When asked if she expected the impact that the play, and her performance, would have, Comer replied, "No, no, I think we were all really taken aback by it, actually. But I remember when we did the first preview in London – and this was the first time performing in front of an audience – a lot of it was crying, like very audibly and very quite loud and unashamed, and very guttural."
But maybe what's most remarkable, is that this is the first time for Comer (who recently turned 30) on either a New York or London stage. "I've spoken very kind of publicly, honestly, about the fact that I auditioned a lot for theater," she said, "and a lot of the feedback was, you know, the fact that I wasn't classically trained, hadn't been to drama school. That was a kind of hindrance. So, then I got sent this one-woman play written by Suzie Miller to be on the West End. I was just like, wow, it just seemed like such a gift."
But while Comer may be new to theatergoers, she's a familiar face on British TV, where she has appeared in series since her early teens, including "Remember Me," "Thirteen" and "The White Princess." Even in supporting roles, her expressive face and ability to emote easily leaves an impression. She said, "I met Taylor Swift very briefly once at an awards, and she very kindly came up to me and introduced herself and she said, 'I loved "Doctor Foster"; and I was like, wow, of all the things, it's 'Doctor Foster'? So, you never quite know what it's gonna be for people."
For most people, it's the BBC series "Killing Eve." For four seasons, Comer played Villanelle, a psychopathic Russian assassin obsessed with a British MI6 agent (played by Canadian actress Sandra Oh).
Comer's convincing performance in "Killing Eve," which won her a best actress Emmy in 2019, almost cost her the part in "Prima Facie." Playwright Suzie Miller said she was at first hesitant to pick Comer for the role. "When her name was bought up, I said, 'Oh, no, no. She's great, but no, not her,'" Miller recalled. "And the director said to me, 'Can I just ask why not Jodie Comer?' And I said, 'Well, she's Russian. Why would we cast a Russian actor in a story, a British story?' And they went, 'She's not Russian. She's British. She's from Liverpool!' And so, her and I laugh about that quite often now. I think, 'You know, you did such a good job, you nearly did yourself out of this job!'"
In "Prima Facie," Comer plays Tessa Ensler, a young, scrappy British barrister from a working-class background who has no problem defending male sex offenders … that is, until she herself is assaulted by one of her male colleagues.
When Comer's character goes to court and tries to explain why she didn't fight off her attacker, many in the audience seem to relate, and audibly sob.
Miller said she wasn't expecting the audience's tears, which have happened at every performance. Miller, who worked as a human rights lawyer in Australia, and still lives there, said she wrote "Prima Facie" (a legal term that means self-evident) to highlight just how much the British and American justice systems fail women who bring sexual assault cases.
"The statistics speak for themselves," Miller said. "One in 10 women actually reports a sexual assault. Out of those, I think it's one in 10 that go to court. And out of those, there's a 1.3% conviction rate. I mean, that's astonishing when you think about it."
"Prima Facie" is a demanding, draining one-woman show. Comer is alone on the stage for more than an hour-and-a-half.
Moriarty asked Comer, "This is your first time on Broadway, first time on a London stage – and you pick this play?"
"How do you not?" Comer replied. "I was like, 'I have no idea how I'm going to execute this or how I'm gonna get to a place of being confident and comfortable enough to do this, never mind, like, once, but, like, eight shows a week.' But I was so excited by that journey. Like, if I didn't take this, another actress is going to, and I'm gonna hate myself for the rest of my life!"
Comer had to research the part of a barrister, which is the British equivalent of an American trial lawyer. But she had no trouble playing a scrappy young woman from Liverpool (a blue-collar town north of London) who defies expectations. Liverpool is where Comer also grew up. "I'm definitely scrappy," she laughed. "Yeah, there's a lot of me in her, for sure."
Comer said her parents and younger brother never doubted she'd succeed as a professional actor, even without formal training. "They were just, like, if you're gonna commit, commit. We'll be here for you," Comer said.
And commit she has. Comer has not missed a single performance.
Live theater like this has given her something film and TV never can: "When you are in the theater, when you are performing onstage, it's so immediate," she said. "And it's really transactional in a sense of, you know, you are giving and you are also receiving. It's very much a kind of relationship which I now just adore."
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Story produced by Julie Kracov. Editor: Mike Levine.
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