“I will throw my hands up and say it is something that has definitely crossed my mind. How about you?”
Yup. Guilty as charged. Jodie Comer is talking about the opening scene of Killing Eve in which her character Villanelle first captivated viewers with her joyously amoral antics. In a Viennese cafe, Villanelle casually knocks ice cream over a young child – after first practising her skills at mirroring psychosocial behaviour – with such impish delight. Cool, calm, calculated and enthralling.
After getting us onside with this vanilla villainy, Villanelle returns to Paris, taunts her elderly neighbour on her staircase, and is next seen murdering a man with a hairpin. Her elderly victim underestimates Villanelle, assuming the young woman waiting in his room is his birthday gift. Another theme of the series writ large, and we are still in the opening 15 minutes.
Every episode fresh, inventive, subversive, stylish, substantial and surprising
In a fine year for television, Killing Eve stands head and shoulders above the competition. Every character a delight – fully rounded, witty, unusual, real. Every line unexpected, coming directly out of leftfield. Every scene liable to turn on a sixpence. And every episode fresh, inventive, subversive, stylish, substantial and surprising.
At its heart is a story of mutual obsession between killer and detective. And if Sandra Oh’s magnificence as bored, underappreciated, chaotic, perpetually hungry, brilliant British intelligence operative Eve is so far picking up more award nominations, Jodie Comer’s breakout performance and subsequent rise to stardom as Villanelle has been startling.
“It was so crazy. And wonderful. It is lovely there is such a buzz. I have never been part of a show that has had such an enormous response,” says Comer, who makes time to talk to The Big Issue although she is in the final week of filming series two of Killing Eve. During our conversation her accent migrates from somewhere near Villanelle’s Russian to Comer’s native Liverpudlian.
In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.
“Even after it was a hit in America, the pessimist in me was saying, what if the Brits hate it? But they didn’t. They loved it. Even in my family – I can tell they genuinely love it and it’s not ‘We’ll have to watch this because our Jodie’s in it.’ My dad has watched it so many times.”
At 25, Comer was already 10 years into her acting career and had a Bafta nomination for Leading Actress to her name for Thirteen in 2016. Yet Killing Eve, developed for television by Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge, still felt like an overnight success story.
One brilliant role – with Villanelle described by Waller-Bridge as an “impish, hilarious, predatory, fearless, childish, terrifying, upbeat, murderous rascal” – and one dazzling, career-making performance and Comer has the world at her feet. From nonchalantly pirouetting around Paris in an out-there Molly Goddard creation on screen as Villanelle to front row at the designer’s show at London Fashion Week. This has been Jodie Comer’s year.
“It has been an amazing experience. I feel like I grew up a lot this year. I don’t know if it was turning 25, but I feel like I grew up a lot. And I think I am finding my voice. With my work and personally,” she says.
“So I don’t think my life has changed in a drastic way. But I definitely sense that shift in my career. I sense that more people recognise me, for sure. But they are so polite and love the show so much. It has been lovely. And I feel like people in America have seen my work now. And working in America would be niiiice!”
Now the challenge is to navigate the pressures that come with the spotlight.
“It is a funny one. I have always had this feeling, like why would anyone care what I think about anything? You never want to appear self-righteous. But I’m slowly realising the importance of the power you have when you have a social media following in bringing the light on issues that I feel are important.”
So what is Comer’s Big Issue for 2019? It turns out to be something unexpected, but that comes from the heart – a road safety campaign calling for old tyres to be outlawed. Labour MP Maria Eagle’s bill was blocked by the government for the seventh time last month.
“There is a campaign called Tyred which I am so passionate about,” says Comer. “It is about the age of tyres. There is no restriction on coach tyres. A few years ago, a young lad called Michael Molloy who we grew up with and who played music in a bar where we live was on his way home from Bestival when a tyre blew on the coach. He was only 18.
“It killed him, Kerry [Ogden, 23] and the driver, Colin [Daulby, 63]. And Frances, Michael’s mum, has been fighting to get legislation in place. Speaking to Frances helped me realise that if you have a following, and make a few more people aware of what is going on, you can help.”
Can we expect a more activist future from this rising star?
“It is something I am still getting used to. But it is another part to being in the public eye or whatever you call it, that you can do good by even sending a tweet. It takes no time from my day but the impact it can have is huge. It is something I am more conscious of now and want to be more active on.”
Recently, though, Comer has had her hands full on series two of Killing Eve. She’s giving little away, but is full of praise for Emerald Fennell (Patsy Mount in Call The Midwife), who has taken over from Waller-Bridge as lead writer.
“The show on the whole does have a different energy,” she says. “Which I think is important. But it has the same humour and dark moments.”
You relate to her in ways you wouldn’t admit to. We all have these dark corners of our minds
That’s good news for fans. Villanelle will continue to surprise and slay audiences and victims alike.
“What I like about Villanelle is she makes people question their own morals. You relate to her in ways you wouldn’t admit to. We all have these dark corners of our minds – Phoebe just brought them forward into the light and we have to face it.
“And maybe this is just because I am a woman, but another thing that is exciting about Villanelle is that she doesn’t use her sexuality. She is never in six-inch heels and a tight catsuit luring men in through her sexuality.
“She is good at her job. She knows she is good at her job. She is creative. She is very witty – she is all these things usually missing from past female assassin roles probably because they are always written from a man’s perspective. Phoebe, who is all these things – intelligent and absolutely hilarious – has incorporated all of it into this person.”
Comer has one week left playing this fearless rascal (until series three, anyway). One week before a longed-for return to Liverpool to watch Glow on Netflix and Come Dine With Me on Channel 4, or kick back listening to her favourite new band Rhye. But before we leave, one last question: what gift would you buy for Villanelle, Jodie?
“Oh my God! What would I get Villanelle for Christmas? Oh gosh. I feel like this is a question I need to think about. Can I come back to it? She has everything she needs. But maybe, and this is a crappy present, but maybe I would buy her the Headspace app for her phone.”
So all our friendly neighbourhood killer needs is a mindfulness and meditation app to address the loneliness of the long-distance assassin?
“Yes! She could put it on and chill for 10 minutes whenever she needs to. Otherwise food. Villanelle can never have too much food!”
Series one of Killing Eve is available on iPlayer.
Watch it immediately.