For ‘Gracepoint,’ David Tennant Recreates ‘Broadchurch’ Role
By MIKE HALESEPT. 26, 2014
David Tennant, with Anna Gunn in the American series “Gracepoint.” Credit Ed Araquel/FOX
SIDNEY, British Columbia — David Tennant has been here before. He has sat in this police interview room and stared across this metal table at a father suspected of killing his young son. He’s listened to this obviously false alibi, stood up in frustration and snapped, “O.K., Mark Solano, I’m arresting you for obstruction of a murder investigation.”
Wait a minute. Solano? Shouldn’t that be Mark Latimer? And shouldn’t the line be, “All right, Mark Latimer, I’m arresting you for obstructing a murder inquiry”?
Oh, right. He hasn’t been here before. This is “Gracepoint,” not “Broadchurch.”
On a snowy day last winter, in a harbor town on Vancouver Island, in an empty former restaurant that’s been turned into a police station, the sense of déjà vu is stronger for an observer than it is for Mr. Tennant — even though he’s the one playing essentially the same role in the Fox series “Gracepoint” that he played in its model, the British murder mystery “Broadchurch,” a critical favorite in both Britain and America last year.
“There are some scenes that are very close to the source material and therefore scenes that I have in many ways played before,” he said during a break in filming. “But they become different by virtue of the fact that you’re in a different place, you’re playing a character that has a similar root but is different, he has a different accent, he has a different set of circumstances. And you’re playing with different actors who bring all sorts of new things to the party.”
Fox moved quickly to remake the ITV series “Broadchurch,” announcing “Gracepoint” in August 2013, while the first season of the British show was still playing on BBC America. More surprising was the announcement two months later that Mr. Tennant would reprise the central role of the taciturn big-city detective who takes a job in a small seaside town and is immediately enmeshed in the case of a local boy whose body is found on a beach beneath a forbidding cliff.
“It was not the sort of thing you’d expect to be asked to do,” said Mr. Tennant, who is equally celebrated as a Shakespearean leading man onstage and as a former star of “Doctor Who.” “But then because of that very novelty of it, it felt like something that I couldn’t say no to.”
Expectations for “Gracepoint,” which begins Thursday night on Fox, will be high. “Broadchurch” won the Bafta award from the British television academy best drama and, in the United States, a prestigious Peabody Award. Chris Chibnall, who created and wrote “Broadchurch,” is an executive producer of “Gracepoint” and wrote its pilot. But Dan Futterman, an actor (“A Mighty Heart”) with a short but potent résumé as a writer and producer (“In Treatment,” “Foxcatcher”), is the American series’s showrunner and, with his wife, Anya Epstein, its chief writer.
“We were not going to make changes just to make changes and put our stamp on it,” said Mr. Futterman, who was nursing a cold on this gray day and avoiding close contact with his cast. “The thing is, it worked really well. There’s no reason to mess with it. There were aspects of it that we spoke with Chris and said, this character could be deepened a little bit; maybe the back story could be this rather than that.”
Mr. Futterman and Ms. Epstein spent a week in Britain meeting with Mr. Chibnall and other “Broadchurch” producers. “We talked through our ideas for making a slightly different ending,” he said. “Also, it’s going from 8 to 10 episodes, so we have ideas for the two extra episodes. Different suspects.”
Some changes are obvious. The coastal location has been switched from southwest England to Northern California, between San Francisco and the Oregon coast. (Vancouver Island is a good physical match.) And around Mr. Tennant, in largely the same roles, is an entirely new cast, notably the “Breaking Bad” star Anna Gunn as Ellie Miller, the local cop who forms an uneasy partnership with the newly arrived detective. She’s taking the place of Olivia Colman, who won a Bafta award, her third, for her performance as Miller in “Broadchurch.” “Anna’s take is very different to Olivia’s,” Mr. Tennant said. “I think that means our relationship is going to be different, and the way I react to that character is going to be different. Which is great, from my point of view.”
Sitting at a desk in the surprisingly authentic Gracepoint police station (where a reporter has just been chastised for picking up what he thought was a craft-service doughnut but was actually a prop), Ms. Gunn recalled watching “Broadchurch” in its entirety — not necessarily the recommended course for an actor taking on an existing role — to see what “clues and hints” she could pick up from Ms. Colman. She also recalled asking Mr. Tennant early on whether he felt as if he was cheating on his former co-star.
Asked to compare Mr. Tennant with her previous powerhouse leading man, Bryan Cranston in “Breaking Bad,” she replied: “Well, David Tennant so far has not walked around in his underwear nearly as much. Actually, at all.”
Five months later, and Mr. Tennant checks in by phone from London. He’s finished with the first season of “Gracepoint” and now, to compound the confusion, he’s filming the second season of “Broadchurch.” Details about the new season of the British show, including the prominence of his character, are on triple-secret lockdown. He complained that he has to type in a special password every time he receives an email regarding the production.
“I’m in it,” he said. “I think that’s essentially all I can say. We’re all tagged and it sets off electric shocks if we say anything we shouldn’t.”
Meanwhile the “Gracepoint” premiere is approaching, and attention is building, including questions from American television critics about the necessity of a relatively faithful remake of a popular, award-winning show that’s already in English.
“The thing is, ‘Broadchurch’ had a wonderful reception in the U.S. and some very lovely things were written about it but not that many people saw it,” he said. “So we’re bringing this story to a mass audience and I make no apology for that. I think that’s a good thing. We’re not making it for people who’ve seen ‘Broadchurch,’ really.
“Of course,” he added, “I’d be delighted if they watch, too.”