When doing press for any role, an actor is asked to describe his or her character in detail, and often. For the first time in my entire working life, from the very first interview to the very last, I don't feel like I've been able to narrow down an accurate description of all that is detective Stella Gibson in The Fall.
I've been asked what drew me to her in the first place. To be honest, it's hard to say no to a role when you have been told by the writer that he wrote it "for" you. It's even harder when the character is as brilliantly, enticingly drawn, even if at a slow burn, as Stella is.
But what is it about Stella — and why me? It has been said that she is cold. Is she? Am I? Is this a trait that The Fall's creator-writer Allan Cubitt saw in me and gave to her? I must ask him. She is cold. Particularly. And she can be warm. I can be cold, I have heard particularly, and I can be particularly warm. Surely this isn't unique in life, nor on screen?
She is, as has been said, enigmatic. Inscrutable, impenetrable, mysterious. Again, am I? I don't think I'm necessarily mysterious, but would my friends say that I am difficult to know? To get a handle on? Probably. I think that I am pretty clear about where she and I are different, and very clear about the fact that she is not me. Oh, to embody half of what she brings to the table! But still, what is it about her that seems to confound and perplex people?
Women tell me that they are drawn to the confidence with which Stella carries herself, how she stands up for what she believes in, and the fact that she clearly chooses her clothes carefully and cares about how she looks — for herself. But surely save for maybe that last point, we have seen this before. Sydney Bristow in Alias, Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect, Ellen Ripley in Alien, the myriad contemporary female detectives on TV today. So is that last point it? Is it that Stella is at once in touch with her femininity in a way we have not seen, and yet still able to stand up for herself with strength, intelligence, grace, and self-containment? Could it be that simple?
I'm not so sure, and yet none of the usual (independent, intelligent, focused, serious, professional, strong, and, yes, feminist) character descriptions seem to define or explain the whole of her. I think ultimately, frustratingly, this last point is what we find the most compelling: That we don't know. Even at the end of Season 2 we, including me, are still asking the question, Who is Stella Gibson?
The Fall's six-episode second season hits Netflix on Jan. 16.