but actually, she’s becoming more and more present and therefore the story is getting more complex in relation to Carolyn, which I’m enjoying very much. So we do, we talk about it. I can make suggestions. Last season, I suggested modern opera as being the thing that I think Carolyn likes but they mix it up a bit, some modern opera, some old-fashioned opera. But I sang, “Lucretia, oh, never again should we two dare to part,” which is Benjamin Britten‘s “Rape of Lucretia,” which is about a very sad moment when a husband knows that he will never be able to know his wife again. I thought it was a good thing to put in in a scene with saying goodbye to Kenny without anybody knowing the truth of it. 

GD: The show has gone through three or four lead writers now, who I imagine have very different styles. How has Carolyn differed season to season on a script level? And do you play into that or do you try to neutralize it? 

FS: I mean, Carolyn is in some ways a mystery to me. I just play her and I feel I know her very well, but I don’t sculpt her. I think at her best, I play what I know to be the inside of her mind. She knows an enormous amount, and because she knows so much, her brain goes so fast that she’s always trying to soothe her mind, I think, by deflecting to very ordinary things. So it’s often quite amusing if she talks about chops or Coke cans or rats drinking from Coke cans. She has a sort of magnet mind and it can go anywhere in a second and then back to the laser problem. And it doesn’t really matter what the writers write as long as they allow me to play that, because the essence of Carolyn is that. 

GD: You are a Tony nominee and Olivier winner and I notice that whenever you talk about Suzanne Heathcote, you make sure to mention that she’s a playwright. So how did that background manifest? 

FS: You mean Suzanne’s background as a playwright? Well, it’s not because I had been in the theater for so long, which I had. It was that she writes quite long scenes. I mean, the last scene of “Killing Eve” this season, the two women by the bridge is a long scene. The scene before is like a sort of Agatha Christie meets a sort of resolution scene, quite emotional. So I suppose I think that Suzanne has the understanding that it’s not just in the picture that the story unfolds, but in what people say, in what they hide and what they intend to say and she allows them to be in the scene long enough that you can see them change from the beginning of the scene to the end, which is very much what happens in plays as you see the actual emotional shifts in front of your eye rather than the camera doing it. I also think there’s a wonderful couple of scenes when Carolyn is driving with Konstantin and Konstantin’s daughter is being taught to drive by Villanelle. I mean, this is very much a playwriting skill of balance structure, the structure of those two things, even though it’s filmic. So that’s why I mention it, is that it seems quite theatrical in a very good way. 

GD: So you won the BAFTA for Season 1. You were nominated for the Emmy for Season 2, also nominated for another Emmy last year. So this year, if you’re nominated for Supporting Actress at the Emmys again, is there an episode from the third season that you think you would want to submit as your showcase for viewing on the Academy website? 

FS: I never think of it like that. My favorite scene that I enjoyed was being in the bath because I had suggested that. I’d always thought that Carolyn should be in the bath. In fact, it was a very uncomfortable bath but I saw it in my mind’s eye as a much more glamorous bath. But I wouldn’t have thought that that episode would be the one that anybody might want to see again. I mean, who knows? Maybe the last episode, which is full of things. But I think it’s very cruel that they always pick just one episode because, of course, the story is one long story that develops during the eight episodes. It really is, and I feel it as that. I don’t feel it as episodes. 

GD: Now, this is a show that really shoots on location across the continent, and a lot of it has nothing to do with Carolyn. So I’m wondering, during the shooting season, how much are you still in the world of “Killing Eve” on those days or maybe even weeks when the show might be off somewhere else? 

FS: You really are looking behind the scenes now. When Villanelle was in Russia trying to discover her family, I was in New York going to a lot of movies and having a lovely few weeks. So that was it. Unusually, I had a whole section of time off. So I was able to go to New York for a couple of weeks. But normally, I stay around and actually it is an interesting question. When we’re shooting “Killing Eve,” I’m pretty concentrated on it. If I have a glass of wine, I’m guilty. I try and stay fit, go for walks, my pilates, whatever. But I don’t try and distract myself too much. Of course, days off are lovely, but it does take a lot of concentration. You have to meditate about it. But I enjoy it, of course, as well.

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