Jodie Comer portrays an exacting assassin in the Luke Jennings adaptation of Killing Eve, coming to BBC America.
Jodie Comer is at an exciting point in her career.
Her new series, Killing Eve, pits her and co-star Sandra Oh against one another in an update to Luke Jennings' Villanelle novella series.
Killing Eve is an apparent culmination of Comer's work to date, and yet still a surprising turn in comparison to her previous roles on My Mad Fat Diary and Rillington Place (on Channel 4 and the BBC, respectively), putting her in the shoes of a calculating and ruthless assassin. Comer has also been active on social media, engaging in current events shining a light on inequities and abuses in her industry and others.
With a myriad of accomplishments behind her and a new series coming to BBC America in April, Comer sat down with us to talk about her role as Villanelle on Killing Eve, her BAFTA nomination as lead actress in Thirteen, working with writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and what it means to be an actor in what has become a tumultuous era in television.
You've worked with the BBC before. What attracted you to this project in particular?
I think a huge factor was the opportunity to work with Phoebe [Waller-Bridge, writer on Killing Eve] because I was a really big fan of Fleabag when that came out in the UK. Then, when I got the script and I saw it was Phoebe writing it, I think that was a big driving force in me wanting to do it.
This is kind of like a big period drama. I was really keen to do something, maybe something that had a bit of physicality to it, a bit of humor. And then Phoebe's script came to me, and I just loved it, and I hadn't really read anything like it. Villanelle is just such a fun character, and I think anyone would take the opportunity to play someone like her.
When you read a character like Villanelle, what do you try to express through your performance outside of what's just on the page?
I think the huge thing with Villanelle, which was Phoebe's vision, which I loved, was that there was a lot of humor there, you know, she never takes herself very seriously. Villanelle wasn't an assassin who was led by her sexuality, she wasn't the femme fatale which you see a lot on screen.
She seemed very normal, and I think that's what we forget about assassins. You could walk down the street and pass this person and not know that that is their job and that's what they're capable of, and I think that that is something that I really wanted to portray with Villanelle.
I wanted her to seem like she could be anyone who you may know or you may come into contact with. I think as well, Phoebe has such a skill of finding humor in such dark moments. A lot of what your instincts would naturally be— you have to go with things, which took a little while to get used to. But once you did, it was so much fun.
When you're approaching a character, what do you look for as far as those characteristics that you individualistically bring to the table, rather than just what's on the page?
I don't know, I think it just depends. I also feel like it takes a couple of weeks in until I feel like I really find my feet with the character. You know, you become more comfortable in her. You find as you go along things that — and within a couple of weeks you find yourself saying, 'No, I don't think she would do that," or, "Actually I think she would do this," whether it is physical or any little personal tics.
So I think it's more of a subconscious thing. It's not something that I'm really aware of. I think as the filming goes on it's just something you inherit.
So I honestly don't know, but Villanelle is not self-conscious at all, she doesn't care what people think of her, and whereas I have a tendency to be quite the opposite to her, so on a personal level I really have to kind of strip that back, which was very freeing, actually, when you realize that the more I played the character I realized she was such a free character, and it was great for me.
You've had a crazy past year, you were nominated for a BAFTA award—
Has that changed the way you the work at all?
I don't think so. You know, something that still hasn't sunk in— and it's terrible, because it is something you so easily forget about. It's such a huge moment, and it's like, 'Wow, what would it be like to be nominated for a BAFTA?' It's such a huge dream, and then it happens, and then it goes so quickly.
I think, if anything, it just made me proud to even be thought of or acknowledged for something that I've done is just a bonus, you know?
You've mentioned on social media your concern about several issues that have occurred in recent months, particularly with the Time's Up movement. With this sort of clean-out that we're seeing, with old producers and executives being removed and new faces coming in, what do you see as the aim of this new era in entertainment, and what should be the agenda of these movements going forward?
What I personally take from this situation is that certain women are feeling like they've been heard, and so many women will have had different experiences and haven't spoken up about it, so the fact that women are being heard and understood will hopefully bring change.
For me, it's more about unity and it's saying that it's not okay, and women having the courage to speak up — and men, you know it's not just women — but it's just about speaking about it and it doesn't just stem through this entertainment business. The universal thing is that this happens all over the world, and itso happens that these women have a platform and they're using it to stay brave, and that's what I take from this movement.
Do you think that we're going to start to see different stories being brought to the forefront because of this?
I don't know if it's necessarily because of this, but I do think, in general, we are seeing more stories because I think people are tired of seeing the same stories and people not seeing themselves represented.
I think it's definitely moving forward. Whether it's because of this movement, I don't know, but I think people are wanting to see more and are going to watch things that aren't your usual kind of blockbusters. I just think it's something that I am enjoying happening.
Do you think that individuals, not just behind the scenes and in the offices, but also in front of the camera and on set— what do you think the responsibility is of individuals across the industry to maintain this movement?
For me personally, I would love to see more women on set. It's not very often that you look at more than maybe three women on a film set when you're actually filming. I've been very, very fortunate, with the last four characters that I've played having been written by women.
So I'm so fortunate that I've had this experience in my career, and that I've worked with such amazingly talented women in the past, say, two years that I've had that opportunity.
So it's hard sometimes because I feel like I've been so lucky in that sense, but that is such a rare thing to find. I don't know if you got so many actresses in a room, and you ask a question, they'd all have the same answer. It's been great for women having the opportunity to direct and to tell their stories and have more diversity. We all grow from that.
You worked with some very talented producers and writers on the show, what was it like working with them on your character?
It was brilliant. Phoebe has such an amazing imagination. You know, when I first came out with Phoebe to speak about Villanelle, she had very specific ideas of what she imagined her to be like, from the way she dressed. We spent a lot of time, actually, talking about Villanelle's childhood. We made a huge timeline of what has happened before she's come to this place in her life and how that has shaped her.
So I got a lot of detail and ideas from Phoebe, but I also had the freedom to make her my own. It was definitely the most fun job that I've done.
You talk with a lot of excitement about the character. Do you bring anything with you from other roles you've had in the past?
No, I don't think so. I think every character stands as their own person. They all come from such different backgrounds. No, I want very much when I finish one character to definitely leave that where it is.
Are there any sort of roles that you haven't gotten to try out yet that you'd like to see in the future?
I think, personally, it always just depends on scripts. I'd love to do more theater. I'd love to do film. Again, it just depends on if I get a script that I connect with, because then I believe in the character and that is what I need to do a role.
Killing Eve premiered on BBC America on April 8, 2018. It has already been picked up for a second season.