David Tennant recently spoke to the press about the new FOX drama, Gracepoint, which is a 10-episode mystery series based off the British drama Broadchurch. David plays the lead investigator on both series, a detective looking into the murder of a young boy. Check out what he had to say about his character on both shows & how the shows will differ, acting with an English accent, and more.
On describing the show…
David: It’s hard to describe it completely comprehensively, because it’s many things I think. On one level, it’s a whodunit and the sort of spine of that is something that I think is familiar to us from many TV shows and movies of the past. There’s a very strong whodunit in there. There’s 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, that 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, which 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, actually. 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. 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 just takes you on the journey. It kind of grabs you and takes you on this journey, which is a bewildering and thrilling and grueling and gruesome, and yet, at the same time, I think impossible to turn off. I think it’s a compelling story. I think it’s been brilliantly told. I’m just very pleased to be a part of it.
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On what we’ll see with Carver that we didn’t see with Hardy (his character in Broadchurch)…
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’re 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 back here 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 that I think 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 quite 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.
On whether or not he has a favorite genre or medium to work in…
David: 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 sort of work quite hard to preserve my ability to do that, I suppose. 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.
I guess 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 I think 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.
On acting with an English accent in Gracepoint…
David: 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, I think just about in 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, I guess. 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 kind of in your bones, really, so that it’s not something 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 suppose.
It’s part of what actors do. I always like seeing people transforming themselves in whatever way that might be, and a different accent is part of that. An accent, obviously, it’s to do with the way your mouth works and the sounds that come out of your head, but somehow it informs everything about you, I think. If you speak in a different accent, you begin to move in a slightly different way. You think in a slightly different way. I think it’s part of trying to find what makes a character and it’s probably one of the things that, because I’ve done a character very similar to this in the British show that preceded Gracepoint, I guess this is, the accent, is one of the things that helps define what’s different about this incarnation of this particular character I guess.
On whether or not he thinks there will be another season of Gracepoint…
David: 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 in a couple of weeks. I just want America to take to it in a 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. I’m delighted to hear that you’re desperate to watch the last three. That’s exactly the reaction we’re after.
On his character’s relationship with Ellie…
David: Yes. The central relationship between Carver and Ellie so defines the show really, and defines the way the story is told. Essentially, the bones of it are the same as Broadchurch is. 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 rather 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, and 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, and that relationship and 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 that relationship was so important to get right.
Luckily, she just turned out to be a proper actress, 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, who you could throw anything at her and she would respond. That’s just the kind of relationship, 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 ten episodes. Everyone who knows her work knows how talented she is. I was very chuffed to get to play alongside and also get to know her offset as well. She’s a lovely lady and someone that I feel greatly enriched to know.
On whether his theater background helped him with the show…
David: Well, maybe. It’s hard for me to really know, isn’t it? I keep being asked, “Was it odd to tell the same story again?” Of course, from a theater background it’s not at all, it’s what you do eight times a week. In fact, I was doing it in a whole new set of circumstances, surrounded by completely different actors, at times telling completely different parts of the story.
There are bits of plot; there are some characters in Gracepoint that no equivalent existed for in Broadchurch. It didn’t really feel like a repetition, it just felt like you were telling a story that was familiar, but there were enough differences. Yes, as you say, acting is always about repeating things, to a greater or lesser extent. It’s very rare you do one take of something, even on a TV show, so you’re used to repeating things more than once. It just was an extension of that principle, I suppose, to go back and tell a similar story again from the start.
Maybe theater background does help with that; it’s difficult for me to entirely know, as that’s the training that I’ve had. Because I started in the theater, that still sort of feels like the day job to me, and any kind of filming, it still fills like a bit of a sabbatical, even though I probably do a lot more of that now then I do on stage. I guess that’s in my bones, that’s how I sort of approach things. Maybe it did help.
On his goal of playing his two characters differently or just bringing one to a wider audience in America…
David: 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 or reinvent something for the sake of reinventing it. I didn’t think he’s got to be different, I’ll 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. I think that’s all you can ever really do.
It would be sort of 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 even scenes that are very similar with very different actors, so you’re reacting to what they are giving you, you’re responding to the different environment that you’re in.
I think 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.
I think the thing is we’re very fortunate. I think this is a tribute to the quality of the script, because good actors, in my experience, respond to good scripts and want to do them. Because it’s such a well written piece, I think both times, in the UK and in America, we attracted Rolls-Royce of casts, and therefore whenever you go to play a scene with people that are that good, something exciting is going to happen. That, I think, happened in every episode and every scene. That’s the sort of thing you dream of when you leave drama school. These are the kind of jobs you fantasize about.
On what he thinks makes Carver/Hardy so compelling…
David: To me, it’s because he’s a character that’s so intriguingly drawn, I think. 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 a way that he is motivated. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that throughout Gracepoint we don’t entirely learn the answers to all 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, and 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 ultimately we’re all rooting for him, because he’s got the interest of right on his side.
On the process of making a British show vs an American show…
David: It’s kind of the same job all over the world really; it kind of works in the same way. The way that it’s shot obviously depends on how the director does it. It’s basically the same; makeup people, and props guys, and the electricians. They’re kind of the same the world over, the same sort of people. Actors are a very similar breed, whichever country you go to. There are differences. There are practical differences to the way the days are structured and to the amount that’s expected to be shot in each day. That’s grace notes, really.
Craft service, that’s a difference. We don’t have that in Britain. There’s more snacks on a US TV show. That, I would say, 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. I would say that’s more similar than I would have expected before I did it.
It’s the sort of industry that people are quite pleased to be part of. There’s 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. I think that, I would say, is true the world over, so it’s a great pleasure for me to be part of that.
On being able to keep the two characters separate in his head or if there’s bleed-through…
David: Not really because, like I was saying, as we’ve been talking earlier, you’re just sort of playing each scene as it comes up. You only shoot one scene at a time, so you try to stay as in the moment as possible. Maybe, if I was day about, going between the two shows, but because I went to Vancouver Island where we shot the show, and I lived surrounded by all the people who were involved with it. That’s what we were there to do. That’s what you’re concentrating on while you’re there. I don’t think it did really.
I was worried that might be the case. There’d been quite a long gap between Broadchurch Season 1 and then shooting Gracepoint. There’d been about 18 months. Then I came straight off the end of Gracepoint into the start of shooting Broadchurch two, which is what I’m doing right now. That was literally a 24-hour turnaround, and I headed into the read through lousy with jetlag. I thought this could be tricky. I don’t want to be slipping into the wrong accent. I think, bar calling one of the families by the wrong name once, I don’t think there’s been any other time where I’ve got confused between the two.
Thanks so much to David for taking the time to speak to everyone. Be sure to check out the series premiere of Gracepoint tonight, October 2, on FOX at 9/8c.