The average TV binge viewer is indulging in catch-up. When Anna Gunn dove headlong into the British crime drama Broadchurch, it was homework.
Gunn stars as police Detective Ellie Miller in Fox’s Gracepoint, an adaptation of the moodily gripping U.K. series that’s been uprooted from a seaside English town to a northern California setting that’s more scenic but no less fraught with pain.
The actress, who won two Emmy Awards for Breaking Bad, is part of the makeover, one that stopped short of swapping out leading man David Tennant as a tough but troubled police detective.
Gunn, 46, said she fell “head over heels” for the emotionally layered drama about a boy’s murder and the distrust and anger it unleashes in a placid community. She did fret about how Tennant would respond to her replacing Broadchurch star Olivia Coleman as his mismatched police partner. (Tennant and Coleman are paired again in season two of Broadchurch, airing next year on BBC America.)
“At the very beginning I said, ‘Do you feel you’re cheating? Does it feel odd to you?’ ” Gunn recalled. “He said, ‘It really doesn’t. It feels like a whole new thing.’ ”
That’s how its executive producers, including Anya Epstein, looked at Fox’s remake of Broadchurch. It received a prestigious Peabody Award (for its “pitch-perfect take on the classic crime drama”) but the almost one million average weekly viewers that watched it on BBC America, while solid for the channel, means most U.S. viewers are unfamiliar with the “amazing” series, Epstein said.
That includes her parents, she said, who stopped watching because they couldn’t decipher Tennant’s Scottish brogue.
That’s not a problem in Gracepoint, debuting at 9 p.m. Thursday, in which the former Doctor Who star employs an American accent. His character, renamed Emmett Carver, is no less prickly than the original, and Gunn’s Miller has to cope with him and her first murder case.
Her inexperience and roots in the community are reason enough for her to cede authority to town newcomer Carver. But as embodied by the imposingly tall and charismatic Gunn, Miller appears ready to stand her ground.
“He’s someone who approaches the world with a wary eye,” Gunn said of Carver. “She’s someone who approaches it with quite a bit of openness and the belief that you protect and serve and also give people the benefit of the doubt until they prove you wrong.”
As the 10-episode series progresses — taking different plot turns than the eight-episode BBC original and giving some characters more weight — so does Gunn’s portrayal, Epstein said.
“As things unfold, the fragility becomes more and more apparent,” the producer said.
That’s in contrast to Gunn’s previous character who was in far different circumstances: Skylar White of Breaking Bad steeled herself to pull her family away from her meth-making husband as he descended further into evil and danger.
The role was rewarding for Gunn, but it became a harsh introduction to the Internet’s potential for unrestrained viciousness. Skylar was condemned in some online posts for being a failed, unsupportive wife, and Gunn became a target simply for playing her.
The actress responded in an eloquent New York Times op-ed piece last year. “Male characters don’t seem to inspire this kind of public venting and vitriol,” she wrote, adding that the comments shed light on attitudes toward gender and the “dark and murky corners” ignored in everyday life.
She hasn’t allowed that difficult experience to affect her choices as an actor, Gunn said.
“My job is to tell the story that the writer has given me and tell the truth of the character they’ve written as well,” she said. “If it’s polarizing and if it makes people uncomfortable, upset, that’s something you learn to let go of. Once you’ve done your work, it’s out of your hands.”