Jodie Comer stars alongside five-time Emmy nominee Sandra Oh in the BBC America thriller “Killing Eve.” Comer plays Villanelle in the series, a psychopathic assassin who becomes preoccupied by Oh’s character, Eve, the woman tracking her down. Both actresses were nominated this week at the Television Critics Awards (TCA).
Comer spoke recently with Gold Derby contributing editor Riley Chow about how she relates to Villanelle in playing her, the growing success of “Killing Eve” and what she expects from the show’s future. Watch the exclusive video chat above and read the complete interview transcript below.
Gold Derby: Jodie Comer, I talked to you last June and you said that you received a call a couple days beforehand and you had a project that you were really excited about, so was that for “Killing Eve”?
Jodie Comer: No, it wasn’t actually! I don’t think it was, anyway. I only got the call about “Killing Eve” this summer so it definitely wasn’t “Killing Eve,” but now I’m trying to wrack my brain to figure out what that was. What did I do after “The White Princess”? I can’t remember. It wasn’t this anyway.
GD: All right, you said you couldn’t talk about it then and I guess we will never find out.
JC: Yeah (laughs). That sounds like I was telling fibs. Actually I have to look at what that was.
GD: So on this show, tell me about how you speak so many languages.
JC: Yeah, well I had an amazing voice coach called Paula Jack, who’s a lovely lady who made sure I was doing them all right. I wasn’t actually aware of how many languages Villanelle spoke before we started but I knew that she did, so it was always interesting getting a new script and realizing what language you need to learn. But it was a big challenge. I don’t speak any of the languages so it was definitely a challenge but it was great, say, for instance, when we shot in Tuscany and she had to speak Italian, I had a whole Italian crew there who could help me. So it was tricky but it was definitely one of the most rewarding parts of playing her.
GD: And how would you define your main accent and what goes into that one?
JC: I think the tricky thing was with Villanelle was that she is born in Russia but she hasn’t lived in Russia for the majority of her life. She lives in France but then she travels around a lot so when I’d speak to the producers and Phoebe [Waller-Bridge], they wanted people to not be able to pinpoint her. There’s a lot of mystery to her anyway and I think they wanted to know where she came from but then for it also to have all these other influences there, which I thought was quite interesting and her accent definitely gets stronger towards the end of the series when she goes back to a prison in Russia. I think it comes out stronger because I know when I’m at home, my friends may watch this video and be like, “Why is she talking posh?” Whereas when I go home with my family my accent gets really strong so I think that was another thing that we did.
GD: Was there anything else about your performance that you changed over the course of the first season as you got more comfortable in Villanelle’s skin?
JC: Yeah, I think so. This may sound terrible for an actress to say but I think people will relate to this. I feel like for the majority of the first part of the series, I didn’t quite know who she was and I was still trying to sink into her and find my way with her so definitely as each episode went on I feel like I got to know her more and more. You find yourself naturally going, “She wouldn’t do that,” or, “Actually I feel like she would react in this way.” So the whole process was a learning curve and I think for sure as the episodes went on I got more comfortable and I think Phoebe could see that so as my natural instincts were showing, Phoebe could then write that more into the episodes so we got a real sense of her sense of humor.
GD: What’s your interaction with Phoebe Waller-Bridge on-set?
JC: Phoebe was on-set quite a lot at the start of the series, which was perfect actually, because she knows these characters inside out and I just think she’s so unique and she has a very original direction. She knew these characters and what she wanted from them, so it was perfect when we were starting off and we had her there with her instincts and sometimes you would play a scene and she would say, “Right, now play it the completely opposite way,” which sometimes can throw you a little bit but if there’s anything to learn from Phoebe it’s to not be scared to do something and it not be right. Even if it seems outrageous, try it, and if you fall flat on your face then fine, but you can really make something quite magical by daring to do something and to try something.
GD: Her shows have a unique voice but how does it come across on the page, the scripts you receive?
JC: It really does. When I got Episode 1 when I had my email through about doing the first audition, it may be in the stage directions or it may be that a character gives a certain look, ‘cause I think as well there is so much in this series that isn’t what people say. It’s all the little bits in between, which Phoebe, it is all there on the page. I just remember reading it and thinking it was so refreshing and I laughed. Sometimes you read the script and you may laugh on the inside but I loved it. I thought it was really funny, but then also really dark in the right places.
GD: Now, as an actress do you find that you’re rooting for your character because how else can you play her, or are you always keeping in the back of your mind that this is an evil woman?
JC: No, I’m always rooting for her. I think you have to. I think with whatever character you play, you’re on their side, ultimately. You have to be, I think, anyway. It was just impossible not to be because it was so much fun playing her. I think the one time that I had in the series where I was like, “Villanelle…” was when she killed Bill. And that’s a spoiler, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that. Yeah, I remember seeing that played back after we finished filming and I was like, “Whoa, that was not very nice.” But then after that I got over that pretty quickly. But no, she can be awful but then as an actress to play her was just so much fun so I do find myself excusing her a lot.
GD: A lot of the time in fiction these killers have a code. Do you think that Eve has one, and what is it?
JC: Eve or Villanelle?
GD: Oh, sorry, yes. Villanelle.
JC: Okay. I was gonna say, I don’t know! I think she just does what she wants to do. I don’t know whether she has a code. I think she hates rules and she hates who doesn’t live by anything or anyone influencing her. I think she just lives in the moment and does what she wants to do regardless of the consequences. Clearly she has very little remorse for it, but no, I don’t know whether she does.
GD: You think eventually she plans to settle down and work a more normal job or does she think she’ll probably die in the next few years?
JC: Normal job, no. I think she thinks she’ll never die. I think she sees herself as being invisible. I don’t think she’ll ever have a normal job, but I do think deep down she craves that normality and I think that’s another reason why she is so intrigued with Eve is because she has this husband and this home and this life that I think deep, deep down Villanelle really wants but she really obviously doesn’t allow herself that because of the person that she is, so I think in reality she does and I also think there was a side to her that is Villanelle and there’s a side to her that is Oksana. And I think as the series went on you saw a little bit more of who she was in her previous life. Those prison scenes, she’s just so feral to me and I think that is the Oksana in her. I think Oksana wants to settle down but Villanelle wants to just keep on going doing what she’s doing.
GD: Do you think she could be happy with Eve?
JC: I don’t know. After Episode 8 I think that’s gonna be a big thing for Villanelle to get over. I think especially in that last scene, Villanelle definitely opens herself up and lets her guard down. I don’t know. I love spending time with Sandra on-set so if they do that would be perfect for me.
GD: I find television so crazy these days where I was watching the show where I thought Eve might actually get killed by the end of the first season. Obviously that didn’t happen but how long do you think this can go on where they keep meeting up and not killing each other?
JC: I don’t know, but I was reading an interview actually, one of Sandra’s recently, and I remember her mentioning this when we kind of going through the process of the show and just talking about the characters. She said there’s something very interesting in how the title could be Eve being killed or it could be Eve doing the killing, depending on how you read it and how you watch the series and take the series and I think it’s a really interesting point considering where Eve is from the start of the show to where she is when the show finishes on Season 1. So I don’t know, I’d love to play Villanelle forever so I hope we carry this on for a long time but I do think it is definitely something that I’m intrigued about and I’m excited to see when I get the episodes for the new series because I have no idea where they’re gonna take it next.
GD: Yeah, I can’t tell if the title gives Villanelle more or less than Sandra Oh’s character.
JC: Yeah, I mean, Eve could kick her off the pedestal and she could take over. I don’t know. I can’t see Villanelle letting that happen very easily but I don’t know. We’ll see.
GD: So what do you think would have to happen for Villanelle to finally kill Eve?
JC: I don’t know. For me, Villanelle’s favorite person is Villanelle and the one thing that she values the most out of anything is her own life, so I think it’s quite interesting there are steps that Eve goes through in the final episode. That’s quite significant to Villanelle, I think. What Eve would have to do I don’t know. I don’t know if she would. Depends on how much she likes her, I guess.
GD: And have you read the novellas?
JC: I did. When I got the audition through I had very little time so I listened to them on audiobook but it was also great having Luke [Jennings] on-set a lot of the time, which was awesome. It’s really interesting because Luke has brought this version to life and then Phoebe kind of puts her own spin on things and then once we get to set it’s the actors who bring their own version of it, so it was lovely to have all those people on-set and have everyone’s input.
GD: And what’s different from the books?
JC: Well I think a lot is different from the books. The characters are set up and it sets up the show but then there are a lot of characters that aren’t in the books. There are a lot of storylines that aren’t in the books. I think if people watch the show, they shouldn’t expect the books to be exactly the same. But I’ve seen Luke is actually writing another novella. I don’t know when it’s out but it’s soon, which is exciting. I’m looking forward to reading that.
GD: When I talked to you last year about “The White Princess,” the verdict seemed to be “Thirteen” was still the most challenging role of your career. How about now? Is “Killing Eve,” has that topped it in terms of how difficult it is to play this character?
JC: It’s funny because I just don’t feel like she was difficult at all. I feel like she was a complete joy. It might sound awful but she was. Some people say, “Did you take it home with you? Was it quite harrowing because she does do awful things,” but it wasn’t so much. It was just so much fun. I think I guess another part, there was more physicality to this role than I’ve done before, which again was learning because when you’re shooting scenes with stunts and scenes have to be broken up so then there is the skill of picking up scenes from different stages and jumping back into things when you may be in a heightened emotion so there was things like that that were new to me but I wouldn’t say difficult, no.
GD: So once again you’re doing what seems like a British show but it airs on BBC America so how’s the dynamic for you making a show once again like this in Britain but kind of for the States?
JC: In terms of filming it it’s not much different and it’s funny because now the show’s out I see a lot on Twitter. I get really lovely messages of people and I see reviews and stuff, which is amazing, but I don’t see all the buzz of it like I would if I was at home. But I think obviously the audience is just so much huger, which is different but in terms of making the show there wasn’t an awful lot of difference, I would say. But it will be going to BBC One later this year.
GD: And what’s your take on the ratings growth over the season, where you started small but the audience has just been growing every single week?
JC: Yeah, I’m just so pleased and I think nowadays as well a lot is word of mouth isn’t it? A lot of things that I watch is because my friends told me to watch it. I feel like that is kind of how the world works now, so the fact that we’ve created a little foundation and then they’ve gone out and spread the word and it’s brought more people in with each week is great and I think it’s lovely that the audience are clearly rooting for the characters. I think a lot of what you love about a series a lot of the time are the characters involved in it so I think the fact that people want to see what’s going on and how they’re doing is great.
GD: What do you know broadly about Villanelle’s journey in the second season?
JC: Absolutely nothing. I really don’t. I know that we’re due to start filming in a few months time so that process should be starting soon, of getting scripts and talking through arcs but I don’t know. I just hope she gets her sass back, I think. I hope she gets rid of that fluffy jacket that that awful man gave her when she got out of prison. But no, I’m intrigued. There’s a lot of relationships that have changed a lot in Series 1 and I’m interested to see how they go forward with it in Season 2.
GD: I think it’s good to hear that you’re filming in a few months at least, ‘cause with “Fleabag,” Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s other show, the first season was 2016 and Season 2 is coming in 2019.
JC: Well, she was writing “Killing Eve.” She’s a busy bee. Everyone wants Phoebe Waller-Bridge so yeah, she’s got a lot on. Hopefully we’ll be out soon and people don’t have to wait too long.
GD: Okay, so finally, what do you have in the next few months, then?
JC: Filming for “Killing Eve,” basically. i’m gonna go on holiday. I’m gonna go to Spain like I did last time. I’m gonna go on holiday and then when I come back it’s kind of knuckling down on scripts and stuff for Season 2.
GD: Okay well, we’ll wait for that then. Thanks very much!
JC: Thank you.
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