Jodie Comer talks difficult 'Last Duel' scenes, living with her parents
The Emmy-winning 'Killing Eve' star and 'Free Guy' breakout stars in Ridley Scott's new epic about sex, swords and power in 14th century France.
When Jodie Comer was 12 years old, she tried out for the annual drama festival in her native Liverpool, England. It was her first foray into acting outside the classroom.
"My drama teacher was entering people from our drama class, and she was like, 'do you wanna do it?' I was like, 'yeah, OK!'" says Comer. "It was just an opportunity to put myself in a competition and win a medal, honestly."
She wound up getting the medal, after performing a monologue about the Hillsborough disaster, a tragedy at a football match in Liverpool in 1989 that resulted in 97 deaths. That sent Comer on her acting path, and while there are still prizes, these days they're much bigger.
Comer won an Emmy in 2020 for her breakthrough role as a psychotic assassin on the deliriously quirky British spy series "Killing Eve," and this summer she hit box office gold in the hit action comedy "Free Guy" — worldwide gross $327 million — starring opposite Ryan Reynolds as a video game developer and a character inside a video game world.
Friday brings "The Last Duel," Ridley Scott's 14th century swords and shields epic, in which she stars alongside Matt Damon, Adam Driver and Ben Affleck. Comer's brave performance has put the actress in the conversation for this year's Oscars — a far way from her local Liverpool drama festival, but the latest step on her journey.
Comer plays Marguerite de Carrouges, who becomes the subject of a heated he-said, she-said accusation of rape in 1300s France. The film features a pair of intense depictions of sexual assault, told from two different perspectives, which Comer says were handled extremely delicately on-set by co-star Driver and director Scott.
"When we were shooting those scenes, as soon as (Scott) yelled 'cut,' he told everyone to get out of the room, and the three of us just kind of sat in there and discussed what it was that we'd found," says Comer, on a Zoom call over the weekend from New York. "And then of course we had to shoot it from either perspective."
Marguerite's viewpoint was shot first, in which she's clearly the victim of rape, followed by that of Driver's character, who takes Marguerite's protests as playful come-ons. While "The Last Duel" takes place 600 years ago, the trick of the film is the parallels it draws to today's sexual politics in the #MeToo era.
Comer says between the two versions of the scene, establishing the truth with her character allowed her to pivot and think about how the individual movements she made could be misconstrued as invitations in the eyes of her attacker. While difficult to film, Comer found the end result of the experience professionally satisfying.
"(Filming) emotional things, and things in regards to rape in particular, there's always a sensitivity to them, and you feel vulnerable and very exposed," she says. "But I feel like when you handle them correctly, you feel incredibly fulfilled afterwards."
She's able to draw parallels between that first monologue she did and the wrenching "Last Duel" scenes, and the relationship she's able to form with affecting material.
"When I did that first piece, I was crying before I introduced my name," Comer says. "It was always at the surface (with me), and I've always connected with those kinds of emotions."
"The Last Duel" was filmed both before and after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic; shooting started in February 2020 in France and Ireland and shut down a month later, as the virus halted Hollywood productions worldwide. Filming resumed in September under strict COVID protocols.
In between, Comer lived with her parents in Liverpool, and cherished the time she got to spend back home.
"I get on very well with my family, so I was lucky that I got to be with them," says Comer, 28, who is two years older than her little brother, Charlie. "We were all forced to make the best out of the situation that everyone was dealt, and I definitely got a lot of quality time with my family, and with myself."
Growing up in the '90s in England — "I was mad about the Spice Girls," Comer says, graduating from early Baby Spice fandom to become more of a Ginger Spice gal — Comer was always drawn to television. Along with her father, Jimmy, she impersonated the broad regional accents she heard on commercials on TV, collecting a portfolio dialects she could call on at any time. It was done for a laugh, but it was practice that would later come in handy.
"When I was going to auditions and it was like, 'can you do a Yorkshire accent?' I was kind of like (snaps fingers), 'OK!'" she says. "I wasn't so nervous."
Comer started acting in British TV series by age 15 and worked steadily in TV for years, including roles on British soaps and on an episode of "Law & Order: UK." Her profile rose in 2016 when she played a kidnapping victim in the series "Thirteen," which earned her a BAFTA nomination.
Then came "Killing Eve" in 2018, in which she stars opposite Sandra Oh and gets to try on all sorts of over-the-top accents and outfits. Comer is currently filming the show's fourth and final season.
Her profile rose following "Free Guy's" massive success, but Comer hasn't noticed much change in her day-to-day life, she says, especially while COVID is still hanging around and keeping people more tied to their bubble.
"I'm being very well behaved and I don't leave the house a whole lot," Comer says. "Which I've also kind of embraced through the last year, and I'm a little bit more quiet now."
While that medal was part of the initial allure of acting, Comer says awards are no longer the draw for her — although if they happen, that's a nice bonus.
"I'm not sitting here and saying awards aren't great, because I think you can see from my reactions that when I get one that I'm really happy. It's just not what I think of when I'm making something," she says. "Where I get my fulfillment is when I'm on set. That's what fills me up, fully. And if there's a cause for celebration after that, then I will welcome it."
'The Last Duel'
Rated R: for strong violence including sexual assault, sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language
Running time: 153 minutes
In theaters Friday