American remakes of British television shows are certainly nothing new. But it’s not often you see the makers of the American version import the lead actor across the pond to reprise his role in the show.
But that’s exactly what’s happening tonight as Gracepoint, an American adaptation of the popular British drama Broadchurch, premiers on Fox. David Tennant, who many Doctor Who fans regard as the best Doctor of the modern era, earned acclaim playing detective Alec Hardy on Broadchurch. He reprises that role – albeit with a new name and an American accent – as Detective Emmett Carver on Gracepoint.
We recently spoke to Tennant on a conference call to promote the show. The actor, who was back in England filming season two of Broadchurch, was as upbeat and charming as fans would hope. And he seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the show.
Gracepoint is a 10-part murder mystery that centers around the death of a young boy in the sleepy seaside town of Gracepoint. Tennant plays the lead investigator, a prickly outsider with a questionable past who is looking for a fresh start in this small town.
“I play the big city cop who gets dropped into this one horse town, as he sees it, and is given, as his deputy, this rather local cop, who is perfectly good at her job, but from Carver’s point of view is something of a hick, who doesn’t really understand how modern policing works, and gets far too emotionally involved with everyone, and really needs to develop a healthy streak of cynicism,” Tennant said.
The local cop is Ellie Miller, played by Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn. And the show is as much about their uneasy alliance as it is about the investigation.
“That relationship, as it was in Broadchurch, is very much one of the central structures to Gracepoint,” Tennant said. “A lot of that is defined by the relationship you can build up as actors. I was very nervous, especially having done this show before, and that relationship and worked very well with the wonderful Olivia Colman, who plays Miller in Broadchurch. I was nervous, of course, turning up on day one to meet Anna, because we had so much to do together, that that relationship was so important to get right.
“Luckily, she just turned out to be a proper actress, someone who was committed to getting it right, who was open, who was easy to work with, who you could also have a laugh with, who you could throw anything at her and she would respond. That’s just the kind of relationship, the kind of professional relationship that you always hope for.”
You may be wondering, since it went so well the first time, why Tennant decided to sign on to the American adaptation. That is something he’s been asked a lot lately.
“I keep being asked, ‘Was it odd to tell the same story again?’” Tennant said. “Of course, from a theater background, it’s not at all. It’s what you do eight times a week. In fact, I was doing it in a whole new set of circumstances, surrounded by completely different actors, at times telling completely different parts of the story.”
Tennant expanded on that, revealing that Gracepoint is by no means a scene-by-scene retelling of Broadchurch.
“There are some characters in Gracepoint that no equivalent existed for in Broadchurch,” Tennant said. “It didn’t really feel like a repetition, it just felt like you were telling a story that was familiar, but there were enough differences. Yes, as you say, acting is always about repeating things, to a greater or lesser extent. It’s very rare you do one take of something, even on a TV show, so you’re used to repeating things more than once. It just was an extension of that principle, I suppose, to go back and tell a similar story again from the start.
“I think at times there are some scenes that are very similar to Broadchurch. There are others where even though the words can be very similar at times, they play very differently. That was continually surprising for me being part of it.”
While surrounding himself with a new cast and a new locale gave a fresh spin to the series, Tennant found that filming a television show in America is very much the same as filming in England.
“It’s kind of the same job all over the world really; it kind of works in the same way,” Tennant said. “The way that it’s shot obviously depends on how the director does it. It’s basically the same; makeup people, and props guys, and the electricians. They’re kind of the same the world over, the same sort of people. Actors are a very similar breed, whichever country you go to. There are differences. There are practical differences to the way the days are structured and to the amount that’s expected to be shot in each day. That’s grace notes, really.”
However, he did admit that there’s one thing American sets have over British ones.
“Craft service, that’s a difference,” Tennant said. “We don’t have that in Britain. There’s more snacks on a US TV show. That, I would say, is the biggest difference.”
The other big change Tennant had to adjust to was affecting an American accent to play Carver. Luckily, he was already used to using a different accent on television – his version of the Doctor spoke with an English, not his native Scottish, accent. And the American dialect was one he’d heard many times growing up.
“Preparing for an American accent, I think just about in every corner of the globe, we’re brought up watching American movies, so it’s something that we all have some kind of ear for, I guess,” Tennant said. “Obviously, it’s something that you take seriously, and you work with dialect coaches and experts to help you, and then you just practice until it’s kind of in your bones, really, so that it’s not something you’re thinking about when you’re on set every day. You do your homework and then you wind it up and let it go, I suppose.”
Besides the obvious audible difference, Tennant found the accent helped to set Carver apart from his British counterpart. By affecting an American accent, Tennant found that he played the character differently.
“It’s part of what actors do,” Tennant said. “I always like seeing people transforming themselves in whatever way that might be, and a different accent is part of that. An accent, obviously, it’s to do with the way your mouth works and the sounds that come out of your head, but somehow it informs everything about you, I think. If you speak in a different accent, you begin to move in a slightly different way. You think in a slightly different way.”
Tennant believes there are more than just subtle differences between the two protagonists. He thinks fans of Broadchurch will notice different qualities in Carver.
“I think Hardy and Carver are very different, actually,” Tennant said. “They certainly feel very different in my bones. Obviously, they look quite similar. They are following the trail of an investigation which has many similarities, but they feel different to me. It’s probably for others to make a list of quite how obvious those differences might be. That’s not really my principal concern. I just want to tell this fantastic story as truthfully and as honestly as I can, I suppose.”
It’s not just differences in Hardy and Carver that viewers of Gracepoint will notice tonight. Even new viewers who have never seen the British version will notice something – that this isn’t your typical cop drama.
“I think what gives it an extra texture and really makes it something rather special is the way that the characters are drawn so beautifully,” Tennant said. “There’s so much texture going on, that we get to understand the lives of all the different characters that get drawn into this and the impact of the event; the death of Danny Solano, which starts the whole ball running, which is the inciting incident in the show. It’s not just another TV cop show death. We really understand the impact of that, and we really understand what that would mean to a small community such as Gracepoint.”
It’s unlike most police procedural you see on television. Though, if all goes well, you’ll certainly be seeing more of it in season two, which Broadchurch is already filming.
Written by Joel Murphy. Gracepoint premiers tonight on Fox at 9 pm.