Naomi Adam

Come on, Comer!

How T.V.’s Jodie Comer is killing it (and Eve) right now- plus promoting Liverpool on a world stage.

It’s the summer holidays. You have 722 minutes to spare, a liking for hybrid television comedy-drama-thrillers, and a desire to follow the exploits of a fashion-conscious, morally-unconscious, hired assassin. What to do? May I humbly suggest binge-watching both boxsets of Killing Eve. It’s an s fest: slick, stylish, sassy, at times shocking, always superbly acted. And, what’s more, the lead’s a Scouser (even if she doesn’t ever quite sound like one).

Yes, Jodie Comer, who plays the series’ depraved, Dolce and Gabbana-wearing psycho Villanelle, hails from Liverpool. In March 1993, as Brookside was filming its infamous ‘Body Under the Patio’ plotline, ickle Jodie was across the city, busy being born. She attended local high school St. Julie’s, spent her Saturdays as a teenager (by her own admission) generally being inept at a Tesco checkout girl gig in West Derby, and only recently moved out of her parents’ residence in Childwall. Parents who, incidentally, are also rooted in the area: her mum and dad work for Merseyrail and Everton F.C., respectively.

Vanilla- nelle. The show’s opening scene.

Comer first gained public recognition for her acting ability in 2013, winning a competition at the Liverpool Drama Festival for a reading commemorating the Hillsborough tragedy. Following this accolade, and some encouragement, she (successfully) auditioned for a part in a B.B.C. Radio play. From there, she transitioned to television, with bit parts in shows like Casualty and Holby City, prior to a breakthrough recurring role as Chloe Gemell in My Mad Fat Diary. Then came her harrowing portrayal of kidnap victim Ivy Moxam in 2016’s Thirteen– unlucky for some, but it earned her recognition from five different acting award bodies, including in the ‘Best Actress’ category at the Baftas. That year (2017) she was unsuccessful, though- curse you Sarah Lancashire. However, fast forward two years and the hefty gong and title are hers; she makes an acceptance speech gushing about the influence of her treasured, Scouse nana. This time, too, nominations translate into a host of awards: Acting High Flyer, Best Entertainer, Television Actress of the Year, all for her swag bag. The part that has landed her the plaudits is, of course, Villanelle in Killing Eve.

Sandra Oh No!: A still from the series.

The series, based upon a quartet of e-novellas written by Luke Jennings, tracks the relationship between M.I.5/6 agent Eve Polastri, and the assassin she has been hired to hunt down, the prolific Oksana ‘Villanelle’ Astankova. Her name is perfectly apt: she’s certainly villanous, but as chic as the style pages of Elle magazine. Missions involve much jet-setting to exotic, far-flung locations, as Villanelle assassinates targets in various metropoles: Vienna, Shanghai, Berlin. (Villanelle, holder of many frequent flyer points courtesy of British Airslays.) What anchors the show, though, is the frisson between Comer and Sandra Oh’s Eve. Theirs is a relationship so nuanced and complex as to have spawned its own Wikipedia page (‘The relationship of Eve Polastri and Villanelle.’). It’s a definite coup for girl power: led by Oh and Comer, it’s topped up by Fiona Shaw in a convincingly R.P. supporting role.

With three strong women at the acting helm, it’s essentially an adult, espionage incarnation of The Powerpuff Girls. Hence, perhaps, the dress. (See picture below.)

It’s Comer, though, who captains this ship. This is not to disparage the others- Korean-Canadian Sandra Oh is by far the more established actress, having starred on screens both small and silver since the eighties, won two Golden Globes as well as, in 2019, hosting the ceremony, and played every role from a dinosaur in The Land Before Time to a doctor in 220 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. Comer, though, has infused her character with a wit and charisma that makes the killer- dare it be said- basically likeable. Each episode is named after a memorable line uttered over the 45 minute running time, and it is little surprise that the majority of them are quotations from Comer’s Villanelle. Take the blase ‘I have a thing about bathrooms’ (1, 5) or the petulant ‘Do you know how to dispose of a body?’ (2, 1). Comer has her comic timing en pointe. This can only strengthen a show reliant upon black humour to offset the grimness and gore. Her ultra-expressive face- like one of those rubberised joke shop dolls- isn’t much of a hindrance, either. In fact, her left eyebrow should probably be up for a Best Dramatic Performance award in the not-too-distant future. It at the very least deserves its own Twitter page.

Villanelle’s duplicity leads to various false accents for each new alias. This plays to Comer’s strength at impersonation, but it’s a weakness in that it masks her true dulcet Scouse tones. What is needed for the third, recently-commissioned series is the assassin taking on cover as a Wag. She could use her actual accent, and justify wearing humungous designer sunglasses. Codename Stabby Clancy?

Often cast by the press as a ‘game of cat and mouse,’ it features a true Liver bird.

In interviews, though, she’s Scouse and proud. And she’s been doing a fair few of those recently. The show’s become a cult hit, a must-see everywhere from New York to New Zealand. It’s not doing too badly over here, either, with the latest episode seen by over 7 million viewers (that’s more than the total population of Scotland).

What’s next for the actress du jour? Jodie is currently off in Lala Land, filming an American science fiction film entitled Free Guy, opposite Ryan Reynolds, which is due to be released next year. She’ll ‘Smell ya later!’ (as Villanelle would say).

BBC America’s Killing Eve is available to (binge-)watch via the BBC iPlayer now.

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