The show Killing Eve became a massive hit almost straight off the bat. It was written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and starred Sandra Oh as the Eve of the title and Jodie Comer as her arch-nemesis Villanelle. The two women, positioned against each other, have an incredibly complex relationship. But what about the actresses? Well, they definitely have the same chemistry.
Killing Eve is a spy thriller, based on a book series by Luke Jennings. But it’s nothing like the James Bonds of the genre. It’s focused on two interesting ladies: bored MI5 agent Eve Polastri and top assassin Villanelle. Eve instantly works out that the person taking down powerful figures in Europe is a woman, and a woman she’s determined to track down.
But even though Eve and Villanelle are on different sides, they fast become romantically obsessed with each other. At the very end of the first season, it seems like the two ladies are going to kiss for the first time. But instead, Eve turns on Villanelle.
Season one of the show became a smash hit very quickly. “We didn’t know! We went into the second season in July [of 2018] just wanting to get back to these characters,” Sandra Oh told Radio Times magazine in 2019. But the fandom had become so big, “it started getting tricky for us to shoot on the streets.”
Season two ended with a role-reversal: this time, Villanelle shoots Eve and leaves her to die. The show was racking up awards at this point. The show gained a whopping 14 BAFTA nominations in 2019 and five wins, including one Best Actress award for Comer. And Oh became the first Asian woman ever to be nominated for an Outstanding Lead Actress Primetime Emmy.
The show continued on, and even though season three received more mixed reviews, critics still raved about the two lead performances. The magazine Rolling Stone declared in its 2020 review of the season, “Even when it’s not at the top of its game, Killing Eve is still compulsively watchable, and that’s largely down to its excellent central performances.”
It probably came as a surprise to absolutely no one that Sandra Oh killed it in her role. She had long been an acclaimed actor. Her big break came when she starred in the movie The Diary of Evelyn Lau, a role she’d won at just 19 years of age. That role won her the 1994 Best Actress Cannes FIPA d’Or, among other awards.
Throughout the ’90s, Oh starred in the HBO series Arli$$, which was so successful it lasted for seven seasons. Then in 2003 she married a film director: Alexander Payne. Payne cast her in a new movie, Sideways, and this led to another big break for the actress. Sideways was nominated for five Oscars.
The success of Sideways led Oh on to a show that would come to define a large portion of her career. In 2005, the same year Oh split from Payne, she was cast as Dr. Cristina Yang in the medical drama Grey’s Anatomy. She won lots of praise and acclaim for her performance.
The Grey’s Anatomy role was extra important to Oh because she was Korean, and that was a very underrepresented demographic on television. “I grew up never seeing myself on-screen, and it’s really important to me to give people who look like me a chance to see themselves,” she told the Today TV show in 2005.
Oh went on, “I want to see myself as the hero of any story. I want to see myself save the world from the bomb.” And she added, “I think the roles in television are better for women right now. At this point, I don’t want to continue doing the same things I’ve been doing in film because it’s very limited.”
However, Oh left Grey’s Anatomy in 2013. “Creatively, I really feel like I gave it my all, and I feel ready to let [Cristina] go,” she told newspaper The Hollywood Reporter that year. “It’s such an interesting thing to play a character for so long and to actually get the sense that she wants to be let go as well.”
But, of course, leaving Grey’s Anatomy left Oh free to do Killing Eve when it came along. She told Vanity Fair magazine in 2018 that she didn’t expect to be cast as the show’s title character. Because the Eve of the original book was white, she thought the part would go to a white actress. But the producers demanded her.
The producers also wanted an almost unknown actress, Jodie Comer, for the part of Villanelle. Before her being cast, she had appeared in British dramas including Silent Witness and Inspector George Gently. But she was a long way from being the megastar Killing Eve would make her.
The writer of the original books, Luke Jennings, was completely bowled over by Comer’s audition. “Jodie was exactly it. She jumped out of the screen,” he told U.K. newspaper The Daily Mirror in May 2020. “She had the accent, the slightly swivel-eyed quality. She is brilliant. We just knew. It was instant.”
Waller-Bridge was awestruck by Comer as well. “Jodie’s range knows no bounds. She has a playfulness in her approach to Villanelle, which has inspired so much of the writing,” she told the website IndieWire in 2019. “She delivers the light and the dark with a fierce precision and has a mystique all her own, which cannot be directed nor explained, only marveled at.”
Waller-Bridge also sang the praises of Comer as a person in the same interview. “She is one in a billion, and on top of that she is very kind, which means she can play despicable characters, and we will still adore her,” she said. “I haven’t seen talent and skill quite like hers before, especially in someone so young.”
Comer herself was also interviewed by IndieWire, and she said, “Before [Killing Eve], people were like, ‘Oh, who is this girl?’ They don’t know what I’m about, and Killing Eve has created such an enthusiastic response. I think [Villanelle has] enabled me to show some versatility that another role that I may have played wouldn’t have allowed me to do.”
And lots of offers came Comer’s way after Killing Eve got off the ground. She popped up as Rey’s mother in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, for a start. And she was cast in the movies Free Guy alongside Ryan Reynolds and Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel with Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Adam Driver.
So Killing Eve brought exciting new career opportunities for both Oh and Comer. And it also brought them a new friendship. The two women, who might not have even met each other if it hadn’t been for the TV show, quickly developed a relationship. Luckily it wasn’t as weird as the Eve-Villanelle one.
According to Oh, the sparks between her and Comer were there right from the beginning. “When we first met and had our first read together, I knew we had good chemistry,” she told U.K. TV chat show The Graham Norton Show in 2020. “I could just tell because of the way we were listening together, and I could actually feel the way we were reacting to each other.”
Just viewing an award ceremony would tell you that the actresses are very obviously friends. For the Golden Globe Awards in January 2019, the two went as each other’s dates and even held hands on the red carpet. It was later that night that Oh made history not only by becoming the first Asian woman to win a Best Actress award, but also the first to host the show.
And later that year, both actresses were nominated for a best actress Emmy award, and it was Comer who won in the end. She said in her speech, “I cannot believe I’m in a category alongside these women, one of them who is my co-star, Sandra Oh. Sandra, safe to say… this has been a whirlwind. I’m lucky to have shared the whole experience with you.”
Luckily, Oh bore no resentment towards Comer for winning the award over her. When Comer was announced as the winner, Oh gave her a massive hug. “What a nice, genuine moment between Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer,” entertainment magazine Variety journalist Elizabeth Wagmeister tweeted at the time. “So nice to see women supporting women.”
Comer and Oh also shared another touching moment the cameras didn’t quite catch: Comer whispering something to her co-star on the way to the stage. “I think I said I loved her, and I appreciated her,” Comer told Kevin Frazier backstage. “Because honestly, this whole experience we’ve gone through together.”
Still shocked by her Emmy win, Comer went on, “We believed in the show, but we had no idea how humongous it was going to turn out to be. And to kind of have gone through it with [Oh]; she’s been extremely generous on the screen, so I’m very, very grateful of her.”
The two actresses have supported each other in interviews as well. In 2020 Oh gave an interview to U.K. newspaper The Sun, in which she said, “Jodie and I have a profound relationship. At this point, having done three seasons, we trust each other when the magic is happening. That’s how we work it.”
Oh also praised Comer for being able to switch flawlessly through so many different languages and accents. Comer has said that she learned to do this from impersonating TV adverts as a child. “Jodie has a remarkable ear. She is so talented,” Oh told The Sun. “When you hear what she really sounds like, you’re blown away.”
The two actresses have done some interviews together, and those always showcase not only their close relationship, but the deep thoughts they have about their characters. During a joint interview on CBS This Morning: Saturday, Oh said Eve and Villanelle had, “a very unique and enjoyable, complex, frustrating relationship.”
Oh went on, “It is absolutely obsessive. And it’s unconscious, and there’s a tremendous drive that both characters have towards each other.” Neither of them was completely sure what drove Eve and Villanelle toward each other, but Comer said, “That’s what I find most enjoyable. Like I think sometimes we’re expected to have the answers to everything, and in life you don’t.”
At the end of the interview, Comer spoke about how her previous five projects had all been with women writers. Oh, thrilled, told the interviewer, “Did you hear what she just said? That’s great. That’s great as someone who is just starting to bloom at the beginning of her career. That is her experience. That is really exciting.”
Later on in 2019 both of the actresses spoke to U.K. magazine Radio Times about the intensity between their characters. Asked, “Is the sexual tension between the characters explicitly referred to in the script or direction?” they said that it wasn’t always, but both of them made sure it was “just present.”
The pair remembered being in bed together during the season one finale. “It was written as much closer between them than they were. We were rehearsing it, and it was like, ‘This is too much, it’s wrong.’ So there was pull-back,” Comer said. “The audience might want it, but you can’t always give them what they want.”
Oh said they had all been worried about oversexualizing the scene. “But then watch how Eve gets on the bed. She gets on the bed like an extremely tired middle-aged lady,” she said, “She’s like, ‘I’m so tired.’ It’s not erotic at all. Definitely Villanelle is thinking it’s going to be one thing, and Eve is implying it’s going to be that, but that’s how she can get her guard down for two seconds.”
In 2020 Oh gave an interview to the Golden Globes website, in which she mused on the exact nature of Eve and Villanelle’s connection. “You shouldn’t try to define this relationship,” she said. “I think that plenty of people have been in relationships which you can’t possibly describe because they are too complicated and too ambiguous; often the very ambiguity is what is interesting about them.”
Oh went on, “I am not going to try to define this one, because it’s just not possible, and that’s what I really love about it. I can say in broader terms that I feel that by the end of this season, Eve and Villanelle have come to a new place of understanding between them, and in some ways, a new way to – dare I say – depend on each other.”
The 2020 season of the show, season three, ended on a major cliffhanger regarding the ongoing Eve-Villanelle romance. Eve told Villanelle she believed all people had “monsters inside,” and Villanelle told her “My monster encourages your monster.” They tried to walk away from each other and found they couldn’t.
After the season had aired, W magazine asked Comer if she knew how the cliffhanger would be resolved. She told them, “No, not yet. And I think it’s all still very much up for debate.” But she was looking forward to contributing to it, especially since she found the show “very collaborative.”
That year, both Comer and Oh had again been nominated against each other for Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series, something Comer described as “amazing.” She added that she had quickly gotten in touch with her co-star after hearing the news, saying, “She’s in L.A., and I’m London, but we very quickly messaged.”
Comer added, “I’m hoping and looking forward to how the writers keep what we love about Villanelle, but also find new ways of exploring certain things, like her interactions with Eve.” And she also mentioned that she and Oh had, “touched base a couple of weeks ago, and we always do to see how it’s going.” It seems exciting things are ahead.