Adapted by Sarah Phelps from the best-selling novels by Tana French, the eight-part crime drama Dublin Murders (now airing on Starz) focuses on the seemingly unrelated murder investigations of a young, talented ballerina and a vivacious, free-spirited woman led by detectives Rob Reilly (Killian Scott) and Cassie Maddox (Sarah Greene). As the Dublin police wonder whether the cases are linked and Cassie goes undercover to look for answers, past secrets threaten to derail things, both personally and professionally.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Killian Scott talked about how he came to be a part of this series, why he connected with his character, Detective Rob Reilly, finding his approach to the role, portraying darkness in a humane way, the experience of working with co-star Sarah Greene who plays Detective Cassie Maddox, and more.
Collider: This is such a fascinating and compelling mystery, as it unravels. How did you get involved with this? Was it just a script that came your way, and you read and responded to it?
KILLIAN SCOTT: Yeah. It’s one of those things that, when it came in, I was like, “Are we sure this is for me? Are they sure they weren’t trying to email this other actor?” The scenes that I got, initially, I just found Rob immediately very captivating. And that was even when I didn’t know the full story. It was a very simple process. I was in Los Angeles, and I got the script and made a tape, and that went over to Julie Harkin in London, who was casting it, and then it went on to Sarah Phelps, the writer, and Saul Dibb, the director, and they came back with a couple of notes. And then, I made another tape. Then, I got a call saying, “You’ve got it. You need to be in London in a week, and they’re gonna begin filming two weeks later.”
It was a relatively short time to turn it around. And so, the first thing I did was that I went to Book Soup, which is a bookstore on [Sunset Boulevard in L.A.]. I walked in and asked if they had anything by Tana French and the dude very quickly told me that they were all sold out and I thought that was a good sign. Then, I got my hands on a copy of In the Woods and read it quickly, and I was obsessed. I just thought this character and story is so rich and dark and weird. The relationship between Rob and Cassie — I was so into it. Then, when Sarah Phelps started producing these screenplays, I still have these moments where I pinch myself that I got to do this.
Acting is such a funny game. You might spend a lot of time where you’re not working, or when you might not get the thing you want to do, and then you get to do something like this, where you’ve got all of this support from Starz and from BBC, and you’ve got Sarah Greene opposite you, Conleth Hill is there from Game of Thrones, and Moe Dunford. There are all of these wonderful actors and you’re playing a character where there’s just such vibrancy in this kind of writing. Rob is an interesting dude. He’s been able to keep a certain, for want of a better word, mask on and has succeeded very well in becoming a successful murder detective in Dublin.
This process of going into the woods, which Sarah Phelps, the writer, described as these two characters basically going into hell, and you just want to go with them and hope you come out the other side. Rob is a dude who is so obsessed with the idea of truth that he’s willing to do anything and go wherever he needs to go to find the answers he’s looking for. I just found that, as a fundamental idea of a character, to be so gripping. The whole thing was really just a no-brainer. It was one of those things where it wasn’t, “Will I do this or will I not do it?” It was more like, “How can I get this?” So, when I did get it, I just embraced it, and a seven-month journey in Belfast and Dublin unfolded.
It doesn’t sound like you had a whole lot of time to prepare, going into this show. When you play a character that has so many layers to just keep peeling back, is he someone that felt challenging to figure out? Did you wish that you’d had more time to try to figure out who he was ahead of time, or do you think it helped to be able to discover those layers, as you went along?
SCOTT: I think it’s very useful, actually. In the States sometimes, when you’re making a show, it’s common that all of the episodes are written before the thing is greenlit. In the UK, doing this show, we didn’t have that. We had one or two episodes and then we began filming. I do like the thing unfolding as we’re doing it and learning more about the character and having things take me by surprise, as we go through the process. There are so many different ways of going about acting. I trained at a method-based institution in London called The Drama Center which is very, very heavy on research and preparation, and I’m into that to some degree. I find some of that stuff useful and I’ve used that for other performances. But with [Dublin Murders], I wanted to be careful not to over-think it.
Sometimes actors just don’t trust themselves enough. I read the scenes, I made the tape, and I got cast off of that tape. There was enough there to start the process. There was a show that I did a couple of years ago for Netflix called Damnation where I had month before I started filming, and so I read loads of history because the show was set in 1931 in Iowa. I read a bunch of books about the Depression and the Wall Street crash and all of those things, and I did find that useful at that moment. But I actually also think that sometimes it’s very useful not to have time. You just have to jump in the deep end and you’ll be amazed what will come if you just trust yourself, you trust your actors, and trust the director. The script does all of this work for you. I’ve had to learn, in the process of doing it, that it’s almost getting yourself out of the way of the script, in a way. If you learn the scene so well that you just don’t have to think of the lines, or anything like that, and you just arrive with an open mind, you’ll be amazed by what can come from that kind of process.
As you got to know this character and you played him longer, were there things that you grew to appreciate about him that you maybe didn’t realize, in the beginning?
SCOTT: Yeah. You form a very tight emotional connection to these things, at least when I’m doing is it. It becomes a very personal thing. I don’t think in terms of character, at all. I don’t think there was a second where I thought, “I’m playing a detective.” I don’t know how to describe it, but there’s a very fundamental Stanislavsky concept where you personalize the meaning. There’s no, “I’m playing Robert Reilly, an English detective. You’re just like, “I am Robert Reilly.” From that point, you can just live the thing and breathe with it, and allow it to unfold and grow, as the new scripts are coming in. So, I have a real deep affection for Rob, but Rob’s a difficult dude. There are lots of moments on the show where, in hindsight, you can look back and go, “That’s a really questionable choice.”
What I loved about the script was that it’s a dark show and it shows a lot of darkness in these individuals, but it portrays it in a very humane fashion. We all have are flaws and weaknesses, but most of us are trying to do our best, even though sometimes we’re not successful. I think Rob and Cassie fall into that category, very well. They are two people who are driven by the right goals, but sometimes things get very muddy and, as a result, sometimes they make choices that, in hindsight, you can be critical, but we all do that. I did really love playing Rob, and I love talking about him. It’s hard to talk about it in great depth without spoiling things, but Rob is one of these guys that’s so obsessed with the truth and the pursuit of that, that he’s willing to sacrifice his sanity, life, and everything, in pursuit of this thing that he thinks is good. As a character, I found that very captivating and constantly invigorating. The material is dark, the shoot was long; there were lots of late nights in the woods and the rain. But the roles are so rich and the actors were so good that the whole thing was just really, really satisfying.
Because their relationship is so important and they’re the two people who know each other better than anybody else knows them, what was it like to have Sarah Greene to go through all of this with and explore that dynamic?
SCOTT: First off, I can’t even imagine having done it with anyone else. Sarah was so immediately Cassie, for me. We hit it off immediately. We met, for like the first time, probably two weeks before we started filming, at the read through. We didn’t do the traditional chemistry tests. I really owe our first director, Saul Dibb, a debt of gratitude for that. He just took a certain leap of faith in me and Sarah, and he cast us separately. I had an instinct ‘cause I knew Sarah’s work and I just had a feeling that we’d work really well together, and we did. We’re very different actors, in some respects, but in some key respects, we’re very similar, in that we want the set to be a warm, playful place where actors coming in, who maybe are doing their first day and we’re five months into filming and are a bit tired, can feel like they can experiment and get it wrong, and that we can all go through this journey together, in a creatively vibrant way.
It just worked very well with me and Sarah, very quickly. I just think we both love what we do, and we both loved the roles, and we felt grateful that we got the chance to do it. We just clicked so quickly. I leaned on her a lot. There were definitely moments when you were exhausted and didn’t want to go back into those woods, but Sarah was just so supportive. I was in the accent, pretty much all of the time, and Sarah was just so graceful with that. She’s a very supportive co-star. There’s a particular scene in the final episode that me and Sarah loved filming, and when I saw it, during the UK run, I was moved by it and texted her saying, “That scene will forever be a personal and career highlights. And Sarah had started filming something else and was on her first day and said, “Don’t make me cry. I have to go to set and shoot something else.” So, there was a very strong bond that formed. It was such a privilege to walk through this story, in her company.
This is a series where we do get some answers by the end of the season, especially when it comes to the present day mystery. But there is still quite a lot to be resolved with the older mystery and what happened to these kids. Are you hoping to do another season to keep exploring that element of it?
SCOTT: With the people that we worked with, I would jump immediately to get the opportunity to do so again. But it’s based on this series of novels by Tana French, and this show is a merging of the first two novels and the show has been pretty faithful to those books. And if they follow the lead that the books take, then the next story is about Frank, played by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor in our season. So, I don’t know what’s next for Rob and Cassie. I don’t know if there is a next for Rob and Cassie. Sometimes maybe certain questions just have to be left unanswered. I think it shows a lot of respect for an audience when you don’t necessarily conclude everything or answer everything, and you’re left with a few lingering thoughts and feelings. Sarah Phelps did an extraordinary job of paying great faith to Tana French’s work while also creating something unique of her own making. It’s driving some people insane, but at the same time, sometimes that just comes with quality TV.
Do you have any idea what you’re going to do next?
SCOTT: I don’t know what I’m gonna do next. You never really know. I was walking around L.A., doing random auditions, and then Dublin Murders came into my inbox and I was like, “Oh, this is what I wanna do next.” And funnily enough, a friend said to me, “Do you remember what you said about what you wanted to do next?” And I was like, “No.” And she said, “You said that you want it to play a dark detective.” And I was like, “Oh, right.” In some way, I didn’t realize that Dublin Murders was exactly what I wanted to do next, at the time. So now, I know something will come in that will completely grip me, but I don’t know what it’s gonna be. There are a lot of really good directors knocking around. There’s this wonderful American director, called Brady Corbet, who did The Childhood of a Leader and Vox Lux. And there’s Bart Layton, who did American Animals. So, I’m not sure if the next thing I wanna do is gonna be seven months in the woods in wintertime, but I’m just gonna see what happens. I’m currently really enjoying that the show is out and it’s having a life. I’m trying not to rush into the next thing, and just see what comes.
Dublin Murders airs on Sunday nights on Starz.