In the piece prima face, Jodie Comer stands alone onstage for the entire duration of the 100-minute show, beginning as a brash, bloated lawyer, then transforming into a quieter, more vulnerable woman trying to find justice for herself in the justice system that had her before supported. .
Before making her West End debut in the play last year, the kill Eve star says she hadn’t appeared on stage (apart from a play at a “very, very small theatre” in Scotland when she was 16 years old). And so taking on this marathon role required not only intense dedication and memorization, but also a recalibration of her acting style to emote in front of an 800+ seat theater, rather than on camera.
Written by Suzie Miller, the drama stars Comer as Tessa Ensler, a talented young lawyer who defends individuals accused of sexual assault and then goes through the justice system as a rape victim herself. Comer has played Tessa on the West End since April 2022 (where she won the Olivier Award for Best Actress) and has now carried the role to Broadway for a 12-week run that began in April. A year later, she says the role had a major impact on her life.
“I realized last year I was pretty scared about a lot of things, especially in my ability to do this,” Comer said. “And I think through this experience I’ve actually been able to turn that into a sense of confidence, which is a really nice feeling.”
Once she’s made it through the last eight weeks of the run, the Free guy star says she’s open to more theatrics, but notes she’s “intrigued to see” what kind of role could bring her back, after starring in such a challenging, yet “exciting” play.
Comer, who has been nominated by Tony for her portrayal, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about why she decided to take on the role, how she prepared for it, and how it changed over the year.
What did you think when you were first approached to take on this role?
I thought this was powerful in every sense of the word. I wasn’t actually sure if I should audition or not. So I also thought maybe it was sent to a lot of actresses and whoever would do it would be the happiest person in the world. But I also just didn’t know how I was going to get to the point of executing it. I knew it was going to be challenging and it would change me as a person. I looked at 96 pages of dialogue and thought, “How on earth would you stand alone on stage and do this?” so I was really blown away, but just blown away by the script and the journey I would take to get to a place where I would perform those eight shows a week. I was deeply touched by it. It felt very important.
Did you end up auditioning for it?
No, it’s really given to me. I asked my agent “When should I audition?” And she said so James Bierman, the producer, and Suzie Miller, the writer, had said Suzie would be happy to talk to me if I had anything to do with it. And I remember it was the first lockdown and I was in Liverpool with my family and Suzie was in Australia and we called and we were on the phone for about two hours. I just knew then that there was no doubt about it. And I also knew that if I saw another actress do this, I would regret it for the rest of my life. I think that’s always a good indicator of whether or not to do something.
How did you get into the character of Tessa?
There was so much about her that I had to relate to because of where she’s from, her family. Just coming from Liverpool and the characteristics of the people who come from there, people I know, people who are in my own life. I think a big thing that I kind of had to embrace was her intellect and sense of self and strength that she possessed and confidence. That didn’t feel strange to me, but I almost had to embrace those parts of myself to find her. And how she mastered the space and the confidence she carries in her execution. I think I definitely have that in me, and I’ve come to appreciate that a lot more because of her, which is funny. I think more often than not you can learn from your characters. It’s a transaction. It’s like you’re teaching them something and they always leave you with some sort of insight into your own life.
In the play, you not only speak as Tessa, but also act out all the dialogues around her. How did you prepare for and get to being ready to perform those eight shows a week?
We started rehearsals in March (2022) and I had started learning the dialogue in November because I really wanted to be off the book by the time I got to the rehearsal room. And then Justin, our director, helped me up on the first day. It was kind of all systems go, and I hadn’t been in the rehearsal room much. I had only been to a rehearsal room once before when I was very young, and it was all very new to me, and I was incredibly intimidated and nervous. But it was just about being in the rehearsal room and getting up and working through it and playing with things.
How does it feel now to play this role in front of an audience every night?
Exciting. It feeds my soul in such a big way. I think it’s definitely hard and challenging, but it really energizes me. I feel like I have a conversation with over 800 people every night and see how it moves them. And I think in theater the energy is very kinetic, and it’s so addictive. I just feel so, so lucky to be part of this huge puzzle of people who put this together. It’s rare to be blessed with a piece of material and a role that challenges you in this way. So I’m just trying to take in every second of it all.
You’ve now been to the play during its West End run and now on Broadway. Has the role changed or evolved at all during that process?
Absolute. I think it has sunk into me a bit now. The material, Tessa. I feel like I’m discovering new things. I also feel very changed by this experience. And I think we can change so much in a year. So I feel like through my own evolution Tess is evolving too, just through different things every night I find and think, “Oh God, I’ve never done that before” or “That felt good, and why didn’t I think of that last year?” That’s what I was actually really excited about when I was in the rehearsal room (this time) We had a few weeks before we got into technology when we came to New York and just had that constant sort of discovery of “Oh, wow, you know, why didn’t we think of this last year?” and it’s just because you have to think about things less.
Can you tell us more about how the experience has changed you?
I think a lot of it is very personal, that I don’t necessarily feel the need to talk about it, but I feel like a woman. I feel like I’ve stepped into my femininity. I feel like I have so much more confidence in myself and who I am. I realized that last year I was pretty scared about a lot of things, especially in my ability to do this. And I think through this experience I’ve actually been able to turn that into a sense of confidence, which is a really nice feeling. That’s not to say I don’t have my moments, but I just feel like I have a clearer idea of who I am.
With such a heavy subject, are you able to leave the role in the theater or do you carry it with you?
I then do a little cool-down on stage and kind of consciously let it go. Just the practical movement of stretching your body and trying to let go of whatever you’re holding on to is really helpful. My mornings are a bit slow. Sometimes I wake up and feel like I’ve been hit by a train. It’s generally okay. You just have to make sure you take care of yourself because I think it’s in those moments when you slip up with those things that you can feel it a little bit more. But all I can help myself, a voice to cool, body to cool. I come home and put my head in the fridge for about an hour and a half (laughs). That sounds weird. I mean, just more that I snack non-stop.
That makes sense. You stand on stage for so long and you also run around and jump on tables.
Yes, you have to fill up.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.