On Oct. 2 David Tennant takes on a role already familiar to British audiences, but relatively unknown in the US, when Gracepoint, the US adaptation of Broadchurch, premieres on FOX.
The ten episode event series follows the tragic death of a young boy, and the major police investigation and nationwide media frenzy that subsequently overtakes a picturesque seaside town where suddenly anyone is a suspect.
With the US premiere just around the corner (and Broadchurch currently ramping up for a second season in the UK), ScreenSpy hopped on the phone with Tennant to discuss the latest incarnation of the harrowing whodunnit, working with new co-star Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) and why the similarities and differences between both shows are not something he, or a potential new audience, should worry about.
Full highlights from our call follow below:
For those who watch Broadchurch, what will we see with Carver, the US incarnation of your character that we didn’t see with Hardy?
That’s probably not for me to say. It’s probably for someone who can be more objective to really know. I didn’t set out to reinvent something particularly. I think there’s a sense, with the whole show, that if it’s not broke, you’re not really out to fix it. We’re really out to tell this story to an audience who, broadly speaking, haven’t seen it yet.
Broadchurch was obviously a bit of the sensation back here in the UK, and I think that’s what brought it to the attention of Fox. It got a very loyal and very enthusiastic following on BBC America. There’s a huge populist audience who haven’t seen it yet, and that I think is what we’re principally aiming at.
I didn’t set out to change anything particularly, I just tried to tell the story as it came up and through the script, and be as truthful and loyal to that as possible.
I think Hardy and Carver are very different, actually. They certainly feel very different in my bones. Obviously, they look quite similar. They are following the trail of an investigation which has many similarities, but they feel different to me. It’s probably for others to make a list of quite how obvious those differences might be. That’s not really my principal concern. I just want to tell this fantastic story as truthfully and as honestly as I can, I suppose.
Do you have a favorite genre that you prefer to work in?
I don’t really. I’m quite greedy for the variety, I suppose. I like the fact that I get to flip between them all. That’s something that I would sort of work quite hard to preserve my ability to do that, I suppose. There are advantages and frustrations with each, I guess. In theater, you get to tell a story many times, over a number of months, and you get to investigate every possible corner of what that story might be.
I guess if you’re filming something, whether it’s film or television, it’s all about chasing that one moment and getting it in the can to make it live just that one time. They’re both related but very different techniques. I enjoy trying to master both of them really. I think they are quite different jobs, but the experience of working the theater I think informs working on film and television and vice versa. I feel very fortunate that I get to dabble in all these different genres. Hopefully, that’s something I’ll be able to continue to do.
Was perfecting the American accent a challenge?
I think doing different accents is part of the job of acting really. It’s something else that I quite enjoy the challenge of, to be honest.
Preparing for an American accent, I think just about in every corner of the globe, we’re brought up watching American movies, so it’s something that we all have some kind of ear for, I guess. Obviously, it’s something that you take seriously, and you work with dialect coaches and experts to help you, and then you just practice until it’s kind of in your bones, really, so that it’s not something you’re thinking about when you’re on set every day. You do your homework and then you wind it up and let it go, I suppose.
It’s part of what actors do. I always like seeing people transforming themselves in whatever way that might be, and a different accent is part of that. An accent, obviously, it’s to do with the way your mouth works and the sounds that come out of your head, but somehow it informs everything about you, I think. If you speak in a different accent, you begin to move in a slightly different way. You think in a slightly different way. I think it’s part of trying to find what makes a character and it’s probably one of the things that, because I’ve done a character very similar to this in the British show that preceded Gracepoint, I guess this is, the accent, is one of the things that helps define what’s different about this incarnation of this particular character I guess.
Now that Broadchurch is returning for a second season in the UK, could Gracepoint similarly return for another run?
Yes, there’s always an eye for that, isn’t there, with almost everything on television. We have to wait and see how the audience responds to it. Broadchurch is going to a second season, so there’s no reason why Gracepoint shouldn’t. There’s a template there; although, a second season of Gracepoint might go off in a very different way. Who knows?
All these things are to be decided. We’re all very excited about Gracepoint premiering in a couple of weeks. I just want America to take to it in a way that the UK did, because it was an extraordinary thing to be a part of. Even as objective as I can be, I think it’s a fantastic story that people will be thrilled by.
Can you speak about working with Anna Gunn and the relationship between your respective characters?
Yes. The central relationship between Carver and Ellie so defines the show really, and defines the way the story is told. Essentially, the bones of it are the same as Broadchurch is. I play the big city cop who gets dropped into this one horse town, as he sees it, and is given, as his deputy, this rather local cop, who is perfectly good at her job, but from Carver’s point of view is something of a hick, who doesn’t really understand how modern policing works, and gets far too emotionally involved with everyone, and really needs to develop a healthy streak of cynicism.
That relationship, as it was in Broadchurch, is very much one of the central structures to Gracepoint. A lot of that is defined by the relationship you can build up as actors. I was very nervous, especially having done this show before, and that relationship and worked very well with the wonderful Olivia Colman, who plays Miller in Broadchurch. I was nervous, of course, turning up on day one to meet Anna, because we had so much to do together, that that relationship was so important to get right.
Luckily, she just turned out to be a proper actress, someone who was committed to getting it right, who was open, who was easy to work with, who you could also have a laugh with, who you could throw anything at her and she would respond. That’s just the kind of relationship, the kind of professional relationship that you always hope for.
It was a huge relief and then a great joy to work with her throughout the ten episodes. Everyone who knows her work knows how talented she is. I was very chuffed to get to play alongside and also get to know her offset as well. She’s a lovely lady and someone that I feel greatly enriched to know.
How would you describe Gracepoint to a new viewer?
It’s hard to describe it completely comprehensively, because it’s many things I think. On one level, it’s a whodunit and the sort of spine of that is something that I think is familiar to us from many TV shows and movies of the past. There’s a very strong whodunit in there. There’s the procedural element of cops trying to solve a case.
I think what gives it an extra texture and really makes it something rather special is the way that the characters are drawn so beautifully. There’s so much texture going on, that we get to understand the lives of all the different characters that get drawn into this and the impact of the event; the death of Danny Solano, which starts the whole ball running, which is the inciting incident in the show. It’s not just another TV cop show death. We really understand the impact of that, and we really understand what that would mean to a small community such as Gracepoint.
The repercussions of that are followed through. I think it’s very hard to watch the first episode without your heart breaking for the family, actually. That’s helped by the fact that they’re played by Michael Pena and Virginia Kull, who both really take you on this harrowing, awful journey of two parents who lose a child. That, in itself, is about one of the worst things that human beings can imagine.
It doesn’t shy away from really showing you what the true repercussions of that will be. That really follows through the whole series. It’s very honest. It’s very candid, and yet at the same time, it’s a thriller as well. It just takes you on the journey. It kind of grabs you and takes you on this journey, which is a bewildering and thrilling and gruelling and gruesome, and yet, at the same time, I think impossible to turn off. I think it’s a compelling story. I think it’s been brilliantly told. I’m just very pleased to be a part of it.
Did you approach your character any differently in Gracepoint than in Broadchurch?
I just tried to play each scene as it came. I didn’t want to be self-consciously quirky about it. I didn’t want to re-create something for the sake of or reinvent something for the sake of reinventing it. I didn’t think he’s got to be different, I’ll give him a limp or a funny hat or a lisp. [laughing]. I just wanted to tell the story. I just approached each scene as openly as I could, and tried to tell that story as honestly and as well as I could. I think that’s all you can ever really do.
It would be sort of self-conscious, and just a bit odd for me to be setting out to do something that the script didn’t support. Inevitably things then do become different, because you’re playing even scenes that are very similar with very different actors, so you’re reacting to what they are giving you, you’re responding to the different environment that you’re in.
I think at times there are some scenes that are very similar to Broadchurch. There are others where even though the words can be very similar at times, they play very differently. That was continually surprising for me being part of it. I don’t suppose it would have ever been any other way really.
I think the thing is we’re very fortunate. I think this is a tribute to the quality of the script, because good actors, in my experience, respond to good scripts and want to do them. Because it’s such a well written piece, I think both times, in the UK and in America, we attracted Rolls-Royce of casts, and therefore whenever you go to play a scene with people that are that good, something exciting is going to happen. That, I think, happened in every episode and every scene. That’s the sort of thing you dream of when you leave drama school. These are the kind of jobs you fantasize about.
Gracepoint premieres Thursday, Oct. 2 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.