The world said good-bye to Villanelle, the psychopathic assassin at the center of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s beloved TV show Killing Eve, two years ago. Even so, it’s hard to think of Jodie Comer, the British actress who portrayed Villanelle, without remembering her hiding a syringe in a hairpin, just in case she needed to stab someone in the eye. Over the show’s four seasons, audiences watched the evolution of Villanelle’s obsessive relationship with Eve Polastri, an M.I.6 spy played by Sandra Oh. In 2019, Comer earned an Emmy for her role in the feminist take on the thriller genre.

That female-centric world feels far away from Jeff Nichols’s new movie, The Bikeriders. Comer, 31, plays Kathy, a middle-class Midwesterner who falls for Benny (played by Austin Butler), the newest member of the Vandals motorcycle club, led by Johnny (played by Tom Hardy). Told from Kathy’s perspective, the movie, set in 1960s Chicago, shows the club evolving from a group of outcasts with a shared passion for motorcycles to a wild, bloody gang.

Jodie Comer and Austin Butler in The Bikeriders.

“She is a woman in a very male-dominated environment of violence,” Comer tells me. “There’s a lot of peacocking; there’s a lot of them not dealing with their emotions.” Kathy, unfamiliar with the strange and violent world she’s found herself in, is fearless enough to stick around when things get hard. “She was tough. Villanelle was tough. There was a kind of strength in both of them which was really lovely to play.”

Comer started shooting The Bikeriders just after closing Prima Facie, a one-woman play that premiered in London’s West End in 2022 and transferred to Broadway the following year. The show follows Tessa, a criminal-defense lawyer whose view of the legal system shifts after she is sexually assaulted. “I don’t think I’ve ever grown as much as I did when I did the play,” says Comer. The role earned her a Tony Award for best leading actress in a play, taking her halfway to an EGOT.

Prima Facie was Comer’s first time onstage since high school. Growing up in Liverpool, she took weekly drama classes. She remembers developing a real hunger for acting at 12, when her teacher signed her up for a local drama competition. Comer performed a monologue and came in first place. It was the first time her father had ever seen her act, and Comer still remembers the rush she got from making her parents proud.

“I don’t think I’ve ever grown as much as I did when I did [Prima Facie].”

Soon after, she started auditioning. In 2007, she was cast in Tin Man, a BBC radio play by local playwright Laurence Wilson. Surrounded by soap-opera actors whom she had seen on television growing up, Comer quickly learned about headshots, agents, and managers. “It all kind of snowballed from there.”

At 23, while working at a supermarket checkout counter, she landed her first major role, the lead in Thirteen, a BBC series about a woman who escapes from her kidnapper after being trapped in his cellar for 13 years.

Since Killing Eve put her on the map, Comer has steadily landed acting and producing jobs, such as the 2021 drama Help, Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel, and Free Guy, in which she acted opposite Ryan Reynolds. Currently, she’s shooting Danny Boyle’s 28 Years Later, a sequel to the 2002 film 28 Days Later, set to be released in 2025.

Coming off the high of performing Prima Facie on Broadway, Comer expected to “bulldoze” through the predominantly male set of The Bikeriders. Instead, she felt herself shrinking. Comer channeled that feeling into her work. “It kind of mirrored Kathy’s experience,” she says. In both roles, Comer plays women who had to find their voice. “I think that is something I am constantly trying to do in my own life and be comfortable with,” she tells me, “to take up space and honor myself that way, and not shrivel up.”

The Bikeriders is in theaters now

Jeanne Malle is an Associate Editor at AIR MAIL