Jodie Comer. The End We Start From is in cinemas from 19 January
This is the year Jodie Comer becomes a bona fide movie star. Since her Emmy and Bafta-winning role as Villanelle in Killing Eve catapulted her into the big leagues, Comer has become one of the planet’s hottest acting properties.
At every new turn, Comer showcases her remarkable ability to transform and enhances her reputation further. If Killing Eve gave her the platform to explore her range and ability with accents in one incredible role, then Comer’s West End debut in hard-hitting solo drama Prima Facie confirmed she was in it for the long term.
The show transferred to Broadway, netting her a Tony Award to go with her Olivier, as Comer’s powerful performance as a lawyer navigating the misogyny of the legal system from the other side of the bench left audiences spellbound.
Before that, there were rave reviews for the hardcore realism of Jack Thorne’s Channel 4 pandemic drama Help, in which she played a care worker during the Covid crisis alongside friend and mentor Stephen Graham.
A pattern is starting to form around Jodie Comer’s career. Scripts of the highest quality, the very best collaborators, and work that speaks to important issues.
Another starring role in new independent British film The End We Start From confirms her as a talent for the ages.
“Ultimately, it’s a story about motherhood set within the midst of a climate crisis,” says Comer, when talking to The Big Issue via Zoom from London just before a well-earned Christmas break.
The End We Start From, adapted by Alice Birch from Megan Hunter’s novel and directed by Mahalia Belo, is a film of rare, raw power and poetry.
At its heart is Woman, played by Comer – the action moves too fast for us to be properly introduced, the only character with a name is baby Zeb. We meet Woman on the verge of bringing new life into a wild world in which the climate emergency is wreaking havoc in this country.
Extreme weather sees flood waters rising as Woman’s waters break. After giving birth to baby Zeb, Woman and her husband (Joel Fry) are forced to flee the comforts of their beautiful London home.
From there, it is a story of survival. The joy and anxiety of the extraordinary, intimate early days of motherhood are set against a gradual and entirely believable societal breakdown.
“I felt the exploration of that environmental crisis was unique,” says Comer. “We were exploring on a very human level, which really moved me – a lot more than a lot of films we’ve seen that maybe depict these kinds of happenings.”
The dialogue and intimate moments and exploration of Woman’s body were so clear on the page – and I felt so special, being able to do this
This is a depiction of early motherhood like none other in recent times. Raw, visceral, isolating and at times terrifying – with snatched moments of pure joy punctuating the climate chaos all around her.
“Not being a mother myself, I really want women to watch this and see themselves depicted in a truthful light,” says Comer.
“The dialogue and intimate moments and exploration of Woman’s body were so clear on the page – and I felt so special, being able to do this.
“The relationship women have with their body after they have a baby and how they feel transformed and there’s a part of their selves that is lost – we really explore that. And she’s going through all this in the midst of an environmental catastrophe.”
The environmental crisis is not played out in the usual action film way. This feels like it could be set tomorrow. And it could be any one of us. It is up-close and intimate, entirely believable, the logic of the progression from leaving homes and cities as waters rise to finding safer spaces further out (as villages start closing their borders to outsiders), the refuge proving temporary as food scarcity hits, families are split, and people congregate in camps.
There are no major set piece scenes with Big Ben toppling into the Thames to tell the story. Instead, there is an evolving sense of dread as Woman navigates a world in crisis, fiercely focused on her new baby. It will resonate. Loudly. As versions of current global crises are shown on our doorstep.
At one point, Woman is forced to wait for a small boat to take her to a small island offering sanctuary. This film offers multiple new ways to look at the biggest issues in the world we are living in and to question our responses.
“And the baby doesn’t know any different,” adds Comer. “They’re experiencing the world for the first time – all those revelations where everything is so sensory and so new. That provides such relief for Woman in moments, because she can’t help but find joy or ecstasy in a smile or a new noise he’s making.”
For screenwriter Alice Birch, whose previous work includes Florence Pugh’s brilliant breakout film role in Lady Macbeth and BBC One lockdown smash Normal People, this was highly relatable.
“Most of my work is interested in and engaged with women. I read the book just after I’d had my first child,” she says.
“The way motherhood and those early days were articulated in this kind of savage but poetic language, I found really moving.
“To have that told alongside this climate catastrophe felt like a frighteningly realistic portrayal of what that could be if it were to happen tomorrow. This is not some massive disaster film – it’s a bit more banal and soggy.
“I wrote the first draft during the first lockdown with my second tiny baby. So it was quite a heady experience and felt very within reach. Some of the state I was in definitely made it into the draft.”
The Cumberbatch connection
The isolation is punctuated by profound moments of connection. Most compelling is Woman’s encounter with Katherine Waterston as O at a camp, having been forced to separate from her husband.
“With Katherine’s character, it is like another love story – this sphere of her life is one of the biggest ones Woman is going to have. And she meets someone who has this whole new power and skill set,” says director Belo.
“I was wanting to speak to those female friendships that I know and love and how meaningful they are, how integral to my happiness.”
Jodie Comer was already filming when Waterston was cast. But they hit it off.
“Oh my God. We all have those moments, meeting someone so special,” she says, explaining how life imitated art on this film.
“Katherine came in and just brought that energy and spontaneity and was asking so many questions and it was just so beautiful. We got on very naturally, we were able to just play a lot and become really comfortable with each other.”
Their paths also cross with Benedict Cumberbatch, taking a small but pivotal role in the film his company SunnyMarch produced. He may have only filmed for one day, but he left a big impression on Comer.
“It was a Friday, late at night, there was a full moon when we had the dancing scene,” laughs Comer.
“I was definitely getting rid of some demons. Because the shoot was so intense that this is moment of release for the characters, drinking vodka and that split-second of euphoria as they forget where they are.
“And we had only had about seven minutes to shoot it! It was one of those crazy things. We got maybe two takes and were just like dancing around this fire under a full moon.”
Jodie Comer is a proper movie star. She carries this whole film and makes this character real and human. It’s such an emotional, brave, brilliant performance
Belo and Birch cannot talk highly enough of Comer. “It was quite thrilling to have had the chance to work with her,” says screenwriter Birch. “I’m so proud to be anywhere near her with the variety of roles she’s done already. And she’s so fearless.
“She is a proper movie star. She carries this whole film and makes this character real and human. It’s such an emotional, brave, brilliant performance.”
And there’s even more on the cutting room floor.
“I could have used everything,” says Belo. “The quality Jodie was giving in every take was extraordinary. She was so compelling.”
Comer received the script just as she was beginning her run in Prima Facie. As the play progressed, she says, it took over her life.
“That role stuck with me. It only fully left me about a month ago,” she says. “I finally shattered her. I was able to come back – I’ve been away for so long, after the second run of the play I just had this real desire to come home. Your actual personal life is non-existent.
“So when I came back from New York, I was like, I want to be a better friend, I want to be a more present sister, I want to be a better daughter, you know? And now I feel I’ve got my vitality back.”
The issues Suzie Miller’s play raised, however, remain close to Jodie Comer’s heart as she looks ahead to 2024. “It feels very personal to me,” she says.
“I would like to see a change in in the attitudes towards women reporting sexual assault cases and a change in the system of how that’s dealt with in the courts and the prejudices people can have when a woman is standing up, given evidence.
“I’ve explored sexual assault in a couple of my projects now and every year it’s like, ‘Oh, this is so timely,’ you know? It would be so nice to get to a point where it’s not. I find that infuriating. I’m kind of over that being an excuse, for a lot of things.”
The End We Start From comes at the start of a pivotal year for Comer. The delayed release of her next film, The Bikeriders, for which she is already receiving some serious Oscar buzz, means it will miss this year’s awards season. Expect to see Comer in contention in 2025, however.
Jeff Nichols’s film, based on Danny Lyon’s immersive photography project with a biker gang in Chicago in 1968, is another special one – stylish, smart, beautifully filmed and acted. Tom Hardy channels his inner Marlon Brando as founder of The Vandals, while Austin Butler is smokin’ as Benny, his heir apparent.
In a film that foregrounds masculinity and belonging, Comer is our way in as Kathy, who is drawn into the gang as she falls for Benny. For Comer, already a master of many accents, Kathy’s Midwestern drawl was a whole new challenge.
“My character is based on a real woman and I had the audio of her – she’s larger than life and has a very specific voice,” grins Comer. “That was stretching a whole new muscle. Getting to work with Jeff Nichols was a dream. I’m always looking for that feeling within myself where it’s as clear as day that I want to do this, I have to do this.”
Comer wants to do more theatre soon, though after the success of Prima Facie’s immersive one-woman drama, the project will have to be on some scale. She’s been consulting an old Killing Eve co-star.
“I’ve been speaking with Fiona Shaw a lot,” she says. “She’s someone I admire greatly and who has such a wide breadth of knowledge of material. So I’ve been asking her advice and asking what I should be reading.”
Jodie Comer is putting the hours in. She wants to shape the culture as her career moves forward. Every project feels vital. And if she’s being wooed by the Marvel Universe, as rumours suggest, that’s not where her focus is as 2024 begins.
“I’ve so enjoyed dipping into independent film. So many films this year have really resonated with me because they’re so rich and explorative of the stories of everyday people,” she says. “All of Us Strangers just broke last week. And I watched a beautiful documentary called Tish that was so inspiring and insightful. These films explore things on a very human level and move people and provoke conversation in a different way to something on a bigger scale.”
For the first time on The End We Start From, Comer was also an executive producer – and involved at every stage of the film. This is where the real power is in the film industry. And Comer wants to do more of it.
“I’ve got a couple of books I’ve acquired the rights to, things in the very early stages of development,” she reveals.
“Being witness to how this film was made – and developing my own taste, being comfortable with putting my hand up and saying, ‘Guys, this is what I’m thinking, you know, this is my instinct’ – it makes the experience so much richer.
“Especially independent film, when there’s so little money, there’s so little time and sometimes so many opinions. You’ve created this, it feels like your baby because you’ve been on set and been in the trenches with it.
“So learning to take up space in that way, especially as a woman, I feel is so important.”
The End We Start From is in cinemas from 19 January.
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