As Killing Eve reaches its finale, shape-shifting star Jodie Comer talks to Rosamund Dean about how her gritty West End debut took priority over Ridley Scott’s next epic
Photoshoots > 2022 > Session 006-Evening Standard Magazine
Last month, Jodie Comer was in a studio to record her last bits of dialogue for the final ever episode of Killing Eve. ‘It was surreal,’ she says, eyes wide. ‘They had this sofa in the centre of the screen, so I sat there and asked them to play me the final moments. I was like… wow.’
We’re meeting for breakfast in a Mayfair members’ club the day before her 29th birthday. Comer is not having a party though. Last weekend she had a family dinner in Liverpool (the tasting menu at Röski, which she recommends as ‘it lasts about three hours so you really have time to catch up’) and, on the day, she is going to see Small Island at the National Theatre with a friend. As she tucks in to overnight oats and an espresso, I dig for spoilers of the Killing Eve finale. Many are hoping Eve and Villanelle will get together and go off into the sunset. ‘Yeah, I mean…’ she laughs, with a raised eyebrow.
But then again, the show is literally called Killing Eve, which doesn’t bode well for Eve. ‘Well, you’d think that, but is it ‘Killing’ Eve? Or is it Killing ‘Eve’?’ she asks, mysteriously. ‘Eve’s changed so much, especially in this series. I was like whoa, Sandra!’
Villanelle is, of course, Russian. Which, in series one, felt kind of retro Cold War but now feels much darker. Continuing to live our normal lives — in my case, chatting to an actor — with pictures of Ukrainian devastation on every front page is a strange business. ‘Everything else is so insignificant,’ says Comer. ‘The world right now is extremely sinister. Russian people are being fed so much misinformation. It’s terrifying when you realise there are people in power who have the ability to do that, and choose to do that. And the number of people who are none the wiser.’
The show won Comer an Emmy and a Bafta, and launched her in Hollywood. Last year she starred in Free Guy with Ryan Reynolds and The Last Duel with Matt Damon and Adam Driver. But her new role is more low-key: Prima Facie is a one-woman play about a barrister who defends rapists, before becoming a victim herself. She pulled out of Ridley Scott’s new film, Napoleon, to do it (that role will now be played by Vanessa Kirby).
‘That decision was actually taken out of my hands,’ she admits. ‘The scheduling kept changing, and I was always committed to the play. So it came to a point where it was impossible to do both.’ It’s safe to assume that one of those jobs is significantly better paid than the other, and she could have pulled out of the play to take the money.
‘Ha! Yeah,’ she laughs, ‘but I never got into this for the pay cheque. I’m going to grow so much from this experience. Sometimes opportunities present themselves and you’re like, if I say no, it will be purely out of fear. If I said no to this because I was scared and then they announced another actress, I’d want to punch myself in the face.’
Comer threw herself into research, speaking to barristers and a Rasso (rape and serious sexual offences) officer. ‘Because Napoleon fell through, I’ve had this time to speak to people who have been so open and honest, which has been amazing,’ she says. ‘They care so much about what they’re doing, but it’s very evident that the system doesn’t work for women. If a woman reports being raped, it’s her who’s on trial. She’s given this burden of responsibility to prove what happened.’
Thirty tickets at each performance will be available at a ‘pay what you can’ price, something Comer feels strongly about, telling me ‘theatre shouldn’t be this exclusive club. That’s so wrong.’ She is aware of the privilege that gave many in her industry a leg-up, and talks of the twist of fate that introduced her to Stephen Graham. They met on 2012’s Liverpool-set drama Good Cop, and he introduced her to his agent. Comer and Graham worked together again last year on Help, a Channel 4 drama set in a care home during the first lockdown, and a rare outing for her real (Scouse) accent. ‘I’d never done a project like that before, which is political and really raw because many people were still living through it,’ she says. ‘We really felt the weight of how important it was.’
It is testament to her transformative ability that playing a Liverpudlian care worker doesn’t feel at odds with the Comer we see on the red carpet or in a fashion shoot like the one on the cover of this magazine. ‘I sent over a plethora of young Meryl Streep images,’ she laughs of the mood board for this shoot. ‘They were pared back, very simple, which I really enjoyed. It’s important to me now to feel comfortable. I said to my stylist, Elizabeth [Saltzman, who also works with Gwyneth Paltrow], as we moved out of lockdown: it’s great to wear fabulous clothes that you wouldn’t usually wear, but actually I want to be comfortable and look back on those moments and see that.’
Today she’s wearing workout clothes — a black T-shirt and leggings — because ‘my iron’s broke and everything else is scrunched up’. Comer’s style revelation wasn’t the only change of the past couple of years. ‘We were all forced to pause and evaluate what’s really meaningful to us,’ she says. ‘I realised I love being at home and enjoy simpler things. Like having my close friends, not feeling the need to be certain places and please certain people. I grew up a lot. I really stepped into myself. I’ve got calmer and more secure in who I am. I mean,’ she adds hastily, ‘I’ve by no means got it all sussed out. That’s a lifelong thing.’
Comer and her family are tight. As we talk, she plays with a large heart-shaped Loquet locket; a gift from her mum, Donna. ‘It has amethyst in it, and a little moon charm. I have a habit of fiddling with it when I’m nervous.’ She has said in the past that she would like to live at home in Liverpool with Donna and her dad, Jimmy, until she is ‘old and grey’. But now she has a place in London, although who she lives with is unclear because she never talks about that side of her life.
‘It’s increasingly important to manage those things,’ she says carefully. ‘So much is out of your control so the parts of your life that you can control become really sacred.’ I’m impressed that they avoid ever being papped. ‘If I go to a party, I want to be in my mate’s living room listening to Fall Out Boy on a playlist of early 2000s hits,’ she says. ‘That’s where I’m letting my hair down, not at an event where I’m seen leaving. That terrifies me.’
As she approaches her 30s, she has also learned to care less about what other people think. No small feat in her job, where you are relentlessly presented with other people’s opinions. ‘I’ve got a different outlook on what success is,’ she explains. ‘Now it comes down to how I feel when I come home from a day’s work. If I feel proud of myself. I’m much better at not putting that on the opinions of others, because I did for a really long time.’
Was there a turning point? ‘You just become aware of your habits…. I was seeking a lot of approval and my happiness was dependent on it, then I realised how shit that made me feel.’ Is it things like stepping back from social media and not reading reviews? ‘Yeah. If I’m doing a job for me then, whatever the reaction may be, I can say, okay that’s unfortunate, however I gained X, Y and Z from this.’ (Despite the Scouse accent, she says ‘zee’ rather than ‘zed’.) Not that Comer has experienced many bad reviews. Even mixed reviews of the last season of Killing Eve fell over themselves to say that she remained amazing. There was a brief attempt to ‘cancel’ her on social media, when it was rumoured her boyfriend was a Republican. Regardless of her boyfriend’s political views, I don’t think anyone — particularly a person involved in projects such as Help and Prima Facie — should be bullied into proving their liberal credentials.
I ask the name of her favourite WhatsApp group and she replies instantly: ‘Me and my best mates from school are all over the place, so it’s called Hoes in Different Area Codes.’ She laughs uproariously. ‘It’s Katarina [Johnson-Thompson], she’s an Olympic athlete so she’s always away training. My friend Charlotte is an artist, she lives in Spain. Then my other friends are in Liverpool. We managed to get together for a weekend last year and it was amazing. Friends are such medicine. The person that you can fall into being when you’re in their company is just so pure. I mean, the title of our WhatsApp group isn’t pure!’
When Comer talks about her friends and family, she glows with warmth. Perhaps this solid background is the secret to her success because she says the energy you bring to an audition is vital. She doesn’t have to audition much these days, but she remembers the anxiety of her early career, when she had been on Holby City and Waterloo Road but wasn’t continuously working so got a job in Tesco. ‘There were a couple years where I’d done acting jobs, but also I needed money to go out at the weekend with my friends,’ she smiles. ‘I was on the tills on the Saturday/Sunday shift, so was hungover 99.9 per cent of the time.’
I sympathise, having worked on a checkout at the same age, but in Waitrose. ‘Oh, you’re so fancy!’ Her face lights up again. ‘I was trying to explain Waitrose to my boyfriend the other day. He said, “Is that like Whole Foods?” I told him it’s not as fancy as Whole Foods, but it’s fancy.’ It’s fancier than Tesco, but not as fancy as M&S? ‘I love an M&S,’ she sighs dreamily. ‘One thing that I find deeply satisfying is doing a good food shop.’
And this is the real Jodie Comer: texting her mates, hanging out with her boyfriend, doing a big food shop and, today, dealing with a broken iron. ‘I called my mum and she said it’s the fuse, so I’m going fuse shopping now,’ she laughs. ‘So rock ’n’ roll.’
The final season of ‘Killing Eve’ is on BBC iPlayer now. ‘Prima Facie’ is at the Harold Pinter Theatre from 15 Apr to 18 Jun (haroldpintertheatre.co.uk)