With her new hit AMC show The Killing, Veena Sud takes her lifelong fascination with strong female characters in dark places to a new, long-form level.
Written by Dylan Callaghan
Veena Sud, showrunner of the new critically acclaimed, highly rated AMC series The Killing, wrote her first screenplay when she was 16. It was about “a friendship between two prostitutes.” To research her subject, she befriended a kindly, if slightly imprudent cop from the Cincinnati vice squad who showed the petite, seemingly girly sweet 16 the seedy world of the streets, even taking her to a brothel.
Where were her parents in all this? Fooled by a cunning daughter, thinking she was doing homework at the library.
It’s not that Sud was a troubled kid, she’s just always been piqued by dark alleyed realms and the women who navigate them. “For some reason I’ve always been fascinated by really dark, edgy, complicated female characters,” she says. This daughter of a father from New Delhi and a mother from the Philippines who met in Newark, New Jersey, eventually went on to get a masters in film and TV from NYU and follow her passion working on hit shows like Cold Case. After graduating from the WGAW’s Showrunner Training Program in 2006, Sud went on to exec produce Cold Case, which led her to developing the American version of The Killing from a hit Danish series. The show is off to a fast start, premiering early last month to critical raves and the second-best debut ever for an AMC series.
Much like Cold Case, The Killing’s story opens after a murder has occurred. But unlike Case, the mystery is not buttoned up in a single episode, it is ongoing, theoretically series-long. It’s a full, nuanced and deep journey into the victim, her family, the avenging female detective striving to unravel her death, and the surprisingly high-reaching constellation of people her life and death touch.
Photo: © 2011 AMC
Joel Kinnaman and Mireille Enos in The Killing.
Sud spoke with the Writers Guild of America, West Web site about the show, how it is deeply influenced by her love for the James Agee novel A Death in the Family, and her fascination with life on the dark side of the street.
As a writer what appeals to you about this plot construct, a series-long attempt to find the murderer of this one girl, Rosie Larson?
The great pleasure in looking at one murder is the ability to be novelistic in your approach, to dig really deeply into character and nuance of plot. It reminds me a lot of A Death in the Family. I absolutely love that book; it’s such a beautiful way to tell a story, a slow unfolding of a tragedy. That type of storytelling has always appealed to me, and I saw a potential for that when I saw [Forbrydelsen, the Danish version of] The Killing.
What have you taken from your experience on Cold Case to this show, and what’s totally new for you about it?
Some of the great similarities between Cold Case and this show [is] the unrelenting focus on the victim, where the victim is not just a prop in a cop story. That was Meredith Stiehm’s vision when she created Cold Case, that we get to know the victim, we had to see them in every single flashback, we had to reconstruct their life and get to know them as human beings not just as a corpse in a body bag.
But obviously, the biggest difference is that in Cold Case we had to solve the mystery at the end of every episode. Here, we’re able to take the humanity of a homicide and really expand it.
And you’re dealing with it from three main perspectives – what are the three key points of view here for you?
It’s the trifecta that I’m always fascinated with in a homicide: [first] the story of the deeply complex detective, going home with them and seeing their flaws and demons. The second is spending time with the family [of the victim] in the seconds and the minutes and the hours and days after the death. Seeing the daily reality, like with A Death in the Family, of dealing with a tragedy like this.
The third is kind of stepping back and taking a look at the broader canvass, how what could seem like a dime-a-dozen murder – a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, a seemingly unimportant victim in a big city – sends shockwaves potentially all the way to the top of the whole power structure. It’s going from the very small to a very large canvas.
How do you see this playing out over a five-season arc?
It remains a mystery. I can’t say without giving things away. The one thing I can say is that we can tell this story in a different way. As writers we’re not writing to the end, we’re along on this journey with the detectives, the family and the politicians who are implicated in the crime. So our attitude is, let’s see where it takes us.