The Fox TV series Gracepoint, adapted from the British series Broadchurch, is a riveting 10-part mystery about the tragic murder of a young boy in a small northern California seaside town, and the major police investigation and media frenzy that ensue. Leading the investigation is Detective Emmett Carver (David Tennant), who works with Detective Ellie Miller (Anna Gunn) to solve a case that will upend the lives of the town’s residents.
During this recent interview to discuss the similarities and differences of both shows, as he plays the lead in each, actor David Tennant talked about the complex combination of genres in telling this story, working on his American accent for the role, working with co-star Anna Gunn, that there could be future seasons of the American version, much like they’re already doing Series 2 in the U.K., playing each scene as it came, instead of focusing in giving different performances for each version of the character, what makes this character so compelling, American television vs. British television, and why he loves working in a variety of mediums. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Question: For those who watched Broadchurch, what will we see with Carver that we didn’t see with Hardy?
DAVID TENNANT: 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 were 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 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 I think that 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 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.
For people who are completely new to the series, what would you say about it?
TENNANT: It’s hard to describe it completely comprehensively because it’s many things. On one level, it’s a whodunit, and the spine of that is something that I think is familiar to us, from many TV shows and movies of the past. There’s also 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. 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 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. 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, and 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 grabs you and takes you on this journey, which is bewildering, thrilling, grueling and gruesome, and yet, at the same time, impossible to turn off. It’s a compelling story that’s been brilliantly told. I’m just very pleased to be a part of it.
How did you work on your American accent for the show?
TENNANT: 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, like in just about 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. 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 in your bones, and so it’s not something that 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 always like seeing people transforming themselves, in whatever way that might be, and a different accent is part of that. An accent has to do with the way your mouth works and the sounds that come out of your head, but somehow it informs everything about you. If you speak in a different accent, you begin to move in a slightly different way and you think in a slightly different way. It’s part of trying to find what makes a character. Because I’ve done a character very similar to this in the British show that preceded Gracepoint, the accent is one of the things that helps define what’s different about this incarnation of this particular character.
TENNANT: The central relationship between Carver and Ellie defines the show and defines the way the story is told. Essentially, the bones of it are the same as Broadchurch. 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 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. She 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. That relationship 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 relationship was so important to get right. Luckily, she just turned out to be a proper actress. She’s 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, and who you could throw anything at her and she would respond. That’s just 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 10 episodes. Everyone who knows her work knows how talented she is. I was very chuffed to get to play alongside her, and also to get to know her off set, as well. She’s a lovely lady, and someone that I feel greatly enriched to know.
If Gracepoint does really well on Fox, will they do another season?
TENNANT: 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. I just want America to take to it in the 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.
With the characters in Gracepoint and Broadchurch being so similar, was your approach to playing each of them different, at all, or was the goal more along the lines of just bringing the character from Broadchurch to a wider audience in America?
TENNANT: 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 it, or reinvent something for the sake of reinventing it. I didn’t think he’s got to be different. I didn’t want to give him a limp or a funny hat or a lisp. 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. That’s all you can ever really do. It would be 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 scenes that are very similar with very different actors, and you’re reacting to what they are giving you and responding to the different environment that you’re in. 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. The thing is that we’re very fortunate. Good actors, in my experience, respond to good scripts and want to do them. Because it’s such a well written piece, both times, in the UK and in America, we attracted the Rolls-Royce of casts. Therefore, whenever you go to play a scene with people that are that good, something exciting is going to happen. That happened in every episode and every scene. That’s the thing you dream of when you leave drama school. These are the kind of jobs you fantasize about.
TENNANT: It’s because he’s a character that’s so intriguingly drawn. He’s got lots of secrets. That’s always intriguing, from an audience’s point of view, and from an acting point of view. Certainly, at the start of Gracepoint, we’ve got an awful lot to learn about who this man is, and why he is motivated in the way that he is motivated. In fact, it’s fair to say that throughout Gracepoint, we don’t entirely learn the answers to all of Carver’s particular questions. Maybe we will, if we ever get a Season 2. We’re certainly learning a few of Hardy’s secrets in Broadchurch, too, which I’m filming at the moment. Who knows what we’ll ultimately learn about Carver. Clearly, he’s troubled. He’s got some personal stuff going on, but he’s also hugely motivated to get justice and to find out the truth. That’s something that I think we’re all motivated by, especially when something as grotesque as a child murder has taken place. We may not identify with Hardy, but we can understand why he does what he does. Even though he can be quite unpleasant and quite difficult at times, I think we’re ultimately all rooting for him because he’s got the interest of right on his side.
Was doing an American television show very different from doing a British television show?
TENNANT: It’s the same job, all over the world, really. It works in the same way. The way that it’s shot obviously depends on how the director does it, but it’s basically the same, the world over. Actors are a very similar breed, whichever country you go to. There are practical differences to the way the days are structured and to the amount that’s expected to be shot in each day. Craft service is different. We don’t have that in Britain. There are more snacks on a US TV show. I would say that is the biggest difference. At the end of the day, everyone’s really just trying to tell the best story they possibly can, in the most elegant and compelling way. It’s more similar than I would have expected, before I did it. It’s an industry that people are quite pleased to be a part of. There are far too many of us, all wanting to do these wonderful jobs. I think most people who are lucky enough to get these jobs are thrilled to be there, and really are highly motivated and very excited about what we’re doing. That’s true, the world over, so it’s a great pleasure for me to be part of that.
Having worked in film, TV and stage, do you have a favorite genre that you prefer to work in?
TENNANT: 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 work quite hard to preserve. 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. 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 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.
Gracepoint premieres on Fox on October 2nd.