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Killing Eve showrunner Laura Neal interview: “Name a possible ending, we’ve discussed it”

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aura Neal has a job on her hands that would give many people sleepless nights. The 32 year-old is the lead writer on the fourth and final series of BBC America and BBC Three’s smash hit Killing Eve. It’s a role that comes with the responsibility of concluding the cat-and-mouse pursuit between the spy thriller’s leads, former M16 agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) and Russian hitwoman Villanelle (Jodie Comer), and formulating an ending that will satisfy the BAFTA-winning, BBC iPlayer-topping show’s four million UK viewers and countless others around the world. So no big deal then.

If Neal is in any way fazed by this, she doesn’t show it when I speak to her over Zoom. “Everyone seems to want something slightly different [from the ending],” the London-based writer muses. “It’s hard as the lead writer, but it’s exciting to be writing on a show that generates so much discussion.” That’s a diplomatic way of putting it.

Neal’s relaxed demeanour could, in part, be down to the fact she’s just returned from a holiday in Antigua (“though you can’t really tell,” she jokes, indicating her pale complexion). Or perhaps it’s because Killing Eve is not her first big break. While she was an 18-year-old student at Bristol University and a mentee of the Royal Court Theatre’s Young Writers’ Programme, a rehearsed reading of Neal’s play Killing Jonathan attracted the attention of the producers behind ITV2 drama Secret Diary of A Call Girl, who invited her to “hang out in the writers’ room” and subsequently pen an episode.

Laura Neal

/ Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd

“[It’s] bonkers now I think about it, but that was the start of TV stuff,” recalls Neal, whose screen credits also include Netflix’s Sex Education and before that, in 2014, E4’s My Mad Fat Diary, which starred a young Jodie Comer. “It’s so funny to have come on a cyclical journey and to be working with Jodie [again] at the peak of her career,” says Neal. “You could tell that she was going to be a huge star even in that show.”

The daughter of a nurse and a surveyor, Neal grew up in Romford, Essex, alongside her twin brother, now a doctor. In the early days of her own career, she supplemented writing with numerous part-time jobs. “I was waitressing, I was a babysitter, I had a job which comprised resizing bits of paper into other size bits of paper,” she deadpans. Right now though, she’s embracing the acclaim and attention that comes with helming a globally revered TV show.

We speak following a photoshoot, an experience she’s “not massively au fait with” but “actually really enjoyed”. Sitting on the sofa in her London flat, her hair glossy and blow-dried from the shoot, any self-consciousness is hidden behind thoughtful, measured answers that disclose her passion for the show while (more’s the pity) leaking zero spoilers.

I’m about to launch into my string of carefully worded questions, hoping (and failing) to pry a murder or two out of Neal when she stops me. “We’ve met before, right?” she says, and I’m busted. We met at a party last autumn, where I was both a bit drunk and shamefully surprised to learn the demure woman in front of me was the one playing God with the characters I, like millions of others, had grown to care so much about over the past five years. I left with a lot of questions.

Sandra Oh as Eve and Jodie Comer as Villanelle in Killing Eve season 4

/ BBC America/Anika Molnar

Here’s what we know. Killing Eve series four kicks off with its main characters dispersed and deposited into somewhat unlikely roles. Eve (Sandra Oh) has a new job at a security firm, while her old MI6 boss Carolyn (Fiona Shaw) is working as the unenthusiastic cultural attaché of Majorca. Having escaped a bullet to the head at the end of series three, Konstantin (Kim Bodnia) has somehow been elected mayor of a backwater town in Russia, and in a move no one saw coming, Villanelle (Jodie Comer) has reinvented herself as Nelle and joined the church.

We only have the trailer to go on so far, but Carolyn gives a hint of the action to come when we see her hand over a dossier to Eve with the words, “Someone has been killing members of The Twelve. I need you to continue the investigation.” More tantalisingly, we see Eve ask Villanelle, “Do you know the fable of the scorpion and the frog?”

“They hook up?” asks Villanelle.

“They both die. Because the scorpion can’t change its nature,” comes the reply. Pause.

“Maybe you are the scorpion,” says Villanelle.

“A question that went around the writing room a lot is: ‘can people change?’,” says Neal. “Especially for Villanelle; can she be a good person?”

Working on the show during the pandemic was a far cry from what you might think of as the glam cut-and-thrust of the writers room. Neal wrote the majority of episodes from the kitchen table of her Brockley flat – “my poor flatmate had to be very patient with me and was effectively banned from the communal living space for two years” – and instead of, say, coffee and cigarettes, she was powered through the writing process with what she describes as a seven-year-old’s lunch. “I have the same lunch every day… a cheese and pickle sandwich, a bag of crisps and a banana. Maybe a chocolate biscuit,” she giggles.

Fiona Shaw as Carolyn Martens

/ BBC America/Anika Molnar

It’s hard to imagine Neal tucking into such pedestrian fare in between writing grisly murders. Yet this paradox aligns the writer with her characters, whose endearing weaknesses – among them Carolyn’s penchant for toffee eclairs and classical music, Konstantin’s protectiveness over his daughter and of course, Villanelle’s enthusiasm for fashion – make their ruthlessness more palatable.

“It’s always great fun coming up with murders… but those tiny character moments and throwaway lines, and the little glimpses – especially Carolyn’s inner life – [are] what makes you want to spend time with [the characters], even if they’re doing detestable things,” Neal says. “I think there’s not enough women on television finding unashamed joy in things.”

Killing Eve is known for its exceptional female writers room that passes the baton to a new lead writer every season. Neal, who was already in that room and wrote some of the funniest episodes of season three, jokes that she was “very uncool” about how much she wanted to spearhead the final series.

“At the end of that process the producers were happy to offer it to me,” she says. How could they not, when Neal masterminded some of the previous season’s most memorable moments, including the baby in the bin scene (which she “had to fight quite hard to keep”) and the bus reunion-cum-fight between Eve and Villanelle?

Robert Gilbert as Yusuf with Oh as Eve

/ BBC

Sculpting an entire series was a jump up from episode writing, but one for which Neal had the support of the show’s previous leads: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Emerald Fennell and Suzanne Heathcote.

To be the fourth in the line of those amazing female writers is exciting and terrifying,” she admits. “Phoebe’s still involved in the show as an executive producer and she’s always made it clear that she’s available and on hand if we ever need her.”

Comer and Oh, who have lived inside their characters for several years now and presumably feel some level of ownership over them, have also helped shape the narrative, she says.

“We would have conversations where one of them would say, ‘Actually I think my character would do something a bit more like this, or wouldn’t say this word, but might say this word’. It’s [been] so nice to have those actors on hand and so willing to collaborate.”

As the fourth and final series arrives, everything hangs on how the unconventionally sexy, ever-evolving relationship between Eve and Villanelle is wrapped up.

Comer as Villanelle

/ BBC/Sid Gentle Silms

“The ambiguity of the relationship is the thing that drew me to the show in the first place,” says Neal, who believes: “when Sandra and Jodie are existing on screen together, you can’t tear your eyes away,” but in order for “the deliciousness of seeing them together” to have an impact, they must spend chunks of the show apart.

Speculation has been rife among fans online as to what will become of the unlikely duo. “Name an ending, we would have discussed it,” says Neal, when I sniff for clues. “There could be 25 really exciting endings to Killing Eve. It hasn’t just been me who’s shaped that ending, it’s the whole writing team and also many, many conversations with Sandra, Jodie and Fiona,” she says. “I think it just came down to what feels true.”

Like her Killing Eve predecessors, Neal keeps a low profile on social media, joking that she’s just “really bad at it”. But becoming ‘famous’ doesn’t bother her if it facilitates her writing. “If this allows me to do more [scripts], then that’s fine by me. If I’m in this situation, which I am, because the show is so loved, then that feels like a really nice reason to have my name out there.”

Killing Eve series four airs on BBC One and BBC iPlayer on February 28. Series one to three are on iPlayer now

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