Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer’s sizzling chemistry might be Killing Eve‘s biggest draw, but the BBC spy thriller also boasts a knockout soundtrack. As detective Eve Polastri (Oh) tracks down psychopathic assassin Villanelle (Comer), composer David Holmes’ stylish, brooding and continental-sounding score perfectly sets the scene for the tense cat-and-mouse game of its leading duo.
We caught up with Holmes, who compiled the soundtrack and recorded some of it with his indie trio Unloved, to root through his record collection, hear about working with writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and learn Eve and Villanelle’s very own Desert Island Discs.
How did you get involved with the project?
“The production company who made the series approached me, and sent me a script while I was on holiday. I wasn’t that bothered but then I saw Phoebe [Waller-Bridge]’s name, and, like a lot of people, I was a huge fan of Fleabag so I read it immediately. From then, it was just a resounding yes.”
Were you familiar with the original novellas that Killing Eve is based on?
“I didn’t even know until I’d finished! I still haven’t read them, because I’ve been so deep into the series. I was just immediately grabbed by the script that Phoebe had written. I knew right away it was a very female-driven world, and was also really inspired by the fact that a lot of episodes took place in different countries.”
How did you begin work on the soundtrack?
“I put together a huge playlist of music, and within that playlist was my band Unloved. Seven years previous to that I was living in LA, and I made an album with Keefus Ciancia and Jade Vincent. We put out the album and it got good reviews, but there’s such a huge volume of music constantly coming out that things do get missed. So I sent the producers the playlist, and when I got the first episode back there were three Unloved tracks in it.”
You must have been pleased?
“It was awesome, but by the end of the series they’d licensed 23! It was one of those incredible moments that happen every now and again, where you get this synchronicity. The music, although made before, fitted like a glove. I sent them loads more stuff too, like Anna Karina and Françoise Hardy, and they already had Brigitte Bardot from one of my compilations. Everybody was on the same page and everything fell into place organically.”
Each country they visit in season two has its own sound –how did you pick the tracks for each city?
“When you make music for films, it’s something you have to really feel your way through rather than think your way through. I would have maybe hundreds of French tracks by female singers, but it was just finding the ones that fitted the feel of Killing Eve. There was a lot of auditioning music, throwing stuff up against the screen. You choose these tracks because they fit into the fabric of the overall thing, so that there’s a thread tying them together. Unloved is quite lyrically ambiguous, so even though Jade was writing about something completely different, they just slotted into that world of who Eve was and who Villanelle was. Once something good happens, that opens up a portal into another world.”
Did your process change on season two, after you’d established the show’s tone?
“You take everything from the first into the second. I like to think of it as a development, it’s a sound that’s constantly evolving. Killing Eve is like winning the lottery. We pretty much get a blank canvas, and have tremendous support from the writers, directors and producers. It’s very eclectic, but at the same time there’s a thread between Jane Weaver and The Troggs and Françoise Hardy and Unloved and a lot of other artists on there. They’re all in a certain kind of ballpark, all psychedelic and groove-based in their own way.”
Are there any standout emotions that drive the soundtrack?
“We were just constantly trying to flip the record and do the opposite to what other composers might do. We were always trying to find music that had slipped through the cracks. Each individual sequence requires a completely different feeling, so you just adapt to that and try and stay away from cliches, and try and be a bit bold. Filmmaking is the biggest collaborative art form in the world, and music is just a cog in the wheel. But that support from everyone gave us so much confidence, so we were never second-guessing ourselves. We were always trying to fuck with the content and the process of how a lot of people would normally approach things.”
That confidence seems crucial, especially when you’re working on a female-driven show like Killing Eve. Other series often have formulaic ‘Strong Female Characters’, but this doesn’t have any of those stereotypes?
“Definitely. I want to work on things that are challenging, with people who are ballsy. This was my first experience working on something that was so female-driven. I’ve got so much amazing music that is female-driven, so I was really excited because I knew I had this plethora of ideas. It’s something that doesn’t necessarily come from us entirely, because everyone has got to agree on it. But because of the originality of the writing, the music had to match that. I think Phoebe [Waller-Bridge]’s success speaks for itself. She’s completely reinvented the whole idea of what you can or can’t say. For me it was just an honour to be part of something that was a breath of fresh air. I wish every project was like that.”
What Desert Island Discs would you pick for Villanelle and Eve?
I think I’ve actually done this! We made mixtapes, imaginary ones that Eve and Villanelle would send to each other. So we had ‘Foolish Woman’ by Oxford Circle. ‘The Best Person I Know’ by Cat’s Eyes. ‘Eternelle’ by Brigitte Fontaine. ‘Fire’ by Sister Irene O’Connor. ‘Up In Mind’ by Idy Lynn. ‘Remember’ by Unloved. ‘Stealing Gold’ by Jane Weaver. ‘Bite Marks’ by the Mistys. ‘I’m Not In Love’ by Song Sung. And one more… ‘I’m Gonna Make You Mine’ by Thee Headcotees.
Heavenly Recordings and Sid Gentle Films will release the original soundtracks for ‘Killing Eve’ seasons one and two on 13 December 2019