Patty Jenkins’ first feature film, Monster, dramatized the life of serial killer Aileen Wuornos. After dabbling in television comedy, Jenkins marked her return to drama by directing the pilot episode of The Killing. She spoke with AMCtv.com about shooting the wrenching scene when Rosie’s body is found and the unusual problem of not enough rainy days in the Pacific Northwest.
Q: How did you initially get involved with The Killing?
A: I had [the pilot script] sent to me by my agents and was kind of upset by it because I have a son of my own. When I started reading it I thought, like a lot of people, it was going to be like a whodunit, just exploitative of crime. But I was surprised it was going to continue being about one crime and that it was going to really linger inappropriately with people that you usually want to get away from in cases like this. So I got really sucked into it.
Q: Can you elaborate on what you mean by “inappropriately lingering”?
A: So often in crime shows, I’m amazed how you dip into the crime but at the end of the day you’ve solved the crime and everything’s great, you know? So I think the fact that [The Killing] ends with the victim’s family and realizing this crime is a permanent thing — yes, it’s important to figure out who’s doing it, but [it's also important to] look at the wreckage it’s caused in all of these lives.
Q: Did you have a role in casting principal characters, even though they’re around beyond the time that you’re there?
A: I was there for every character, from beginning to end, and I think it was a great experience. I don’t think they always invite pilot directors in for that. I didn’t realize how unusual it was, so I was delighted to have a voice and be involved in the casting.
Q: The pilot episode hits so many emotional notes. What was the most emotional scene for you to direct?
A: Definitely the ending. That’s a really hard place to go to. When I read the pilot called The Killing, I knew that she was not going to be found. But still, every red herring that [hinted] she was going to be found, I found myself wanting her to be found. So at the end, when her body is found and the father’s there and he’s on the phone with the mother, it is a brutal place to go to. Those actors to some extent have to go there, and as a director you kind of have to go there to make that moment exist. So it was really tough.
Q: So many crime shows these days revel in graphic details, but the pilot was relatively restrained. Did you have a conversation with Veena about how much of the corpse you wanted to show, and how you wanted to show it?
A: There were lots of conversations about it. I think the greatest thing was that everyone was really on the same page. I think there were some fears that people would want more graphic detail out of it, but that moment never happened. That [might have been] a dealbreaker for me. I felt like we needed to do the bare minimum to get the point across, not to revel in details. If it had crossed that line I would have been very uncomfortable, and I think everybody would have been very uncomfortable. It’s always about what’s necessary to tell the story you’re telling. This is not a story of sensationalism. This is an emotionally-based story, so that was all we needed and wanted.
Q: Since the show is set in Seattle and the tone of the first episode is grim, did you try to avoid shooting on days that were too sunny?
A: We shot on lots and lots of sunny days. We just dealt with it the best we could. Peter Wunstorf, the Director of Photography, did a terrific job dealing with it. You don’t have the choice. You shoot the days you shoot. It did not rain as much as we wanted it to while we were shooting, so you have to roll with it.
Q: How much of the rain is real, and how much is manufactured?
A: I would say 15% is manufactured. It really rained when the car was coming out of the lake. We didn’t want it to rain that night when the body is found in the trunk.