Jodie Comer is learning to trust her intuition. “People tell me a lot that I have good instincts,” she reflects, as we sit on the rooftop of a London hotel, both wrapped in blankets (it’s late October and the pandemic dictates that we cannot be indoors). “So they’re always like, ‘Stay with that, stick to your gut.’”
This advice, and indeed her instincts, have served the 27-year-old Liverpool-born actor well when it comes to her career. “If I don’t have an initial instinct about what I’d do with a character – if I don’t sympathize with them or I can’t find a way of excusing them if they’re really awful – then I don’t go near it,” she smiles.
Having started out with occasional episodes in television shows, and then more major roles in dramas such as Doctor Foster, Thirteen and The White Princess, it was landing the role of masterful assassin Villanelle in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s phenomenal cat-and-mouse drama Killing Eve that accelerated Comer’s profile into global stardom. Her chameleonic performance and accent-swapping prowess garnered acclaim from critics and audiences alike, as well as Emmy and Bafta leading-actress awards. Is there a pressure, then, that comes with choosing which roles to take on after such a triumph?
“What I try to do is just stay true to myself,” she considers. “Is there something that I haven’t explored yet? Because the thing about doing Killing Eve, or something like that, is that everyone has an opinion.”
“For me, the ONLY person I have to answer to is MYSELF – so as long as I go into things with INTEGRITY, I think you just have to drown out the noise”
“Of course, I was so lucky that Villanelle was just one in a million,” she continues. “That role is just so fabulous that I think people are like, ‘Well, where’s she gonna go from here?’” Comer is determined not to give too much weight to the pressure, though. “For me, the only person I have to answer to is myself – so as long as I go into things with integrity and knowing why I did it, I think you just have to drown out the noise.”
With most of her roles having been in television, she admits that the transition to the big screen felt daunting. Last year, she filmed Free Guy, a sci-fi action comedy about a man who discovers he is a background player in an open-world video game. Starring alongside Ryan Reynolds and directed by Shawn Levy, she plays programmer Milly and her virtual alter-ego, Molotov Girl.
“I had done television for so long, my insecurity was like, ‘Oh, maybe I’m a TV actress; maybe I’m never going to do film.’ And, years ago, maybe there was a clear divide, but now I don’t think there is. When I did Free Guy, it just felt enormous. I was intimidated by the grandeur of everything: the sets, the stunts, it was very physical. But when I got into the rhythm of it, I realized that the people are the same, the morale is the same – so you just do the process that you always do and prepare for the role you’re playing.”
Comer was involved in the costume choices, ensuring that her character was dressed appropriately for her action-heavy role. “Molotov Girl is an avatar created by Milly – it’s her dream, it’s her creation. That definitely had to be expressed; it couldn’t be a man’s ideal,” she says. “That was a rule I had with Villanelle as well. When we first started out, Phoebe [Waller-Bridge] was like, ‘This is real, this is practical, this is not gonna be silly.’”
She has to admit, though, that she slightly missed Villanelle’s scene-stealing, designer-filled wardrobe. “When I had been doing Killing Eve and went back to Milly, who just wears jeans and T-shirts, I was like, ‘Where’s the amazing rail of clothes, guys?’” she jokes, with characteristic good humor.
Today, Comer – who starred in Loewe’s spring/summer 2020 campaign and became the face of skincare brand Noble Panacea earlier this year – is dressed in an off-the-shoulder grey cashmere Frame cardigan and jeans. “I feel like I’ve lived nine lives with regard to my fashion and hair. I remember being young and out in town in a tiny dress and six-inch heels and clutch bag, and I’m like, ‘Oh my god!’” she laughs, with a faux grimace.
“In my HEAD, it’s like there was a line of people outside my front DOOR who had NASTY things to say to me, and I was saying, ‘Come on in!’”
The talk turns to privacy and Comer’s light-hearted, buoyant lilt becomes serious. With her rising public profile has come an intensifying interest in her private life, despite her making every effort to keep it from the glare of the spotlight. “Within the past month, I feel like I’ve sussed it out. It took a while, but it got to a point where I noticed it was affecting my health,” she says, referring to how her perspective and use of social media has changed. “I think you forget how accessible we are when we have mobile phones. In my head, it was like there was a line of people outside my front door who had nasty things to say to me, and I was saying, ‘Come on in! Please sit on my couch; tell me.’ When I realized that was what I was doing, I knew I just had to stop and I haven’t done it since. It’s like, I don’t want these people in my house, I don’t want them in my head.”
The turning point came from a particularly upsetting recent intrusion, when the identity of her boyfriend was revealed in the media. “All this false information came out about him, and people just ridiculed him and me and my family. People took these tweets as truth. That was the biggest time my life has been kind of blown up and publicized in that way,” she says. “A lot of people read things and they go, ‘Wow, she’s that, she’s this type of person.’ And I’m like, OK, I can spend my life and my energy trying to convince people otherwise, or I can go, ‘I know who I am, I know my truth and that’s good enough for me.’”
“If there’s SOMETHING that makes me go, ‘This is TERRIFYING’, then I think, ‘Jodie, this is what you NEED to do’’’
Comer is steadfast that steering her private life away from prying eyes is a high priority. “It’s important for my family and having a boyfriend who isn’t in the public eye; it can be very strange and surreal. I’m very cautious of what I bring into my family’s life; it’s a safety thing.”
She spent most of lockdown at her family home in Liverpool, which was a silver lining in the midst of a tumultuous year. “There’s nothing better than being at home, with my mom, my dad and my brother on the couch, and us all watching TV,” she shares. “My brother and I got some garden games, like badminton, to play over the washing line. We were like kids again, having to knock at the neighbor’s door, like ‘Can you throw the ball back over?’”
“I spend a lot of time on my own, which I love, but I think I feed off other people a lot,” she says. “Going home is like a big warm hug.”
Having started filming on historical drama-thriller The Last Duel – directed by Ridley Scott and co-starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck – at the start of 2020, the cast only wrapped in September, following a six-month interruption because of the pandemic. Thinking about what kind of roles she would love to play next, she’s in “kind of a weird limbo at the moment”. But she’s not planning to play it safe when it comes to future projects. “If there’s something that makes me go, ‘This is terrifying,’ then I think, ‘Jodie, this is what you need to do.’ I think a challenge is very important, otherwise you feel like you plateau and you’re just bobbing along and not feeling satisfied.”
And what might a challenge look like to her? “I’d love to do a musical! I used to be a big thespian, really musical-theater-obsessed.” (Her favorites are Cats and Guys and Dolls, and, yes, she sings.)
“I always get a KICK out of knowing that I’ve prepared, and I’ve DONE the absolute MOST that I could”
Earlier this year, Comer took the lead role of Lesley in the BBC reboot of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads (played by Julie Walters in the original). The job was “the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she recalls. Filmed during the height of lockdown, there were three weeks of rehearsals over Zoom with director Josie Rourke and then just the actor, the camera and one other person on set, while she delivered 20 pages of dialogue down the lens.
“I left that day and I remember feeling so proud of myself. That’s what you’ve got to look back on,” she says. “Of course, you want people to enjoy it and feel how they feel, but how did I feel when I did it? Was I proud? Did I do everything I could? Did I learn? Yes? Then that’s all I want to know.”
“I guess, for me, I always get a kick out of knowing that I’ve prepared, and I’ve done the absolute most that I could,” she concludes. “I think my proudest moments are probably when I show up for myself.” You can’t deny that she is doing just that.
Free Guy will be released in 2021
The Joy of Dressing Up
Jodie Comer talks about her fantasy wardrobe, Villanelle’s inimitable look and working with A-list stylist Elizabeth Saltzman…