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Jodie Comer: 'I thought I was missing the maternal gene until now'

Perhaps predictably for a woman who won an Emmy, a Bafta, a Tony and a Laurence Olivier Award all before the age of 30, up until recently actress Jodie Comer never spent much time thinking about motherhood. “I just never necessarily felt maternal, like it wasn't a part of me,” she says.

We are meeting in a room at The Corinthia Hotel; Comer breezes in, dressed in a silk pinstripe shirt and chinos. She kicks off her shoes and folds herself into a chair opposite me. She is taller than I expected with the glowing complexion of a well-rested woman, despite the fact that this must be her 50th interview of the day.

Her latest film is post-apocalyptic drama The End We Start From, and Comer plays the lead, a character known simply as ‘Mother’, who gives birth just as a Biblical flood wipes half the UK off the map. The role must have been something like immersion therapy for someone who thought of herself as missing the maternal gene — “yeah, it definitely left me wondering where I’d ever gotten that idea about myself,” she says — because she spends almost the entirety of the film holding a baby or with a baby strapped to her chest.

“We used 15 babies in total,” she explains, “because each could only work for 20 minutes at a time. I think I just realised that the more I surrendered to them, the better because they can create such spontaneity — and obviously they don’t take direction, they do what they want. I think I spent the first week or so trying to fight it, but then realised I was actually at their mercy.” Eventually she says it was like a switch being flicked. “I found myself looking around and appreciating the women in my life in a whole new way. I don’t think it’s spoken about enough, what motherhood takes from you… and how much of yourself you have to give.”

Her latest film is post-apocalyptic drama The End We Start From, and Jodie Comer plays the lead, a character known simply as ‘Mother’ (Signature Entertainment)
Her latest film is post-apocalyptic drama The End We Start From, and Jodie Comer plays the lead, a character known simply as ‘Mother’ (Signature Entertainment)

The film doesn’t shy away from the physical toll of giving birth — including a shot of the baby crowning. “The labour scene was quite prolonged,” says Comer. “So for about two days I had this beautiful, huge prosthetic on from my collarbones to my waist. There was an intimacy coordinator there and she was always checking in about how comfortable I was — she was like, ‘you know, people are going to think this is your body.’ But I just felt like I hadn’t seen birth depicted in that way, the beauty of it but also the brutality and the pain of labour.” And anyway, she says, the prosthetic “felt like a kind of armour”.

The experience hasn’t left her broody, exactly, “but I did find that maternal part of myself, I became more in tune with it and relaxed — but I guess that’s probably also a natural thing that happens as you’re coming into your thirties?”

Comer turned 30 in March last year; at the time she was preparing to take Prima Facie, the one-woman play in which she gave a bone-shaking performance as a barrister who defends clients accused of sexual assault, to Broadway. The performance would take its toll — she’s spoken in the past of the sleep disruption she suffered — but it would also win her the kind of critical acclaim that made her already formidable star (her scene-grabbing Villanelle in Killing Eve won her the Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a drama series in 2019) shine even brighter, particularly in the eyes of Hollywood.

Jodie Comer as Villanelle in Killing Eve (Sid Gentle Films/Robert Viglasky)
Jodie Comer as Villanelle in Killing Eve (Sid Gentle Films/Robert Viglasky)

She’s not yet tempted to capitalise on the stateside spotlight that Prima Facie shone on her, though, by actually making the United States a permanent home. “I just can’t see myself moving to Hollywood,” she laughs. “I loved living in New York for that time period but it’s so non-stop. And I think for me, home is where the heart is — it would be too big a move.” Her native Liverpool is where she yearns for when she’s in the US, she tells me. Though she never went to drama school — and has spoken widely about the “self-doubt and insecurity” she carried with her due to her lack of formal training — her parents were always supportive of her talent and she attended many drama camps in Liverpool. Americans tend to think she’s Scottish because of her softly Scouse accent. “I get that a lot, the Scottish thing. I find that if I’m in the States and I’m doing a chat show or something, I’ll always subconsciously slow myself down. Because I’ve been in situations where people are like, ‘sorry, what?’ But then of course, when I go home I revert back to my child self and it becomes 10 times stronger.”

It’s all smoke and mirrors — literally every aspect of this industry is smoke and mirrors

The resistance to a big move makes sense for a woman who once said that she’d be happy living with her parents forever (in fact, she moved to Hampstead last year). Hollywood in particular seems to hold little allure for Comer. When I ask if any of the awards ceremonies which are currently dominating our cultural landscape are actually fun or glamorous, she laughs: “It’s all smoke and mirrors — literally every aspect of this industry is smoke and mirrors. Where have I had fun? I mean, I love it when I can bring my family but in terms of moments where I’ve actually been able to celebrate, they’re usually in the bit after the ceremony, when you can group off with your people and have a drink or go to your hotel room and order some chips and a bottle of champagne.”

 (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
(Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

She does admit that she’s had some good times at the Golden Globes (famously boozy and raucous). “I did karaoke after the Golden Globes one year, that was pretty fun. I think it all depends on who you’re with — Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a fun person to be with at an awards. She actually put on that karaoke but then never turned up, which is probably the most rock‘n’roll thing I’ve ever heard.”

Comer is hoping to repeat the success of Prima Facie with a similarly muscular performance in The End We Start From. The film depicts a quiet apocalypse; violence and horror are hinted at, rather than directly shown so that most of the jeopardy comes from Comer’s vulnerability as a new mother (with all the physical repercussions that entails) who ends up alone with a newborn, at the mercy of the catastrophic floods, a few baying mobs and a creepy cult leader. It’s a typically demanding performance from Comer, who carries the narrative and ultimately can be thanked for making the film a quietly gripping watch (and one of the few post-apocalypse films that centres a woman’s story without drifting into cliché).

She gravitates towards highly charged roles, she tells me, because “I am very in tune with my emotions, it’s something that I just seek out, you know, I want to be provoked in that way.” It goes all the way back to her earliest acting days. “I remember I did a Drama Festival in Liverpool, where I had to perform a monologue and the monologue that I chose was a piece about the Hillsborough disaster, about a young girl reminiscing on the anniversary of her dad’s death. And I did that when I was 12. Even at that age, my emotions were so readily available. I hadn’t quite learned how to control them, but it was always very present.”

In cinemas from January 19