Darby Hart is not the typical lead detective of a whodunit. Viewers first meet the young investigator, played by “The Crown” breakout star Emma Corrin, as she walks into a bookstore, her face covered under a red hoodie and “The End” by the Doors blasting through her headphones.
She’s gearing up to read an excerpt from her book to a crowd that at first glance doesn’t seem too interested. But when she removes her modern-day armor and introduces the part-memoir, part-true-crime tell-all about her efforts to catch a serial killer of women, the audience discovers they’re in the presence of the “Gen Z Sherlock Holmes.”
Corrin (who uses they/them pronouns) breathes a humanity and subtlety into Darby that is core to “A Murder at the End of the World,” FX’s limited series from filmmaking duo Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij. The show unfolds in two different timelines: One is a past investigation conducted by Darby and her first love, Bill (Harris Dickinson), into the killings that inspired Darby’s book. The other is a present-day retreat in Iceland to which Darby and Bill are both invited, hosted by tech billionaire Andy Ronson (Clive Owen) and his wife Lee (Marling).
The retreat turns into a high-speed hunt for a new killer.
“I found Darby a really refreshing character to have at the helm of a detective story,” Corrin said. “I think she is really relatable and human in that she is definitely flawed. She has times where she feels like she’s on top of the world and thriving, and then moments where she’s at the lowest of lows and incredibly vulnerable. I found that really compelling.”
Though more straightforward than Marling and Batmanglij’s past projects (which include the 2016 Netflix series “The OA”), “Murder” packs in plenty of themes. It comments on the global climate crisis, the epidemic of unsolved murders of women and people of color in the U.S., the rise of billionaire magnates and how the internet is altering the human condition.
So finding the right actor to embody Darby, who is in virtually every scene of all seven episodes, was vital.
“It felt like there were these big shoes to fill, to the point that we got a little intimidated by Darby. Then the moment we met Emma, it felt like all those worries fell away,” Marling said. “I think Emma really does become characters on an almost molecular level. They achieved that with playing (Princess) Diana on ‘The Crown,’ and I think they also did that with Darby. It was just an incredible pleasure to come to work every day and witness that character unfold.”
Batmanglij praised Corrin for the level of detail they put into approaching the role, including diving deep into the psychology behind Darby growing up the daughter of a county coroner. Corrin credited the creators for building a solid foundation for the character’s backstory.
“It was really just digging into the fact that she grows up on crime scenes in the absence of her mother, which is never really explained,” Corrin said. “I found that really interesting, and then her relationship with Bill, falling in love when you’re young and the heartbreak and the impact of the case. All of these things informed the older version of her, and it felt like the younger and older versions of Darby played off each other really nicely.”
“A Murder at the End of the World” is available to stream on Hulu. New episodes premiere Tuesdays through Dec. 19.
This story first ran in the SAG Preview/Documentaries issue of TheWrap awards magazine.