BEVERLY HILLS, California – Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer looked at each other in an aquarium. Illuminated in the blue glow of bubbling water and artificial light, the two women slowly registered each other with amazement, hostility and contemptible desire. Over three seasons of “Killing Eve,” the two actresses and the show’s creative team worked to master the complex bond between their two characters, and there it was, distilled in a single “Romeo + Juliet” inspired. moment.
And then a wayward fish ruined the shot.
“Guy!” Oh yelled, months later still annoyed. The fish, which appear in the first episode of the show’s fourth and final season, were extremely “difficult,” Comer explained with a laugh.
“One just swam through it and literally blocked both eyes,” she said. “I thought, ‘Guys, I can’t work with this fish.'”
The public will not find out whether former MI6 agent Eve (played by Oh) and world traveler Villanelle (Comer) are destined to end up as Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers until the series finale of “Killing Eve” airs this spring. (The first two of eight episodes arrive on BBC America and AMC+ on Sunday and air on AMC Monday.)
The show was an instant critical hit when it premiered in 2018. Oh, who also serves as an executive producer, has been nominated for three Emmys for her performance. (She won a Golden Globe in 2019.) Comer also racked up multiple Emmy nominations, winning the award in 2019. The new season, like so many other projects, was delayed due to pandemic-era shooting complications.
Off screen, the mutual obsession the actresses embody in “Killing Eve” gives way to mutual affection and respect. On a crisp February morning they sat across from me at a patio table in the Peninsula hotel, interacting with the ease of old friends and the reverence of colleagues who have seen each other at the peak of their craft.
Comer, speaking in a soft Liverpool song, quickly ditched the patent leather midi skirt she’d worn on a previous shoot for more comfortable track pants. Dagger-like earrings still framed her face. Ottawa-raised Oh leaned back in a seersucker jacket and billowy pants and sipped from her trusty water bottle, marked to track her hydration throughout the day. (On set, Oh had built up a reputation for being a “hydration station” for one woman, Comer said, with multiple ships around at all times.)
These are edited excerpts from our conversation.
What was your reaction when you heard how ‘Killing Eve’ would end?
JODIE COMER It’s mixed feelings. I was a bit baffled. The great thing about filming the ending was that we were on set together, which was great. I don’t know how I feel about the ending, honestly.
SANDRA OH I thought it was a decent win. And I think we stayed true to the characters and to each other.
When did you learn the fate of your characters?
OH That was a lot of work in progress. There are certain discussions that happened very early on, and then the pandemic happened and certain things were shifted. The discovery happened while we were building it. That’s as specific and as broad as I can say.
I definitely feel like we’re spending the most time together this season, the season finale. Because it’s just correct and ready for the characters to ——
COMER To be in that space together.
Do you feel like this was the right time to end?
OH It is, because this is what is happening. A lot of people describe this as a “cat and mouse”, and I understand that in the first season. But I have to tell you, if you keep describing it like that, you haven’t seen the show yet. That’s too easy. For me, the show really explores the female psyche and how these two female characters need each other. That digging in the context of a certain type of thriller was the right time to stop.
COMER It’s the hardest thing to do, you know? Trying to advance the characters in a way that feels truthful, but also keep all those bits that people love so much. Their relationship means something so personal to every person who looks at it.
And the show doesn’t put a label on Eve and Villanelle’s relationship.
COMER I find it quite difficult when people say, “What is this relationship?” It’s so hard to put a name to that.
OH I find that increasingly a very restrictive type of question, because it should be as broad as possible. I’m not going to tell you anything. Because it doesn’t matter.
COMER Sandra and I don’t talk much [to each other] about what we do before we get started. And then when it feels good, it feels good. So we are constantly making those discoveries ourselves.
OH That’s one of the best things about what we do when we make movies. You can set certain conditions and then something happens without a script, and that’s basically what you need to follow.
What’s it like to have a different woman as showrunner every season? [Phoebe Waller-Bridge, followed by Emerald Fennell, Suzanne Heathcote and Laura Neal] influenced the series as a whole?
COMER Without a doubt, each brings their own feelings and intuitions about what they think the characters would do. What I liked about that is the opportunity to sit around the table with everyone and really discuss and unravel what it is that feels true. It was great to be involved in those conversations. Prior to ‘Killing Eve’ it’s like, you show up to settle down, you learn your rules, you do your job and you go home.
OH It has been the greatest path to growth. Because it is very challenging. If you’re a sausage maker, you know it’s a challenging way to make sausage. But what causes that is a natural place for friction, and I think that can be an extremely creative place.
Were there certain things on your bucket list that you wanted to achieve this last season?
OH I have to wear a wig!
COMER Oh yeah! I remember when I saw that picture I thought, “Damn it, Sandra.”
OH I have to wear two wigs! I have to wear a dress! I was so excited that my wardrobe was expanding.
COMER There was a fire that I felt had gone out and that I wanted to go back because I knew we were done. I wanted a fragment of the old Villanelle we once knew. She went on this journey with her moral compass and humanity, but I was like, I want her back, worse than ever.
OH Because the nature of a scorpion cannot change.
Is that something you said early on?
COMER Yes. Those conversations were always open, like, “Is there something that maybe didn’t resonate with you or something you’d like to expand on?” There was never anything I couldn’t bring up.
What this show has always encouraged, especially about finding Villanelle, was, “Try something!” If it’s crazy, if it’s overdone, if it doesn’t work, it’s fine.” There is such a freedom that I have certainly assumed.
So many of your line readings are completely unexpected, and I will think, ‘Did she do that at the time?’
COMER I feel like I often just fly through the seat of my pants.
COME: Is that the saying? Seat of my underpants?
OH No no no no. “Take off your pants” is correct.
When “Killing Eve” premiered in April 2018, the world was in a different place. We were halfway through the Trump presidency, but prepandemic. How do you think the show has adapted to the changing landscape and what has it been able to offer viewers?
OH That’s a tough question, because I don’t want to say what it is. When we came out, it was post-#MeToo, after the start of Time’s Up. It was an extraordinarily magical, fortuitous time. The stories centered around women; most creative heads were women. We were able to give the world a gift, right? It was also just stylistically fresh. Conceptually, the genre was fresh. Other changes related to the pandemic and political shifts, that’s up to the public.
COMER I feel like sometimes it’s pure escapism.
Like viewers getting to see Europe stuck at home during the pandemic.
COMER Well, we had to cheat a lot this season because of Covid.
OH That’s a terrible revelation, but it’s so true.
COMER The art department and set design had to work together to recreate these places we visited. Everyone really had to go up in a different way.
Have you been able to photograph anything outside the UK?
OH What a shame. But it is what it is. We shoot during the pandemic, blah, blah, blah.
What was your last day on set like?
OH We can only say that we were together.
OH We were probably together too. [Laughs.]
COMER Very together.
OH For me it was very, very elevated. It was very difficult.
Is that aquarium scene in the season 4 premiere an intentional homage to Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet”?
OH Hell yes. We even thought of doing it by hand, and we didn’t shy away from certain movie references. Like when Eve Hélène . follows [Camille Cottin], and she has that blonde wig, I remember talking to Stella Corradi, our director, about Faye Wong in ‘Chungking Express’. I was like, “I want to look like her.” I love the richness of bringing in the history of images and how they can fit into our story.
Looking back, what does the award you received for “Eve” mean to you?
COMER I remember going to the Golden Globes that first year, and Sandra won, and we all said, “This is great!” It felt like a party. Sure, there is always a moment of satisfaction, but your sense of accomplishment comes from actually doing the work.
OH Those trophies are nice and nice. But as you progress in your career, its meaning changes. We made something together. It’s concrete. It cannot be taken from us. And most importantly, the growth, the confidence, the maturity, the expansion, everything that has brought us here cannot be taken away. It is those things that take up much more meaning and space.