Gillian Anderson glides into the room, not a hair out of place, a padded jacket covering the suit and silk blouse favoured by her television alter-ego Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson.
The old Masserene Barracks in Antrim have been transformed into studio spaces for season two of crime thriller The Fall and today the tables have been turned on Anderson, as she faces interrogation from a roomful of reporters.
The Fall sees Anderson play a glacial detective, seconded to Belfast from the Metropolitan Police, to sniff out a serial killer stalking the city streets for his female prey. It’s a psychological spine-chiller that examines the lives of two hunters within one story.
Written by Allan Cubitt, the mini-series, shot entirely in Northern Ireland, became BBC2’s biggest drama launch in eight years when it aired in May 2013. It was well received by critics and audience alike and won a number of accolades, including three Iftas and a Bafta nod for lead actor Jamie Dornan.
Anderson and Dornan are back again for season two, having eventually managed to co-ordinate their increasingly hectic work schedules. Most of the cast from season one also return, with the addition of a new face to the police team, DS Tom Anderson, played by Co Armagh man Colin Morgan.
The London-based, Chicago-born actress has long been a sex symbol since her portrayal of Special Agent Dana Scully in US hit Nineties series The X Files, so it’s interesting to hear her describe how playing Gibson has changed her.
“In terms of how I feel as a female in the wider world, there is a level of self respect and maturity,” she explains.
“Also in how she takes care of herself, in the small ways, like how she takes care of her clothes and does herself up. In the first season, I started to pay more attention to myself and honour myself as a woman more.
“So it’s in how she treats herself mostly that she’s changed me. I have always been very opinionated and I don’t take b******* so I don’t feel she’s exacerbated that for me. She changed me more in terms of my femininity.”
In previous interviews Anderson has stated how she “became” Gibson the moment she slipped into her signature blouse and let the on-set hairdresser work her magic. Producer Julian Stevens says of her: “she turned up on set with her hair done and in costume and was Stella Gibson straight away”.
Anderson admits Gibson has got under her skin, more so than any other character she has played.
“When I was in London and The Fall was in the process of airing, it was not so much as there’s Gillian Anderson, but there’s Stella Gibson,” she says. “It was very different from other experiences I’ve had.”
She describes the character of Gibson as something of an enigma to viewers, an “unknowable” entity who gives a little bit more away about herself and her past in season two.
“We do learn more about her in the second series,” she says. “There are definitely some small reveals she gives and also we learn more about her in how she responds to situations.
“Anything that Stella is that we haven’t seen yet is the result of the past and not present. There are aspects of her nature which are dark, and if you look back to the first season, they are there as well.”
Season one of The Fall ended with a cliffhanger – Jamie Dornan’s serial killer Paul Spector, a family man and grief counsellor by day, is still at large, but his last victim has regained consciousness. Anderson says season two feels “more like a hunt”, with the net closing in. And viewers will see a different side to Gibson.
“She definitely gets more emotionally involved,” she says. “In season one she reins in it, but in season two she definitely begins to get affected on other levels by what transpires.”
“The case weighs on her because there are still lives at risk and also because she feels increasingly closer and then increasingly further away.”
In the first series Anderson and Dornan never actually filmed any scenes together although their characters eyeball each other in a near-meeting in a police station corridor. She doesn’t want to give any plot details away but concedes the pair of hunters are on “a collision course”.
“It could be in series five,” she teases, before adding that she believes there will be a third series of The Fall.
Gibson’s predatory characteristics were evident in series one. After spying a handsome police officer at a crime scene, she gave him her hotel room number. When the married police man turns up later, the pair have sex.
Anderson says Gibson gets what she wants “in a male way” and that viewers will see more of her “inclinations” in series two.
“It seems she is a hunter as well,” she says. “There is that aspect of her and yet she squares it somehow. It makes sense to her and her belief systems. She talks openly about it.”
While Anderson has been a household name since the 1990s, Co Down actor Jamie Dornan is very much a star on the rise. The former model, who plays serial killer Paul Spector in The Fall, has landed several major film roles since his debut in the BBC2 thriller, including that of Christian Grey in upcoming Hollywood movie Fifty Shades of Grey.
A relative unknown in cinematic terms before taking on the role of the psychopathic Spector, Dornan has become a much sought after leading man, scooped two Iftas and a Bafta nomination for his portrayal of the twisted serial killer.
“This job in The Fall has changed my life,” he admits, as he relaxes into his chair. “It’s changed my life predominantly in a good way, so it’s been a pleasant experience for me.”
Dornan made his movie debut in the 2006 Sofia Coppola flick Marie Antoinette before securing a part in US fantasy series Once Upon A Time. But he longed to work at home in Northern Ireland so flew in to Belfast from LA to audition for the lesser part of a police officer in the first series of The Fall.
The production team saw a stillness and physicality in Dornan that fitted their vision of Spector and he was called back and asked to try for the part of the killer instead. The 32-year-old was shocked and terrified when he was offered the role, and was determined not to let anyone down. He carried out meticulous research into the thinking of serial killers, reading books and watching documentaries.
“I’ve read a lot of horrific books over the last few years,” says Dornan. “It’s strange, for such a sweet, kind man, Allan (Cubitt) has a lot of horrible stuff in his head. He’s the oracle of badness you can draw on and now that he’s directing too, he’s a constant, always here.
“I spent a lot of time watching interviews with guys who have done similar things to what Spector did, trying to amass some kind of understanding of why they are what they are and how they are with other people around them.
“That’s the crazy thing about these guys and what Allan has so cleverly touched upon – they have relatively normal lives, sound jobs, long term girlfriends, wives, even children, and none of those people know what they’re up to. That in itself makes it more interesting.”
Dornan, who became a dad for the first time late last year, says that it was important to portray the fatherly side of Spector in a sympathetic light.
“Allan would argue that Spector doesn’t love his kids but I’d say he does,” he explains. “It’s not a conventional love, it’s how a psychopath would love his children. I thought it was necessary to tell that story, for the audience to believe and see him being a father and husband, to try and make him as real as possible. I wanted to try and get the audience on his side a bit. That’s what I was after.
“To play any character you have to have a total understanding of why they do what they do. If they’re doing something as dramatic as killing, you have to try and make sense of it, not be sympathetic necessarily, but grasp why they’re doing it. There’s always a common thread, something from childhood, like abandonment or abuse, key signs like cruelty to animals, arson. Every one of these guys has these tendencies when they are young.”
Having lived with Spector in his head for so many months, Dornan says it was hard to shake him off totally and that there were times when he had nightmares about the character.
“It’s two years since we shot series one, so I’m hoping he left me at some stage,” he laughs. “It was definitely easier getting into character this time round. I’d say it was easier for all of us, cast and crew. We’ve all done it before and there’s an ease that comes with that.”
He’s delighted that he’s no longer on the periphery of the local acting community and says he has loved working at home, close to his family and friends.
“Throughout Ireland, there’s a brilliant community of filmmakers and actors and I guess there was always a lure to do some work in the place where I come from,” he says.
“It’s lovely being back home, back with my family and best friends. That’s a bonus. This job feels like coming home.”
The first series of The Fall, though widely well received, was criticised in some quarters for glamorising violence against women and portraying serial killers as overly attractive. So does Dornan think he has single-handedly made serial killers sexy?
“I’m not sure I entirely agree with that,” he replies. “I defy anyone to watch interviews with Ted Bundy and not be taken by him. He was very handsome and charming and extremely intelligent and you know, that can exist.
“So I don’t think I’ve done that.”
He quickly adds: “I’m not saying I think he’s sexy but there is an allure there.
“It’s funny, these guys have so much confidence and self belief that what they’re doing is right, it’s almost divine and they are untouchable. It’ll take a lot more than Gibson sniffing around and starting to put a few things together to put Spector off. His self belief is phenomenal.”
While Dornan’s professional life has been heating up, his personal life has altered too. In the last few years, he’s married partner Amelia Warner and become a dad to a baby girl. Since landing the role of Christian Grey, public and Press interest in Dornan has increased dramatically, but the actor takes it all in his stride.
“I guess I’m just happy for the work,” he says. “I’ve been working non-stop for a year or so, so I haven’t been exposed to too much attention, not as much as you’d think. You’re protected when you’re working. And I’m just so happy to get the chance to work back home and to be part of this show.”
Also thrilled to be joining the cast in the new series is Colin Morgan, best known for playing the eponymous role in the BBC1 fantasy show Merlin.
Morgan’s character, DS Tom Anderson, is recruited personally by Gibson, who recognises his talent and drive. For the 28-year-old Armagh lad, it’s a dream come true to be part of The Fall’s strong local cast.
“I was a massive fan of the first series,” he says. “I thought it was very engaging, dark, brooding, completely enthralling and addictive. It’s fantastic to be involved in it, and especially back home. Everyone’s on the ball. There’s a very solid, strong feel to it, starting with the scripts, which have upped themselves once again.
“I come in just as the net is closing in. More people are casting the net out and I’m one of those. My character is a very talented investigator, a huge asset to the team.
“It’s one of the biggest police investigations ever held in Northern Ireland, everyone is aware of it. And working with Stella Gibson is a real honour and privilege for Tom, especially as she wants him on the case. He has a lot to learn and he wants to get close to her, by whatever means possible.”
Does his character get up close and personal with DSI Gibson then? “There are some very close encounters,” he laughs. “But you’ll just have to watch it and see what happens.”
To prepare for the role of the ambitious young cop, Morgan read up on police procedures and spoke to the set’s police advisor.
“One of the things that was important for me to understand was procedure, particularly investigative interviewing techniques. I looked a lot into that, how things can be worded and presented, even down to things like the layout of a room or a crime scene.
“As much as you can act, it’s better to have an understanding of what you’re doing.”
Morgan then regales the room with an anecdote involving two police officers in London.
“I was walking down the street in London when I spotted these two policemen,” he says. “I went up to them and asked them, just as a matter of interest, did they have any advice for me. And one of the fellas was actually from Lurgan! He told me that sometimes actors sat with them in the back of their car. They told me to phone their Press office, which I did, but no one got back to me.
“Every actor has a method of doing things and every new role presents you with a new way of doing things. When I get a new role it’s always a case of not what I’m going to do with the character but what it’s going to do with me.”
Morgan, like his character in The Fall, was approached to come on board. Having worked with many of the cast members before, including Laura Donnelly, John Lynch and Stuart Graham, he was eager to get involved.
“When I watched series one I thought ‘I’d love to be part of that’ so it was a huge honour when I met Allan and Gillian in London. It’s always nice when something like this happens. Expectations will not just be met but exceeded. Mine were when I read it.
“As a Northern Irish fella myself, when I think of a drama being based here, I think of something to do with the Troubles, But this is on a completely different level. This is a terrifying story of a sexual predator and that’s here! We’re used to being in the headlines but in a very different way. That’s what makes The Fall so engaging.”
The Fall starts on BBC Two next Thursday, November 13, at 9pm
Series 2 … and the net closes in
Ten days have passed since serial killer Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) taunted DSI Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) that she would never catch him Spector and his family are back in Belfast following a short break to Scotland and Spector is determined to tie up a few loose ends The PSNI investigation into the murder of three young women continues as Gibson tries in vain to help Spector’s surviving victim Annie Brawley (who woke up at the end of series one) remember the identity of her attacker. Meanwhile, Spector discovers that someone from his past has been helping the police with their enquiries, prompting him to act with terrifying consequences The net is closing in on Spector. Will his unsuspecting wife (Bronagh Waugh) realise she’s living with a killer? Will new cop Tom Anderson (Colin Morgan) make a difference to the investigation? Will DSI Gibson finally get her man?