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Luther – Ruth Wilson gets fantastically evil

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Luther - Ruth Wilson
Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) © 2010 BBC

Ruth Wilson is a BAFTA and Golden Globe-nominated actress for her breakthrough performance in the title role in Jane Eyre. Moving as far away from that character as possible, she is now starring as Alice Morgan, a psychopathic killer, in BBC America’s new thriller Luther, opposite Idris Elba, who plays John Luther, a self-destructive, near-genius detective on her trail.

What attracted you to this project?

Luther - Ruth Wilson
Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) © 2010 BBC

What intrigued me about the script was the writing, which was fantastic, and the characters within it – you don’t get many female roles which are evil in that sense. I was really intrigued by it, and thought it was a wonderful piece that you could have al lot of fun with.

What kind of research did you do to get into Alice’s head?

I watched lots of films about psychopaths and bought loads. I’m sure the cashier must have thought I was very weird. I also looked online and watched a documentary about psychopaths, which was frightening. It gave me a real insight into psychopaths and sociopaths and how they work and how they feel – they don’t feel like we do, they don’t have remorse.

She doesn’t interact the same way other people do – she has no empathy, she doesn’t feel things in the same way, so she doesn’t feel the consequences of her actions. She has complete fun in the world that she lives in.

Can you talk about Alice’s unique relationship with Luther?

When I first read it, it did resonate with me as a piece similar to Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling, except it’s the other way around. So that really appealed to me.

It starts off as her having committed a crime and Luther trying to pin (her) down for it. And as the series goes on, it become a game of cat and mouse between the two of them. And they realize they have an intellectual interest in each other as well as a sexual chemistry. They are just fascinated by each other.

It’s a really interesting dynamic. And they end up becoming sort of partners in crime a bit. So it’s a fascinating dynamic between the two characters and something that hasn’t really been explored that much on TV before. So that’s why it was so appealing.

It seems as though both Luther, and the viewers, are drawn to your character because they’re both intrigued and also frightened by you. How, as an actress, do you walk that line in playing the role?

It was an amazing script. But also I wanted to maintain interest in her as a character for the six episodes. You have to show different facets of her, and so you have to show the scary, intellectual side but also that she does have a heart and she does have compassion for Luther.

She does start warming to him, and I think there is, as the series goes on, different elements of that character. That’s why you keep getting drawn back to her, you don’t understand her fully, but she keeps surprising you.

Your character doesn’t show much emotion, but you say so much with your eyes, can you talk about that?

Luther - Ruth Wilson and Indira Varma
Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) and Zoe Luther (Indira Varma) © 2010 BBC

I think there is a lot of stuff going on underneath. With film acting, when the camera comes very close, you just have to think about something, and the camera will pick it up. This character is very contained. So you do have to give indicators of what is going on underneath that very controlling outer shell, and that again makes her more interesting as a character. But if you think the thoughts, they’ll be seen on the screen.

Your character is so nuanced and layered, was that on the page or was that something that you brought to it?

I think a bit of both. It was on the page but I was very conscious of making her interesting throughout the whole six episodes, and I felt that the audience might lose interest in her after the second episode. So I spoke to the writer and the directors of episodes 3 and 4 and said, ‘Let’s play with the idea that she’s in Luther’s imagination. Let’s push her to be a little bit more surreal.’ And in episodes 3 or 4 you can see that I circle him in a big lab, it’s all very odd. That was really fun, because then I could let go a bit more of the constrains of realism a bit.

Why does Luther intrigue Alice

I think she’s fascinated because she is someone that feels superior to everyone else. She knows exactly what’s going on in their minds, but she finds she doesn’t with Luther. He catches her off-guard. He challenges her, so she finds that incredibly exciting. She doesn’t fear it, she actually wants to encourage it, and I think he does as well. Sexually I don’t think she ever wants to be in bed with him, I think she just enjoys the attention and enjoys being challenged intellectually and emotionally.

Between scenes did you and Idris laugh a lot?

Yes, we had so much fun, and I think that really helped with the chemistry, because we got on so well. We had three big scenes to do in our first day and that was quite hard, because they are quite bold characters, but we trusted each other and just got on with it, and it was great fun to do. I loved working with him.