The three-part series The Pembrokeshire Murders, available to stream at BritBox, documents the real-life pursuit of the most notorious serial killer in Welsh history. When DCS Steve Wilkins (Luke Evans) reopens two unsolved murders cases from the 1980s in the hopes of finding new evidence, he and his team find themselves racing a ticking clock to catch and convict the perpetrator before he can hurt anyone else.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Luke Evans talked about the appeal of this project, his love of true crime stories, the responsibility to respectfully explore what happened, what he learned from the real man that he played, getting to work in Wales, and why it’s better to leave your character at work. He also talked about what made him want to join the upcoming live-action retelling of Pinocchio, and how things are going with the Gaston and LeFou series for Disney+.
Image via ITV
Collider: When this project came your way, what was it that most interested you?
LUKE EVANS: I’ve always enjoyed real-life true stories and I’ve loved true crime stories, as well. When I first read the treatment that was sent to me, I didn’t know about it. Even though it was in my home country, they reopened the cold case when I wasn’t in the country for most of that year, so I missed it. So, when I was reading the article, I just quite shocked at the story. It’s so unbelievable, how the case unfolded and how they finally caught the killer. I had to go and do my own research. It was unbelievable, and then I realized that none of it was fictionalized. It was all fact, and that’s exactly what we’ve delivered on the screen.
Because you are telling a very serious, really tragic story where four people lost their lives, other lives were ruined, and families were forever changed, how does that affect the weight and responsibility you feel in telling a story like this?
EVANS: Oh, it’s huge. This wasn’t about sensationalizing anything. This was about telling the story as it was and being respectful to everyone involved. You always feel a sense of responsibility when you play a real life person, but when it’s a terrible story like this, that’s tragic and affected so many people, you feel the weight of responsibility even more. We owed it to the families and relatives of the victims to tell the story in a respectful manner. It’s really also a story about observing and experiencing what an investigative team in the police force goes through when a cold case is opened. That fascinated me. We felt a huge sense of responsibility, bringing to life a true crime drama like this, that affected so many lives, not just the poor people that were murdered by this horrible man, but the families and the people that were left in the wake of these murders and how it affected them.
What was it like to actually have access to the guy that you were playing? How does that help you in getting to know who he is and how do you also still want to keep a certain distance from that, so that you don’t get too in your head when you’re playing him?
EVANS: Steve Wilkins, the man that I play, is such a charming man. He’s a hero. He broke the cold case with this incredible team that he put together. I was in awe of him when I first met him because he’d done something that had been attempted many years before and they failed. He had enough determination and belief that he could find that golden nugget to open it back up. He had such a wealth of knowledge to give me. He said to me, on the first day, “You can ask me anything.” That’s a big statement. I actually asked him everything, from the procedural side of interrogation to managing a team to keeping hopes and spirits alive when it looked like there was no more hope and no more evidence to go over and get tested, and how he dealt with the killer himself and the interrogation and the professionality of his manner within that room. There was also a huge amount of technical dialogue, which absolutely needed to be authentic and real and accurate. None of what we were saying was made up. It was all real. And so, having him there was just a joy. I would text him and ask him about things that I had to do the next day. What this drama does is that it allows you to experience the human impact on the personal lives of this team and their families, and also the family of the killer, who’s still damaged by him. You see outside of the interrogation, outside of the investigation, and outside of catching the killer. There’s also a very powerful storyline and subplot that feeds into the amount of sacrifice that these people went through to find this man.
Image via ITV
Some of the scenes that I thought were the most compelling were the ones with you just sitting across from the actor playing the killer.
EVANS: Keith Allen, who plays the killer, John Cooper, did such a wonderful job. John Cooper was a manipulative, sharp man who knew how to play an interrogation. He knew what he was entitled to do and he played the game very well. The amount of preparation that went into the interrogation scenes was huge because the questions that we had to ask him had to be done in a certain way. Steve talked to me about the original interrogation team and said that when they questioned John Cooper, not only were they under a time frame where they had to get information out, but he was also very prone to shutting down and turning away from the detectives. There was so much going on. What’s interesting about this story, when you really do get the depth and insight into the way the detectives and the investigative team managed to ruffle this man’s feathers. He had a long time to cover his tracks and create a story. He’d thought of all the outcomes and the questions that could catch him. This man wasn’t stupid. That’s why he got away with it for so long.
Whether or not your character succeeds in his mission, really largely depends on the support and the desire of his co-workers following him down this rabbit hole. What did you enjoy about heading up this team of actors that you got to work with?
EVANS: It must be a very daunting for an investigative team in the police force to open a cold case. Every single piece of paper, bit of evidence, and piece of forensics has been through many, many times, with a fine tooth comb, and they still didn’t catch the killer. So, when a new team comes in, it must be daunting because it means that they are gonna have to hope that they might find a tiny nugget of information that might have been missed, in the first investigation. Steve said to me that he had to keep the fire going and keep the enthusiasm and energy of his team up. His determination, and everybody else in the team, couldn’t think it was hopeless or that they’ve never catch this guy. Steve knew, deep down, that there was something. His job was to not only find the killer, but to keep the energy of the team up and keep them focused.
You’ve previously talked about being from Wales, but not getting to work in Wales very often. What was it like to be able to do that, with this project? Did you get to learn anything new about Wales, while you were shooting there?
EVANS: Where we were shooting is an exquisitely beautiful part of Wales that’s a big tourist destination. Wales has one of the most stunning coastlines, anywhere in Europe. During the summer months, it’s just the most beautiful place. I got to spend six or seven weeks in the area, went on many walks on the weekends, and got to bring my family down and enjoy the beautiful area. I would recommend anybody taking a trip to Wales to definitely go to Pembrokeshire.
Because this is heavy and challenging material, what was the biggest challenge in playing this character and doing this shoot? Are you someone who has an easy time of turning it off and not taking it home, or does it start to bleed into life?
EVANS: No, I’ve never had a problem with switching it off. I’ve found that it’s a technique that you have to learn, especially when you’re dealing with subject matter as serious and as dark as this. It’s important to be able to switch off and to leave the story and the traumatic subject matter on the set. There have been a few characters that I’ve played where there have definitely been very painful days of emotional turmoil, and it’s up to you to wash that away. Sometimes you just go home, have a glass of wine and go to bed, and you’re ready for another day, the next day. That’s just the life of an actor. Sometimes you have to dive into the deepest parts of the psychology of another human being and try to imagine the pain and the emotional levels of what they’re going through. It’s also very wise to be able to switch that off and to leave it there and not take it home with you.
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It’s been announced that you’ll be playing one of the villains in Pinocchio with Tom Hanks. When a story like that has been told as many times as the story of Pinocchio has, what is it about a new version, or this version specifically, that won you over?
EVANS: Well, I’ve always loved Pinocchio. It’s a timeless story. It’s a very old fairy tale or fable, whatever you want to call it. It has very powerful messages woven into the storyline, many that I think relate to young kids and young people. I don’t think it will be anything like any iteration of Pinocchio that we’ve seen before. I’m truly excited to be a part of it. I’m very honored that Disney has chosen me to play another villain in the world of Disney. I’m surrounded by some very talented people, including Mr. Hanks. It’s just a joy to think that I’m in the same film as that legend. I’m very excited about it. Very excited, indeed.
When we spoke for the second season of The Alienist, you were in full-fledged development on the Gaston and LeFou series. You said that there had been a second and third script written and they you were hearing some of the music. How much further along are things now? Do you know when you’re actually going to start production on that?
EVANS: Yes, I do, but I’m sworn to secrecy. We are not allowed to talk about it, but it’s progressing very well. There have been some very exciting decisions made recently. Josh [Gad] and I speak on a regular basis. Disney is very excited about it. Everybody is excited about it. I think it’ll be a very entertaining journey through the past story of these characters, and also there will be many new characters that you’ve never met before, which is very exciting. It’s colored with incredible characters and creatures that we are very excited about bringing to life.
Are you surprised, with a story like that or even a story like Pinocchio, that there are still surprises that can happen with stories that we’re so familiar with?
EVANS: No, I’m not surprised. Storytellers tell stories in different ways. Pinocchio is an Italian tale, originally. If you think about the Disney animation from 1940, it’s 81 years old. Disney is bringing it to life, and they’ve done such a wonderful job in their live-action remakes. I was in one that was extremely successful. That’s a perfect example of how you can bring a story to the live-action realm and still entertain people, and they don’t feel like they’re watching something that they already know. That’s the wonderful thing about bringing real actors in to play animated characters. They bring a three-dimensional performance to it. I think it will be very exciting. I’m very excited about bringing it to a new generation.
The Pembrokeshire Murders is available to stream at BritBox.
Image via ITV
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Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter at Collider. Having worked at Collider for over a decade (since 2009), her primary focus is on film and television interviews with talent both in front of and behind the camera. She is a theme park fanatic, which has lead to covering various land and ride openings, and a huge music fan, for which she judges life by the time before Pearl Jam and the time after. She is also a member of the Critics Choice Association and the Television Critics Association.
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