Going off script with Jodie Comer
Since her breakthrough role in ‘Killing Eve’, the actor and White City House member has captured audiences on screen with her incredible dexterity. In a stripped back interview at The Ned, she talks to us about coming out of character and how she spends her time when she’s not in front of the camera
By Rosalind Jana Photography by Greg Williams
Like many teenage girls, Jodie Comer wanted to be Keira Knightley when she grew up. The big skirts. The distant looks. The Austenian will-they-won’t-they of it all. When she first met her agent, aged 17, Comer said that her ultimate wish was to appear in period dramas. Her career, however, had other ideas.
First garnering attention in Channel 4’s coming-of-age comedy My Mad Fat Diary and tense drama Thirteen, it was in the darkly comedic BBC series Killing Eve that Comer really hit the big time. Playing petulant assassin Villanelle – a stone-cold killer with an obsessive streak and an ability to switch accents as regularly as her impeccable outfits – Comer made an explosive impression. BAFTAs and Emmys followed, and Hollywood came calling. This year, she appears alongside Ryan Reynolds in the video game-themed blockbuster, Free Guy. And most recently she featured in Help, Channel 4’s wrenching COVID-19 care home drama.
This October, she gets to return to her period-drama dreams in the form of Ridley Scott’s bleak medieval epic, The Last Duel: a film based on the true account of the last legally sanctioned duel in 14th-century France. Comer plays Marguerite de Carrouges, a young woman who accuses her husband’s best friend of sexual assault. The story is told from three different perspectives, but it centres, Comer says, on ‘this woman’s fight for justice and survival – she had everything to lose and nothing to gain.’
For Soho House’s cover shoot at The Ned in London, the mood is more minimal tailoring than velvet robing. After several hours on set, Comer’s energy shows no sign of flagging. For the 28-year-old, though, it’s always a question of momentum. Once one thing is wrapped up, it’s time to seek out another horizon. ‘I often find that when I finish one role, I want to get as far away from her as I possibly can,’ she explains. ‘Especially as more people come to know you or have a perception of you, it’s so important to make sure that [you] get to play around and try new things.’
Comer has always enjoyed being a shapeshifter. Her dexterity with accents is the stuff of talk-show legend – interviewers and hosts regularly marvelling at how her softly spoken Liverpudlian accent switches in an instant to steely Russian or sunny American. ‘Accents have always been something that I’ve been relatively fearless with,’ she says. ‘I think that’s from joking around and doing impersonations with my dad when I was younger.’ These days she works closely with a dialect coach, who helps to keep her on track.
Comer’s career is defined by a distaste for self-consciousness. Whether she’s playing a care home worker or a queen, she brings to her performances an uncanny ability to step so thoroughly inside the character that you forget who you’re watching. The best parts are when she forgets, too.
‘There are definitely moments that I can think of on-set where it feels like the room disappears and the character takes over. But that is hugely down to the people you’re acting opposite. You can very rarely reach those points on your own.’ Such moments require a huge amount of openness – a quality she’s been leaning on more recently as she tackles stories that require great sensitivity. ‘When I was doing Help there was no ego. Everyone was holding it so gently in their hands, because we realised how important it was to deliver this message correctly.’
One can see in Comer’s role choices a certain consistency, despite their very different registers. They are often complex women: tenacious, vulnerable, driven by competing impulses. She has brilliant comedic timing, too. No wonder then that when she thinks of the performers who have inspired her, she turns to Julie Walters, Caroline Aherne, and Samantha Morton. ‘What I love about these women and the that work they do is their humility. I mean, I don’t know them personally, but they seem pretty fearless. There’s such a lack of vanity, which I really adore.’ Her dream stage role would be to follow in Walters’ footsteps and star in Educating Rita.
Today, though, she’s just happy being Jodie: a successful actor who still panics about whether she will ever work again; someone whose life has felt like a series of moments falling into place with such precision that she doesn’t like to think about what would have happened if any of them had faltered (she says gamely that she could imagine being a food critic if acting hadn’t worked out); a music lover who makes playlists for each new character and recently spent a ‘gorgeous’ summer’s evening listening to Joy Crookes at one of Soho House’s Secret Sessions.
The music isn’t the only thing Comer appreciates about Soho House. When asked, she immediately reels off a long list of things: the baths, Soho Farmhouse, the little details that make you ‘almost feel at home’. Her real soft spot, though? ‘The Picantes, let’s be honest. I love a good Picante.’