It’s not that she didn’t want them to fly in from Liverpool and be there to cheer her on. But Comer had no expectation of winning the bloody trophy and didn’t want them to be disappointed.
“It’s nice to bring your parents to these things,” she says. “But I just said, ‘Oh no, sit this one out. Now’s not my time.’ I’m probably not going to ever live that one down with them, or they’ll be coming to every single thing now!”
Comer won the Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a drama, beating out contenders Laura Linney, Viola Davis, Robin Wright, Mandy Moore, Emilia Clarke and her “Killing Eve” co-star, Sandra Oh. At 26, Comer is the first Emmy lead actress winner to have been born in the 1990s, and the kudos come after also winning a BAFTA TV Award for the role in May.
Emmy night was a bit of a blur for Comer, but she remembers a few key things, including embracing Oh and getting a cheer from “Killing Eve” creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge before climbing onstage.
“I actually don’t know what I was thinking. I was in a complete state of shock,” Comer says. “During the day I was strangely calm because I didn’t think it would be me. But it also happened so fast. You’re standing in front of all of these people, and you want to say the right thing and don’t want to miss anybody. You want to soak it up, not rush it, and take it all in. I feel like I blabbered on a lot!”
Variety caught up with the rising star the day after her victory, as Comer reflected on the win, what “Killing Eve” has meant to her, the chemistry with co-star Oh that fueled the AMC-BBC America show’s instant success and what’s next (including a feature film with Ryan Reynolds and Taika Waititi).
But first, her family. She’s going to have to make it up to them, but Comer’s not too worried: They were celebrating all night in their Liverpool suburb (the telecast didn’t end until 4 a.m. in the U.K.). “They’d been up drinking and watching it,” says Comer. “They were still up, which I was really impressed by. There were tears; there were screams. They’re just incredibly proud, which means a lot. Just a lot of chaos on the phone!”
Comer, who’s fighting a cold and a hoarse throat at the moment, played it chill on Emmy night, packing it in by 2 a.m.
“I was so tired; it was such a long day,” she says. “I was with my agents and the ‘Killing Eve’ team, and we had a couple of drinks to celebrate, and lots of pizza. Also, my voice isn’t usually like this. I sound a little bit like Marge Simpson.”
The relatively mellow evening was a contrast to that of Waller-Bridge, who went viral the next morning with a photo of herself, cigarette in hand, enjoying the Emmy life deep into the night. But even as the “Killing Eve” creator mused on her own wins (comedy series, comedy writing and comedy lead actress statuettes for “Fleabag”), she took a moment to celebrate Comer’s success.
“I think she’s given a once-in-a-generation performance and she’s a once-in-a-generation actress,” Waller-Bridge told Variety on Emmy night.
At the 2017 event, Comer — a tremendous fan of “Fleabag” — and Waller-Bridge partied hard. Their antics got a bit out of hand, to the point that Comer, when contacted to audition for “Killing Eve,” was nervous, lest Waller-Bridge recall that night with any shame.
“We were both really drunk, until silly o’clock in the morning, and kind of forgot about it,” Comer recalls. “Then months later I got the ‘Killing Eve’ audition. You know when you get the fear when you can’t remember from a hangover, and you’re like, ‘Oh, God, was I doing an embarrassing dance? Did I do something cringey?’ I panicked, but we spoke on the phone, and she was like, ‘We were in the same boat. It’s all good.’”
Comer didn’t have to fret. She brought a performance style and a personality that Waller-Bridge and executive producer Sally Woodward Gentle were looking for in the role: a “chameleon.” Says Gentle: “We didn’t want a puckish ‘Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ type; we wanted someone that you could sit next to on the tube and really have no idea what they had just been doing. [Comer] has the ability to transform, and it feels totally effortless. She’s such an extraordinary talent; she just does it.”
Based on a series of thriller novellas (later compiled as the book “Codename Villanelle”) by U.K. author Luke Jennings, “Killing Eve” is a cat-and-mouse tale of two women who come to depend on one another — while also trying to kill each other. Comer is Villanelle, a Russian assassin who is doggedly pursued by Eve Polastri (Oh), a marginalized MI5 agent who gets her mojo back by chasing the enigmatic killer.
Villanelle murders without remorse and comes with absolutely no filter, which gives the show much of its dry, dark humor. For two seasons, Comer has dived into the role so completely that sometimes viewers are startled when they meet her. And not just because she speaks with a Liverpudlian, rather than Russian, accent.
“They’re surprised that I’m nice,” she says. But she also loves when fans sheepishly admit that they kind of like Villanelle. “I’m like, ‘Good. I like that conflict that you’re experiencing when you’re watching television.’ It’s good to make people feel something, and she definitely seems to do that.”
Comer and the producers have shied away from calling Villanelle a psychopath, but they do characterize her as a person with psychopathic traits. The occasional vulnerability in Villanelle gives Comer even more to work with. Gentle points to a scene in Season 2 when Villanelle kills someone in Amsterdam in the hope that Eve will show up to investigate — then is disappointed when she doesn’t and loses her grip, going on an uncharacteristic bender.
“On set she’s got a really good sense of humor, and she understands what fun this role of Villanelle gives her — the action, the fight sequences, the fact the character doesn’t give a damn about the terrible things she’s doing,” Gentle says. “And she gets that black humor. She completely understands the tone of the show. If you didn’t, it would be a struggle in that role. But she understands there’s an immoral naughtiness at the center.”
Adds Sarah Barnett, AMC Networks president of Entertainment Networks Group/AMC Studios: “Jodie can go from chilling to hilarious to sexy to bored, bratty teenager within five seconds. You can’t take your eyes off of her.”
“She’s given a once-in-a-generation performance and she’s a once-in-a-generation actress.”
PHOEBE WALLER-BRIDGE, “
KILLING EVE” CREATOR
It’s a skill that Comer perfected at a young age, having caught the acting bug when she won a competition at the Liverpool Drama Festival. By 14, she was booking gigs like a part in a BBC Radio 4 play. “My parents would never push me into it,” she says. “I fell into it and had the opportunity to go with an agent, and they were like, ‘Look, if it’s what you want to do.’”
By the time Comer landed the lead in the BBC series “Thirteen” in 2015, she felt she was on an established career path. Then came Starz’s “The White Princess,” followed by “Killing Eve,” which she now considers the “big break.”
Audiences quickly gravitated to the show, which premiered on BBC America in 2018 and received weekly ratings growth right up to its Season 1 finale — the first time any TV show had done that in more than a decade, according to the network. For Season 2, AMC simulcast the series with BBC America, which helped grow it another 87% among total viewers in live-plus-seven ratings.
“We knew we had something special on our hands,” Barnett says. “People couldn’t stop talking about it. Our world has never been more competitive, and BBC America isn’t a huge platform. To watch it catch fire through word of mouth is so rare these days.”
And as viewers revel in the exploits of Villanelle, Comer says she’s having a blast playing the character.
“The fun doesn’t stop with her,” says Comer, who compares Villanelle to a Kinder egg — the chocolate treat with a surprise inside. “Her outer shell is Villanelle. … Inside is the real person,” she says. “As the series goes on, we’re peeling that away and getting to the core of who she is, or her having to face the things she’s pushed down for so long.”
That’s not to say the character is redeemable. “She’s a bad person,” Comer says. “We’re not excusing this person, ever.”
Central to the narrative is the deadly attraction between Villanelle and Eve, which leads to Eve stabbing Villanelle at the end of Season 1 and Villanelle shooting Eve in the Season 2 finale. The magnetism between the two actresses is real, and it was critical to making “Killing Eve” work. Oh was already on board as Eve when Comer came in for a chemistry read — and nailed it.
“They either spark or they don’t,” Gentle says. “They’re very different performers, and in a way that helps. You can get a sense that they’re both looking at each other, realizing that they’re different animals linked by some commonality. Her extraordinary chemistry with Sandra — I know it’s a trite thing to say, but it’s true — it’s a win for both of them. It’s just brilliant.”
Comer says she feels it both on screen and off. “The person who I’ve been alongside for this whole experience has been Sandra,” she says. “Initially these women never spent any time together. But when they did there had to be this electricity.”
Despite competing with Oh for the Emmy (a circumstance they also experienced at the BAFTA and Critics’ Choice awards), Comer dismisses the notion of it being uncomfortable.
“I think people think it’s more awkward than it is,” she says. “I’ve always said I feel incredibly fortunate to be part of a show that has two female leads that are complex and in the same category. It’s pretty special that we’re both in there together. We’re so celebratory of each other, as is the whole crew. There’s no hard feelings.”
“It’s delicious,” Comer says. “To work with Fiona and Sandra and Phoebe, and we have Sally and [executive producer] Gina [Mingacci]: There are so many incredible women — and men — who are a part of this show. But as a young woman within this industry, to be surrounded by these women is incredible.”
Adds Barnett: “It’s a show that really is able to showcase an incredible array of very talented women, from Phoebe as an executive producer to Sandra, who won the Golden Globe this year, to Fiona Shaw getting this amazing platform in the U.S. to now Jodie Comer.”
Production on Season 3 is under way overseas, and two episodes have been shot with new head writer Suzanne Heathcote, who took over for Season 2’s Emerald Fennell (who in turn replaced Waller-Bridge). The changes at the helm would seem to present a challenge to continuity, but Comer takes the shuffle in stride.
“We still have the same tone of the show and everything the show stands for,” she says. “It keeps things fresh. You adapt and you learn. It’s a huge part of the job that I enjoy.”
Shooting was halted during the past week as Comer, Oh and Shaw traveled to the U.S. to attend the Emmys. But with the ceremony over, by Monday everyone was prepping to return and get back to work.
“I can’t tell you anything — I was sworn to secrecy for Season 3,” Comer says. “But what I’m really excited about are the emotions that Eve has stirred up within Villanelle. I think it triggers a lot. There’s still a lot of craziness going on, and Villanelle is up to her old tricks. But I think we’ll definitely see Villanelle in a much deeper sense.”
Next up, Comer will be seen in 2020 in her biggest feature to date, “Free Guy,” an action comedy in which she stars opposite Reynolds and Waititi as two characters: a video-game code writer and “Molotov Girl,” her badass avatar.
“Whatever the challenge is, Jodie attacks it,” says “Free Guy” director Shawn Levy. “She had to do a stunt which involved her descending on a cable rig from 30 feet in the air, and after a couple of takes I said, ‘Are you scared?’ She said, ‘I’m just scared of not doing it great.’ She is a perfectionist. Whether it’s the accent, the physicality, the performance, she wants to be great.”
It was the first time Comer had filmed in the United States, and it required her to spend three months in Boston. Comer says she was overwhelmed by the scale of the production, but Levy is in awe of what she accomplished.
“You’re asking a non-comedic actress to jump into the first studio movie of her life, her first Hollywood big-budget picture, and she’s suddenly doing heavy improvisational comedy with some true maestros,” he says. “She was able to become fluent in that language, which is completely different to dramatic acting, and she was able to master that new language as well. That’s the revelation you’re going to see in ‘Free Guy.’”
With success, Comer is now figuring out how to juggle fame and privacy. She’s on social media but limits her posts mostly to promotional material. “I think there should always be an air of mystery,” she says. “But then also, a huge part of our success is the people who support us, and I think it’s so important to engage in that. It’s about finding that balance.”
Comer says she’s patient about discovering the next challenge, but with an Emmy in hand and a major feature on the way, Hollywood is paying attention. Gentle believes we’re just seeing the beginning of Comer’s rise.
“Within the first week of filming ‘Killing Eve’ Season 1, I knew she was going to be a massive star,” Gentle says. “It’s not just because I know her, but when she’s in a room, you can feel the glow coming off her. She’s going to keep going on and on. I think she’s barely scraped the surface.”