Jodie Whittaker: 'It’s about learning to live'
After roles in Broadchurch and Attack the Block, Whittaker plays a film fangirl in Adult Life Skills
Jodie Whittaker: “You get to make a new little family every couple of months and all live together in a bubble of make-believe. Who wouldn’t want that job, eh?” Photograph Eamonn McCormack/WireImage)
As of this morning, Jodie Whittaker is a brunette. Again.
“I’m raging,” says the irrepressible 34-year-old. “I had it blonde for my last job, but when I’m not working I keep it blonde for myself. But I’ve had to dye it brown this morning for Broadchurch. I’m not raging really. It’s a small price to pay. It’s brilliant. I love Broadchurch. Even if I always look brown and glum in the photographs.”
If Jodie Whittaker didn’t exist, Harry Enfield or Paul Whitehouse would have had to invent her as a much-loved Fast Show character, the sort that scores a novelty hit at Christmas. A bouncy ball of energy and enthusiasm, you’d never guess that Whittaker has a 14-month old baby at home, or that she is one of the busiest bees in showbusiness, having lately completed ++work on The Assets for Netflix, Kevin Macdonald’s thriller Black Sea, The Smoke for Sky TV and Get Santa. She is currently preparing for Journeyman, actor Paddy Considine’s second film as a writer-director.
“That’s what’s brilliant about being an actor,” Whittaker says. “Every one of those projects is a world away from the others. It’s always new and always different. You get to make a new little family every couple of months and all live together in a bubble of make-believe. Who wouldn’t want that job, eh?”
Make-believe, it transpires, is a huge part of Whittaker’s life: “My mum always says I was always brilliant at playing. I was a really good self-entertainer from a young age. Didn’t even need toys. I’m still like that. I’ve run a couple of marathons in London and New York. I can’t listen to music because headphones don’t fit my ears properly. So I have to pretend. Usually something ridiculous, like: ‘I’m in medieval England and I have to run for four hours to get medicine to the dying.’ I’m doolally like that.”
Whittaker spent a couple of years “dicking around” her native Yorkshire before moving from Huddersfield to study drama at Guildhall.
“It wasn’t as if I was thinking: will I do this or will I become a doctor?” she laughs. “There weren’t a massive amount of academic options for me.”
She was still at Guildhall in 2005, when Mark Rylance cast her in The Storm at Shakespeare’s Globe. Post-graduation, she got an even bigger break when she took a starring role in the Oscar-nominated Venus.
“Luck plays a huge part in this industry,” she says. “You do need skills to back it up. But it’s naive not to realise how much of it is luck or being in the right place at the right time, or not fucking up auditions when you really need to not fuck them up.
“With Venus, I wasn’t some out-of-work actor straight out of drama school. I was having an amazing time at the Globe. I rocked up to that first audition with confidence and a bit of rational panic.”
She laughs: “And then everyone kept asking: ‘Where did the director find you?’ Like he had picked me up on a train platform or something. I know I seem like I’m something from a documentary. But, eh, no.”
Working with Peter O’Toole and Vanessa Redgrave on Venus would prove invaluable.
“It was always going to be one of the most treasured things in my career,” she says. “Even more now, knowing it was one of his last jobs. But the thing I noticed about him and Vanessa was, even though they had absolutely nothing to prove, they worked so hard on the script, they worked so hard on their choices.
“And I remember thinking: ‘If you’re still learning and discovering and studying this long into your career, then this job will never be boring’.”
Whittaker has, indeed, never been bored, having worked in a corset (Tess of the D’Urbervilles), in tart satire (Black Mirror), and with a Northern Irish accent (Good Vibrations). She’s done rom-dram (One Day), sci-fi (Attack the Block) and a much- praised interpretation of Sophocles’s Antigone.
And now she’s back doing make-believe. Adult Life Skills, the debut of writer-director Rachel Tunnard, stars Whittaker as a fangirl in her late 20s who makes lo-fi recreations of favourite films and lives in a shed at the end of her mother’s garden.
Tunnard and Whittaker have been pals since the latter crashed Tunnard’s fresher’s week with Rachael Deering, Whittaker’s best friend since primary school. Deering also features in Adult Life Skills, as does Whittaker’s husband, Christian Contreras (Zero Dark Thirty, Fury).
“It’s a really special film,” she says. “But it also celebrates who we are and what we have as a friendship. There are bits of me, bits of Rachel, and a lot of Tunnard. It’s not one of those films where she needs to get money and a boyfriend. It’s not about living as a high-flier. It’s about learning to live. It’s a brave pitch for a comedy.”
We’ve seen “sweding” movies before ( Be Kind Rewind, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl). But Adult Life Skills is the first film to feature recreations using the medium of the talking thumb. No wonder the film took home the Nora Ephron prize from the Tribeca Film Festival.
“We had already flown back after the premiere,” says Whittaker. “We were all on What’sApp, trying furiously to refresh the awards page.”
What’sApp is as far as Whittaker will go on social media, although she did have to ask Twitter to shut down a fake Jodie Whittaker account.
“She was talking about walking her dog. I thought: I don’t have a dog,” she laughs. “Really depressingly, they only had about 300 followers.”
- Adult Life Skills is available on Video on Demand from June 24th