On the new A&E drama series Those Who Kill, homicide detective Catherine Jensen (Chloë Sevigny) tracks down serial killers while attempting to come to terms with her own dark past. To help her with both, she enlists the help of forensic psychologist Thomas Schaeffer (James D’Arcy), who also has his own demons to work through.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor James D’Arcy talked about how he came to be a part of Those Who Kill, what made him want to get involved with the project, how much he loved working with Chloë Sevigny, the research he did in figuring out what kind of man this would be, how both Catherine and Thomas are manipulating each other, the bigger mystery that’s at the heart of the story, whether their relationship might cross a line, making sure to keep things light on set, what director Joe Carnahan brought to the show, and what he enjoyed about getting to explore a character over a longer period of time. He also talked about the thriller he’s currently shooting with Milla Jovovich and Pierce Brosnan, called Survivor, the three days he spent working on Jupiter Ascending, and what working with Andy and Lana Wachowski (along with Tom Tykwer) has meant to him, both personally and professionally. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
JAMES D’ARCY: Yeah, they actually came to me. I was a little skeptical about doing a straight-up drama that looked to me to be about serial killers. It wasn’t something that I was particularly drawn to, but I could see that it was done really well. And then, I met Glen Morgan, who is our showrunner. He’s not the creator of the show, because it originates from a Danish show, but he created the U.S. version. And what he said, I found really interesting. He wanted to make this show more focused on the victims, rather than on the perpetrators. In fact, it wasn’t going to be a procedural, as such. Although the pilot does, the other episodes don’t tie up in one episode. And then, there’s an umbrella story, which is really the heart of the show that goes over the entire season. I don’t know that you could watch any of it out of order. I don’t know that it would make any sense. So, I found all of that really interesting. And then, Chloë [Sevigny] was already on board, by the time it came to me, and I just think she’s such a fantastic actress. I was really excited about the possibility of working with her. I don’t always make smart movies, but it’s one of the best moves I’ve ever made because I loved working with Chloë.
Chloë Sevigny typically makes such unexpected choices with her roles that it makes the idea of this show that much more interesting, and you also fall into that same category.
D’ARCY: I just knew that it wouldn’t be what it potentially might have been because she just doesn’t make those choices. She operates from such a unique place that I knew it wouldn’t just be a standard television show. Beyond that, I am thrilled to report that I thought she was an extraordinary human being and I adore her. It just worked out great. I’ve managed to go nearly 20 years now without ever having to solve a crime, or get somebody off for a crime they’ve committed. I’ve never been a lawyer or a police officer. So, some of the dialogue was really difficult for me. It became less and less so, but I didn’t understand that whole other area of acting, that I was totally unfamiliar with. And Chloë has never played a police officer before, so the pair of us were really trying to discover it together. I hope that we didn’t make a lot of the more obvious choices. I don’t know because I haven’t seen the show, but that’s certainly my hope. The thing that I’m most excited about is what happens next. The pilot is always tricky because you have 40-something minutes to introduce all the characters, and you have to pretty much do a stand-alone deal because the network has to understand what the show is. But, it’s the jumping off place for what the show is going to get into, and I’m excited about where we went with it.
What can you say about who Thomas Schaeffer is and how he fits into the story that’s being told?
D’ARCY: He’s trying to juggle the fact that he has an area of expertise where his methodology of approaching it is very unboundaried, and that has an affect on him. But at the same time, he has a family who he clearly loves deeply. He’s trying to marry those things together. When we meet him, he’s made a promise to his wife that he’s not going to work on active cases anymore. He’s simply going to lecture on cases that are already solved. And pretty quickly, he’s drawn back into the world that he has left, for reasons that aren’t clear in the pilot, but do become clearer during the season. It’s the case that draws him in, but more than that, it’s Catherine. He finds her to be a pretty extraordinary case study. At the same time, he’s very instinctively protective towards her. He’s trying to play out that double thing of her being an obviously damaged woman, and he’s trying to protect her and study her.
D’ARCY: There’s a man named John Douglas who wrote a book called Mind Hunters, and he was the FBI profiler on who Clarice Starling from The Silence of the Lambs was based. He was the first guy who went around, and they interviewed every living serial killer in prison and built up a system of trying to get inside these people’s heads. What they do is really weird. They go to a crime scene where there’s a few blood spatters and a dead body and not much else, and they know that it’s an 18-year-old guy who lives with his grandmother, smokes five Marlboro lights every day, is probably a virgin and is not competent on the internet. I don’t know how they do it. It’s so weird that you almost can’t put it on television because no one would believe it. This guy wrote several books on the subject, and there are people that are still doing it today. That was the main body of my research. Beyond that, we had really great writers. They did a lot of the work for me, which was wonderful.
It seems like it would be the type of job that would have to affect you deeply.
D’ARCY: I don’t know that I could do that job. I met with an FBI profiler, and she was a very nice girl. She did not seem to be affected by what she had witnessed and learned. I don’t think that I could do it, and I’m not totally convinced that Thomas is ideally suited to it, constitutionally. It takes a very great toll on him. It costs him to do this work, but he does it because he really, truly believes that he has a skill set that could make the world a better and safer place. It was interesting, when I spoke to the profiler that I met with, she said exactly the same thing. But I didn’t meet her until we were half-way through shooting the show, so it was great because she confirmed my instinct about it all.
Both of these characters are clearly willing to go further for their work than they probably should. Is how far they’re each willing to go something that will continue to surface?
D’ARCY: Sure, yeah. It’s a game of manipulation on both of their parts, but they also get each other really quickly because they both have this weird take on the world, whereby they will do that thing that someone else won’t do. Thomas gets Catherine right away, and she gets him right away.
Catherine Jensen has specifically sought Thomas out to help her figure things out with her own family. How big of a part of the story will that be, and is that something that will even be resolved by the end of the first season?
D’ARCY: I can’t answer the second half of your question because I can’t tell you what’s going to happen. But, that is the heart of the show and it is significant. The stuff that happens around it is more incidental, and it plays out against the backdrop of the mystery of Catherine’s family. It becomes more about who’s manipulating who. There’s a little more cat-and-mouse taking place.
D’ARCY: I don’t know how to answer that question. Whatever I say would be a spoiler. All I can say is that you’re on to something. This is a dramatic television show, so stuff is going to happen. Things are going to change, but I can’t tell you in what way. He sees a kindred spirit in Catherine. They get each other very quickly, and that’s great. There’s no bullshit between them. They’ve got each other’s numbers and they can’t lie to each other, but at the same time, they’re both lying to each other, a bit.
When you go into a project that’s this dark and this intense, did you and Chloë intentionally decide to keep things as light as possible, in between takes?
D’ARCY: We had a texting exchange, just before we started shooting the show, where we did discuss that. We made a decision that we were going to have a good time, no matter what, and we did. We had a really great time. Pittsburgh is a great city. We found some fantastic restaurants. The rest of the cast was adorable. We all found nice places to stay. Honestly, I’ve been more tortured working on a comedy than I have been on dark dramas. With comedy, you wake up in the middle of the night going, “Oh, god, if only I’d done that, it would have been funny!” With drama, you just do it, and then you go home, at the end of the day. I didn’t take it home with me, which is wonderful.
What was it like to have Joe Carnahan direct the pilot and set up the tone and atmosphere for the show?
D’ARCY: Joe is great. I love Joe. I really enjoyed working with him. He really knows what he wants to do. He makes bold decisions, and he stuck to them. That’s what you need when you’re shooting a pilot. You need someone who’s got a vision and just goes for it. And Joe is really, really good at that. We really felt very safe in his hands. He’s also incredibly enthusiastic. He’s terrific.
D’ARCY: Well, they don’t all play out in one episode. It’s difficult for me to say because I haven’t seen any of the show. I just was in it. I don’t know how it all comes together, so it’s really difficult for me to know the answer to that question. There are moments of levity in it. In one episode, there isn’t really a case, so it becomes about other things. I wish I could give you a better answer. I’m sorry I can’t, but I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know. You never know how they’re going to cut it together, and which takes they’ll use.
What do you enjoy about getting to explore a character over the long-term, collaborating with the same producers and writers while also simultaneously working with different directors?
D’ARCY: I really enjoyed it. I loved it. It was a really unexpected pleasure to be working on something over a number of episodes, particularly something that, when you started it, it hadn’t been fully written. We would do things while we were shooting one episode, and then they would write that behavior into the script, which was great. There’s this fantastic symbiosis that starts to take place, and you can’t quite tell who came up with what. I really enjoyed that part of it. It was great.
After spending time doing something so dark, did you want to go do a comedy?
D’ARCY: No, I just love working. I really enjoy the work, whatever it is. I’m working on a thriller, at the moment, so I didn’t go and do a comedy next. We finished two weeks before Christmas, so by the time the New Year rolled around and things were happening, I had slept and was ready to do whatever. But, it is nice to mix it up and do a variety of things.
What is the thriller you’re doing now?
D’ARCY: I don’t know what it’s going to end up being called, but right now, it’s called Survivor. It’s an action-thriller with Milla Jovovich and Pierce Brosnan.
What was it like to reunite with the Wachowskis, and have a hand in helping them create a whole new world for Jupiter Ascending?
D’ARCY: The truth is that I worked on that for three days. I don’t have a big part in it. I did it because Andy and Lana asked me to, and I would jump off a cliff for them. I’m in the film, and I’ve seen a lot of what the film might look like, but I wasn’t there for a lot of the green screen stuff. So, it’s difficult for me to answer that question.
What has it meant to you, as an actor, to get to work with two truly creative artists like that?
D’ARCY: Because of doing Cloud Atlas, I’ve met several people who are in the same mold as they are. They are extraordinary human beings, and I would put Tom Tykwer with them, as well. They are truly extraordinary people and incredibly visionary filmmakers. If I had gotten to make Cloud Atlas and that was it, then what I lucky human being I am. I don’t know that I have the superlatives in my vocabulary to talk about those three. They’re just incredible people and I feel very blessed to have been a part of their world. As somebody who loves going to the movies, we need people who are willing to do the things that haven’t been done before.
Those Who Kill airs on Monday nights on A&E.