Wonderland.

JODIE COMER

On playing Killing Eve‘s psycho assassin Villanelle.

Killing Eve actress Jodie Comer on the cover of Wonderland Winter 18/19 floral top

Top PRADA Earrings BULGARI

Killing Eve actress Jodie Comer on the cover of Wonderland Winter 18/19 floral top
Top PRADA Earrings BULGARI

The veteran skill of Sandra Oh and the razor wit and intricate plots of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s writing formed an unshakeable foundation for Jodie Comer, but it was her riveting, mesmeric performance in Killing Eve that supercharged the show’s success.

I experience a career first while I’m with Jodie Comer; we argue. Admittedly it’s not quite an exchange of acidic insults, but rather a painfully British display, swatting each other’s debit card-holding hands away, jousting with plastic to foot the bill for breakfast. If one of us didn’t surrender, I fear the next step would have been chasing the bewildered waiter around the café, so I meekly slip my card back into my wallet, defeated.

The 25-year-old actor has these features of instant-familiarity about her. She leans over a plate of eggs to nudge me on the wrist for emphasis when she remembers details of anecdotes. We chat about the frenemy-fabulous The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills long after my dictaphone is switched off, even though Comer should be on her way to spin class. And before it’s even switched on, we compare notes on how living in London can feel like a fancy holiday when home home is a little further north.

Liverpudlian Comer is kind of on holiday, though. Albeit a hard-working one. She’s staying in manicured west London while she films the second series of the BBC America smash hit, Killing Eve. That means she’s had half a year exploring the cast iron-gated bright-white blocks of W11 between scenes, but the postcode that’s been the reserve of the Beckhams and Elton John (and more excitingly, to me, Absolutely Fabulous’ fictitious Eddie) hasn’t convinced her to move out of mum and dad’s just yet.

“I can’t leave!” She squeaks, laughing, her hometown accent perhaps sandpapered smoother but plainly still there, “I get to work away here for six months, so the only place I really want to be when that’s over is with my mum at home in Liverpool.” Her baby brother’s only just moved out, and the priest from the parish of her dad’s work still writes her letters detailing where he sees the humanity in each of the characters she plays. It’s easy to see why she’s reluctant to say goodbye permanently.

Comer’s never needed to move away either, swapping the stereotypical drama school route for lived experience on set through a decade of minor roles in British institutions like Casualty, Waterloo Road and Holby City. “When I was younger, I was like: ‘Mum, I’m moving to London and I’m going to musical theatre college and I’m going to be in the West End.’” She smiles in retrospect, “I admire people who do it, but it sounds so intense, drama school, that 9-7 every day of someone drilling something into me… The thought of that wasn’t something that I wanted. I think a lot of what makes people brilliant is their quirks and their flaws.”

Killing Eve actress Jodie Comer on the cover of Wonderland Winter 18/19 coat black and white
Killing Eve actress Jodie Comer on the cover of Wonderland Winter 18/19 blue jacket

(LEFT) Top STYLIST’S OWN Blazer and skirt FENDI Jewellery BULGARI
(RIGHT) Top STYLIST’S OWN Jacket MIU MIU Earrings BULGARI

Killing Eve actress Jodie Comer on the cover of Wonderland Winter 18/19 coat black and white
Top STYLIST’S OWN Blazer and skirt FENDI Jewellery BULGARI
Killing Eve actress Jodie Comer on the cover of Wonderland Winter 18/19 blue jacket
Top STYLIST’S OWN Jacket MIU MIU Earrings BULGARI

Instead she went to dance and drama every Saturday, which was half because of a genuine love the arts, half because it was an excuse to spend a sixth day a week with her friends. The same friends — one being her cousin, and another a remaining best mate today — bumped her out of the school talent show routine to Chicago’s “Cell Block Tango” while she was on holiday. Having recently won first place performing a monologue on the Hillsborough tragedy at Liverpool Drama Festival, Comer decided to revive her reading on stage at school once more instead.

“When I introduced that monologue I was already crying,” she tells me. “I remember my drama teacher saying, ‘You need to learn how to control it.’ I always really felt things quite deeply… Then a couple of years later, by chance the BBC sent through a request because they were looking for a 13-year-old to play the lead role in a play. She sent me and another girl from my year. That was my first ever audition and that was the first role that I got… Then I had an agent and everything snowballed from there. So it was traumatic at the time, but a blessing in disguise.”

Years of steady work — considering Comer was still a teenager — followed, until in 2013 she won her first major recurring role in the endearingly awkward and honest E4 sitcom about sex, body image and mental health, My Mad Fat Diary. Two years later, she was cast as perhaps her best known character bar her current, playing the “other woman”, Kate Parks in the thrilling, visceral drama, Doctor Foster. Then came Killing Eve.

“Did you enjoy it?” Comer asks me. I think I let out an involuntarily eye roll. The show has dominated every pub, office and dinner table conversation I’ve had in the month leading up to our meeting. People don’t “like” Killing Eve; during its run, it became an all-out countrywide obsession. Every twist in the eight-part spy drama was followed by another turn, with characters’ lives connecting in a thick cobweb of links across countries, with muddled, hidden identities and histories.

Comer plays the manipulative and magnetic quick-witted assassin, Villanelle, whose job funds her life of luxury dressed in designer and based out of a Parisian apartment. The kind of lifestyle to kill for. Hired by the (mostly) faceless organisation “The Twelve” to traverse the globe, shes strikes out targets in brutal, feral murders, charming them with flawless accents foreign to her native Russian tongue. The series was written by the newly-instated national treasure, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, translated for screen from Luke Jennings’ Codename Villanelle novellas. Supplemented with a dose of what is Waller-Bridge’s now signature dark humour and addictively gut-churning bluntness, Villanelle is a mastermind hitman who will steal your heart, then stab it.

Killing Eve actress Jodie Comer on the cover of Wonderland Winter 18/19 in black dress
Killing Eve actress Jodie Comer on the cover of Wonderland Winter 18/19 black dress
Killing Eve actress Jodie Comer on the cover of Wonderland Winter 18/19 black dress pose

Dress MOLLY GODDARD Jewellery BULGARI

Killing Eve actress Jodie Comer on the cover of Wonderland Winter 18/19 in black dress
Dress MOLLY GODDARD Jewellery BULGARI
Killing Eve actress Jodie Comer on the cover of Wonderland Winter 18/19 black dress
Killing Eve actress Jodie Comer on the cover of Wonderland Winter 18/19 black dress pose

“At first, I was really trying to find Villanelle,” Comer admits. “I did really cling to Phoebe, because Phoebe had such a clear idea of who she thought [Villanelle] was. As the show went on and I found my feet with her more, the things that I found, Phoebe picked up on… She’s brilliant and she’s lived and breathed these characters for years. The tone of the show is very specific and all those humorous moments in very dark places was something I really had to get my head around and throw myself into… A lot of the funny moments were in the script, as I got more confident I found little things myself, so it was definitely a team collaboration.”

Comer’s counterpart in the show, Sandra Oh plays the titular Eve, a disgraced MI5 agent who’s recruited by MI6 to help identify, and ultimately try to incarcerate Villanelle. With a marriage gone stale and a mystery unfolding, Eve’s drive to trace Villanelle’s every move skitters from the fact it’s her job, to becoming a distraction from her home life, until things get personal when Villanelle kills Eve’s friend and colleague, Bill. As Comer puts it, Villanelle is “bold and brash” and instead of retreating, the investigation turns into a dance; a deep fascination within each woman about the other.

“Everyone thought they were going to start making looove,” Comer says in a mock-Barry White bedroom voice, explaining a scene in the show’s season one finale. The pair never profess any sexual attraction to each other explicitly, so the audience is left to decipher their stance, whether it’s a relationship built on passionate infatuation, or just plain old jealousy and intrigue, with an admittedly psychopathic twist. “The ultimate question is, these women think that they want each other, maybe,” she continues, “but what would actually happen if it was just them left together? Can that happen, for either of them? The stakes are really high.”

It’s a shame that a trio of women powering a show feels like notable news, rather than the norm, but Comer agrees Eve’s success lies with the formula. “It’s very nuanced and I think if a man had written it, there wouldn’t have been those nuances,” she says, explaining that when she first got a copy of the script and saw the character description “assassin”, she nosedived into the patriarchal tropes we’ve classically been fed, lycra costumes and all. “I automatically thought of Charlize Theron; catsuit kind of super-sexy,” she tells me sheepishly, “I shouldn’t have, knowing that Phoebe was attached to it, but I just saw assassin and panicked. Then I read the episode and it went against everything we’ve seen previously on screen, everything that I thought in my own mind.”

Say the word spy and you’ll summon images of 007, or mackintoshes with the collar popped, eyes peering over a newspaper. In Oh’s Eve, we see a woman disillusioned with the hand life has played her, so starved of excitement and empowerment in both love and her career, she might just be envious of the woman who’s supposed to be her enemy. Villanelle on the other hand — the assassin — loves pushing the limits of life as much as she seems to thrive off of determining death, playing with fire and teasing her chaser, even breaking into Eve’s home and waiting for her in one episode, so desperate to face the woman whose attention she’s holding and witness it for herself. Hardly a super sleuth in the shadows. “Villanelle is strong, but she’s also weak and she has a lot of flaws,” Comer agrees. “I think being able to portray that and explore that as an actress is what’s strong. Women can tend to be one-dimensional and they’re usually there for the purpose of the man leading the story. Here we have two women who are completely fascinated by and obsessed with each other. I think it’s really refreshing.”

Killing Eve actress Jodie Comer on the cover of Wonderland Winter 18/19 check coat
Killing Eve actress Jodie Comer on the cover of Wonderland Winter 18/19 red coat

(LEFT) Top STYLIST’S OWN Blazer and skirt FENDI Jewellery BULGARI
(RIGHT) Top and jacket CALVIN KLEIN 205W39NYC Earrings BULGARI

Killing Eve actress Jodie Comer on the cover of Wonderland Winter 18/19 check coat
Top STYLIST’S OWN Blazer and skirt FENDI Jewellery BULGARI
Killing Eve actress Jodie Comer on the cover of Wonderland Winter 18/19 red coat
Top and jacket CALVIN KLEIN 205W39NYC Earrings BULGARI

The pattern continues for season two, but with a new writer, Emerald Fennell. “[She’s] actually really good friends with Phoebe,” Comer explains. “Of course at first I thought, ‘Oh god!’ Because it’s Phoebe’s baby – you latch onto this person because that’s who you’ve found this with. But we wanted to fully support Emerald and focus on the next story.” Waller-Bridge remains intrinsically linked to the show, staying on board as executive producer. “It’s been amazing,” she continues, “there’s been a lot of meetings and sitting down to talk about how we feel where our characters are and where they’re going to go. It’s been great and the humour is still there, all those little elements are still in the script.”

One major element that remains in season two is danger, naturally. The murder scenes are so far removed from Comer’s reality, she tells me they’re everyone’s favourite days on set. There’s a particularly gory kill in the first series that I explain sends my stomach swirling, when Villanelle jumps onto the back of a woman and bites her in the neck Twilight-style. “It was so fun!” Comer laughs, “Those scenes always get broken up because there are stunts in them… I’ve seen a clip from this series — a stunt that we had — and it’s so good. What can seem like a slow day, when everyone edits it, it’s just so brilliant… With the kills in this show, they’re quite creative, and some of them are amusing. They’re a little bit out of the box and I think that’s what makes them fun. They’re still shocking.”

Comer’s insistent no-one wants to hear spoilers, finding that people prefer to watch the finished product themselves in all its barefaced bloody glory, but she says after so much action in the first season, the second concentrates on the emotional fallout. “I think there was an understanding from all of us that we know our characters a little bit more. There’s a big shift in energy because of course a lot happened in series one, relationships were really tested. I think that’s what’s been really fascinating to find in filming, the audience will realise this is a second step in a journey, because these women can’t just be following each other round for the rest of their lives.”

“One thing we’re exploring is Villanelle’s emotions,” she explains, “we see that she has whatever these feelings are for Eve, and how she processes that and deals with the things that she actually may feel. Obviously we pick up series two where we left off and she was in a pretty bad situation, so it’s her finding herself out of that.”

With the next series airing in both America and the UK in 2019 — though official dates are still tightly under wraps — Comer’s already on the lookout for her next project. “What I’ve definitely sensed about Killing Eve going out is that people are wanting to have conversations with me, whereas beforehand, people were like, ‘Who is this girl?’ Now there’s material out there that people have watched and really enjoyed… I’d love to do film, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. And I’d love to do theatre… I think it’s really important to refresh my brain and go into a different person. I love Villanelle but I definitely do want to explore different people.”

Acting is Comer’s form of introspection, teaching her a little more about herself with every role. “Every day we suppress our emotions, we don’t want to show our emotions, we might feel embarrassed about something and we try and hide it,” she says. “What I love about going into filming is I could be dancing all day, I could be crying, I could be laughing; everything is about feeling and being true to how you feel. There’s something really fascinating that I find about that.” Perhaps that’s why even now, under the spotlight Killing Eve has cast on her, Comer is so familiar and free. Unlike many who are faced with fame, she’s unpicking who she is instead of pretending she’s already the finished product. As she determines what defines her, it’s going to be just as fascinating for us as it is already for her.

Taken from the Winter 2018/19 issue; out now and available to buy here.

JODIE COMER