As she receives Variety and the Edinburgh TV Festival’s 2021 Outstanding Achievement Award, the Liverpool-born actor says she’s parking her insecurities about moving from TV to film, and looking ahead to a West End debut she never thought would happen.
While most British actors start out in theater before graduating to the screen sector, Comer’s done it in reverse — though it wasn’t for lack of trying.
“I’ve done a lot of theater auditions throughout the years and a lot of the feedback was often very, very positive, but it was always, ‘She’s not theater trained. She hasn’t gone to drama school,’” Comer tells Variety. “I used to get quite defeated by that, and then I got to a point where I was like, ‘The right thing will come along with a director who believes in me, and who wants to do that extra work — whatever needs to be done.’”
Eventually, that director — “Together” helmer Justin Martin — materialized, along with Suzie Miller’s award-winning play “Prima Facie,” which Comer will headline next spring at the Harold Pinter Theatre — a role she wasn’t entirely sure was hers, even after she was specifically given the script.
“It was just kind of sent to me with no attachment, and no ‘this is on offer’ or ‘you can audition for this.’ I was like, ‘Is this for me? What’s the situation?’ And they said, ‘If you want to be a part of it, we would love to speak with you.’ And, you know, this is something very new to me.”
In some ways, she has her deliciously cruel and comedic Russian assassin Villanelle to thank. The role earned her Emmy and BAFTA awards in 2019, and has allowed people to see her “in many, many different lights.”
Says Comer: “I’ve spent four years with [Villanelle] now, so I feel like I have a really good sense of who she is, and where she’s at. The producers have always made it very clear that they want my input and my ideas — nothing’s off limits.”
Comer is clear, however, that season 4 next year will definitely be the end of the road for “Killing Eve.”
“We never, ever want for that [quality] to drop, or to carry on a story for the sake of carrying on, whether that be greed or whatever the reason. It feels like where we are right now, it feels natural that we’ve come to this point where, now, we can really focus on the ending.”
Comer likely won’t be a part of any spin-offs that may be in the works for the show’s characters. “I’ve by no means been a part of any conversations,” she says.
Most recently, the 28-year-old starred in Channel 4’s searing COVID drama “Help” alongside fellow Liverpudlian Stephen Graham (“The Irishman”).
A 90-minute one-off, “Help” went inside a British care home during the pandemic, exposing the neglect and lack of resources that led to record fatalities. Comer played a nurse who joined the home just prior to the COVID outbreak, while Graham played a young patient with early-onset Alzheimer’s.
“There was something about that experience that I never felt before, because the piece felt bigger than us, and there was no ego,” she explains. “It felt like we were there to serve something greater than us, and hopefully do it in a truthful, authentic and respectful way. It had to really be handled with care.”
The drama, which was so specific to the U.K., was at the other end of a spectrum that’s seen Comer appear alongside Ryan Reynolds in the hit comedy “Free Guy,” and in Ridley Scott’s medieval drama “The Last Duel,” opposite Matt Damon, Adam Driver and Ben Affleck.
“It’s funny because I’ve always had an insecurity of ‘Oh, I’m a TV actress, and I’m never going to do film and film is so other.’ And then I got ‘Free Guy’ and I realized that it’s very much the same — it’s just ginormous. But the way you approach your role is the same, and the people are the same.”
On “The Last Duel,” Comer plays 14th century French noblewoman Marguerite de Carrouges, who is raped by her husband’s friend and gambles with her life to expose the truth. The actor’s performance is the foundational pillar of the movie, and it’s not surprising to see her name increasingly uttered in early Oscars buzz.
The project marked a turning point for Comer, whose imposter syndrome as a relative newcomer in Hollywood slowly dissipated while making the movie, replaced by a recognition that she had, in fact, earned her place.
“We should always be grateful, but I think I’ve spent a lot of my time being like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m lucky to be here,’ like I won a competition kind of thing. And there was something about doing ‘The Last Duel’ where I felt like I’d stepped into myself and took ownership of where I was and what I had done to get there. And that was really nice.”
Of the film’s difficult rape scenes between Comer and Adam Driver’s Jacques Le Gris, the actor describes “an incredibly respectful set.” The night before filming, her and Driver went to the studio to work out the physicality and “spoke a lot about what we needed to get from the scene.”
“The next morning, we came to set, which was very much set up to roll. And the wonderful thing about working with Ridley is he has four or five cameras rolling the entire time. We had both perspectives by lunch, which is unheard of usually for a scene of that size.”
Comer will again team with Scott on Apple Studios’ Napoleon Bonaparte epic “Kitbag,” where she will play Josephine opposite Joaquin Phoenix’s French emperor.
“It’s going to be another huge challenge, but what I love about period dramas is that kind of transformation,” she says. “Even now, doing some costume and hair tests for ‘Kitbag,’ it’s just so exciting because it becomes so much easier to step out of yourself and into somebody else.”
As she further evolves as an actor, Comer is beginning to think more about her work off-screen and the potential to step into a producing role in the future. “I love the idea of being able to take control of that narrative and explore stories that I genuinely believe in and want to be a part of.”
Those conversations are happening, she assures, though it’s going to take time. “You also realize and appreciate the time that goes into these things; they don’t happen overnight.”
In the meantime, Comer says she’d love to do a musical — “I’m not ruling anything out,” she says, when asked whether the said musical would be more of a “Rent” or an “Oklahoma” — as well as an independent movie. “Maybe with a science-fiction element, but something that’s very present day, and rooted in humanity,” she says.