Hayley Atwell, Rufus Sewell, Michelle Dockery, Michael Gambon and Charlotte Rampling star in William Boyd's Restless for BBC One

Hayley Atwell plays Eva Delectorskaya

Category: BBC One; Drama
Playing William Boyd’s heroine, Eva Delectorskaya, in Restless is the second time Hayley Atwell has starred in a William Boyd adaptation for television. The first was in the role of Freya, opposite Matthew Macfadyen’s Logan Mountstuart in the acclaimed BAFTA-winning drama, Any Human Heart. For Atwell it was another career high.

“I loved every single moment of it and Will clearly loves writing female characters; they are rich, complex, interesting and intelligent and everything you would want to play as an actress.”

When Atwell heard about Restless she knew instinctively she wanted to be part of it. The opportunity to play the lead in a BBC drama by one of the UK’s most respected writers and dramatists was a no-brainer and like her character in Any Human Heart, Atwell recognised Eva had the potential to be a career defining role.

“I see Eva as a strong, but incredibly vulnerable person which is true of most people. We are not just one thing; we have many different sides and many different identities, depending on what is required of us. Eva is a heroine and a very brave woman that I feel blessed to have spent time working on - she’s a much better woman than I am!”

“Will dedicated Restless to his wife Susan, who, I have absolutely no doubt, has been a driving force in terms of the women he has created in his books. You can tell how much he admires women as he writes competent, capable and daring characters; especially in Restless, with Eva and Ruth, who are both so alive with bold spirits and are great fun to watch.”

When Eva Delectorskaya, a young Russian émigré living in Paris, discovers her brother Kolia was murdered by the German Secret Service, she finds herself disarmed by the charms of her brother’s handler Lucas Romer and recruited as a British spy. What follows is a story of passion, espionage and murder that spans 30 years and mixes real events with fiction in true Boyd form.

“I don’t think Eva gets a chance to know who she is in many ways. At the start of the story she’s plucked from a very vulnerable situation of losing someone close to her and is offered the opportunity to have a different kind of life. It’s new, exciting and scary.”

Born out of tragedy Eva discovers she is really very good at being a spy and she enjoys it. “I think it’s a study on a woman’s physiological journey as well as an emotional journey and one that has quite a lot of thrilling aspects to it, especially in the adventures that she embarks upon, not only for her own survival but the survival of people around her.”

For Atwell, an excellent script is at the heart of any great story and she attributes much of what is exceptional about Restless to Boyd’s attention to detail.

“There is one scene where Eva has been given these sandwiches which are chopped liver and onion and it is these little quaint details that Will feeds into his book that makes it so real. The art department then went off and got hold of some sandwiches and wrapped them in wax paper with string. I don’t open them up or eat them in the scene, but in between takes I discover that they are actually chopped liver and onion; it’s these small details that make a difference. Every time you open up Eva’s handbag you find a perfect little cigarette holder, a silver lighter, some powder, blusher, a little nail file; all the period pieces. The audience won’t necessarily see these in a scene, but all those little details make an actor feel that you are stepping into a world that has been fully created and it all started with Will on the page; with him wanting to create a very vivid world for people.”

Having a book as a bible is always a huge bonus for any cast and crew alike. Packed with information and back-story it provides the missing layers that add depth to each character.

“There are huge passages that describe Eva’s inner thoughts and insight into what is going on under the surface between her and Romer. The book contains not just what they both say to each other, but also what they think, and what Eva imagines he is thinking.”

One of the key plotlines in Eva’s parallel world and a little known real fact is that during the Second World War the British Secret Service ran a covert operation to try and persuade the US government that Germany was about to invade the US through central America.

“I did learn much more about the Second World War than I knew and had no idea that British intelligence set out to manipulate the American media into persuading the US government to join the war. In the end, the bombing of Pearl Harbour did that job for them but it was a fascinating revelation. I feel like I’ve had a bit of a history lesson along the way.”

There is a central, complex relationship between the characters of Eva and Romer, which on the surface and to their colleagues, is a working relationship but for Eva it is much more. From early on Romer warns her not to trust anyone, including him.

“He isn’t an obvious choice for romance and she even says in the book that she is surprised by her growing desire for him - she can’t quite describe it herself. There is a strong chemistry and passion that is instinctively growing between them, underneath the surface of this incredibly rich and exciting life they both lead together.”

When Eva lets go of her life in Paris she also abandons everything she has ever known. Romer is the one person who knows her from before she was a spy and there is a connection that she doesn’t have with anyone else.

“They have a strong bond because he has known her through really troubled times and is the closest she can come to belonging and having an identity. Romer is always tempting Eva, always giving her just enough for the audience and Eva does not think he’s cold hearted or that he doesn’t care. She seems to be led by him and just when she’s starting to yearn for more, he gives her some little indication of his feeling which can be as little as telling her how beautiful she looks which only increases her desire for him.”

“There is this wonderful moment where he is walking away from her and she is thinking: 'please just turn around, please'; then he does and she can live on it for a week. Their personal, intimate moments are something she can hold on to in the midst of the secretive world of espionage; where they can’t do or say anything they really feel. It’s really important that the audience get to see that, so we care about her inner world, her emotional journey; rather than just these adventures that she goes on. Theirs is a complicated relationship, from the outside it doesn’t look as though he has much to offer her, but there is such a wealth of qualities that he has which are so wonderful, if only she could just scratch the surface and see what they are, if only he could open up to her.”

Playing a character during this era meant that women carried themselves differently, wore more feminine clothes and with the added layer of playing a spy, Atwell had to learn much more than her lines.

“There are so many boundaries in Eva’s world in terms of social constraints like the way she conducts herself privately with the man she loves and in front of work colleagues. The etiquette of the time was so different because they had different rules. I have had to learn and understand them to see where her boundaries are - where to push them and where to exercise constraint.”

When Romer asks Eva to seduce a congressman as part of an ongoing mission to persuade the US to enter the war Eva has to put aside her feelings for Romer and their relationship to become another character. Thus proving just how far she has come as a spy and what she is prepared to sacrifice in the name of ‘patriotism’.

“During the honey trap mission she has to become this bombshell and do something she doesn’t want to do. She hasn’t used her sexuality much up until that point, so this is a chance to show to herself what she is capable of, and to put her emotions aside and do the job. Romer keeps reminding her to ignore her personal feelings and think about the purpose of the job. So, she goes in with a very clear intent and the costume and hair helped with that, suddenly she has this blonde wig and a sexy outfit.”

Make-up Designer Anne ‘Nosh’ Oldham and Charlotte Holdich the Costume Designer collaborated with Atwell and Edward Hall (director) on a look that would be believable yet feel natural for Eva to adopt amid the vibrancy of Washington in the 1940s.

“You can’t help but wobble your hips in a dress like that because you can’t actually walk any other way, it just happens quite naturally,’ she laughs. “Her shoulders are back and she is a walking billboard, selling herself. That whole sequence was uncomfortable because it’s an uncomfortable thing she has to do; yet she becomes stronger from it. She gains a sense of what her capabilities are as a human being, what we all have the potential to be and do given certain situations. We don’t really know our own limitations until they are tested we might discover we are a lot braver and stronger than we realise. She has the chance to challenge that and in return becomes a very strong character, at a huge cost to her own personal contentment.”

Inevitably, Atwell returns to the book, “what was helpful is the book’s title – Restless - which I interpret as Eva trying to find a home, trying to find her safe place. Whether that is physically somewhere, or with someone. There are just so many constraints and obstacles that are put in her way preventing her from ever being able to fully relax. It gives her this drive which I found very useful, as I was constantly aware of these obstacles she has.”

Almost all of Atwell’s scenes were filmed on location in South Africa, which provided several key locations, including Scotland, New Mexico, America, Canada, Belgium, France and Germany.

“Filming in South Africa was surreal because one day you would have this incredible landscape that would double for Scotland then the next day it would be somewhere completely different that was supposed to be a corner of Manhattan. It was pretty incredible.”