Award-winning actor Jodie Comer talks about saying goodbye to villanelle, the women who have shaped her, and what it means to be bringing the #metoo movement to the west end stage in a cover story with Net-A-Porter
Jodie Comer found fame – and global critical acclaim – as the designer-clad assassin in Killing Eve, which earned the actor a BAFTA and an Emmy for her portrayal of Villanelle, who – with the current season is the fourth and final – Comer is getting ready to say goodbye to.
“It’s crazy. It’s really, really crazy because it’s been so long,” Comer says. “And the wonderful thing about that show was the people… a lot of the same crew came back every year. So there was a familiarity to that and a comfort. To play a character like Villanelle has been such a gift.”
It’s been quite a journey since the first season of the show – which hit screens in 2018, written and executive produced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. The show catapulted Comer’s career to new global heights. “I got sent the first episode, and I’d seen Phoebe’s name, and I’d seen Fleabag, which I adored, and I just thought ‘Ooh, what is this gonna be?’”
By the time Comer was auditioning, the titular role of Eve Polastri already had Sandra Oh’s name on it. “I was like a fish out of water when [it] started… Phoebe had created [Villanelle], but I had to let go of my insecurities and throw myself into it, so [the character] was moulded, in a way, as we went along,” says Comer.
Across its four seasons, Killing Eve has been a platform for female creative talent, both behind and in front of the camera. Comer has appreciated sharing the screen with such an eminent lineup: “The women I’ve worked with – Harriet [Walter], Fiona [Shaw] and Sandra [Oh] – have encouraged me in so many ways and given me so much advice. They’ve been invaluable. There’s just a connection, [which] is unspoken a lot of the time but is also very present.”
Big names aren’t enough to draw Comer to a job, though – working on the suitable projects and knowing what she’s bringing to the table are important, too. “You want to take roles to work with people that you admire; people you’re going to learn from and be inspired [by]. But I feel like you [can’t] look over what you can bring to the piece [and] to the character. You never want to do yourself a disservice in that way. So always make sure you know what the challenge is for you.”
Comer doesn’t shy away from pushing herself out of her comfort zone. This spring, she will make her West End debut in a one-woman play, Suzie Miller’s Prima Facie. “I can speak about this because it’ll be out by the time this is published, but Self Esteem [the pop-project alias of Rebecca Lucy Taylor] is composing the music for the show.”
The plot, however, is set to be a hard-hitting watch and follows a barrister, Tessa, who is subjected to a sexual assault, with the audience acting as witnesses to the attack and the grim aftermath.
“[Miller told me] she wanted to show the rape in a non-voyeuristic way and have the audience witnesses what Tessa goes through… the audience aren’t the jury, there is no, ‘Did it happen? Didn’t it?’ – they’re with Tessa. So they know, which I thought was powerful,” says Comer.
The plot is timely, particularly following a year when news stories of sexual assault and violence against women have been rife: “It’s so present and so upsetting. When you do material like this, it feels so relevant to today, but it’s sadly never been any other way,” says Comer.
It’s been several years since the #MeToo movement shed light on the treatment of women in the entertainment industry. Comer reflects on the changes she has felt, “I think I’ve noticed it in myself and finding my boundaries and what I’m comfortable with and not comfortable with, and the ability to be vocal about it. I wish I had found that earlier, but you have to go through your own experiences in life, so that’s how I feel the change. But I haven’t had any awful experiences to speak [of]; I’ve been fortunate.”
Comer feels grateful for the women who have shown her the way in the industry, too. “I’ve worked with such incredible women… to be working on a show like Killing Eve, which is the essence of that, has shaped me in a real way.”
This also extends to the characters who have filled her resume. “I’ve been lucky that a lot of the women I’ve played have been so fully fleshed out and colourful that now it’s set the bar.”
Comer has made a successful leap into the world of feature films in recent years, having played lead roles in The Last Duel, directed by Ridley Scott, and Free Guy, alongside Ryan Reynolds. “I think you’ll always have a moment when you walk into a room and you think, ‘Oh wow, how did I get here?’… I hope I never get too comfortable; I think it’s nice to have those moments, but I feel more steady in myself now. I feel it more on the publicity side… when you’re having to be yourself instead of being on set. It’s like when you’re on set, that’s your work, that’s what you’re focused on, and then when you have to go into the world as yourself, that can be quite exposing, and you can feel a bit out of the body.”
Comer has long been rooted in elitism and exclusivity in an industry that has spoken about how her being Liverpudlian has been received in certain situations. However, after years of experience, Comer is wholly comfortable in herself. She says, “I mean, [people] in America think I’m Scottish, or they think [of] The Beatles, you know! So, it is very different over there. I feel like I’m in a different place now in the sense of feeling like I know who I am.”
Last year, Comer teamed up with fellow Liverpudlian actor and close friend, Stephen Graham, on Channel 4’s Covid 19-inspired drama Help. She played care assistant Sarah in a storyline navigating the early days of the pandemic. It was a heavy plot to cover, especially as medics and carers were still in the thick of tackling the virus.
“I know there were people who [said], ‘Oh it’s too soon, and that’s fine, I respect that – if it is too soon for people then they absolutely shouldn’t have to watch it. But also, in a sense, there’s no time like the present. That’s the beauty of drama. Even though it’s uncomfortable and confronting, it’s an insight into what someone else went through and is still going through. [Help] was the first project that I did that was political and had something to say, and I left feeling like it shaped me, in a way.”
The drama gave Comer a chance to play a character closer to home than usual, too. “I enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate a woman from Liverpool, [who is similar to] the women that I know.”
When she’s not working, Comer confesses she isn’t a woman of many hobbies. “I’m boring, sorry! But, I love concerts; music’s a huge part of my life. [And] I’ve realised I have to look after myself for my mental health, so I enjoy Pilates as exercise.”
Comer, a master of TV herself, enjoys dark teen drama Euphoria. “I feel so old watching it. I feel like millennials are like grandmas now. I wanna go home and get in my bath and put my music on.”
Looking after herself has also ignited a love for skincare. “During the pandemic, it was nice to have that ritual of getting up in the morning and doing something for yourself that feels good. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of concealer and eyebrow gel, but I feel more comfortable with no makeup; skincare [has] become more important [to me] in the sense of looking after yourself from the inside out.”
Getting back to in-person events has created a shift in her sense of style, too, she says, particularly when it comes to the red carpet. She spoke to her stylist and friend Elizabeth Saltzman when in-person events started up again about “how it’s great to experiment, but sometimes you don’t feel like yourself and, you know, I want to celebrate [at] these events and feel like [me].”
This is a cover story from Net-A-Porter
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