BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer locked eyes across a fish tank. Illuminated in the blue glow of bubbling water and artificial light, the two women slowly registered each other with puzzlement, hostility and abject longing. Across three seasons of “Killing Eve,” the two actresses and the show’s creative team have 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.
“Dude!” Oh exclaimed, still exasperated months later. The fish, which show up in the first episode of the show’s fourth and final season, were exceedingly “difficult,” Comer explained, laughing.
“One just swam right through and literally blocked both eyes,” she said. “I was like, ‘Guys, I can’t work with this fish.’”
Audiences won’t find out if the former MI6 agent Eve (played by Oh) and the globetrotting assassin Villanelle (Comer) are fated to wind up like Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers until the series finale of “Killing Eve” airs this spring. (The first of eight episodes will air Sunday on BBC America and Monday on AMC; the first two start streaming Sunday on AMC+.)
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. (In 2019, she won a Golden Globe.) Comer also nabbed multiple Emmy nominations, winning the award in 2019. The new season, like so many other projects, was delayed because of pandemic-era shooting complications.
Offscreen, 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 at the Peninsula hotel, interacting with the ease of old friends and the reverence of colleagues who have witnessed each other at the peak of their craft.
Comer, who speaks with a soft Liverpudlian lilt, quickly ditched the patent midi skirt she had worn for an earlier photo shoot, in favor of a more comfortable pair of track pants. Dagger-like earrings still framed her face. The Ottawa-raised Oh reclined in a seersucker jacket and billowy pants and sipped from her trusty drink bottle, marked to track her hydration throughout the day. (On set, Oh had earned a reputation for being a one-woman “hydration station,” Comer said, with multiple vessels nearby at all times.)
These are edited excerpts from our conversation.
What was your reaction when you learned how “Killing Eve” would end?
JODIE COMER It’s mixed emotions. I was kind of stunned. The beautiful thing about shooting the ending was that we were together on set, which was amazing. I don’t know how I feel about the ending, truth be told.
SANDRA OH I thought it was quite victorious. And I think we stayed true to the characters and to each other.
When did you find out the fate of your characters?
OH That was very much a 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 as we were building it. That’s as specific and as broad as I can say.
I do absolutely feel like this season, the season finale, we spend the most time together. Because it’s just correct and ready for the characters to be able ——
COMER To be in that space with each other.
Do you feel like this was the right time to end?
OH It is, because this is what’s happening. A lot of people describe this as a “cat and mouse,” and I understand that within the first season. But I’ve got to tell you, if you’re going to continue describing it like that you haven’t watched the show. That’s too easy. For me, the show is really exploring the female psyche and how these two female characters need one another. Doing that digging within the context of a certain type of thriller, it was the right time to end.
COMER It’s the trickiest thing to execute, you know? Trying to move the characters forward in a way that feels truthful but also keeping all those pieces that people love so much. Their relationship means something so personal to each person who watches it.
And the show doesn’t put a label on Eve and Villanelle’s relationship.
COMER I find it quite difficult when people are like, “What is this relationship?” It’s so hard to put a name on that.
OH More and more, I find that a very restrictive type of question, because it needs to be as wide as possible. I’m not gonna tell you nothin’. Because it doesn’t matter.
COMER Sandra and I don’t speak a lot [to each other] about what we’re doing before we get to set. And then when it feels good, it feels good. So we’re constantly making those discoveries ourselves.
OH That’s some of the best stuff in what we do in filmmaking. You can set up certain circumstances and then something unscripted will happen, and that’s actually what to follow.
How has having a different woman serving as showrunner each 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 of what they believe the characters would be doing. What I’ve enjoyed about that is the opportunity to sit at a table with everyone and really discuss and unravel what it is that feels true. To be included in those conversations, it’s been amazing. Prior to “Killing Eve,” it’s like, you show up to set, you learn your lines, you do your job and you go home.
OH It’s been the biggest avenue of growth. Because it’s very challenging. If you’re a sausage maker, you know that that’s a challenging way to make sausage. But what that sparks 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 accomplish in this final season?
OH I got to wear a wig!
COMER Oh, yeah! I remember when I saw that picture I was like, “Damn, Sandra.”
OH I got to wear two wigs! I got to wear a dress! I was so excited that my wardrobe expanded.
COMER There was a fire that I felt had gone out that I wanted back because I knew we were finishing. I wanted a snippet of the old Villanelle we once knew. She has gone on this journey with her moral compass and humanity, but I was like, I want her back, badder than ever.
OH Because a scorpion’s nature cannot change.
Is that something you vocalized early on?
COMER Yeah. Those conversations were always open, like, “Is there anything that maybe didn’t resonate with you or something that you want to expand on?” There was never something I couldn’t bring up.
What this show has always encouraged, especially about finding Villanelle, was, “Try something!” If it’s silly, if it’s over the top, if it doesn’t work, it’s fine.” There’s such a freeness that I have definitely taken on.
So many of your line readings are completely unexpected, and I’ll think, ‘Did she just do that in the moment?’
COMER I feel like I’m often just flying by the seat of my pants.
COMER: Is that the saying? Seat of my underpants?
OH No, no, no, no. “Seat of your pants” is correct.
When “Killing Eve” premiered in April 2018, the world was in a different place. We were mid-Trump presidency but prepandemic. How do you think the show has adapted to the shifting landscape, and what has it been able to offer viewers?
OH That’s a tricky question because I don’t want to say what it is. When we did come out, it was post-#MeToo, post-beginning of Time’s Up. It was an extremely magical, fortuitous time. The storytelling centered around women; most of the 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 regarding the pandemic and the shifts politically, that’s up to the audience.
COMER I feel like it’s sometimes pure escapism.
Like viewers getting to see Europe while stuck at home during the pandemic.
COMER Well, we had to do a lot of cheating this season because of Covid.
OH That’s a terrible reveal, but it’s so true.
COMER The art department and set design had to pull together to recreate these places that we were visiting. Everyone really had to step up in a different way.
Were you able to shoot anything outside of Britain?
OH Which is sad. But it is what it is. We’re shooting during the pandemic, blah, blah, blah.
What did your last day on set entail?
OH All we can say is that we were together.
OH We were also probably together. [Laughs.]
COMER Very together.
OH For me, it was very, very heightened. It was very hard.
Is that fish tank scene in the Season 4 premiere an intentional homage to Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet”?
OH Yes, for sure. We even thought about doing the hand thing, and we did not shy away from certain film references. Like when Eve is following Hélène [Camille Cottin], and she’s in 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 awards recognition you received for “Eve” mean to you?
COMER I remember going to the Golden Globes that first year, and Sandra won and we were all just like, “This is amazing!” It felt like such a celebration. Of course, there is always a moment of gratification, but your sense of fulfillment comes from actually doing the work.
OH Those trophies are lovely and nice. But as you continue on deeper into your career, the significance of that changes. We made something together. It’s concrete. It can’t be taken away from us. And most of all, the growth, confidence, maturity, expansion, everything that got us here, can’t be taken away. It’s those things that take up much more meaning and space.
Correction:Feb. 22, 2022
An earlier version of this article described incorrectly the broadcast schedule of “Killing Eve.” Only the first episode will air Sunday on BBC America and Monday on AMC, not the first two. The first two arrive together only on the streaming service AMC+, on Sunday.