Jodie Comer, star of the brilliantly subversive drama Killing Eve, tells us more about the biggest role of her career.
Jodie Comer is struggling to swallow an oyster.
“I’ve got a mouthful of shell,” she laughs. “How do I do it properly? Can you help me?” Although she’s the star of the best and most boundary-smashing drama of 2018 (and yes, I mean better than Bodyguard) the 25-year-old hasn’t quite got accustomed to the champagne and caviar lifestyle.
I’m meeting Comer at Neptune, a pink seafood paradise, where she turns up early, alone, totally relaxed, and lets me order for us both. So far, so good.
Here are some other things I learn and that I think you need to know about Jodie Comer:
• Her accent is pure Liverpool – I’m talking a Cilla Black and Paul McCartney level of Scouse.
• When she’s not filming globally successful, Emmy-nominated dramas, she lives at home with her dad, a physiotherapist, her mum, who works for Mersey travel, and brother.
• Her oyster eating needs work, but the rest is fair game. “I eat everything really,” she says. “I don’t like wasabi, I don’t like marmite, but that’s not even food, is it? It’s more spreads.”
• Normally when you get to her level of fame (i.e. pretty massive), behaving like an idiot/believing your own hype creeps in. There’s not an ounce of it with Comer. This is a roundabout way of saying she’s totally bloody normal.
I’ve been taken with Comer for a few years. It began with her role in the vivacious My Mad Fat Diary (2013-15), was nurtured by the BBC drama Thirteen in which she played a woman kidnapped for 13 years (2016), and was ramped up by her part as Kate Parks in Doctor Foster (2015-17), but it’s as she’s crashed like a meteor into global consciousness with her role in Killing Eve that she’s cemented herself in my (laminated) Best Actors list.
The eight-part drama, written by Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge about MI5 agent Eve (played sublimely by Sandra Oh, who was nominated for an Emmy for the role) chasing down assassin Villanelle is like nothing we’ve ever seen before. It’s fun, irreverent, dark, clever. And weird. Villanelle is awful, a cold-blooded murderer, but you can’t help rooting for her. And the fact that it has two women front and centre is the least interesting thing about it.
Written for BBC America, the show increased its viewing figures by an unheard of 86% after the first episode, and now it has enjoyed equal acclaim from audiences and critics alike here.
Comer is currently filming series two of the show – after lunch she’s going for a costume fitting and to shop for Villanelle. Her character’s outfits are a study in playfulness and a showcase of who’s who in modern fashion, from Molly Goddard (she sat front row at the designer’s recent London show: “I’ve never been to a fashion show before. I was like, ‘What? They want me there?’) to Balenciaga and Dries Van Noten. At our shoot, too, Comer is really engaged with the trends and pieces, willing to give anything a try.
And so, oyster emergency averted, Comer is ready to discuss the biggest role of her career and what she makes of it all…
Can you put your finger on the success of Killing Eve?
It’s absurd, it’s unique and that’s down to Phoebe’s voice. She says things other people don’t. People would say, ‘You can’t say that’, and Phoebe’s always said, ‘Why can’t I?’ What I learnt from Phoebe was to dare to do whatever you want. Don’t be scared to fall flat on your face. You don’t realise how much you are constantly thinking about what someone else is going to perceive you as. When you meet people who don’t care it is so refreshing.
Phoebe once said she’d been told she has the ‘gift of rage’. Is that something you have?
I’m a very emotional person in general. I don’t know if that’s the Pisces in me, but I feel everything very intensely. Although, whether that is anger – I don’t think so.
Did you have any idea how big the show would become?
This was the first script in such a long time where I thought, ‘This is brilliant.’ I hadn’t worked at all that year and this was in May time. I loved Fleabag so I knew whatever Phoebe did would be brilliant.
Do you cope well when you’re not working?
I’ve learnt I go through three stages. The first is when you’ve just finished a job and think, ‘I could do with some chilling time.’ And you enjoy it. The next is when the fear sinks in, and you’re thinking, ‘Oh my god I’m never going to work again.’ The third stage is going, ‘F*ck it, I don’t care, I’m going to enjoy my life.’ Then boom, just as you’re thinking, ‘Whatever happens, happens’, something often does. With Killing Eve I went to a festival in Barcelona and that’s when it came through.
What helps when you’re in that second stage?
My mum and dad always sense when I’m a bit irritable and feeling a bit lost. It’s so hard when you love what you do for you to not get validation from your work. I’m not really a girl with many hobbies: I love being with my friends and my family, I love music, but I’ve learnt you don’t always not get a part because of your acting. I’ve never watched a programme I’ve not got a part in and said, ‘I should have got that.’
Villanelle strikes me as lonely, would you agree?
I think she is lonely. In episode one she says, ‘I just want someone to watch movies with.’ I think that’s something we’ve all felt. We’re probably at a time in history where we have all this social media and you’d think it would bring people together more, and obviously it can, but it does exclude people and it can bring a lot of anxiety.
Celebrities like Reese Witherspoon and Victoria Beckham have proclaimed their love of the show – who has been the most exciting?
Lily Allen. I’ve been obsessed with her since I was younger and she said she thought it was the best thing ever. I did a little freak out when I read that.
You’ve spoken on panels with Sandra and Phoebe, what’s that experience like?
I get totally terrified, but it’s because everyone’s so articulate and I feel like I’m a little bit more like a big splodge on a painting, whereas everyone else is… you know what I mean?
I do. How do you quieten a busy mind?
I read a book recently called The Untethered Soul that’s all about listening to the voice in your head, accepting it and then letting it go. It’s something I always fall out of practice with, but as soon as you go, ‘Oh, this is what’s happening to me right now’, [it helps].
What else makes you feel instantly calm?
If I’ve had a long day, I’ll dance around my room – it’s not even proper dancing, just moving my body. And exercise really helps. I went to a spin class last night and at the end [the instructor] turned the music and lights off and said, ‘Think of something that’s holding you back’. Then she counted to three and we all had to scream. It was amazing. Most of what holds you back is yourself.
Are you a people pleaser?
I think I probably have been. But now that I am so aware of how I feel, I’m very confident in saying how I feel. Maybe you need something by a certain time, it slips under the net, and I’ll say, ‘I need this in order to do the work that I need to do.’
You seem like you’re very grounded. What do you attribute that to?
My family and friends always keep me on my feet. I always feel like fame doesn’t change people; it just brings out things in people that were already there. I feel like you either have that side in you or you don’t.
Is being from Liverpool a strong part of your identity?
I find with most people from Liverpool, it’s so deep-rooted. When I was starting out I got really paranoid about having to lose my accent. Now I’m so glad I never succumbed to that pressure. I love home, I love the people there. It’s a huge part of who I am. I can only be away from there for so long before I’m ready to go back.
Do you enjoy all the travel you have to do for Killing Eve?
I never realised that I’m so bad at it [laughs]. My friend and I went to Paris four years ago to see the Swedish House Mafia and I ate McDonald’s for the whole weekend. [While abroad on set] there’s a part of me that thinks, ‘You’ve got this opportunity, stay for an extra day. Have something to say that you’ve been there…’
Are you a good flyer?
I always have to give myself a little pep talk. The more I think about it, the more I panic. It’s funny, when you think about how fearless you are when you’re younger… when did we get the fear drummed into us?
Villanelle has great fun with fashion. Are clothes something you enjoy playing with?
I’ve always been pretty free and worn what I want. But now I’m all about comfort, I’m over heels. I was telling Sandra this the other day and she was like, ‘You’ve got another 20 years before you’re allowed to be over heels.’ And I was like, ‘Nope, it’s happening right now.’ I’m obsessed with trainers, although I’m not very clued up. My friend works for New Balance so I’m always asking, ‘Are these trainers bad or are they good?’
What is your relationship with shopping like?
I’ve always loved shopping, my mum will vouch for that. But I always found that when I’m shopping most, there’s probably something deep-rooted in me that isn’t sitting well. Now, if I want something I’m more likely to walk away and think about it.
Do you find it easy to hold on to your own style on the red carpet?
I always need someone else to take me out of my comfort zone. For events, I tend to want to cover up as a security, and I’ve got boobs and whatever. Sometimes you need someone else to take away your insecurity.
I know you’re a big fan of music – you were telling me during the shoot about going to see Arctic Monkeys – tell me more about the music of your life…
When we were younger, my dad would play Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan and I still listen to them now. As a teen I was obsessed with The Kooks. My dad drove me and my friends all the way to Blackpool [to see them] and waited in the car. I remember being head-to-toe dripping with sweat having the best time. When I’m coming to a character, I always try to figure out what they would listen to.
What TV do you watch?
I love watching 24 Hours In A&E and 999 What’s Your Emergency? I’m intrigued by how people react to things. I find The Office hilarious, I don’t understand people that don’t like it. And This Country is genius, I love that [Daisy May Cooper] was at the Baftas in her footie kit.
Do you listen to podcasts?
I’m obsessed with The Two Shot Podcast hosted by actor Craig Parkinson, where he just has a chat with another actor. I also love Griefcast [by Cariad Lloyd]. There’s an awkwardness when someone passes away, you don’t know what to say. And it’s because we avoid it. We shouldn’t.
I think people are often afraid to intrude on others’ grief…
Yes. I saw a woman crying at Euston station and everyone was looking at her and walking past, but I felt like I had to go up to her and say, ‘I just want to check that you’re alright.’ She was like, ‘Oh, yeah’, and did that [embarrassed] thing where you want to be left alone, but I couldn’t ignore it.
When it comes to your career, do you plan what you want your next move to be?
I don’t, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think about it. I’m always setting intentions. I did The White Princess and then in an interview (which I forgot about) said, ‘I want to do something contemporary, with an element of comedy and quite physical, next,’ and the next job was Killing Eve. You can never second guess what’s going to come next.
Killing Eve is on BBC One on Saturdays at 9.25pm and the whole series is available on iPlayer.
Photography: Ton Van Schelven
Fashion: Polly Knight