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In the play Prima Facie, Jodie Comer is alone on stage for the full length of the show’s 100 minutes, starting as a brash, bloviating barrister, then turning to a quieter, more vulnerable woman trying to find justice for herself in the very legal system that had previously propped her up.
Before making her West End debut in the play last year, the Killing Eve star says she hadn’t appeared on stage (aside from a play in a “very, very small theater” in Scotland when she was 16 years old). And so taking on this marathon role not only required intense dedication and memorization, but also a recalibration of her acting style in order to emote to an 800-plus seat theater, rather than to the camera.
In the drama, written by Suzie Miller, Comer plays Tessa Ensler, a talented, young lawyer who defends individuals accused of sexual assault and then goes through the justice system herself as a victim of rape. Comer has been playing Tessa since April 2022 on the West End (where she won the Olivier Award for Best Actress) and has now carried the role to Broadway for an 12-week run that began this April. One year in, she says the role has made a deep impact on her life.
“I realized that I was quite fearful last year of a lot of things, especially in my ability to do this,” Comer said. “And I think that actually, through this experience, I’ve been able to transform that into a sense of trust, which is a really nice feeling.”
Once she gets through the final eight weeks of the run, the Free Guy star says she’s open to doing more theater, but she notes that she’s “intrigued to see” what kind of role could bring her back, after performing in such a challenging, but “exhilarating” play.
Comer, who is Tony nominated for her portrayal, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about why she decided to take on the role, how she prepared for it and how its changed throughout the year.
What did you think when you were first approached about doing this role?
I thought that this was mighty in every sense of the word. I wasn’t actually sure if I needed to audition or not. So I was also thinking that it may have been sent to many actresses and whoever was going to do it would be the luckiest person alive. But I also just didn’t know how I would get to a point of executing it. I knew it was going to be a challenge and it was going to change me as a person. I was looking at like 96 pages of dialogue and thinking “How on earth would you be on stage alone and do this?” so I was really overwhelmed, but just blown away by the script and the journey that I would go on in order to get to a place of performing that eight shows a week. I was deeply moved by it. It felt very important.
Did you end up having to audition for it?
No, it was actually given to me. I asked my agent “When do I have to audition?” And she said that James Bierman, the producer, and Suzie Miller, the writer, had said if it was something I connected with, Suzie would love to chat with me. And I remember it was the first lockdown and I was in Liverpool with my family and Suzie was in Australia and we jumped on a call and we were on the phone for like two hours. I just knew then that there was no question. 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 as to whether to do something or not.
How did you get into the character of Tessa?
There was so much about her that I related to because of where she’s from, her family. Just being from Liverpool and the characteristics of the people who are from there, people I know, people who are in my own life. I think a big thing that I had to kind of embrace was her intellect and sense of self and power that she held and self-confidence. That felt…not foreign to me, but I almost had to embrace those parts of myself in order to find her. And how she commanded the space and the confidence that she carries in her execution. I think I definitely do have that within myself, and I’ve come to appreciate that a lot more through her, which is funny. I think that you can, more often than not, learn from your characters. It’s a transaction. It’s like, you teach them something and they always leave you with some sort of insight into your own life.
In the play, you’re not only speaking as Tessa, but you’re also acting out all the lines of dialogue around her. How did you prepare for and get to the place of being ready to perform that eight shows a week?
We started rehearsals in March  and I had started learning the dialogue the November before, because I really wanted to be off book by the time I got into the rehearsal room. And then Justin, our director, got me up on my feet on the first day. It was kind of all systems go, and I hadn’t been in the rehearsal room a lot. I’d only been in a rehearsal room once before when I was really 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 on our feet and working through it and playing around with things.
How does it feel now, performing this role in front of audiences every night?
Exhilarating. It feeds my soul in such a big way. I think it is absolutely difficult and challenging, but it really invigorates me. I feel like I’m having a conversation with 800-plus people every night and getting to 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 that I’m able to be part of this huge puzzle of people who brought this together. It’s rare that you’re blessed with a piece of material and a role that challenges you in this way. So I’m just trying to soak up every second of it all.
You’ve now been with the play through its West End run and now on Broadway. Has the role changed at all or evolved during that process?
Absolutely. I think now it’s just kind of sunk into me. The material, Tessa. I feel like I’m finding new things. I also feel very much changed by this experience. And I think we can change so much within a year. So I feel like through my own evolution, Tess is also evolving just through different things every night that 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 being in the rehearsal room [this time]. We got a few weeks before we went into tech when we came to New York and just had that constant kind of discovery of going “Oh, wow, you know, why didn’t we think of this last year?” and it’s just because you’re having to think about things less.
Can you talk more about how the experience has changed you?
I think a lot of it is deeply personal, that I don’t necessarily feel the need to speak about, but I feel like a woman. I feel like I’ve stepped into my womanhood. I feel like I have so much more trust within myself and who I am. I realized that I was quite fearful last year of a lot of things, especially in my ability to do this. And I think that actually, through this experience, I’ve been able to transform that into a sense of trust, 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 sense of who I am.
With such a heavy subject matter, are you able to leave the role at the theater or do you carry it with you?
I do a little cool down on stage afterwards and kind of consciously let go of it. Just the practical movement of stretching your body and trying to let go of anything that you’re holding on to is really helpful. My mornings are a bit slow. Sometimes I wake up and I feel like I was kind of hit by a train. It’s generally okay. You just have to make sure that 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 anything I can kind of help myself, a voice cool down, body cool down. I come home, and I’m sticking my head in the fridge for about an hour-and-a-half [laughs]. That sounds weird. I mean, just more that I snack nonstop.
That makes sense. You’re on stage for so long, and you’re also running around and jumping on tables.
Yeah, you’ve got to refuel.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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