Born To Kill on Channel 4: What it it about? Who's in the cast? What time is it on?

All you need to know about Channel 4's new haunting drama series.

When is Born to Kill on Channel 4?

Born To Kill episode 2 airs on Channel 4 at 9pm on Thursday, April 27th. Series record the show your BT box now.

Missed an episode? Catch up on BT TV via the All 4 app.

Episode 2 spoilers: With the death at the hospital causing suspicion, Sam must tread carefully. Jenny summons the courage to face a threat from the past.

Daniel Mays interview

Daniel Mays in Born To Kill

Since attending Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in his youth, Mays has starred in big-name films such as Atonement and (much to Mylo's delight) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, TV series including Line Of Duty and Mrs Biggs, as well as acclaimed theatre productions.

His latest project is Born To Kill, a four-part Channel 4 drama about Sam (played by newcomer Jack Rowan), a teenager experiencing psychopathic desires.

Mays - who also has a four-year-old daughter, Dixie, with his partner Louise - stars as Bill, a single dad whose moody daughter Chrissy (Lara Peake) forms a bond with Sam. To further complicate matters, Bill finds himself attracted to Sam's mother, Jenny (Romola Garai).

"It's not your bog-standard serial killer drama," says Mays. "It becomes something much more evocative, which makes it as much a coming-of-age story as watching this boy succumb to his evil tendencies."

Having played dark characters - from an abusive boyfriend in Mike Leigh's All Or Nothing (2002), to a convicted murderer in 2012 TV drama Public Enemies - Mays admits it's "nice to play someone on a relatively even keel" this time.

As for Sam, he says: "Even when you play dark characters like him, you have to see them in the round, and you have to humanise them. That's what makes it really interesting."

A scrap on a school bus in episode one did remind Mays of his own school days - up to a point.

"It made me think of fights that happened in playgrounds and things like that; that thing where people form a circle, quite gladiatorial. It's very brutal, the violence that happens in playgrounds," the Essex-born star muses.

"But then I went to stage school and it was fine. It was just leotards!"

The decision to become an actor was "kind of a left-field decision" in a "sports-mad family", but Mays' loved ones have always been supportive.

He first discovered an interest in performing after going to see Michael Jackson in concert at Wembley Stadium.

"I had sort of a light bulb moment," Mays recalls. "I had this compulsion to perform, or at that stage, dance.

"I can remember going to school discos, and Billie Jean would come on and everyone around me would be like, 'Danny's gonna do his dance'," he adds. "The last time I attempted to was at my best friend's 40th, and in about 30 seconds, I was off panting in the corner..."

Despite his impressive film credits, he doesn't seem to attract the same amount of attention or scrutiny as some other stars.

To date, he's dabbled in Hollywood rather than fully conquered it, but is, he says, looking to focus more on La La Land.

"It's something on the horizon I'd like to have a crack at, because there are lots of brilliant British actors doing it. But I wouldn't necessarily want to decamp the whole family," he explains.

"I think it would be a great place to work, but not live necessarily. It's so different. So vast. You go out there for meetings and spend half the day in the car. You have to wrap your head around it."

For now, he has plenty of work on his plate at home.

Meet the cast

Jack Rowan as Sam

Jack Rowan as Sam

You are the lead in Channel 4’s new drama, Born to Kill. Explain what it’s about, and who you play?

Born to Kill follows an emergent teenage psychopath, Sam, who I play. When we first meet him, he’s trying to suppress his desires, and you begin to discover the factors in his life that may have brought him to this point. From the outside, he’s a normal kid – he goes to school, he’s part of the diving team, he’s a good swimmer, the girls like him. But there’s a lot going on in his mind, and it’s essentially about to break. As the story goes on, he becomes increasingly cold and manipulative, while still being quite charming. He’s still capable of being quite normal, even relatable. At some points you might even feel sorry for him, in spite of the things he does in the story. I don’t necessarily just see him as a cold-blooded killer, because of the start he got in life, which you learn more about as the series continues.

I’d ask you what attracted you to a role, but it’s pretty obvious – this is an extraordinary part, isn’t it?

Oh man! When it first came through, I was with my best friend, and I knew I really wanted it. As the auditions went on and on, I wanted it more and more. Playing Sam was incredible – every day was different. One day I’d be playing a cheeky chappie, the next day I’d be vulnerable, then the next day I’d be this cold-blooded killer, then the next day I’d be diving in front of everybody. There were so many layers to that character, and from an actor’s point of view, I get to show what I can do. I’m still a baby in this game, so for me to get a chance to play a role like this, and to be the lead in a series, it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I hope I did the role justice.

Daniel Mays as Bill

Daniel Mays in Born To Kill

Can you tell us what the show is about?

I’d describe Born to Kill as a ‘study in psychopathy’, it’s very much in the heads of our main protagonist, Sam, a young boy dealing with dark, twisted psychotic desires. It’s also a coming-of-age story. He falls in love with my character’s daughter, and my character tentatively begins a relationship with Sam’s mother as well. As you can imagine, with the horrible dark thing running through the drama, there’s a very complicated domestic, family dynamic as well. It’s a very difficult project to define, it seems to exist between genres. It’s sort of a thriller, sort of a crime drama, but at its heart, it’s a drama about relationships, and the premise of nature versus nurture. I was blown away with it, the filming of it, and the getting into Sam’s headspace. It’s a disquieting, foreboding but deeply compelling watch. They drip-feed you information, and there’s a horrible sense of dread. It’s a very accomplished piece.

And tell us who you play?

I play a guy called Bill, who is somewhat at a low ebb when you first see him in the show. At the beginning of the piece he’s returning to Ripley Heath, where the drama is set. It’s where he grew up, he’s not been there for over a decade. He’s returning with his only daughter. He’s there to reconnect with his mother, but like characters littered throughout the piece, he’s got a really interesting back story. Bill is a widower who has lost his wife to cancer, and you get the sense that there’s a huge void in his life. That’s caused havoc with him, and there’s a sense that he might have suffered with depression. He comes back to look after his mother, who’s broken her hip and is in hospital. He’s lost his job, and he’s sort of making it up as he goes along. Throughout the course of the drama, he meets Romola’s character, and everyone’s wires get crossed.

Lara Peake as Chrisssy

Lara Peake

Danny Mays on working with Lara

I thought she was absolutely top drawer, a really fantastic new talent. Obviously the roles of Chrissy and Sam were key to cast, and I know that [director] Bruce Goodison and Channel 4 searched far and wide to try and find the best two actors to fill those roles. I think they’ve both hit it out the park. They’re both fiercely talented, incredibly committed, and just care deeply about the project. I think you can really see that in their performances. And their relationship and chemistry onscreen is fantastic, but individually they really stand up, and I just think they’ve unearthed two gems, really, two stars of the future.

Romolo Garai as Jenny

Born to Kill

You star in Channel 4’s new thriller, Born to Kill. Explain a little bit about the show and who you play.

I guess you’d call it a psychological thriller, of sorts, but it’s not a ‘whodunit?’. It follows a young man, Sam, played by Jack Rowan, who is a very disturbed boy. I play his mum, Jenny, and at the beginning o0f the show, Jack’s psychopathy (if that’s what it is, although it’s not named) starts to progress very severely, and he kills somebody. And we also eventually learn that he is a survivor of domestic abuse, as is his mother. And, at a very formative age, he was witness to his mother being abused by his father, and other stuff, and so there’s a question in the show about whether he is genetically predisposed towards violence, or whether his early childhood traumas have ignited those violent tendencies.

So we're talking about the nature/nurture debate?

Yes, in an individual and specific, rather than a general clinical way. There is that question about whether he’s been traumatised or whether he’s genetically vulnerable to his impulses.

What attracted you to the role?

I was really interested to play a character who was a survivor of domestic violence. The show had been written in such a way that you learn that she had been very damaged by the violence that she survived, but also that has possibly made her unaware, or not sensitive enough, to violence in other people. She’s maybe become inured to it, and not picked up on the possible warning signs from her son. I think it’s interesting to deal with issues surrounding domestic abuse – there’s something of an epidemic in society, and yet it’s very rarely depicted onscreen.

Writers Tracey Malone and Kate Ashfield

Why did you want to tackle this subject matter? What drew you to the story?

Tracey: I think we’re both interested in people’s dark sides and where that darkness comes from. Is it nature or nurture? We’re fascinated, as many people are, with serial killers. We really wanted to subvert the classic idea of a serial killer, the man in his 30s living in a basement, we wanted to challenge that view by looking down the other end of the telescope, making Sam a boy. Would we feel differently about a serial killer if he was a boy? Could we get closer to the root of the cause? Seeing an emerging killer, struggling with his urges, at the same time he’s struggling with puberty, which is what everyone reads it as.

Kate: And it meant we could go on the journey with him a bit as well, to see how the urges come upon him – how he acts upon them rather than it being some kind of evil – there’s something compulsive about what he does.

Have there been teenage serial killers in real life?

Kate: Yeah, it’s really interesting – just as we were writing this, there seemed to be cases of teenage murderers in the papers all the time. Case after case. It’s more prevalent than you’d imagine. One of the books that I read was about children who kill. I’m not sure about serial killers, but there are plenty of teens who have killed people.

Tracey: [Lead character Sam] is definitely on the young side. I think generally serial killers are more likely to be in their twenties or thirties. So he’s on the young side, but not impossibly so. Yes, there have been some teen serial killers, though not many.

What did you do in the way of research?

Tracey: We did a lot of research online. We went to some websites where we could read first-hand accounts of psychopaths, not necessarily murdering psychopaths. We wanted to understand how they really felt, what their differences were, how they lived their daily lives. We were fascinated by the jargon we found. For example, a psychopath’s name for a non-psychopath is a “neuro-typical”. They talk about the masks they wear so as not to appear totally callous, they are basically acting constantly. We also had two experts to help us on the show, we went to meet other experts, watched some compelling documentaries, and read books.

Kate: We found some really interesting pieces of research that let us into the way a psychopath’s mind works.

Tracey: There is a lot of information out there, thanks to the wonders of the internet, there are things like Psychopath Poetry websites. We were able to find out a lot by questioning psychopaths online, via websites. And psychopath is such a shrouded term, people don’t really know what it means, it’s just bandied around to mean someone who’s likely to randomly kill you. But actually, of course, there are many functioning, non-murderous psychopaths. Ours is an extreme version.

With regards to nature and nurture, did you decide what’s at the root of Sam’s behaviour?

Tracey: I think we wanted to play with that – we were fascinated by this question, because the nature/nurture debate has swung backwards and forwards over time. There was certainly a time when it wasn’t cool at all to say that there was any nature involved at all, but now it’s swung back a bit. But it’s so difficult to find an answer, because your parents are both your nature and your nurture so it’s very difficult to divide the two, even in things like twin studies. And the negative nature input could be something as small as your parents not giving you enough eye contact as a baby if you’re predisposed to really need that.

Watch Born To Kill on Thursdays at 9pm on Channel 4. Series record on your BT box or watch on BT TV Catch-Up via the All 4 app.

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