Why Villanelle In 'Killing Eve' Isn't Your Typical Femme Fatale Stereotype, According To Jodie Comer
BBC America's new show Killing Eve is a captivating chronicle of the relationship between two women: Villanelle (Jodie Comer), a psychopathic assassin, and Eve (Sandra Oh), the intelligence officer trying to track her down. But the show is much more than a traditional spy thriller, and it spends plenty of time deliberately subverting the tropes associated with spies —usually men, mind you — who do dangerous work. As Killing Eve's Russian assassin Villanelle, Jodie Comer eschews the stereotype of the seductive female spy in many ways, all while being extremely entertaining to watch. She sat down with Bustle to talk about the show's complicated dynamics, and the one request she's already ready to put in for the just-announced Season 2.
Villanelle is different than other badass women you've seen on screen. She's equally comfortable in French silks and pink ruffles as she is in a drab Russian work uniform, embodying masculine and feminine qualities in everything she does. She's cold, calculated, and brilliant, but also youthful, and the layers continue to peel with each episode. She can be seductive, but it's only one of her many deadly tools.
"When [you] think of a female assassin, you always think of the femme fatale, or overtly sexual, always using their sexuality to gain something or further themselves," Comer tells Bustle. "Whereas I thought Villanelle had a lot of humanity and wit, and she was just really good at her job. I felt there was a lot more depth to her than what we see. She's so quirky and she has a very particular sense of humor."
When Villanelle is informed that Eve has made chasing her a pet project, "her ego goes through the roof," Comer says. "Not only is it a woman, but she wants to find out about her. So at first it's intrigue and I think it's fascination. I think she's fascinated by Eve and her normal life. You know, her mundane life is totally opposite to Villanelle's." Their mutual curiosity leads to an engrossing game of cat and mouse as the series progresses; it's fueled by each woman's desire to get more out of life. "I feel like they both have [qualities] the other one is seeking out or needs; but they maybe don't see that at first," Comer adds.
Female relationships on screen, especially when it comes to wanting to embody someone you admire, often come down to competition. But for Villanelle and Eve, the competition between them is more about control. "Villanelle is kind of taunting Eve," Comer says. "She's trying to get one over on Eve and seeing how much control she has."
It wasn't difficult for Comer and Oh to cultivate that tension and natural curiosity. Not only has Comer never seen Oh's turn on Grey's Anatomy (she says Oh encouraged her to wait for a sick-day marathon), but they didn't see each another for most of the shoot because they rarely shared scenes. "Whenever I was filming Sandra wasn't and vice versa," Comer says. "So yeah, up until like midway through the series when they come into contact a little bit more, we were like passing ships, really. Which I feel like works well for the tension."
Villanelle is introduced in the pilot episode eating ice cream while a young girl watches her adoringly from a few tables down. She smiles at the girl, who's clearly in that moment looking at her as a model of the adult world. But then Villanelle deliberately knocks the girl's ice cream over as she leaves the shop. Not only does this foreshadow how Villanelle is a student of human behavior in order to take on multiple personas on assignment, but it's a nice metaphor for representation. Not that girls should aspire to be hired killers, but we often don't see who and what we are allowed to be as women, so when that does happen, it can be really powerful.
Clearly, Villanelle has flaws, and one of the most refreshing parts of Killing Eve is that it allows its female characters (not just Villanelle, but also Eve, Fiona Shaw's character Carolyn, and Kirby Howell-Baptiste's Elena) to be insecure and capable at the same time.
"What's so wonderful about the way [executive producer] Phoebe [Waller-Bridge] has written these characters is all the emotion that we get to explore as women," Comer says. "I feel like a lot of time on television. women are supposed to be straight-laced or in control or have it all together — and within this piece, these women are so many different things."
While Season 1 of Killing Eve is only about to begin (the first episode airs Sunday, April 8) Comer already has some wishes for the just-announced Season 2. Besides wanting to wear more wigs and speak more languages, she has one hope for the globe-trotting Villanelle.
"Can we request that ... She goes to the Maldives?" Comer jokes. "There's someone in the Maldives [that Villanelle has to kill]. Put it in the universe; you never know what may happen." If you can't use playing a fabulous international assassin to book yourself a tropical working vacation, what's the point?