Born To Kill is Britain’s new 4-episode series that’s got everybody talking. The psychological thriller is a look into the mind of Sam, played by Jack Rowan; a troubled teenage boy who is obsessed with death.
We wanted to find out if the series was as creepy to film as it is to watch. So, Romala Garai (you’ll know her from The Hour and Suffragette), who plays Sam’s mom, shared her experience of shooting Born To Kill:
You star in the new thriller, Born to Kill. Explain a little bit about the show and who you play.
I guess you’d call it a psychological thriller, of sorts, but it’s not a ‘whodunit?’. It follows a young man, Sam, played by Jack Rowan, who is a very disturbed boy. I play his mum, Jenny, and at the beginning of the show, Jack’s psychopathy (if that’s what it is, although it’s not named) starts to progress very severely, and he kills somebody.
And we also eventually learn that he is a survivor of domestic abuse, as is his mother. And, at a very formative age, he was witness to his mother being abused by his father, and other stuff, and so there’s a question in the show about whether he is genetically predisposed towards violence, or whether his early childhood traumas have ignited those violent tendencies.
So we’re talking about the nature/nurture debate?
Yes, in an individual and specific, rather than a general clinical way. There is that question about whether he’s been traumatised or whether he’s genetically vulnerable to his impulses.
What attracted you to the role?
I was really interested to play a character who was a survivor of domestic violence. The show had been written in such a way that you learn that she had been very damaged by the violence that she survived, but also that has possibly made her unaware, or not sensitive enough, to violence in other people. She’s maybe become inured to it, and not picked up on the possible warning signs from her son. I think it’s interesting to deal with issues surrounding domestic abuse – there’s something of an epidemic in society, and yet it’s very rarely depicted onscreen.
This is pretty dark stuff – you’re dealing with a serial killer in school uniform…
And he’s the protagonist, that’s the main source of discomfort. Because it’s not told from the perspective of a hero. It’s very difficult to write a show with an anti-hero protagonist, and to do that responsibly. I think it’s a very brave decision, and I think they’ve been very successful in doing that in a way that does not glorify his violence. The victims are very clearly characters, they’re not nameless victims. You see the consequences of his actions, but also where some of his desires come from. I think it’s been very successful in treading a very difficult and complicated line.
Did you find filming some of the scenes with him unnerving?
No, I’m not that kind of actor. I think if you’re asked to do something very, very emotional, and you have to become emotional, that’s hard. But I tend to treat it quite academically. Jack, Bruce and I spoke a lot about the ideas and how to play the story, so we didn’t feel like we were making anything twisted that was going to make people feel uncomfortable. It was talked about a lot. But I think it takes quite a lot of emotional strength to play parts like Jack did and not feel weird and creepy at the end of the day. I suppose he’s a very strong person to be able to play a part like that.
The show is, in a large part, about estranged and difficult relationships between parents and their kids. As a parent yourself, is that an unnerving role to play?
I don’t think so. My own feeling is I think I could have played a role like this whether I was a mother or not. I think that Danny [Mays]would have done just as good a job if he hadn’t had children. You do so many things when you’re an actor. I’ve never been to 19th Century England, but I’ve acted roles from there. I think your imagination can take you for a lot of places. Whether or not you do a good job can be influenced by a lot of factors, but not whether or not you’ve experienced the thing involved.
Born To Kill starts on Wednesday 2 August at 8 pm on BBC First (DStv channel 119).