Gracepoint (Fox) Interview: Anna Gunn on Playing a Detective, Why She Watched ‘Broadchurch’ and More

Gracepoint (Fox) Episode 6 (6)

The mystery of who killed Danny Solano is becoming more labyrinthine by the episode on Gracepoint, and Anna Gunn’s Detective Ellie Miller remains at the center of the dark case. In October, Gunn took part in a conference call to discuss the challenges of playing a detective, how two women detectives helped inform how she plays Ellie and why she did not shy away from watching Broadchurch, the hit British series on which Gracepoint is based, before filming began.

Ellie is a character who leads with her heart, which is something Gunn believes she has in common with the character. While her partner Carver (David Tennant) is a prickly sort who is built to trust no one, Danny’s case is deeply affecting Ellie because the child was part of her community. It is the impact the case has on the small town that Gunn believes draws viewers to the story. “You’re watching a small town react to terrible tragedy and what happens to people, how they react in the face of that, it can bring out the best, and it can bring out the worst in people,” Gunn said. “And when something like this happens in a small town where everybody feels that they know each other, they’ve grown up together, it’s a tightknit community, what I think is really interesting and what will draw viewers in is the fabric of that town starts to get ripped and torn away, and I think it’s something everybody can relate to, what happens to human beings when they’re faced with that kind of crisis.”

As suspicions continue to mount, Ellie has to try to keep her own emotions at bay, even when suspicion is cast on her own family. Gunn revealed she met with three officers in order to research playing a detective, and two of the officers who were also mothers gave Gunn great insight into how to play Ellie. “They said one of the first rules is you never cry in front of your coworkers; if you feel like you’re going to break, you go into the locker room and you let it out there, but you don’t do it on the job. It was very interesting to me because I found that there would be times when the story would really get to me and I would think but you have to continue—you have to go along, and you have to do your job.”

They also taught her the importance of showing balance in Ellie’s life. While Gracepoint is all about how this one boy’s murder creeps into the psyches of everyone in town, the reality of being a detective means leaving work at work and coming home to be a mom to your children. “They were so helpful to me because they talked about having to sometimes witness really harrowing awful things, gruesome things during the day at their job and then having to drive home and try to shed that and walk in the door and be a happy present mother and make dinner for your kids, and I just found that so interesting and there’s no way that I compare acting to actually going through the day-to-day process of being a detective because the other thing I learned is that those people who do those kind of jobs have to almost go against basic human instinct which is to run away from danger,” Gunn said. “They train themselves to run right towards danger, right into the middle of it, and then, to go home and try to have a good, balanced family life is so difficult.”

As an actress, Gunn is all about collaboration and learning from others. In addition to working with real detectives to help with the authenticity of her portrayal, Gunn was also quick to say she watched Broadchurch in order to better understand Ellie by watching the character’s original portrayer Olivia Coleman. Gunn explained the instinct to watch other actors in a role she is going to play comes from her days in theater.

“I was in a theater company in LA when I first moved here and every part was double cast because the artistic director wanted to make sure that it was a 99-seat equity waiver theater, so we weren’t making any money,” Gunn said. “We were doing it for the love of it, but if somebody got a paying job and needed to go off and do that, then they always had—we would call it our doppelgangers, so there was somebody else to cover the role. What I learned through that was that it was actually very valuable as an actor to rehearse a scene and then hop off stage and watch somebody else get up and do the scene. You had to learn to put your ego aside because actors, it’s an instinct to want to sort of own your role. It’s kind of a territorial instinct, but if you use– if you really embrace the opportunity to step back and watch somebody else’s interpretation of the role and also get to have a really broad view of the story and where your character fits into the storytelling, it’s really actually a great opportunity for an actor.”

By watching Coleman, Gunn’s goal was not to mimic, but to understand all sides of the character. “I watched Broadchurch with that kind of viewpoint, and I just really wanted to learn where Ellie’s character fit into the arc of the story, what was most important about various things in the storytelling and also just the essence of who she is, and Olivia Coleman is obviously a brilliant actress, and I thought she was absolutely amazing in the role, but we’re very different actors. So, it never struck me that it would be something that would be haunting me or would be difficult. It’s like plays that get revived: “A Streetcar Named Desire” has been done how many times, and every time you see a different actor playing Blanche, something different comes alive in that.”

Gracepoint (Fox) Episode 6 (1)

Catch Gunn in an all new episode of Gracepoint tonight, Thursday, November 6th at 9PM ET/PT on Fox.

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