Jodie Whittaker has come far since her breakthrough role in Venus in 2006. Many hits and acclaimed roles later – including the unmissable Broadchurch – and it appears her career is going up and up. She talks to Mark Kebble about making decisions, why Broadchurch was a winner and her latest film, Hello Carter
What can you tell me about Hello Carter?
I was part of a short film that Anthony [Wilcox] wrote and directed, which was a pilot for the feature film. I was involved in that 18 months before shooting the film came around and in that I played Kelly [Carter’s ex-girlfriend]. When we came to shoot the film I found the transition from short to feature really interesting, how the characters took on a new life. It was lovely to return to that world, but coming from a different angle by playing Jenny. I love working with Anthony – having worked on the short I knew how he worked.
You have done many short films in your career so far…
It’s purely down to the script. If I read something I like, I will do it. As an actor you get offered a lot of shorts, you don’t get paid for them, and you have to work on them in between your days off. For me, an exciting script is an exciting script whether it’s a two minute film or a 90 minute film. I love the idea of being part of something that is a new piece of work, with new people working on it. I have done some brilliant shorts and met some brilliant people. New writers and directors need to be supported, otherwise how would they do their steps to become successful at the job? I also have got a lot of friends in the business, who would say ‘Jodie, could you do us a favour…’!
How was the filming process – low budget wasn’t it?
Really low budget! It was fantastic in the sense of what they achieved – it was a four-week shoot. It was in February, so absolutely freezing and very short daylight hours – it was handy then that the majority was set at night! It’s great, that’s what I love about the independent cinema scene in the UK. The frustrating thing is it’s not more supported, but being part of it as one of the team is always a great atmosphere. You know there has been blood, sweat and tears to get to the first day of shooting, and every second and every pound counts. You have got to put your heart and soul into it and I love that energy.
Who is your character Jenny?
She’s at a crossroads in her life. There are no stereotypes in the film, you have everymen – a lot of people in their early 30s living in London, which is too expensive, in a job they are not sure how they got there and where they are going. To play someone indecisive in a way and looking at a particular question was so real as it reflects so many people’s experiences at the moment. I have tended to play lots of highly emotional, vulnerable characters, so it was nice to play someone really normal – not in a boring sense, but the fact her day to day life is so normal. Then there’s an unexpected encounter that’s a game changer.
I always feel pulling off a good rom-com is not easy…
This is a rom-com, or more of a farce. I think the thing that’s interesting about the characters in it is that they all find something by themselves to make a decision to change their journey – rather than being saved by someone else. That’s much more realistic.
I look back at your film roles to date and there’s a real diversity to the kind of things you’ve been in. Always the plan?
You don’t have a plan for the first five years. The first decision I made was after I did Enemies [at the Almeida Theatre] and Venus came out. Then I did the London Film Festival when there was that build up to the Oscars for Peter [O’Toole, her co-star in Venus]. People didn’t realise I came out of drama school, as you do get a lot of street calling. At that point, I was very grateful to be working, but I didn’t want to repeat that kind of part. I suppose you have a film on your CV that people have heard of and that opens doors for you. But you get jobs from different things. I got cast in Good because someone came to see Enemies – they didn’t realise I was a northerner! You just never know what doors are going to open.
I respect your judgment Jodie as when I first heard the plot for Attack The Block I thought it sounded dreadful – and ended up being great and a huge hit…
I couldn’t believe it. I was so excited for that part, I knew lots of people going in for it [at the auditions]. I am a huge Adam and Joe fan, so I couldn’t get my head around that it was Joe Cornish. I tried to play it cool… I read the script and absolutely loved it. I was not embarrassed to say I really wanted the part. I had a lot of auditions and chemistry auditions with the guys, so it was a hard thing to get – but I was glad I had to work so hard as it paid off. The first time I saw it I can’t tell you how exciting it was. I’m an 80s baby, I grew up with creature features like The Goonies, Tremors and Gremlins, all these amazing ideas in people’s heads that we then got to see on screen. We didn’t do CGI aliens unless there were more than two on screen, so we were physically interacting with these in the streets and it looks amazing and terrifying. It looked brilliant – every light in that film is a choice, from the trainers to lights on the block. The detail blew my mind.
You’ve acted alongside some stellar names on screen. Who has left a lasting impact on you?
Jim Broadbent. He’s one of the best actors in the world and he’s really lovely too. He does everything – TV, film and theatre. Also when I did Cranford, it ticked about eight boxes as everyone on that was so amazing. Also, working with younger actors is so exciting, such as John Bodega on Attack The Block, it was his first film [and he is now in line to play a major role in the new Star Wars].
Talking film here, but your TV work is also great. Is TV really competing with cinema at the moment?
I do think it is, both here and in the States. When I first started you were either a TV actor or a film actor. There have always been a few people who you don’t question, like Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent, but then in the last five years or so you can turn on the TV and there’s Matthew McConaughey, or Laura Linney doing The Big C. It’s so exciting. Here, drama and comedy are so exciting at the moment – it makes the auditions harder, but really exciting too. We are being influenced by Scandinavia and Europe, but feel we are doing the same – we have TV shows that are being made in other countries. [Such as Broadchurch…]
How thrilling was it to be a part of Broadchurch, which really caught the public’s imagination?
We knew it was pretty special. We read the first two episodes as a read through and that was really emotional and exciting. There’s Vicky McClure, David Tennant, David Bradley… My face was up against Olivia Colman’s face, ‘will you be my friend?’! From that moment everything clicked and there was a wonderful dynamic. It felt like a team on set, an ensemble in every sense of the word. We didn’t rehearse a lot as we didn’t want to push the emotion too much, so it was a case of fingers crossed [when it came to shooting], but we nailed it – everyone came together. We worked really hard, so it was great that people saw it. I have had other great experiences in my career – I did Good Vibrations, which I was really proud of – but not many people saw it. Hello Carter is the same, I just hope people see it.
With all this screen success, does theatre still get a look in?
I have had a really long gap – I did Antigone two years ago at the National, which was my first play in five years since I was at the Almeida in Awake & Sing – and now it’s been another two years since doing a play. It’s easier for people to cast me in film and TV as that’s the most reference points they have, but obviously I would love to do more theatre. I went to drama school where you don’t do film, you do the classics and learn a theatre background. Every experience I have had of being in a play I have loved. My favourite bit is the rehearsal process – that’s the major difference [from screen work]. With filming you have to get it right quite quickly.
You’ve performed at the Almeida twice – love the venue?
Oh what an amazing building! And it’s opposite Ottolenghi’s too… Islington is a great place, and there’s a great energy to that theatre. I haven’t worked there since Michael Attenborough left, but it’s such an exciting space. I only know people who have good times there. The Green Room at the Almeida… To go back in there would be quite exciting.
Not too far from home either – still in Muswell Hill?
I have been there for ten years now. I don’t like change, so I move from one street to another. I have even convinced one of my oldest friends from childhood to live in the next street! There are lots of independent shops and cafes, although some are sadly getting pushed out by the big chains. I just love it there though, it’s like living in a village. I am never going to live in the north of England again, but I did love being in a place where you’d walk in a shop and they’d know you – and that’s something I like about being in Muswell Hill.
I’ve recently shot two films. One is called Get Santa with Jim Broadbent – I have never been a part of a Christmas film before. I did this film last year too called Black Sea, directed by Kevin McDonald and starring Jude Law. I am filming Broadchurch too for the next few months…
Hello Carter is out in cinemas this October