Luther: Ruth Wilson on Idris Elba, returning as Alice Morgan

Welcome back from the dead, Alice Morgan.

After a nearly four-year hiatus, BBC America’s Luther returns for another horrific case, and so does Detective John Luther’s (Idris Elba) presumed-dead psychotic nemesis/flame (Ruth Wilson), who last appeared in the 2013 season 3 finale. Between seasons, Luther and Alice tried to start a new life together, but when season 4 picks up, they had parted ways and Luther is informed of her death, which conveniently happened offscreen.

Now, with Alice in the mix for the four-episode fifth season (premiering June 2), Wilson, who will next be seen in HBO’s His Dark Materials, gives us the scoop on her killer return.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you always know that Alice was still alive?
RUTH WILSON: I didn’t think she was actually dead. But we didn’t have an actual conversation until like six months later and I think they realized, “Okay, it wasn’t quite a satisfying end for Alice.” And I was like, “No, no, not at all.” I had an inkling that I was going to get a phone call about coming back. You can’t kill off a character like that off screen.

It’s been six years since you last played Alice, so what was it like getting back into the role so many years later and having to turn that back on?
Pretty hard. Six years is quite a lot of time in someone’s life, and you change. So it was kind of funny trying to get back in her skin. And the character has changed. The writing is so good and quirky, and [creator Neil Cross] has such a hold over those characters in terms of understanding how they speak and their syntax, so as soon as you read the script, you’re like, “Okay, that’s her again; I know who this is.” Also, Idris and I have changed. Both our relationship in the show, but also as people we’ve changed. We’re much more playful with each other than we were say in the first season, and we take real joy in each other’s company and certainly in those characters. So that comes out more on the screen this season than I think it has previously. We can’t help from having fun and improvising around things. That’s been the real pleasure of the series, working with Idris and that relationship with those characters. To be able to come back to it is fun. You never know, I could be back when I’m 50 playing Alice. [Laughs] I kind of hope not, but you never know with these things.

Alice and John have such a wild and dysfunctional relationship and attraction to each other. A lot of the appeal is thanks to your chemistry with Idris, but why do you think fans have taken so much to those two characters together?
It’s like the odd couple. That sort of dynamic really hasn’t existed onscreen before, certainly with a female character. That is what I think is quite interesting. You often have these cop dramas and like Moriarty and Sherlock, but if often doesn’t involve a woman. We haven’t really seen that dynamic often or ever, and so someone who can really match him and match his intelligence and keeps running rings around him and be his weak spot is kind of fun and brilliant to watch.

Was Alice a fun release after leaving the heaviness of The Affair behind? It’s such a juicy role and so different from what else you’re doing.
There’s a very soft spot in my heart for Alice, because everything else I play is people burdened by responsibility, grief, pain. And there’s something refreshing about Alice; she’s not burdened by what everyone else, so she can get through life seemingly quite easily. She’s like MacGyver, she gets herself out of anything with like a hair pin. There’s a joy to playing that character, and it’s kind of like a comic book element in its dynamic. He’s Batman and I’m like Catwoman or Robin or the Joker. Like all the baddies, it’s got a very dark side to it, but it’s especially got that comic book drive and characterization in there, which stops it from being completely too heavy. And it was very nice to play that side of it. I can enjoy myself and not have to worry about crying in the next scene. Or the death of my child or something. It’s much lighter fare — even though I’m killing people. [Laughs] But I get to wear wigs doing it, so it’s fine!

What brings about her return in season 5?
You do get to rehash what happened in the fourth season with some characters from that; they reappear and Alice is connected to those characters. As she comes back, she’s in need of John. Often, she comes back when he’s in need of help, but this time she needs his help. She creates chaos wherever she goes, so when she comes back she realizes that the dynamic is not the same with her and Luther, and he’s moved on perhaps. There’s something there that isn’t working anymore, not like it used to. So that’s the conflict that takes place. In past seasons, Alice has come back in savior mode and done something extraordinary to get him out of a pickle. Now it’s him trying to get her out of a pickle, but they keep getting deeper and deeper entwined in lots of complications. And John actually is the one who is edging on the side of where his moral compass is and it’s plenty off. And you realize, in some ways, Alice is the one becoming more humanized.

Luther returns June 2 at 8 p.m. ET on BBC America.

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