Glass meets young British actress Jodie Comer, star of Killing Eve

JODIE COMER has quietly been on the ascent for a few years now. The Liverpudlian actress has appeared on radio, television and film, perhaps most notable for her roles in My Mad Fat Diary, Doctor Foster and Thirteen. Last year she appeared in the titular role of Elizabeth of York, the former Queen of England, in the big-budget costume drama The White Princess. Now however, Comer takes on a role unlike ever before in the BBC America drama, Killing Eve. Costarring Greys Anatomy stalwart Sandra Oh, Comer plays a sociopathic assassin with the deliciously villainous name Villanelle. Oh’s MI5 officer Eve is charged with tracking down Villanelle, and the two women soon become mutually obsessive over each other.

Glass caught up with Comer on a particularly grey London day, brightened significantly by her beaming smile when we meet at the Principal London Hotel. She spoke to us about maintaining her Liverpool roots, what it was like to work with Sandra Oh and the legendary English Dame she’d die to star alongside.

Jodie Comer in The Principal London Hotel. Photograph: Abigail Jane Winterford

Where are you from?
I’m from Liverpool, I’ve lived there for all my life and I still live with mum, dad and brother. I love it, I can’t get myself away from there.

I film quite a lot in London but an awful lot gets filmed in the North. I find myself in London every other week for auditions and meetings, but I just don’t feel the need to move when I don’t necessarily want to.

How did you discover you wanted to be an actress?
I started in a local weekend drama school, and one time I got left out of the talent show. We were supposed to be doing a dance from Chicago, to Cell Block Tango. I’d gone on holiday with my parents and they messaged me saying I was out as I hadn’t been there to practice. I was mortified, but in Liverpool, we had this thing called the drama festival which I entered solo with my drama school and I came first.

I performed my monologue for my drama teacher and she took notice, which led to me being sent to audition for a BBC Radio 4 play, which became my first ever working job. Working with professional actors, they told me that if I enjoyed it so much I could actually make it into a career, which hadn’t really occurred to me before. From there, my acting has snowballed.

Jodie Comer a The Principal London Hotel. Photograph: Abigail Jane Winterford

What do you consider to be your big breakout role?
Thirteen was quite a big role, [Comer played a kidnap victim who returns home after 13 years in captivity] as it was something I’d never done before and it was my first lead role. I felt a massive pressure in that sense, but it gave me the opportunity to show my range. I think Killing Eve has changed that again in a different way as its such a departure from my previous work.

How did you get involved with Killing Eve?
The usual way is that you’ll get scripts sent through your agents, so I got the first episode through and I just saw Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s name at the top of it. Immediately, I knew I had to do it. The initial audition was in London with the director, producer and casting directors, and then I was on holiday in Barcelona with my friend and got a call to say that I had to fly to LA on the weekend to do a recall with Sandra [Oh].

That was kind of crazy, so then I had the recall with Sandra, was in LA for one night then flew back the next day. I thought I’ve got to just go and give it my all because it’s a long flight home to be kicking yourself for not doing your absolute best.

Jodie Comer. Photograph: Abigail Jane Winterford

What was it like working with an actress as renowned as Sandra Oh?
It’s funny because while I was aware of Sandra, I’d never watched Greys Anatomy, which I think was actually a good thing because it allowed me to be more relaxed around her. My friends were besotted with her, and rightly so. It sounds ridiculous, but she’s so passionate about acting and while that sounds so simple, you’d be surprised how many people you come across in this profession who like to create complications or to moan.

We do such an amazing job, it isn’t hard and I think it’s passion that makes you do it. Sandra is hilarious and a total pro on set. She treats everyone with the utmost respect and to be around someone like that, especially as a young actress, is very inspiring and powerful.

So you’d call yourself a passionate actress?
Yeah, I think you have to be. What we do is art, so I can’t see how you can do this and not be totally in love with it. Sometimes you’ll get roles come through that you don’t click with or you don’t believe in the project, but it’s about being true to yourself and choosing projects you get that gut feeling about.

Jodie Comer. Photograph: Abigail Jane Winterford

Your character on Killing Eve is a sociopathic assassin, quite a departure from your previous roles. How did you find playing this sort of character?
The first big hurdle was trying to get my head around someone who has very little remorse for killing people and messing with people’s heads, but she was honestly so much fun to play. I realised that she is very free as a person, free from self-consciousness, which meant I had to be as well. She can be a little outrageous at times, but the more I went with that the more it was fun for me to play.

Once I got past the initial difficulties, it was brilliant and actually quite liberating. Some of the situations that she finds herself in were rather outlandish — I’d be on set in an assassin costume doing something insane, and I’d have to stop myself every now and then and take stock of what I was doing. I’m so excited that we get to come back and explore her more [in the upcoming second season].

So playing a killer didn’t leave you with any sort of emotional trauma?
Not really no, I think because the show as a whole is entertainment. Yeah, there are these dark moments, but it’s not overly gruesome and they don’t glamorise the kills. There is a real quirkiness to the show and a humour that lightens it up. Essentially it’s for people to have fun with and immerse themselves in.

Jodie Comer in The Principal London Hotel. Photograph: Abigail Jane Winterford

Has doing this genre made you eager to pursue more action roles?
Firstly I don’t feel like you can put this show into a genre. It’s easy to see “assassin” and “MI5 agent” and make assumptions, but once you see it I don’t think you can put it into a box. There’s so much going on, which is what makes the show so unique. But no, generally I’m not really an action person, this is a departure for me.

What would be your dream role to play|
In my head now I don’t have a specific character or person that I’d love to play. For me, a huge thing is staying true to myself and with each job I finish it changes how I approach the next. Before Killing Eve I did a huge costume drama [The White Princess] so once that wrapped I wanted to do something physical, freeing and modern-day. I was lucky enough that Killing Eve came up, so the projects I take fluctuates depending on where I am what I’ve done.

I’d love to do theatre but I’m not theatre trained and I do find that people are wary of taking a chance on you if you aren’t, so I hope I get to the point where someone does take the plunge and cast me.

Jodie Comer in The Principal London Hotel. Photograph: Abigail Jane Winterford

Who would you most love to work with?
I say this in every interview, but I’d love to work with [Dame] Julie Walters, I love that woman so much. I recently saw Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool, and now I’d love to work with Annette Bening. I started watching other things she had done and was blown away by how talented she is.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?
Hopefully continuing to do good work and working with people like Phoebe [Waller-Bridge]. She’s such a maverick, especially for our generation, she’s so bold and fearless and to be working with people like her is very exciting, it feeds your brain and it inspires you. So hopefully to continue that, and being a decent human being. And who knows, maybe in five years time I’ll have even flown the nest.

 by Abigail Jane Winterford

All photographs: Abigail Jane Winterford

Killing Eve will premiere later this year on BBC One in the UK

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