In the BBC America crime drama Luther, premiering October 17th, actor Idris Elba plays John Luther, a brilliant detective tormented by the darker side of humanity. He looks into the hearts and minds of psychopaths and killers, in order to solve the cases that haunt the darkness of his own soul. In this six-part series, the self-destructive homicide detective meets hit match in the beautiful, near-genius psychopath, Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson), an intriguing young woman who forces him to question his own moral code as she pulls him toward the very edge of temptation.
During a recent interview, co-stars Idris Elba and Ruth Wilson talked about what makes their characters so intriguing, playing out the complex relationship between cop and murderer, and their hope for a second season. Check out what they had to say after the jump:
Question: Can you guys talk about this interesting relationship between a cop and a murderer? What is it like to play such edgy roles?
Ruth: When I first read it, it did resonate with me as a piece that was a bit similar to Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling, except it’s the other way around. That really appealed to me. You certainly don’t get many female roles like this. The relationship develops throughout the series. It starts off with her having committed a crime and Luther trying to pin her down for it. And, as the series goes on, it becomes a game of cat and mouse between the two of them. They actually realize they have an intellectual interest in each other, as well as a sexual chemistry. They are just fascinated by each other, so it’s a really interesting dynamic. She ends up helping and they become partners in crime a bit. It’s a fascinating dynamic between the two characters, and something that hadn’t really been explored that much on TV before. That’s why it was so appealing.
Idris: Luther’s fascination of Alice is that it gives him an opportunity to understand himself a little bit. He’s fascinated by how well she constructed her crime, but obviously not well enough to elude him. To try to break down the procedural act of catching bad criminals, Luther has to break the law as well. There’s a meeting of the minds, and maybe perhaps some therapy for Luther because he doesn’t get to release much and he can with Alice.
Ruth, can you talk about playing a character who shows no emotion and having to convey so much with your eyes?
Ruth: There’s lots of stuff going on underneath. With film acting, and often 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 and she doesn’t blow off the handle often. At one point, she does, but she maintains that control. So, you do have to give indicators of what is going on underneath that very controlling outer shell, and that makes her more interesting as a character.
Alice is very contained while Luther is more out there. What is it like to play all of that violence?
Idris: John doesn’t have a mechanism for containing his anger, so he smashes things. I think we’ve all met personalities like that, who are often children, but John still has that impulse to let himself out and smash stuff. I don’t know if he’s a violent person. I just think that the only way he really expresses himself is by smashing something.
Do you think Luther’s detective skills are tied to his rage, or can they be completely separate?
Idris: No, his rage is tied to his emotion and his compassion for the victims. His rage is tied to a frustration within himself, which we haven’t really unearthed yet. We’ve touched on what that frustration is, but we don’t know. As a detective, he’s quite brilliant. But, in reality, Luther would probably have been fired plenty of times by now. In our series, Luther uses his intellect and thinks like the perpetrator, so to speak, and wins.
Do you think that Luther wants to die?
Idris: No, I don’t think he wants to die, but I don’t think he wants to live with injustice. I know that sounds really corny, but I don’t know that he can live with someone getting away with bad shit. In the first episode, you see Luther confronting someone he’s been chasing for five months, that’s been burying children alive, and it completely sends his relationship with his work into the cosmos. Luther’s flaw is that he just gets too involved. But, I don’t think he wants to die. I think he has a love for life.
What did The Wire bring to your career? How were you seen by filmmakers and TV executives, following your performance as Stringer Bell?
Idris: I was in The Wire for three years, and I left at the highlight of that. My character died, and then I got offers to do other work. That’s really how it went.
What made you decide to do a BBC series?
Idris: Well, I left England before I had reached the pinnacle. Working at BBC, at the head of one of the top dramas, is a tradition for great actors. I was in America, working as hard as I could because The Wire gave me an international springboard, which the BBC picked up on. We came together at a perfect time because the BBC wanted to do something a little courageous with their dramas, and I wanted to step into an area where I also could produce some work, so it was a perfect marriage. It also gave me the opportunity to do the one thing that I wanted to do for a long time, and that’s head a drama at the BBC.
Was Luther created for you, or did the character exist and then you came in to play him?
Idris: No, it existed. It wasn’t created for me. (Creator/writer) Neil Cross has had this character in his psyche for a long time, and I suspect that a meeting of the planets put us together. There was no actor attached to Luther when they sent it to me.
Ruth, your past roles in Jane Eyre and Small Island were set in time periods where women had to submerge their intelligence a little bit. Now, you’ve got this character who fiercely uses her intelligence as a weapon, all the time. What is it like to have been in those period pieces and then, suddenly, be this extremely modern woman?
Ruth: It’s fantastic. What you aim for, as an actor, is to be able to play a range of different roles. What I found with those characters was that they were very much intelligent women, but were unable to express themselves fully. They were also emotionally driven. They were driven by a loss or a love, or an oppression of both of those. This was really fun and quite liberating to play because she doesn’t have to feel emotion, in the same way. She’s incredibly intelligent, and she uses that to her advantage. It was really fun to play the woman in charge and in control. She’s powerful and she uses the aspects of being a woman. She uses her sexuality as a weapon.
Both Luther and the viewers are really drawn to Alice, and are both intrigued and frightened by her. As an actress, how did you walk that line, in playing the role?
Ruth: The script was there, and that helped. It was an amazing script. For six episodes, I wanted to maintain the interest in her, as a character. You have to show different facets of her, 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, as the series goes on, you see different elements of that character. That’s why you keep getting drawn back to her. You don’t understand her fully, so she keeps surprising you.
If there is a second season, how do you think the relationship between Luther and Alice would evolve?
Ruth: It evolves quite a lot in the first series.
Idris: If there was another series, I think this relationship is an integral part of the franchise, but it would be back to business for Luther.
Might you do another season of this?
Idris: Yes, but we will probably change the format and maybe adhere to the trends that television viewers are leaning towards. People watch three or four episodes at a time of their shows, and we might do something with that format for Luther.
LUTHER premieres on BBC America October 17th