This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The tricky part of playing a serial killer, it turns out, is sitting still. Ireland-born Jamie Dornan learned this when he was cast as the lead in BBC/Netflix’s moody series The Fall, about an outwardly gentle married father who kills young women. Here, the Emmy contender, 33, reveals how the show landed him atop Hollywood’s wish list for Fifty Shades of Grey, why co-star Gillian Anderson is “fierce” and how it feels to finally have choices as an actor.
What attracted you to The Fall?
I’d always relished the idea of getting my teeth into something dark. But I have to admit that originally I only auditioned for a police officer, so I don’t know what that says about what I did in the room, trying to be a good guy. (Laughs.) You find out quite a lot about yourself exploring a character like this. It’s not always stuff that you’re comfortable finding out.
Was your work on the series part of the reason Universal wanted you for Fifty Shades of Grey?
Yeah. I don’t think I would have been in any kind of conversation for Fifty Shades had I not done the show. They also liked the idea of someone relatively unknown.
The Fall is a spin on the serial-killer trope, as we see Paul living a regular life as a husband and father. How does what was on the page compare with what you brought to the role?
There were moments I felt I had to play him as a regular father. Others who’d read for Paul did the creepy-psychopath thing, so I tried to play some moments with sincerity. I wanted to separate the creepy side of him from the homey side. Luckily [creator] Allan Cubitt agreed. I said to him early on that I wanted to play him with real stillness, which is hard for me because I get quite hyper in my regular life — I’m not good at sitting still.
Is that why your character runs a lot? To get you exhausted enough to sit still?
(Laughs.) Yeah. There were a couple of days I was like, “Why did I choose to play him like this?” I made sure to play soccer a couple times a week with my mates in Belfast to take the energy out there.
There is a compelling cat-and-mouse dynamic between your character and Gillian Anderson’s English policewoman. Is her British accent as flawless as it sounds?
Yes — one of her parents is English, and I think she spent quite a lot of time in England growing up. Don’t quote me on that! But yes, she flits between the accents with such ease. It’s infuriating how little effort it takes. (Laughs.) She has a childish side that’s very endearing, but she’s a fierce actress. We had great stuff to do together in a 20-minute interrogation scene. We did take after take. I felt like I was in battle with her. It was so fun.
Season two ends with Paul’s fate in the balance. Did Cubitt tell you the full arc when you signed on?
No, I was pretty unaware. He originally came to BBC and said, “I want to make this in 12 episodes.” And they went, “We love this; we’ll give you five.” And he was like, “Oh, OK.” He had to kind of make that work in the first [season], but he always knew that we’d do a second if people watched it. Allan has so many ideas; it’s kind of hard to keep up. I think people expect him to be a creepy dude, but he’s so lovely and, believe it or not, a feminist. But sometimes I’d do a scene that disturbs me, and I’ll be in a funny space after. “Allan, what the f— is wrong with you?” He says, “I’m so sorry!” I’m like, “It’s all right, I just need a minute.”
With the Fifty Shades franchise such a hit, do you see yourself doing more TV or making film a priority?
It’s funny, but for the first time in my life, I’m presented with an element of choice as an actor — maybe just a tiny element of choice. (Laughs.) I kind of want to abuse it. It’s all about chasing interesting characters and scripts, whether on TV, big-budget movies or tiny indie movies. I would never pressure myself to choose just one. That said, some of the best writing is on TV. You get a chance to play with a character year after year. That’s a luxury that you don’t get in film.
Game of Thrones films in Belfast near where The Fall takes place. Any inkling to do a guest spot?
Sadly, I’ve never seen Game of Thrones. But I’m a big House of Cards fan. I got to meet [HOC actor] Michael Kelly recently. I’m obsessed with his performance as Doug Stamper. Luckily he complimented my work, too. It was fun.