Villanelle is one of TV’s best current villains, and she makes Killing Eve that much better. Here’s what you might not know about her!
One of the most fascinating characters on television in the last few years has been Villanelle, from Killing Eve. The psychopathic international assassin who really only cares about high fashion and beautiful women with big black hair, Villanelle is so bad she’s irresistible.
A lot of that has to do with actress Jodie Comer, delivering one of the most incendiary performances on television. But a lot of it is also the character herself, an unexpected remix of the standard female assassin trope. What makes her so compelling? Here are ten things you didn’t know about the character of Villanelle.
Based In Part On A Real Killer
When first season showrunner and writer (and Fleabag creator) Phoebe Waller-Bridge began developing the character of Villanelle, she went directly to the source.
Waller-Bridge interviewed Angela Simpson, an American woman imprisoned for her callous torture and murder of another person. Simpson’s giddy indifference about her actions inspired Waller-Bridge to make Villanelle as completely without care or concern for morality, ethics, or societal expectations as she possibly could.
Villanelle’s name seems to come from a couple of different sources. In the book the series is based on, Codename: Villanelle by British author Luke Jennings, Villanelle chooses her alias from the name of a perfume favored by the Comtesse du Barry, the Chief Royal Mistress of Louis XV, who lost her head with a lot of other folks in 1793.
Villanelle’s name also seems to be a nod to the poetic form of the villanelle, a nineteen-line poem consisting of five tercets followed by a quatrain.
Her Real Name Is…
In the books, Villanelle’s real name is Oxana Vorontsova. In the series, it’s Oksana Astankova. Eve Polastri (played by Golden Globe Award winner Sandra Oh) figures this out in the first season, piecing together clues left behind at Villanelle’s many, many kills.
Eve occasionally calls Villanelle by her real name, especially in season two, when the pair find themselves working together to take down a common enemy. Villanelle is testy when it comes to her name and background – she refuses to speak in Russian if she can avoid it – but Eve gets away with it. So far.
Villanelle’s backstory differs quite a bit from the books to the series. In the series of novellas that preceded the television show, Oxana is a Russian orphan seeking vengeance after mobsters kill her family in Russia. Her killing spree is more of a personal vendetta.
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In the series, it’s pure fun. Mostly. Villanelle loves the cash (and the clothes) but her primary motivation for doing what she does seems to be that she’s bored. In the second season, while pretending to be American socialite Billie Marie Martin, Villanelle laments the utter boredom she feels in life.
Villanelle’s prediction for Haute couture is a primary feature of the television show. It’s also at odds with her profession, which demands anonymity that her personality seems to lack.
Villanelle takes her considerable payment from the crime syndicate she works for, The Twelve, and spends most of it on high-end fashion, even charging an unknown amount of designer clothes to the company card in the second season. Her taste reflects her exaggerated and careless spirit, absolutely reckless within the context of her job, but still, somehow, in keeping with her chameleon-like persona.
Woman Of A Thousand Faces
It is precisely Villanelle’s ability to become other people so easily that makes her so dangerous as an assassin. In the third season, she even moonlights as a clown. Villanelle’s civilian persona – to the extent she has one – is something of a fashionista, the last person you’d ever suspect of leaving a trail of blood all over Europe.
She’s also beautiful and charming, allowing her to get up close and personal with most people. Villanelle adopts a variety of accents and can speak several languages, including English, French, Spanish, German, and Italian.
Afraid Of Ghosts
In the second season, Villanelle starts off in a place she rarely is: at a disadvantage. Wounded by Eve and trapped in a domestic prison by a seemingly innocent middle-aged British man (the endlessly funny Julian Barratt), Villanelle confides one of her few fears: she’s afraid of ghosts.
Late one night. Villanelle tries to find a way to get out of the house she’s trapped in. When Villanelle runs into Julian’s elderly mother, she gets a shock. She relaxes and says, “I thought she was a ghost. I hate ghosts.”
Her First Kill
In the show, Villanelle’s backstory is a little different than the books. She’s still an orphan, but she’s taken in by a language teacher named Anna. Villanelle develops a deep obsession with her, and the two begin an affair that doesn’t go over so hot with Anna’s husband.
Villanelle decided to solve things by killing him. More specifically, she castrated him. A young Villanelle may have thought bloody murder would clear the lane for her love with Anna, but all it did was freak Anna out and Villanelle ran away, to join The Twelve.
Her deadly experience with Anna foreshadows her behavior later on. In this context, her murder of MI6 agent – and Eve Polastri’s friend – Bill Hargrave takes on a different light. When Villanelle stabs Bill to death in the middle of a crowded dance floor, it looks like a killer killing someone following her. But at this early point in season one, Bill’s shocking and gruesome death comes as Villanelle is already aware of Eve’s interest in her.
This pattern suggests Villanelle can only function with someone by eliminating her perceived competition (which Eve’s husband barely escapes) and perhaps inevitably, that Villanelle may try and kill Eve. Again.
Sex Is Not A Weapon For Her
As beautiful as Villanelle is, and as sexual a person she – often – is, she never uses her sexuality in the course of her work. Even when it makes the most sense, as in the season two episode where she guts a man in a window in the Red District in Amsterdam, she disguises herself more than she ever has.
While writing the character in season, Phoebe Waller-Bridge had one rule for the character: she never uses her beauty as an assassin. Villanelle’s allure, to audiences it seems, is how she turns the trope of the sexy female assassin upside down by doing everything but be what she’s expected to be.