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Luther’s Ruth Wilson on Playing Alice Morgan and Showtime’s The Affair

It’s almost as though Ruth Wilson were born to play Alice Morgan, with those arched eyebrows and that natural snarl. Even the Ashford, U.K.–born actress admits a certain ease slipping into the playful-if-serial-killing shoes of Luther’s nemesis turned partner in crime. “She’s a child, a clown, nasty, psycho — you can kind of play anything you want and get away with it,” Wilson says. Alice pops up well into the show’s third season (premiering tonight at ten on BBC America), just when her would-be boyfriend needs her most, with a tempting proposition. Vulture spoke with Wilson just as she was prepping to film The Affair, a pilot for Showtime from the writers of In Treatment, about Luther’s comic-book tendencies and whether or not Alice and Luther have a future together. Editor's Note: The third season has aired in its entirety in the U.K. Spoilers about the finale are marked within.

Alice makes a fantastic entrance when she returns.
Of course she does! If you’re gonna build up her absence, you gotta come in with a punch. It wasn’t even guaranteed that I was gonna be doing this third series. I wanted to. Neil [Cross, series creator] wasn’t sure exactly how to bring her in, but thank god we did, and it was enormous amounts of fun. It’s quite a dark series, more brutal than some of the others, and you realize Alice actually provides quite a lot of light relief, even though she’s a psychopath and very weird and scary. There’s something sort of glorious about her as well. Luther goes through darker and darker moments in this [season], and it gets to the point where it seems like the point of no return. You kind of think he should just end his life, really. [Laughs] Then, of course, Alice comes and saves the day, like a glimmer of hope at the end of a dark tunnel.

Her return wasn’t a given? I feel like that relationship with Luther is the center of the show.
I don’t know. You don’t know much about her, and she just drops in and out, so you want to keep it exciting and interesting without over-egging the pudding, if you know what I mean. You’ve got to find a way of bringing her in but not showing too much of her so that it becomes unbalanced. I think Neil was just working out how you push that relationship between Luther and Alice forward without changing the dynamics of the show. After the first [season], it was so successful that they wanted to maintain the idea of being a cop series, that formula of every week or two having a new crime being committed and finding the next psychopath or whatever. I agree with you, though: I think Alice is a major part of the show, and their dynamic is really unusual and really special. You’ve never seen a role like this before, certainly not for a woman. You end up falling in love with a psycho. Neil loves the character, we all love her. We’ll see what happens in the future but I love playing her, she’s kind of very easy to play, weirdly.

Weirdly.
Well [laughs], I kind of feel bad admitting she’s easy to play, like I’m a bit of a weirdo. But she’s really fun. You don’t have a moral conscience with her so anything goes. She’s a child, a clown, nasty, psycho — you can kind of play anything you want and get away with it. I quite like that she’s completely free.

There’s a moment in the teaser for the season where Luther asks Alice why she came back. She says, “You,” and he doesn’t exactly shut her down. What did you think of that?
Well, he loves having Alice back! If you’ve seen the series, as soon as she comes back, he just lights up. [Spoilers start here] He kind of forgets about Ripley quickly [laughs].

He really does!
There’s a joy there. It comes from the writing, it comes from us working with each other. We really love the bantering. It is a bit heightened and it is a bit stylized and Idris really enjoys that. I think there’s something about Luther missing Alice in his life and missing the sort of darker side she brings out in him. She almost encourages him to be himself. He’s constantly fighting whether he’s a good man or not. But every step he takes, it’s killing the people around him, killing his friends. Everything he does has a consequence for other people. Perhaps that means he’s not a good man. Alice comes back into his life and says, “That’s who you are. Enjoy it.” [Laughs]

[More spoilers] In the end, they walk off together. Where do you think they went?
[Laughs] I’ve got no idea. There was one take we did where we slapped each other’s asses. It didn’t get in the final cut.

Damn.
I don’t know, they probably went to my house because I live just on the other side of that bridge. Maybe they just went off and had a cup of tea. Or maybe they got on a plane to some glorious destination. I don’t know.

Do you think they’d be good together?
No, no. Awful!

Why not?
They are a good team, but like Batman and Robin or Batman and Catwoman. There is a comic-book element with this series, which I think is why it has such big appeal. All the characters are slightly larger than life. Luther is like a Superman, isn’t he? He can get nails through his hands or his legs shot, and he’s still running around! Alice is like Catwoman, and the Joker. They are a good team, like comic-book heroes. This small girl hanging out with this big guy Idris is kind of like quite a fantasy of many people, I’m sure. I hope we carry on someday. It’s hard, of course, as we all get busier, trying to put it on all the schedules, and also know what we’re writing without it going off the rails too much.

Neil just announced a prequel film, which I assume wouldn't involve Alice. He has talked previously about spinning her off into her own show. What's the status of those things?
I don’t know, you’d have to ask him. I haven’t heard anything. This is the first I’m hearing of the movie.

You could potentially be busy soon, though, with Showtime's The Affair. What's it about?
It’s like a modern version of Scenes of a Marriage or Betrayal. It’s just brilliant, really relevant to modern society. It’s like a memory play so everything is spoken through the past. You see his memories and her memories of how [the affair] occurred and what happened. You get their points of view as to why they had the affair, their justification for it, if they have one. You realize about halfway through the piece it’s actually a memory play, which makes it really fascinating because it’s about people’s perspectives. It keeps changing your perceptions and screwing with your perceptions of how you might see someone and then it turns it on its head. It’s incredibly clever. That’s why I jumped at it. I hadn’t read anything as good in the whole year in film or TV, so I was incredibly excited.

Your character is married to a modern-day cowboy played by Josh Jackson. What can you say about her?
I’m playing Alison, who works in a pancake house in Montauk and she’s been with her husband for quite a while now, like twelve years. She had a child who in the last year died, so they’re suffering still. They live in the area, grew up there. You see how she meets with Dominic West’s character, who is a father of four, and is on holiday when they meet. They just have a connection.

You get to work with another great actor from The Wire.
TV’s where the great writing is these days, isn't it?

Photo: AFP/Getty