Shannon Murphy: Killing It Oz Style

May 11, 2020
The Australian director is living the dream, with her episodes of Killing Eve airing, the release of her acclaimed feature debut Babyteeth around the corner, and the gift of time allowing her to read, spend time with family and retro exercise to ‘80s aerobics classes.

Were you previously a fan of Killing Eve and what did you admire most about it?

Definitely, but I must confess I was half a season behind my American mother who kept raving about it! I remember the feeling I had after watching the first episode of Season One, it was total elation for the unique tone which felt so brave and bold and unashamedly strong stylistically. I was also really drawn to the work of Julian Court the cinematographer and he was a big drawcard for me to join the Killing Eve team.

You relocated to the UK during production. What was the experience like and where did you film during the series?

Relocation was to London, which was not so difficult as I had lived there for a bit when I was a Uni student and this time I wasn’t quite as poor! We filmed in London and Romania. I love London but I’d never shot there before so every new location felt exciting and fresh to me. As with all Killing Eve episodes, there is so much thought that goes into the locations and design, so we travelled all over London for premium spots. Every day was often a totally new area. Romania was fascinating because we shot in a small town called Comandău, which has a primarily Hungarian population and has never had a film crew in it before so it was the first time this location has been captured on TV which was thrilling. We also used a lot of the local villagers as extras, so it has a really authentic feel with numerous very funny moments behind the scenes as we navigated through the community.

Can you discuss your collaboration with the actors?

This season’s additional focus on the personal family dynamics of the lead roles meant that I worked very closely with them to extract the themes of their past personal lives, with particular focus on mother-daughter relationships. I have a very unique episode which necessitated that Jodie [Comer] and I work very intimately in crafting Villanelle’s emotional journey, returning to people from her past and dealing with the implications of their memories of her. She embraced the chance to explore the psychology behind why Villanelle is the way she is. It was a very personal episode for her character, and I wanted us to be very in tune with each other creatively in realising it. Throughout your career, you mentally collect actors that you have exceptional chemistry with because you know that it will result in future collaborations. I feel this way about Jodie, she is a very special actress to me.

What is it like coming into a show where characters are quite established; how do you bring something new to the table?

I always like to pretend my episodes are their own individual feature films and so I approach them with the same level of fastidious attack. I first talk to the actors with my own fresh perspective on what scope these episodes offer and I intend them to be original to the series. Actors need to know their characters are on a journey and not stagnating in any way. So, it’s important to try to ignite new possibilities and a stimulating environment for them to contemplate and reflect in their performances. Even the most established actors, of which we have numerous, come to work with the aim to play and discover new ideas.

You’ve had an incredible year, what have been the highlights from the festival circuit with your film Babyteeth?

There were two major highlights for me at Venice, which were incredibly moving experiences for my whole team. The first was the press conference which happens before the official opening screening of the film as it was the first time the film has ever had an audience. So, we were apprehensive, because it was a huge room full of journalists. Ben [Mendelsohn] is always incredibly generous in these moments, making us all laugh and keeping the atmosphere buoyant. But as we entered the room, we could feel the vibe was very serious and stoic and we didn’t know what to expect. Gradually one by one the journalists stood up and asked us very thoughtful, deep, personal questions and had tears in their eyes as they talked to us about how the film had given them the opportunity to have a cathartic release that they can’t always have in their own homes or when surrounded by others. In the sacred space of the cinema, our film had given them permission and they were thanking us. We were so proudly moved that we all had tears in our eyes. This personal emotive experience was exactly what we had aimed to create with the film and to see and hear its tangible effect through these journalists was powerful…… and wonderfully Italian!

A few hours later we were to appear on the red carpet and as we stepped out, they played the song ‘Santiana’ from the film which was recorded with Sydney’s Malabar Public School choir singing. It was amazing to hear their little voices echoing in front of the Sala Grande, here we were all the way in Venice Italy with all its glamour and prestige and our little film with so many extraordinary Australian artists involved was being celebrated and honoured in such a monumental way, it felt completely life affirming.

Another pinch me moment was in Zurich when I got to meet my favourite actor Mark Rylance. I have loved him since I was a poor theatre student in London where I would line up for cheap tickets and then stand in the yard for hours watching him at the Globe playing Richard II or Olivia in Twelfth Night. I would go again and again to work out how he was able to be so soft spoken and tender and yet still have such gravitas on stage. When I met him I was shaking and he took my hand and led me away so that we could have a private chat as he realised what a big deal it was for me to finally meet him. I will never forget how kind he was.

With many productions on hold, including The Power, which you were attached to, how are you spending your time in isolation?

I’m spending my time reading scripts and novels. It has been stimulating to still have developments boiling away for future projects and the gift of time to review more than I usually can. The gift of ‘time’ is perhaps one of the few positives of this social isolation. I go bike riding with my mum and do online ‘80s aerobics classes with Shannon Dooley’s VHS Retrosweat. I have a 4-year-old daughter, so we have a lot of craft time and puzzle time. Happy hour is at 5pm and in this house and it’s most certainly a festive occasion to look forward to every day. Marking moments in the day feels important during this time, knowing when to stop, turn your attention to the beautiful family members around you and give thanks that you are healthy and safe. A luxury so many don’t have at the moment.

Killing Eve Season 3 is screening on ABC TV and iview. Episode 5, which Shannon directed is on iview now. Episode 6 will screen on ABC TV on Sunday May 17 and will be available on iview on May 18. Babyteeth will release digitally in the US on June 19.

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