Devotees of the acclaimed British crime procedural “Broadchurch” will want to get used to a different version of the way English is spoken when ”Gracepoint” takes to the airwaves on Fox for a 10-part murder mystery series.
It’s not unusual that a successful international format is remade for American television, but the distinct throughline between “Broadchurch” and ”Gracepoint” is not only its creator, writer and executive producer Chris Chibnall, but its lead actor, David Tennant.
In “Gracepoint,” Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver, a seemingly take-no-prisoners kind of guy who has just arrived in a small, idyllic Northern California coastal town to join its police force when a 12-year-old boy is found dead on the beach.
The tragedy quickly becomes a high-profile murder investigation, touching off a media frenzy and turning neighbor against neighbor as Carver leads the charge to find the killer, while navigating a rocky relationship with fellow detective Ellie Miller.
Miller, a lifelong resident of the town and a cop who was promised the job that went to Carver, is played by Anna Gunn, her first leading role coming off of her vaunted performance in “Breaking Bad.”
The supporting cast includes the boy’s parents and sister, the local priest, a small-town newspaper reporter and his editor, an aggressive big city reporter, an old fisherman who rents kayaks (Nick Nolte) and a haunted-looking woman who lives in a trailer, played by Jacki Weaver.
Without revealing much else about the storyline, the tagline, “Small town. Big secrets,” says a lot, as does a promoted hashtag, #SuspectEveryone.
Fox and Shine America in conjunction with Film Independent and The New York Times premiered the first two episodes to a full house at LACMA’s Bing Theater Tuesday night.
The screening was followed by a panel led by film critic Elvis Mitchell, the curator of Film Independent, who discussed the drama with Chibnall and all of the major cast members who took the stage after the final credits rolled.
With the obvious exception of Tennant, most of the cast had not seen “Broadchurch,” which is set on the Dorset coast of England and aired in the U.S. on BBC America beginning in August 2013 after an original run in the U.K. earlier in the year.
“From the very first page of the script, my imagination was gripped. It was great writing, story and the characters were rich,” said Gunn, who recently won her second Emmy Award for playing Walter White’s wife, Skyler. “I was looking for a character with color, facets and duality. She’s strong and forthright but vulnerable and insecure and I loved having that duality.”
Tennant is duality personified, not only with his character — who has a mysterious past with one of the reporters — but the fact that he’s going back to playing Detective Alec Hardy in Season 2 of “Broadchurch,” with production starting the same day as “Gracepoint’s” American broadcast premiere.
The characters have different names and obviously different accents, yet playing both detectives back-to-back is a challenge that Tennant has thought through.
“The danger is setting out to be outrightly different,” he told the crowd. “The thing is to try to react to the things in front of you. We have the Rolls-Royce of casts here and you must be in the moment. They are different worlds, on different continents, and the stories take you on a different journey — but I wouldn’t want to do both at the exact same time.”
Weaver, who has been nominated for two supporting actress Oscars in the past few years, and called herself “a theater animal,” pointed out the many different versions of plays like “Uncle Vanya,” “Death of a Salesman” and “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
“There are many quality versions of these productions and you bring your own thing to it,” she said, referring to “Gracepoint.” “Only one percent of all Americans saw ‘Broadchurch.’ The others deserve to see it.”
All of the actors eventually watched “Broadchurch” to prep for their roles, some taking character cues from their British cousins.
“Jodie Whittaker’s work was revelatory,” said Virginia Kull of the actor who plays the boy’s mother in the U.K. “But we are all unique, even if I had copied her. I’m grateful for her example but happy to bring my own version of the character.”
“The opportunity for ambiguity as an actor is rare,” said Kevin Zegers, who portrays the small-town newspaper reporter. “Usually characters are so defined. We are all detestable at some point. It’s good to have the other side. I like that — even in the course of one episode. You think you know a character and then you don’t.”
After noting that guilt seemingly informs everyone’s character, as does the variance between their public and private selves, Mitchell asked Chibnall about his original inspiration for the story.
“I live in a small community,” he said. “I wanted to write about community and grief with a prime narrative to get into each of the characters in an ensemble. That’s the fun of the genre.”
(“Gracepoint” premieres on Fox Thursday night at 9 p.m. PT/ET, 8 p.m. Central)