‘Mindhunter’ Meets ‘Silence of the Lambs’ in South African Procedural ‘Catch Me a Killer’

“Catch Me a Killer” comprises many firsts: It is a series about South Africa’s first-ever criminal profiler, the first-ever woman to occupy such a position and, now, the first-ever series entirely shot in South Africa to be in International Panorama competition at Series Mania, Europe’s biggest TV festival.

“Catch Me a Killer” was commissioned by Showmax and produced by Kowalski Films with LMP and Night Train Media. Abacus Media Rights (AMR), an Amcomri Entertainment company, handles world sales.

More from Variety

Based on the eponymous book by psychologist Micki Pistorius, “Catch Me a Killer” sees “Game of Thrones” breakout Charlotte Hope in the lead role as the psychology professor turned serial killer profiler. The 11-part series mixes drama, true crime and procedural to shine a light not only on Pistorius’s groundbreaking work, but some of South Africa’s most harrowing murder cases, beginning with the infamous Station Strangler, believed to have killed 22 young boys between 1986 and 1994.

Apart from Hope, who plays an English version of Pistorious, and director Tracey Lacombe, all of the series’ cast and crew are South African, including “Toorbos” director Rene van Rooyen. Speaking with Variety ahead of Series Mania, van Rooyen said she was first attracted to the project because it offered the possibility of highlighting an issue that directly impacts her day-to-day life: South Africa’s staggering femicide rate.

The country’s femicide rate is five times higher than the global average, with approximately nine women murdered every day in 2022. The majority of victims in “Catch Me a Killer” are women.

“It’s a very topical issue for us, and if you live in South Africa as a woman you deal with those anxieties daily. It felt like such an urgent topic and such an important story to tell the rest of the world. Micki’s anxieties, the questions she’s asking, are super specific in terms of how intense crime is in our country.”

The show also granted the South African director the rare opportunity to work on an international co-production. “Usually we wouldn’t work on an international show because we wouldn’t be heads of department, but every single head of department in ‘Catch Me a Killer’ was South African and I think what’s beautiful about that is that we know this world inside out.”

“Something else I liked about the story is how it takes you to different areas of South Africa and very specific subcultures,” van Rooyen continued. “In every single environment, we got to work with people from those areas. We wanted the audience to be able to feel these spaces, because it was such a big part of Micki’s profiling. We wanted to be as truthful as we could to these spaces because it influenced how she went about these cases.”

Being in South Africa was also crucial to Hope, who told Variety about the immense responsibility of portraying the character. “It was important for me to have a huge amount of sensitivity because this was an incredibly turbulent time in South African history. Some of the crew around me remembered the killings because they were children when it happened. These were real people, real killers, real victims. I was very grateful to have a lot of support and to have a mostly South African crew who really welcomed me.”

While the entire crew offered great support to Hope during the shoot, the actress’ greatest emotional foundation was the real-life Pistorius. The two kept a close-knit relationship throughout the entire production process. “It was very important for Micki to exist in the headspace of the serial killers to understand them. As an actress, I’m not someone who’s able to pick it up and put it down. I wanted to do justice to the intensity of what Micki went through, and she suffered quite serious PTSD as a result of her work on these cases.”

Hope began welling up at the memory of a particular day of shooting involving Micki’s first-time seeing the body of a victim up close, the small hand of a little boy killed by the Station Strangler. ”I remember coming home that night and talking to the real Micki and she sent me a message saying, ‘if you get too far into the abyss, just tell me and I’ll come and get you.’”

Being able to encompass the extremely sensitive emotional current of “Catch Me a Killer” was a priority for Justin Lockey, the British musician and producer best known as lead guitarist of the multi-platinum-selling band Editors, and the series’ composer.

“There’s a massive element of knowing that everything you are seeing on screen, however horrific, actually happened,” Locke told Variety. “It’s a very delicate balance to not sensationalise it. I didn’t want to give the audience all the answers through music, I wanted to let it unfold from Micki’s perspective. I was also concerned about showing it from a female perspective, so there is none of the type of machismo where it’s all about gun sounds, we get to see more of a cerebral type of translation of what is going on.”

“We also didn’t want to have the score run through the whole thing all the time. In a lot of American procedural dramas, the score is in every scene and I wanted to have music only when I needed to say or evoke something,” added Lockey, who highlighted the series’ “incredible” production value.

“I sat through the whole series a million times when scoring, but when I got a finalised episode back, I thought it was punching way above its weight when compared to an expensive Prime Video or Paramount show. There’s heart to it, a lot of craft involved and lots of emotion in it.”

Such a level of attentiveness and skill is proving fruitful, with Abacus Media Rights recently selling “Catch Me a Killer” for several territories, including BritBox North America, SBS Australia, UKTV’s Alibi channel and AXN’s Mystery Channel/NHK Enterprises (NEP) in Japan.

“It’s wonderful to think that a South African show is travelling,” said van Rooyen. “It’s also why I’m [at Series Mania.] We want to expand our learning and get our work out. Our goal is to create unique, beautiful, authentic South African stories, and one of our biggest questions is: How do we cross that boundary of creating commercial content that travels well while still being truthful to our identity?”

When asked about a possible second season, Hope vaguely said there have been “conversations” about the future of “Catch Me a Killer.” “I would do this job for the rest of my life. I had the most satisfying time making it and there is a huge amount of stories to tell. South Africa in the ‘90s had the second highest rate of serial homicides, behind only the U.S., and it’s such a fascinating and beautiful setting. I would be very excited and grateful if we got to do more.”

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.