Let’s call “The Killing” deliberate, not slow, so as to not scare away viewers accustomed to the murder-of-the-week style of most criminal procedurals.
“CSI” this is not. It’s so much better.
“I just thought it was one of the most beautiful pieces of storytelling I had read in any genre in years,” said the show’s star, Mireille Enos. “It was so cinematic and thoughtful, and paced so slowly, which is a gift in TV.”
“The Killing” (8 p.m. Sunday, AMC; **** stars) follows with meticulous detail a Seattle police probe into the brutal murder of teen Rosie Larsen. Executive producer Veena Sud, who based her chilling whodunit on the wildly popular Danish drama “Forbrydelsen,” structured the tale so that each of the 13 episodes represents roughly one day in the investigation.
Enos says the reverential treatment gives viewers a chance—rare in many broadcast network series—to get to know the characters thoroughly.
“It’s a character piece under the umbrella of a crime drama,” she said. “And that’s so fun when … you have this compelling story that pulls these characters along. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Enos plays Det. Sarah Linden, a veteran investigator who is handed the case the day she’s supposed to leave Seattle and move with her son to California to get married. But like the drug addicts she will later interview, Sarah can’t give up the case.
She would be giving up on Rosie—and on her devastated parents, Stan (Brent Sexton) and Mitch (Michelle Forbes). So she takes her kid to a friend’s, offers excuses to her fiance and partners up with her replacement, Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman). As she and Stephen dig deeper, they uncover connections to a local politician (Billy Campbell), Rosie’s schoolmates and others.
Enos’s Sarah is a deeply intelligent, introspective and dogged investigator who keeps her cards close to the vest. Sarah reveals little of what she’s thinking or feeling, but through Enos’ portrayal you know much is stirring under that surface calm. She's juggling her commitment to Rosie, to her son and fiance, and to her driving need to do what she does best.
“I think this is a person who is capable of stepping over the line into that world of addiction where she can’t walk away,” Enos said. “Sure, it’s about the case and it’s about being responsible to the dead, but it’s also about what she’s getting out of it—her own sense of making her life worth something.”
Enos, most recently seen portraying twin sisters Jodeen and Kathy Marquart on “Big Love,” is making a full life for herself. She’s married to actor Alan Ruck, who spent years on such Chicago stages as the Wisdom Bridge Theatre before playing Cameron Frye in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” They had their first child together, daughter Vesper Vivianne, in September.
Moving with her family to Vancouver just months after the baby was born to film “The Killing” has been a challenge for Enos, but she thinks it was all destined to be.
“I think the fact that it all happened at the same time isn’t an accident,” she said. “That my daughter showed up and this amazing part showed up and my life is so full, it feels like it’s all of a piece … It’s going really great.”
Enos talked more about Sarah Linden, “The Killing” and her roles on “Big Love.”
Give me your take on “The Killing.”
I think it is such a responsible, intriguing piece of television. Veena [Sud], the creator, is such a hugely intelligent woman. She wanted to tell the story of the death of a child. To do that with anything less than total honesty and responsibility would be so unfair to audience members who may or may not have gone through that experience. There’s such a sense of respect and reverence in the creating of this.
And the cast of characters that she’s created are so varied and so diverse. Because the structure of the show is that every [episode] is one day in the unfolding of this case, it’s like time is slowed down. The audience gets to actually know these people.
Did you try to find the original Danish show?
I did not because I didn’t want to have that wonderful performance in my mind. I felt that would be distracting for me.
Your character, Sarah Linden, seems to be very closed up. She’s built these walls. Tell me about her.
Yes. She’s a deeply private person, and she feels kind of like an alien in this world. And sometimes, like both ends of the spectrum of that. Sometimes she feels like an alien because she feels so superior to everyone, and sometimes she’s an alien because she feels incapable of connecting to other people. The qualities that make her good at being a detective make her less good at the rest of life and less good at choosing happiness.
And she’s flawed. She’s complicated and flawed. She’s not necessarily being a successful mother right now. She’s brusque and she has a hard time with commitment and she’s cagy, but underneath all that kind of weirdness and toughness, there’s a really big heart that she’s trying to protect.
What’s interesting to me is, you could see her as the viewers see her [crash sounds on the line]. Oops.
Hello? Sorry, that was my chin. I’m sorry.
Do you have the baby with you?
Yeah, she’s in my arms. Can you hear her?
She’s practicing her coughing. She thinks this is a very fun game. I shifted and … OK, sorry.
No worries. Congrats by the way. I was saying that some viewers might say Sarah is not too lovable, but I do love the way that her co-workers seem to have great affection for her. And she has a good sense of humor, too. But still, a little dark, isn’t she?
Yeah. I think when she is in situations where she doesn’t have to try to prove herself, [she has a sense of humor]. Like with her co-workers, they know her. They know who she is, they know she’s proven that she’s good at what she does and so she doesn’t feel any responsibility to kind of be anything that she’s not. She can be her kind of best version of herself. She can show her sense of humor; she can show herself relaxed.
But when she’s around people she doesn’t know, like with her new partner or with the people she’s interrogating about the case [she’s different]. I think it’s a version of shyness, that thing of, “I’m not going to like you before you can not like me.” … As the show unfolds, you see her in different situations with her son, and with her fiancé and she’s multi-faceted, she’s not just a prickly pear.
You mentioned her partner. It appears Sarah is equally appalled and impressed by him. When he questions a male teacher about the victim, he says something really inappropriate…
Totally inappropriate, yeah.
I’m wondering, though, is she thinking, “OK, I know what you’re doing, but don’t do it again,” or do you think she just thinks he’s a loser?
I think she’s saying that was really inappropriate, but effective. I think there was an acknowledgement that while it was wrong, he got an interesting job done. And while she is not willing to go there, she doesn’t mind that he did.
I think it was part of what’s interesting about their dynamic is that these two people are so different and they’re first response is to not like each other, but both of them have to acknowledge that the other actually has instincts that are really interesting in terms of their police work.
Do you think that Sarah’s kind of addicted to this work?
To the point of distraction, it seems. It’s not that she’s not there for her son, but she does seem to not be there…
Yeah, she’s absentee a lot. And you know that word, “addiction,” it’s a very weighted word and I think Sarah would say to herself, “I have to earn a living. I’m a single-mother. The job asks for what it asks. I’m good at it. It requires a certain amount.”
To some degree those things are true and justifiable, but I think this is a person who is capable of stepping over the line into that world of addiction where she can’t walk away. Sure it’s about the case and it’s about being responsible to the dead, but it’s also about what she’s getting out of it—her own sense of making her life worth something.
And that’s what it is? She feels that this is how I can make my life worth something?
I think her identity is deeply entangled in to her work.
It’s interesting. She is ready to leave and move to Sonoma to get married. It is her last day and she gets sucked back in.
Yeah, she’s right on the edge of leaving. And if this case hadn’t shown up on that day, I think she was getting on that plane. Now how long she would have been able to stay in Sonoma and how restless she would have been, that’s a different story. But I do think she planned to get on the plane and, and at least make a go of it.
Do you think that she was sort of, “All right, I’m over it?” And then she met this guy?
I think it was really wearing on her and I think she had come to a point where she was at least willing to try something else.
I love the way that in the field Sarah just takes her time and contemplates even though everyone’s telling her to hurry up. Do you think that she’s trying to get into the killer’s head or the victim’s head, or both?
Both, I think both. I think mostly the victim, but I think both. I think she identifies with the victims and that’s who she is trying to be the advocate for. But she bounces back and forth.
Are we going to actually see her blow up ever, lose it? Or can you tell?
[Laughs.] Yeah, I’m not gonna tell you.
There’s another great scene with her and Steven in the car he suggest she’s running away from something by leaving her job. Do you think she is running away from something, or running to something?
Well, running away there are negative implications, like “You can’t deal.” … Maybe she’s just trying to consciously step away, maybe she recognizes that there are things about this career that are not serving her anymore. She’s trying to remove herself from a bad situation. I think the line has gotten really blurry for her about who the bad guys are. I spent a lot of time talking to Veena and she is fascinated with this whole world. She’s spent a lot of time with undercover cops and she was saying to me that so much of the time, murders of children, especially, or a family member or a close friend of the family, it’s rare that it’s a really random person [who did it]. That has to just taint your view of the world, when over and over and over again, [someone close] ends up being part of the crime. It would make you really jaded.
Back to Sarah seeming to have little emotion. How has it been playing this part? Is it difficult to convey barely any emotion on the surface, yet still give her all the layers you do?
It is. I’m a pretty sunny girl, warm and full of feelings and not that afraid of sharing my feelings. There are things that I am private about, of course. But I’m very engaging, so finding the balance of sealing that off from people who Sarah would feel inappropriate to show, but still letting my emotions to be alive underneath so that she doesn’t turn into a robot is a tricky balance. Before every episode I try to talk to the director about that, “Please be my eyes in terms of that balance.” Like not showing too much, but also not being a robot. And they’ve been very helpful... I naturally have quite a bit going on. And so when I put a layer over it’s hard to kill all that other stuff. And so as long as I keep the balance and the writers and the directors, we all work together to keep that balance, I think it makes Sarah an interesting person.
It does. The second part of that question is, you are acting opposite people who are showing just huge emotion. Brent Sexton and Michelle Forbes, as the victim’s parents, for instance, just break my heart. Is that difficult to face?
[Laughs.] Well, everyone in the cast is so incredibly talented I just feel so lucky to get to be there and watch them do their work. They make me better; getting to seen Brent in that scene, even though I’ve got to put a big lid on it, I’m a better actor because I got to stand opposite of him. Everyone on the cast is fantastic, really such a wonderful group of people.
The show focuses really on the psychological effects of this murder more so than murder of the week or the “CSI”-type thing. Do you prefer that?
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. It just gives you time with the crime and with the people. The world is too condensed when you have a new crime every episode.
We had a big interrogation scene in this last episode and Joel, who plays Holder; we ended up having a really interesting conversation about the way into an interrogation scene. People who have secrets are not going to reveal those secrets easily and you have to play a kind of psychological dance. To do that truthfully, to not have it just be a stock interrogation where at the end, the person opens up, you need time. On a show where there’s the responsibility of a new crime every week, there’s not time to figure that out. So we’re really lucky.
Did you talk to police officers or detectives?
The stills photographer on the pilot had been a homicide cop for 20 years. His hobby had been photography and now he’s retired and so now he’s being a TV photographer and so I just picked his brain for the entire month that we were shooting the pilot. I asked him as many questions as I could think of. And, but that’s really the only research that I did.
The promos on AMC say, “Everyone has a secret.” What’s Sarah’s secret?
I can’t tell you! [Laughs.] It wouldn’t be a secret anymore.
OK, I tried. I notice Sarah does not wear her hair in a braid, is that too much of a “Big Love” flashback?
It’s funny, people ask me a lot like, “How do you feel about always getting cast as these girls who don’t wear any makeup and just have braids or their hair pulled back in ponytails?” I always say, “I love it!” Having no responsibility to be beautiful is really awesome.
Does that mean you can sleep in; you don’t have to do makeup?
Yeah, you know, my makeup artist is really great. She’s doing all these kind of invisible tricks, but yes, I have much less time in the makeup chair than the girls on “Desperate Housewives.”
Right, exactly. All right, so speaking of “Big Love.” How was it working on that series?
Awesome, really awesome. Great cast, wonderful writing and getting to play twins is an actor’s dream and I had a really wonderful time. And getting to step into that crazy world on the compound, so fun.
It was your first series regular, right?
And your second, so to speak.
[Laughs.] Yes, that’s right.
Do you find that you learn things there that you use now all the time?
Yeah, totally. I come from theater and 10 years in New York and doing Broadway and doing a little TV here and there, but my stage time was so much more than my in-front-of-the-camera time. And then I came to L.A. and I was doing some guest star work and stuff, but “Big Love” is where I really got to get comfortable in front of a camera. It was my workshop.
That directly paved the way for me to be able to do the show that I’m doing now. Without my time on “Big Love,” I don’t know if I would have been at the right place in terms of my work to play Sarah.
All right, so Alan Ruck, your husband. I saw him on “Fringe.” Every time I see him on TV when I don’t expect it, I just smile.
I know. He’s the best, right? He’s so great.
And he has some Chicago ties. Do you guys ever come back here?
We haven’t been back to Chicago. I haven’t been to Chicago with him. He’s from Cleveland originally, so we get to that part of the country quite a bit because his folks still live there, but he doesn’t get to Chicago that often, although he has a friend who runs a theater company there, so I guess last year he went to see some shows, but not that much.
He was really fond of Chicago. He really loved his time there. When he moved to New York he was a big Chicago snob. He definitely thought Chicago was superior to New York when he first moved out.
He’s in one of the all time greatest Chicago movies ever, too… [“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”]
[Laughs.] Yes, that’s right.
Now that you’re a parent, has your approach to acting changed?
It’s a funny question. I was talking to a friend about this recently because several people told me before my daughter was born, “Oh, being a mother is going to make you so much of a better actor.” And I thought, “Huh? That’s an interesting thing to say. I wonder why that would be true or if that will be true.” And then I was laughing with a friend last week saying, “Having my baby daughter means that I memorize at three in the morning and show up exhausted and I’m running a back to the trailer to be with her in between takes.”
It’s hard to say if that makes me a better actor or a worse actor, but it’s what it is and my life is full and that’s got to show up, I guess. Which is to say that if I had tons of time, I might overthink things. There’s probably something about being exhausted and scattered that applies to playing Sarah.
Last thing; please give me your pitch for the show. Why should people tune in?
My pitch! Oh goodness. I’m going to fail miserably on a pitch! OK, I’m gonna steal from my husband. He had seen the pilot and then he read the first episode and he said, “It’s so perfectly constructed because the pilot breaks your heart and the first episode blows your mind.”
Nice, “And quoting Alan Ruck…”
[Laughs.] And quoting Alan Ruck, yeah.
I can’t wait to see what happens. We’re going to be really surprised, aren’t we?
Yes, you’re going to be really surprised.