Playing Dress-up with Jodie Comer
She may look glamorous here, but ask Jodie Comer how she's been dressing during quarantine and she'll readily admit that she favors frump over frivolity. "I'm like a grand-dad," she says in her disarming Liverpudlian lilt. "I like a cashmere jumper, and I like my mom jeans. I wear my New Balance trainers with thick socks. That's how I like to roll."
Comer, 27, has logged on to our Zoom call from vacation in the tropics, where the jungle humidity has added enviable volume to her hair. It's a few days before Joe Biden will formally take the stage as the president-elect, and the actress has been monitoring the contentious election results from afar. Having escaped the U.K. before it went on lockdown due to a surge in the coronavirus, Comer says that in the prior five months she has had plenty of time to lounge around in so-called senior-citizen attire while at home with her family in Liverpool. To maintain her sanity, she would "go crazy" on her Pilates machine and binge-watch Netflix shows, including all three seasons of Ozark and the mindless game show Floor Is Lava. "If you want to consciously kill some of your own brain cells, I would advise this one," she says.
VIDEO: Jodie Comer Transforms from Villanelle to Influencer
And yet quarantine hasn't stopped her from having a Hollywood hot streak. She just finished shooting Ridley Scott's historical epic The Last Duel with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in Dublin, while Free Guy, the gaming-versus-reality action/rom-com in which she stars opposite Ryan Reynolds, is slated to be released later this year. Her audition for the latter came the day after she had wrapped Season 2 of Killing Eve, the highly addictive BBC America drama that garnered her lead-actress statuettes at the BAFTAs and the Emmys for her portrayal of the stylish assassin Villanelle. (So demure is Comer that during her Emmy acceptance speech, she announced to the crowd that she had told her parents not to make the trek to L.A. because she didn't think it was her time.) As a TV actress, Comer admits that crossing over into film was initially daunting, especially when it came to doing her own stunts for Free Guy. But then Reynolds passed on some invaluable advice that has resonated with her. "He said, 'Don't be scared to look stupid,'?" she recalls. "Try that thing that you may think, 'Oh, is this going to be too much?' Because sometimes it will be, and it's fine, and sometimes you'll find a genius moment that will inspire others to do something differently."
Comer presents herself as an ordinary girl who has been given the opportunity to do extraordinary things, a theme that has been a constant throughout her life. She was brought up in northwest England by a sports-massage therapist dad who tends to soccer players and a mom who works for a transport company. With no formal drama training, Comer honed her mimicry skills by impersonating stars on TV. "Me and my dad were always ad-libbing and doing accents," she says. Ironically, she credits being dumped by her friends from their talent-show dance group when she was 12 as the reason she has any success at all. Comer had left on vacation with her parents when her school friends cut her from their Chicago-inspired routine. Though Comer was distraught, her mom persuaded her to perform a monologue written by a local playwright about the Hillsborough disaster, a fatal stampede at a 1989 soccer match where 96 people were killed at the contest instead. "Sometimes I would cry when I was introducing it," says Comer. "My teacher was like, 'Whatever you have there is amazing, but you need to learn to control it!'" After the performance, the teacher put her forward for her first professional role on BBC Radio, and not long after that she was racking up TV credits in cop shows and beyond.
Those kind of sliding-door moments stick in Comer's brain. Like her kismet first encounter with Killing Eve creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge at the BAFTAs in 2017. Comer had been nominated for her role as Ivy Moxam in the crime drama Thirteen that year, although there was absolutely no doubt that the queen of the night was Waller-Bridge, who'd picked up her first BAFTA for her hit show Fleabag. Waller-Bridge walked into Comer's hotel room while she was hosting an unofficial after-party. "I just declared my love for her," says Comer. "That's how we met initially. She had a much bigger, swisher hotel room, so everybody eventually moved there because there was more room for dancing."
Months later Comer auditioned for Killing Eve, which was created and initially written by Waller-Bridge. "And I was like, 'Oh god!' I thought back to everyone being drunk, and I was like, 'Was that a help? Was that a hindrance?'" Comer gives an exaggerated wince. "Actually, I think it can be helpful sometimes, because you are not walking into a room where everyone's arms are folded, waiting for you to give the performance of a lifetime. It took away the stress a little bit."
As we all now know, the creative alchemy between the pair resulted in one of the most audacious and seductive psychopathic lady killers ever to stalk the small screen in a Molly Goddard dress. "The great thing about creating Villanelle, as Phoebe had written her, was that her tendencies and behaviors were very clear," Comer says. "But then as we were filming, I was bringing in elements of myself." Among them are Comer's hilariously gymnastic facial expressions. "When Phoebe was watching the dailies, she'd write them into the script a little bit, so it felt like a collaboration. I didn't go to drama school, so techniques, I know very little of," says Comer with a laugh. "For me, it's always just been instinct."
Oh, the joys of Killing Eve: the sexually charged interplay between Villanelle and Eve (played by Sandra Oh), the investigator pursuing her; the pitch-dark writing; the jokes. And for fashion lovers, the heroing of enviable pieces from fashion labels like the Vampire's Wife, Loewe, La DoubleJ, and more. Comer's favorite look was the geometric brocade Dries Van Noten suit and Dr. Martens boots she wore to kill the head of MI5 security in a Berlin nightclub in Season 1.
Off-screen, Comer's "stick to what you know" normcore sartorial mien means she is happily under the wing of veteran stylist Elizabeth Saltzman when it comes to all things red carpet.
"She makes everything just so much fun," says Comer. "Those events are quite intimidating. You are going out there for everyone to say whether you look hot or not. That whole concept is a little bit..." she pauses for an eye roll worthy of Villanelle. "Depressing."
For this shoot, Comer was game to play around with the concept of a fashion influencer trapped inside during the pandemic. This translated to looking fully made up while shooting selfies from every possible angle. "It's OK to poke fun at ourselves and realize what we're all like on social media sometimes," she says with a laugh. "You know, the vanity and the absurdity of it all." Comer, who confesses that she's too lazy for the upkeep of makeup but has always been dedicated to skin care, was recently named the ambassador of the high-end vegan and cruelty-free brand Noble Panacea. During quarantine, though, she relished the freedom of taking Zoom calls while still in her pajama bottoms with only a little bit of eyebrow gel and concealer if necessary. Meanwhile, "my roots were down to the tips of my ears, so I looked a little bit like a skunk."
As her fame grows, so does Comer's awareness of things that she'd rather keep to herself, like her newish relationship with American lacrosse player James Burke, which she nurtured through lockdown and long distance by necessity. "I couldn't fly to the States. And I still can't. It was one of those things. I feel like, with anything, if you want something enough, you can make it work. So, yeah, just millions of FaceTimes," she says.
Comer admits that she never could have anticipated becoming a target of cancel culture when a Twitter storm erupted back in July over her boyfriend's supposed Republican allegiances. Attacks were launched about how Republicans weren't compatible with the fluid sexual identity of her famous TV persona or Comer's own personal efforts to support the LGBTQIA+ community. Trying to untangle the confusing web of rumor and unsubstantiated allegations leveled at her made for some unedifying online reading. "It was really shocking; it was the first time I had ever been dragged into something like that," says Comer. "And it wasn't just me; it was my family. I had seen the absurdity of what I was being accused of, and what my partner was being accused of. I decided for my own health that I was not going to try and convince these people otherwise. I just wasn't going to do it."
Overall, she feels the experience was a wake-up call to tune out the social-media noise. "The biggest lesson for me this year was: I know who I am."
As our Zoom interview comes to an end, talk turns back to Killing Eve's upcoming fourth season. (Yes, it's happening, people!) How does Comer think Villanelle would have survived quarantine?
"Well, I imagine she would be in her apartment, in a complete mess," she says. "Deliveries everywhere, trying to fill some sort of void. Or she would have gotten out to an exotic place. But probably, just like everybody else, she'd be in the house, on the sofa, in pajamas, crumbs all over her, with reality TV on."
Photographs by Charlotte Hadden. Styling by Elizabeth Saltzman. Hair by Sam McKnight for Premier Hair. Makeup by Val Garland for Streeters. Manicure by Rebecca Jade Wilson for The Wall Group. Prop Styling by Julia Dias for The Wall Group. Production by Susannah Phillips for Truro Productions.
For more stories like this, pick up the January issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Dec. 18.