Archive for the ‘Help’ Category
Posted by admin on May 24, 2023

The script for the play “Prima Facie” didn’t languish after landing in Jodie Comer’s inbox

The script for the play “Prima Facie” didn’t languish after landing in Jodie Comer‘s inbox. Fitting for an urgent call for change, the script demanded action. It would not be denied.

“Sometimes when things present themselves, it’s impossible to say no,” says the “Killing Eve” actor. “This piece felt very, very clear to me. There was no hesitation that I felt. Sometimes that kind of guttural instinct really doesn’t lie.”

It didn’t matter that the script represented Comer’s first stage role. No matter that she’d be alone for some 90 minutes, even asked to move her own props. “I read it within the hour and I was like, ‘What have I got to do?’”

Comer leapt in and has found herself winning an Olivier Award in London for her performance and now a Tony nomination for best actress in a play. She’s also raising her fist for women in a work that challenges the status quo.

The script was from Suzie Miller, a former criminal defense and human rights lawyer who uses the one-woman show to illustrate how current laws fail terribly when it comes to sexual assault cases.

Comer plays Tessa Ensler, a young, clever barrister who has developed a knack for getting her male clients off the hook in assault cases until she spends a night drinking with another barrister and he rapes her.

Now, instead of donning a fancy wig as a crown prosecutor, she’s left shaking in the witness box. Why isn’t her evidence presented in a clean, logical package? She must relive her nightmare in court with her motives questioned. And justice may hinge not on the actions, but on whether the perpetrator believed he had consent.

“A woman’s experience of sexual assault does not fit the male-defined system of truth. So it cannot be truth, and therefore there cannot be justice,” she says in the play.

“Prima Facie” — a legal term meaning “on the face of it” — has already created shock waves in England. A filmed version is now compulsory viewing for new judges, and Miller says a judge who saw her play has redrafted the spoken directions juries are given in sexual assault matters. The play has inspired efforts to change British laws.

Both Comer and Miller get hundreds of messages a week from women telling their own stories of assault, some telling about it for the first time, part of a larger movement fueled by #MeToo.

“I’m really trying to savor every second of it because not every piece of work creates this sort of conversation or space,” says Comer. “That is the biggest reward of all —when you are a part of a piece like this and people genuinely feel represented. That it is a source of comfort.”

To win a Tony on June 11, Comer must beat Jessica Chastain in “A Doll’s House,” Jessica Hecht in “Summer, 1976” and Audra McDonald from “Ohio State Murders.”

In terms of sheer physicality, Comer earns it every night. She moves tables together, jumps up on them, sits in rain, uses various voices and performs her own character’s rape.

“It really helped me build my kind of mental resilience, even though I have moments that is absolutely challenged,” she says. “I would say what I’ve learned from this experience is that you have to take care of yourself.”

Miller was inspired to write “Prima Facie” by the years she spent as a lawyer taking statements from hundreds of women who had been sexually assaulted. “Not a single one of them who went to trial actually ended up having a conviction,” she says. “The worst things is they’re all so similar.”

Her first play, “Cross Sections,” was about the homeless and the desperate living in the red-light district in Sydney, Australia, a work which humanized what many believed were throw-away people.

“After I wrote that there was a lightning bolt moment for me, which was, ‘Oh, wow, stories really can make people empathize and think about things,’” she says.

Miller has since taken up the baton of V — the “Vagina Monologues” playwright formerly known as Eve Ensler, who brings social messages to her work. It is no coincidence that Miller named the heroine of “Prima Facie” Tessa Ensler.

The idea of battling the establishment also attracted Comer, an Emmy Award and BAFTA winner, who grew up in the working class of Liverpool and has had to shapeshift in order to succeed, like her character.

When she was auditioning for theater roles, she was rebuffed because she hadn’t attended drama school. “There was a lot of feedback of like, ‘She’s not trained. It’s too big a task,’” she recalls.

The producers of “Prima Facie” didn’t ask her to audition and didn’t mind she hadn’t attended drama school.

“They didn’t see it as this kind of hindrance. And so I guess the stars all aligned at the right time,” Comer says. “This is beyond anything I could have ever dreamed.”


The Independent 

Posted by admin on May 15, 2023

The ‘Killing Eve’ actress made her West End and Broadway debut in the role, in which she is solo on stage for the entirety of the drama.

In the play Prima Facie, Jodie Comer is alone on stage for the full length of the show’s 100 minutes, starting as a brash, bloviating barrister, then turning to a quieter, more vulnerable woman trying to find justice for herself in the very legal system that had previously propped her up.

Before making her West End debut in the play last year, the Killing Eve star says she hadn’t appeared on stage (aside from a play in a “very, very small theater” in Scotland when she was 16 years old). And so taking on this marathon role not only required intense dedication and memorization, but also a recalibration of her acting style in order to emote to an 800-plus seat theater, rather than to the camera.

In the drama, written by Suzie Miller, Comer plays Tessa Ensler, a talented, young lawyer who defends individuals accused of sexual assault and then goes through the justice system herself as a victim of rape. Comer has been playing Tessa since April 2022 on the West End (where she won the Olivier Award for Best Actress) and has now carried the role to Broadway for an 12-week run that began this April. One year in, she says the role has made a deep impact on her life.

“I realized that I was quite fearful last year of a lot of things, especially in my ability to do this,” Comer said. “And I think that actually, through this experience, I’ve been able to transform that into a sense of trust, which is a really nice feeling.”

Once she gets through the final eight weeks of the run, the Free Guy star says she’s open to doing more theater, but she notes that she’s “intrigued to see” what kind of role could bring her back, after performing in such a challenging, but “exhilarating” play.

Comer, who is Tony nominated for her portrayal, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about why she decided to take on the role, how she prepared for it and how its changed throughout the year.

What did you think when you were first approached about doing this role?

I thought that this was mighty in every sense of the word. I wasn’t actually sure if I needed to audition or not. So I was also thinking that it may have been sent to many actresses and whoever was going to do it would be the luckiest person alive. But I also just didn’t know how I would get to a point of executing it. I knew it was going to be a challenge and it was going to change me as a person. I was looking at like 96 pages of dialogue and thinking “How on earth would you be on stage alone and do this?” so I was really overwhelmed, but just blown away by the script and the journey that I would go on in order to get to a place of performing that eight shows a week. I was deeply moved by it. It felt very important.


Did you end up having to audition for it?

No, it was actually given to me. I asked my agent “When do I have to audition?” And she said that James Bierman, the producer, and Suzie Miller, the writer, had said if it was something I connected with, Suzie would love to chat with me. And I remember it was the first lockdown and I was in Liverpool with my family and Suzie was in Australia and we jumped on a call and we were on the phone for like two hours. I just knew then that there was no question. And I also knew that if I saw another actress do this, I would regret it for the rest of my life. I think that’s always a good indicator as to whether to do something or not.

How did you get into the character of Tessa?

There was so much about her that I related to because of where she’s from, her family. Just being from Liverpool and the characteristics of the people who are from there, people I know, people who are in my own life. I think a big thing that I had to kind of embrace was her intellect and sense of self and power that she held and self-confidence. That felt…not foreign to me, but I almost had to embrace those parts of myself in order to find her. And how she commanded the space and the confidence that she carries in her execution. I think I definitely do have that within myself, and I’ve come to appreciate that a lot more through her, which is funny. I think that you can, more often than not, learn from your characters. It’s a transaction. It’s like, you teach them something and they always leave you with some sort of insight into your own life.


In the play, you’re not only speaking as Tessa, but you’re also acting out all the lines of dialogue around her. How did you prepare for and get to the place of being ready to perform that eight shows a week?

We started rehearsals in March [2022] and I had started learning the dialogue the November before, because I really wanted to be off book by the time I got into the rehearsal room. And then Justin, our director, got me up on my feet on the first day. It was kind of all systems go, and I hadn’t been in the rehearsal room a lot. I’d only been in a rehearsal room once before when I was really young, and it was all very new to me, and I was incredibly intimidated and nervous. But it was just about being in the rehearsal room and getting up on our feet and working through it and playing around with things.

How does it feel now, performing this role in front of audiences every night?

Exhilarating. It feeds my soul in such a big way. I think it is absolutely difficult and challenging, but it really invigorates me. I feel like I’m having a conversation with 800-plus people every night and getting to see how it moves them. And I think in theater, the energy is very kinetic, and it’s so addictive. I just feel so, so lucky that I’m able to be part of this huge puzzle of people who brought this together. It’s rare that you’re blessed with a piece of material and a role that challenges you in this way. So I’m just trying to soak up every second of it all.

You’ve now been with the play through its West End run and now on Broadway. Has the role changed at all or evolved during that process?


Absolutely. I think now it’s just kind of sunk into me. The material, Tessa. I feel like I’m finding new things. I also feel very much changed by this experience. And I think we can change so much within a year. So I feel like through my own evolution, Tess is also evolving just through different things every night that I find and think, “Oh God, I’ve never done that before” or “That felt good, and why didn’t I think of that last year?” That’s what I was actually really excited about being in the rehearsal room [this time]. We got a few weeks before we went into tech when we came to New York and just had that constant kind of discovery of going “Oh, wow, you know, why didn’t we think of this last year?” and it’s just because you’re having to think about things less.

Can you talk more about how the experience has changed you? 

I think a lot of it is deeply personal, that I don’t necessarily feel the need to speak about, but I feel like a woman. I feel like I’ve stepped into my womanhood. I feel like I have so much more trust within myself and who I am. I realized that I was quite fearful last year of a lot of things, especially in my ability to do this. And I think that actually, through this experience, I’ve been able to transform that into a sense of trust, which is a really nice feeling. That’s not to say I don’t have my moments, but I just feel like I have a clearer sense of who I am.

With such a heavy subject matter, are you able to leave the role at the theater or do you carry it with you?


I do a little cool down on stage afterwards and kind of consciously let go of it. Just the practical movement of stretching your body and trying to let go of anything that you’re holding on to is really helpful. My mornings are a bit slow. Sometimes I wake up and I feel like I was kind of hit by a train. It’s generally okay. You just have to make sure that you take care of yourself because I think it’s in those moments when you slip up with those things that you can feel it a little bit more. But anything I can kind of help myself, a voice cool down, body cool down. I come home, and I’m sticking my head in the fridge for about an hour-and-a-half [laughs]. That sounds weird. I mean, just more that I snack nonstop.

That makes sense. You’re on stage for so long, and you’re also running around and jumping on tables. 

Yeah, you’ve got to refuel.

Posted by admin on September 05, 2021

Big Issue– The stars of new Channel 4 drama Help tell The Big Issue why it’s so important the story of Covid in care homes is told now.

Posted by admin on September 04, 2021

‘Their resilience and courage struck me the most’: Stephen Graham and Jodie Comer in Help

Inews-When Jodie Comer accepted her Leading Actress Bafta for Killing Eve in 2019, she thanked the cast, the crew, her family, her agent and Stephen Graham.

“If I didn’t owe you a pint before, I definitely do now,” she said, as Graham chuckled in the audience. It had been almost a decade since Graham had first worked with an unknown Comer and put her in touch with his agent. Now they are together again, as they star in Help, a new single drama written by the prolific, brilliant Jack Thorne.

Comer’s promise, incidentally, was never delivered upon, mainly because Graham doesn’t drink. But the alternative was, Graham says, even better.

“Every Thursday in work [on Help], I was treated to a nice big bowl of scouse from her mum. I got cutlery from the hotel and a bowl from catering, and I’d get Our Donna’s scouse. That’s how much she loves me.”

Comer nods. “The love that went into that…”

Comer and Graham are talking over Zoom from their respective family homes in Liverpool and Ibstock, in Leicestershire. Family and home are everything for these two, who rib each other mercilessly about how often they “bang on” about it in interviews.

Work, though, comes a close second and in this case provided unmissable opportunities beyond a weekly helping of Liverpool’s famous stew: the role of executive producers, the chance to work together and to film something in their home city.

“I was always asked about losing my accent early on in my career,” says Comer. “To celebrate that now is lovely.”

Help came about when Graham, while on the awards circuit for The Virtues (co-written by Thorne and starring Graham as an alcoholic abuse survivor), asked Thorne to write something for him and Comer, only to find Comer had already approached him about creating a drama set in Liverpool.

In Help, Comer plays Sarah, an inexperienced care-home worker who finds direction in the friendship she forms with Tony (Graham), a resident suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s.

Graham brings his uncanny facility for frailty and simmering threat to the part. Yet unlike, say, his roles as Al Capone in Boardwalk Empire or This is England’s National Front thug Combo, with Tony the latter is wholly inadvertent.

“I got to understand the frustrations of dementia patients,” says Graham, whose many conversations with sufferers over Zoom helped to fine-tune Tony’s condition and character.

“Like Covid, it’s a horrible, unfair disease. I spoke to a lovely Irish fella, a lorry driver who stayed in his own house but set fire to his own kitchen by mistake, so I made Jack write that in.”

It is a necessarily angry and occasionally horrifying dissection of Governmental neglect in the early months of Covid. That it never feels hopeless is thanks to the tenderness and mischievous humour between its leads.

This chemistry is apparent throughout our conversation, having fermented since the BBC 2012 crime thriller Good Cop, when Graham was playing one of his less complex wrong ’uns and Comer, still a year away from her breakthrough in My Mad Fat Diary, had a cameo as a waitress. Graham takes up the story.

“We had two little scenes and were just chatting in rehearsal. My character was a nasty piece of work and I was saying, ‘is it okay if I touch you here’, that kind of thing, and she was fine with it. As soon as we rehearsed I thought, wow. She’s got something. I asked if I could reach out to my agent [who subsequently took her on] and she was like, ‘are you sure?’ I was like, ‘Mate, you’re unbelievable.’ I’ve loved following Jodie’s career. There’s a sense of pride there: our kid, look at her go!”

“It meant the world,” says Comer, voice wobbling. “I probably had one line, but we were chatting throughout the day. It takes nothing to be kind, but it doesn’t always happen. Stephen going out of his way like that is the reason why I’m doing the work I’m doing now.”

Graham was also able to help his own professional sponsor by suggesting Andrew Schofield, who introduced him to Liverpool’s Everyman Youth Theatre as a child, could play Sarah’s father in Help. “He has this whopper of a scene with Jodie that I watched from the caravan, and my heart just burst.”

Comer and Graham’s fundamental decency stands in sharp contrast to the roles that made them famous: for Comer it was Killing Eve’s sociopathic killer Villanelle and “other woman” Kate in Dr Foster; for Graham, Combo, Capone and his apparently compromised cop in Line of Duty. They’re so decent, in fact, that I strive in vain the find anything they clash over aside from footballing allegiance (Graham’s a Red, Comer a diehard Evertonian).

Instead I ask about each other’s favourite performances. Comer immediately volunteers The Virtues (“just spectacular”) and praises how Graham finds vulnerability in his characters. “It’s important for men to see that on screen.”

Graham, meanwhile, argues that Sarah belongs in the pantheon of iconic Scouse performances alongside Julie Walters in Educating Rita and Pauline Collins in Shirley Valentine. She was a familiar figure for Comer. “I know so many Sarahs, women who can be very misunderstood and are seemingly angry at the world. They have low expectations but so much to give. She has a fire in her that she’s never really known how to use.”

The bond between Tony and Sarah would be enough on its own for most dramas, but Thorne’s introduction of Covid into the storyline left neither in any doubt about their duty of care as actors or execs.

“As I go on I’ve realised that, rather than just turning up and saying your lines, you have instincts and opinions and should stop telling yourself these opinions aren’t valid or not good enough,” says Comer.

She also quickly learnt not to hold back in conversation with Sarah’s real-life counterparts.

“Everything was so matter of fact. I was asking questions like, ‘when did you experience your first death in a care home? How did it feel when you were changing residents in a bath?’

“Their resilience and courage struck me the most, and the fact that other people’s lives are dependent on you doing things carefully and correctly. But it was important we captured the joy and love in these care homes as well. I’d never done anything like this before, a project tackling something so serious and relevant.”

Her next projects are, superficially at least, more frivolous: she will be “going back to old Villanelle” for one final series of Killing Eve, and has recently completed work on Ridley Scott’s medieval epic, The Last Duel.

Graham, meanwhile, will be the latest guest star in the rogues’ gallery of Peaky Blinders, and Matriarch, the production company he founded with wife Hannah Walters, recently released its first feature, a one-shot film with Graham as a chef, called Boiling Point.

There is no doubt both regard Help as a career landmark. When I ask for their views on the government’s Covid response, Comer is somehow both discreet and excoriating.

“Because we were shooting out of sequence, we were constantly going: what was the advice they were being given at this point? It felt so contradictory: we should be wearing PPE, but at that point they were told they didn’t need it. We’re a part of this drama and this story speaks clearly to how we feel. The care homes weren’t spoken about enough for me, so I hope this starts some conversations.”

For Graham, it’s personal: one relative who worked in a specialist unit offered invaluable insights into the chaos on the frontline. “What happens in our story happened to this unit: they were told by hospitals they had to take these patients and were told they were fine, but they were infected so it spread into the unit and lives were lost. I heard all this when I rang to check he was OK – this is real life for some people.”

Help starts on Thursday 16 September on Channel 4 at 9pm

Posted by admin on August 23, 2021

The award-winning actors ​discuss ​return​ing​ to their Liverpool roots to make Help, a powerful new Channel 4 film that unfolds at the start of the pandemic



Early on in the new Channel 4 drama Help, elderly residents at the care home where Jodie Comer’s character, Sarah, has recently landed a job celebrate Christmas in their paper hats and tinsel necklaces. The scene was originally longer, with a DJ spinning old-time discs. “Is there anyone around here who supports Everton?” he called, and Comer started jumping up and down, waving her hand in the air. “The whole storyline was that I was pretending that I was a Liverpool fan. And I was like: ‘Oh, shit, they can’t use that. I totally slipped out of character.’ And I looked at you, and you were like: ‘You’re killing it.’”

Comer’s reminiscing over Zoom with her co-star Stephen Graham, and – in their living rooms, in different parts of the country – they both dissolve into giggles. Interviewing them is like trying to steer a runaway train: they career all over the tracks, one minute talking to me and the next to each other, chuffing away in broad scouse accents. It’s not the sort of homey exuberance one would expect from Comer, who is best known as the ice-cool, multilingual psychopath Villanelle in Killing Eve. Neither is it the kind of on-set anarchy one might expect from Help itself, a relentlessly powerful and driven 120-minute drama documenting the UK’s care home crisis in the early months of the Covid pandemic.

The anecdote does, however, reveal the spirit behind the project and the friendships that brought it into being. Comer and Graham are executive producers as well as the stars of a film that is scripted by Jack Thorne and directed by Marc Munden in a style that combines the political urgency of Alan Bleasdale’s Thatcher-era classic, Boys from the Blackstuff, with the horror tropes of a Stephen King chiller.

It’s the first time the pair have contrived to work together since becoming firm friends on the set of a TV miniseries nine years ago. Comer, an unknown still in her teens, was playing a girl abused by cop-killer Graham in the Liverpool-set series Good Cop. “There were no intimacy coordinators in those days,” recalls Graham. “So I’d just say: ‘iIs it all right if I put my hand there?’ It was only a tiny little scene, but she was so trusting, and had such a blazing talent, that when it was finished I said: ‘Look I’m a happily married man and all that, but would you give me your number, because I’d like to put you in touch with my agent.’” He did, and the rest became history two years ago, when Comer thanked him for kickstarting her career in her Bafta best actress acceptance speech for Killing Eve.

Like Sarah, Comer is an Everton supporter. She could hardly not be, since her dad has been a masseur at the club for more than two decades. Like Tony, the lovable rogue with early onset dementia he plays in Help, Graham is a diehard Liverpool fan. How diehard, given that, by his own admission, he has spent more of his life now living in Leicestershire than in the city of his birth? “Like this much,” he says, brandishing a mug depicting four of the 2019-20 Premier League-winning team strolling across an Abbey Road-style zebra crossing. “Oh my God,” butts in Comer. “At the virtual Baftas, he was wearing this shirt and blazer on top and Liverpool shorts on the bottom.”

It goes without saying that Help is set in Liverpool. The Christmas party scene is an emotional high point, not just because it is the calm before the storm, but because it assembles some of the city’s most famous stars into ghosts of their former selves. A still beautiful but vacant-eyed Cathy Tyson recites a poem, My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is, before subsiding into the silence of her armchair. Among those applauding her are Sue Johnston, whose character Gloria will be the first to succumb to the new plague, and Ian Hart as the box-ticking but kindly manager, who finds himself utterly out of his depth as hospital patients are discharged into his care and his residents start to die. In one of the film’s many masterful changes of mood and tempo, the dreamlike sentimentality of the scene is punctured by Tony jumping to his feet to tell a filthy joke.

It all came about in “one of those magical moments”, says Comer. “Jack, Stephen and I were all having these separate conversations about how we wanted to work with each other.” She shamefacedly admits to having sent a “gis a job” message to Thorne on Twitter in the days before she wised up to the dangers of social media and abandoned it to her publicists. “Yeah,” picks up Graham, “and I’m sitting next to Jack at this awards thing for The Virtues [the TV miniseries] and I went: ‘Jack, do you know what you’re doing next?’ And he says: ‘A few things.’ And I was like: ‘All right, Jack, do me a favour. You know what? I really want you to write something for me with Jodie Comer. And he was like: ‘Funny you should say that, because she wants to do something set in Liverpool.’”

The care home theme didn’t come immediately. “Initially it was going in a completely different direction,” says Graham. “It was going to be a brother and sister relationship and we did this improvisation, but as you know, a lot of Jack’s work is extremely political and he said: ‘Look, this is not right.’ But just being in that room together, there was like a double energy, with these two little characters we’d already slightly started to play with, and Jack picked up on this instantly. Then he went off and wrote this first draft, and sent it to us.”

“It was important to capture the joy in care homes. There was so much devastation, but there is so much life in them”

Graham has dyslexia, so his wife, Hannah Walters, read it for him, “and she just went: ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’” Comer was sitting out the pandemic with her parents in Liverpool when the script arrived. “And it was really perfect. So fully fleshed out and moving.” They collaborated on the casting, and filmed it early in 2021, in the hiatus between the second and third lockdowns.

Neither has lost any family members to Covid, though just as they were on the point of starting rehearsals, says Graham, “Hannah and the kids went down with it, so I had to spend 10 days on me own in a hotel”. It gave him “the luxury to really dive in and absorb as much information as I could, not from an intellectual or medical point of view but in terms of the human elements of this disease”. Tony’s brain fog is rendered all the more poignant by the bursts of clarity, when he emerges into the full glow of his cheeky-chappy self. To understand him, Graham joined a WhatsApp group for people with dementia. “And it was lovely. I could really see how frustrating it was. I shed a few tears if I’m honest, with the lovely people that I met, and I carried them with me through the filming process.”

Comer, meanwhile, concentrated her research efforts on local care workers. “It was really important to me to capture the joy in these care homes. You know, there was so much devastation last year, but previous to that, these were homes: there is so much life and fun in them. What I realised from speaking to the women was that it isn’t carers and residents, there is no them and us, you know. It’s so integrated. The way in which they treat the residents is how I would like my family to be treated.”

There’s a disarming innocence in the way the two actors chat. Comer is slightly less forthcoming, more anxious to protect her privacy, but they’re so warm and unaffected that, were it not for the minders lurking off-screen, who occasionally interrupt to warn them off giving away too much about forthcoming projects, it would be easy to forget just how successful they are. In the same awards season that Graham sat around that table with Thorne and director Shane Meadows for The Virtues – in which he pummelled the heartstrings as an alcoholic survivor of abuse in the Irish orphanage system – he also picked up best actor awards for his ghost Jacob Marley in Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight’s TV adaptation of A Christmas Carol and as a rogue undercover cop in Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty.

Johnny Depp, with whom he appeared as cocky cockney pirate Scrum in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, called him “one of the finest English actors of his generation”, and he’s on first-name terms with Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci after working alongside them as the terrifying “little guy” in The Irishman. It was his third project with “Marty”, after Gangs of New York and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, but his feet are firmly on the ground. Three or four first-class flights home were dangled as bait to lure him to take on Al Capone in Boardwalk Empire, and he traded them in for 20 economy seats, so he could nip back at weekends. The only true difference between filming in Hollywood and Liverpool, he insists, is the amount of money involved. “If you see a crane, you’re like, OK, we’re going to be here all week. You don’t really see a crane in nice little British dramas.”

Comer, meanwhile, arrived at Killing Eve via prettier-than-thou bezzie Chloe in My Mad Fat Diary, adulterous Kate in Doctor Fosterandthe plotting Elizabeth of York in the Tudor miniseriesThe White Princess. “The fun thing about those characters is playing around with people’s moral compass: what they think is bad and what they end up finding themselves agreeing with is always kind of fun to mess around with. I mean, it’s crazy. People should hate Villanelle but they don’t, they love her.” From the off, says Doctor Foster writer Mike Bartlett, she confounded any prejudices the audience might have had about Kate as “the other woman”. “She made it complicated and human. Jodie is a genius. That much was clear from very early on, when I saw her in My Mad Fat Diary. She makes wonderful decisions as a performer – when to communicate something, when to hold back, and works with total commitment and detail. There’s a fierce intelligence combined with a humanity that means you just need to know what the character is going to do next, and you care.”

She’s currently on screen opposite Ryan Reynolds in the Disney video gaming comedy Free Guy, and this autumn will appear with Matt Damon in The Last Duel, a revenge drama set in medieval France and directed by Ridley Scott. She was seven weeks into filming the fourth series of Killing Eve when it was pushed back 18 months. “I would eat my hat to write for her again,” says the series’ writer-creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge. “As well as being one of the most outrageously fun people in existence, Jodie has a profound wisdom at her core that enables her to play both naivety and damage with incredible dexterity.” In Help, Comer plays a character very different to herself, for all the surface similarities. Sarah is a secondary school drop-out, a rough diamond whose parents and brother have given up on her, and who boasts of breaking a school friend’s nose after “she called me a slag cos I had bigger boobs”.

Comer also has a younger brother, who has followed their dad into football, as an analyst, but they’re so close that, until recently, both lived at home with their parents. She dedicated her Bafta award to her grandmother. Growing up on the opposite side of Liverpool to Graham’s childhood home, she went to a local Catholic girls’ school, where she became best friends with the future champion heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson, and got her first acting break at the age of 13 after a drama teacher spotted her talent and sent her off to audition for a Radio 4 play. “I had no reason to be rebellious,” she says. I didn’t go to drama school but I was very lucky to have people like Steve who were kind enough to extend a hand.”

While they were filming Help, her mum, Donna, who works in public transport, would turn up every Tuesday with portions of the classic Liverpool stew known as scouse for the cast. “And you know,” chips in Graham. “Donna’s scouse was absolutely up there with my Auntie Vera’s. Sorry ma, sorry, but it’s far better than yours.” He too comes from a close-knit working-class family, though at first it was just him, his mum and his grandmother, whose surname he adopted and in whose memory he now has a cupcake tattooed on his arm. He stayed in touch with his biological father, who is half Jamaican, but it’s his stepfather – also mixed-race – whom he calls “Pops”, and who helped him to grow into his own mixed-race identity.

Pops was a head paediatric nurse and his mum was a social worker, he says. The difference between his own background and Sarah’s in Help is “coming from a family that gives you nothing but support. That gives you the motivation and the drive to follow this supposedly unobtainable dream – and Jodie and me are similar in this. To be proud of that working-class heritage, and where we’re from, not necessarily just because it’s Liverpool. Hannah’s from Leicestershire and has that same ethic, which we try and pour into our children.”

He met Walters during a brief period training at Rose Bruford drama school in London, and they kept in touch after he suffered a breakdown and dropped out, only getting together as a couple several years later. They live in the small former mining village of Ibstock, with their two children. “Let’s get it straight, my kids are middle-class: they’re not growing up like me, struggling in certain places. But we still have to teach them the ethics of having pride in what you do, you know what I mean? So that’s where I come from with my mum and dad.”

Unsurprisingly, this decency is becoming as much part of the Graham brand as his talent. It’s what makes him so special as an actor, says Jimmy McGovern, who worked with him on the recent prison drama Time. “You look at that face and you see it etched in every single crease: tremendous humanity.” In a Hollywood context, it can look like naivety (“He’s a normal, decent, happy-go-lucky bloke who loves his missus and kids and is dead genuine,” he said of Depp, just months before the star’s infamous libel trial). But for all that he might project his own values on to the people he encounters, there’s no doubting that he’s genuine. Thomas Turgoose, the troubled kid from This Is England, recently revealed that Graham offered to adopt him after his mum died when he was just 14 years old. Among the familiar old faces in Help is that of Andrew Schofield (Johnny Rotten in Alex Cox’s 1986 film Sid and Nancy), who lived across the road from Graham’s family home and turned the boy’s life around by recommending that he try out for the Everyman youth theatre, after spotting him as an eight-year-old Jim Hawkins in a school production of Treasure Island.

Such working-class pride and solidarity used to command prime slots in British film and TV, but went out of fashion in prosperity Britain. “Times change, stories change. This is not a criticism, but obviously we went down the route of country-house dramas,” says Graham. “It’s what sells, and that’s fine if it’s what you want to watch, but I feel there was a time where we did lose authentic working-class drama. But there were also no black stories, Asian stories, Chinese stories: all of those voices were lost for a while and we became very slick and very good at making To the Manor Born kind of pieces.”

From his name-making fascist thug Combo in This Is England, through the haunted Joseph in The Virtues, to the excruciatingly compromised prison officer Eric in Time, Graham has played his own, increasingly impressive, role in returning the lives of ordinary people to the small screen. When I ask what he’s doing next, he gets tongue-tied for the first time. There’s a series of Peaky Blinders, he says tentatively, looking over his shoulder to Walters, who is listening in from the next room. “What’s that boss?” he shouts. “Oh yeah, Boiling Point. How can I forget about that?”

Boiling Point is the first film for a production company he and Walters have just set up, Matriarch Productions. It’s set behind the scenes in a restaurant with Graham as the head chef. “It’s all one shot, no trickery with editing. And it’s a beautifully multicultural, diverse cast, and a fair representation of a kitchen in a London restaurant.” It’s directed by his friend Philip Barantini, an actor who really wanted to become a director. “So we did a short and he loved it. And then he got the money to raise it for a feature. And it was all shot over the course of three days. We want to be a creative platform that gives people opportunities and tells diverse stories that haven’t been told before.”

It’s all part of a belief in giving back and passing on, which Comer hopes to emulate. “I have to say, personally, one part of Stephen that I hugely admire is the voice that his work has, and how important it is,” she says. “Help is the first time that I’ve stepped into something like that, which really does have a powerful message and is uncomfortable viewing, but is giving a voice to the voiceless.”

The film ends with a shocking series of statistics. Of the 48,213 Covid deaths registered in England and Wales between mid-March and mid-June 2020, 40% were care home residents. During that time, the government is estimated to have supplied only 10% of the PPE needed in adult social care. The average wage in the sector is £8.50 an hour. “We wanted it to be a slice of social realism, a free, handheld camera kinda thing, harking back to those great classic kitchen-sink dramas – Saturday Night and Sunday MorningCathy Come HomeA Taste of Honey – and all those quintessential British films that are watching women, and tell the story of a woman’s journey,” says Graham. “But I love the way Marc captured the looming threat of those early months, because we need to remember that we didn’t know what it was, this terrible thing: it had no face. That’s horror.”

Help airs next month on Channel 4 and All4

Posted by admin on August 18, 2021