One of TV’s hottest shows began in a tiny, sparsely decorated office in Burbank, Calif. That’s where Killing Eve co-stars-to-be Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer met for the first time.
“I remember it exactly!” Oh says of the their initial pairing in 2017. “The room was completely empty and the size of a small child’s bedroom. [Comer] came in with a wheeled suitcase looking a little lost. I said, ‘Oh, you must be Jodie!’”
Oh had already signed on to the series, and now Comer, a young Brit who had just arrived in L.A. from Barcelona, was gearing up to try out. The two huddled together in front of a nearby laptop, video-conferenced with the London-based producers and read a few key scenes together.
Comer got the job two weeks later. “Sandra was so warm and generous,” she recalls. “I came away feeling like I [had done] this incredible acting workshop. Like, what we had together was so great.” Or as Oh adds, “There was chemistry.”
That connection between the two stars helped make Killing Eve a compulsively watchable, Emmy-winning international smash. A cat-and-mouse tour de force, the series chronicles a British intelligence officer, Eve Polastri (Oh), and her pursuit of a psychopathic Russian assassin who goes by the name Villanelle (Comer). They ultimately develop a dangerous mutual obsession, and by the end of season three they vow to go their separate ways.
“It’s really a portrait of two women trying to be whole,” Oh says. “And along the way they discover that trying to be whole has something to do with each other.”
For Killing Eve’s fourth and final season (premiering Feb. 27 on BBC America and AMC+ and the next night on AMC), the characters take charge of their lives as they plot to defeat a shady organization (“The Twelve”) spreading chaos. “Eve has actively changed,” Oh says. “She’s ready and willing to go outside the system she’s depended on to defeat the Twelve.”
As for her nemesis, Comer says that Villanelle “has been told she’s a monster, and she’s desperate to prove people wrong. She goes to church, and she’s determined to be good.” But, she adds, “You probably know how that will end.”
An Electric Experience
Nearly five years after their initial meeting, the two are back on video screens for Zoom interviews with Parade. Oh, 50, is enjoying a sunny winter afternoon in Los Angeles; Comer, 28, checks in from her home in London where, she groans, “it gets pitch-black at, like, 4:45 p.m.” The two haven’t seen each other since the show’s final episode wrapped in November. “It was always enjoyable for us,” Comer says. “And for the characters, being together created an electricity.”
Comer felt the surge of current as soon as she read that very first episode. At the time, she was just 23 years old and had already appeared on several British TV series. “I couldn’t put the script down,” she says. “It made me laugh and really surprised me. It was weird in a wonderful way, and there was something fresh that people hadn’t seen before. I loved that Villanelle was so unapologetic about who she was.”
A TV mainstay since 1996, Oh adds that when the show premiered in the spring of 2018 at the height of the #TimesUp movement, “there was an opening in the industry for stories about women,” she says. “It was a great time for us.” Indeed, the series featured a top-down female perspective, as different females were running the show behind the scenes—including Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the creator and star of another award-winning hit series, Fleabag, and Emerald Fennell, who would go on to write and direct the Oscar-winning movie Promising Young Woman.
Eve took off in a hurry, with critics and fans flocking to catch its dynamite spin on a traditionally alpha-male genre. Ratings grew with every episode, which no television series had achieved in more than a decade. Comer won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 2019; Oh was Emmy-nominated and in 2019 hosted Saturday Night Live—only the third Asian woman to do so in its storied history—and made history as the first Asian person to host the Golden Globes (with Andy Samberg). Oh won a Best Actress Golden Globe for Killing Eve that same year (as well as a SAG Award for Female Actor in a Drama Series).
For Killing Eve’s final episodes, they filmed in London, Berlin and Spain. “We were very aware we were shooting the final season and approached it with a lot of care and openheartedness,” Oh says. “And I have to say, part of the process was me trying to let it go.”
Comer points to a moment when she saw Oh as Eve for one of the final times. “I became so overcome. Like, I can’t believe all the incredible people we’ve met and all the experiences we’ve gone on together over these five years. It was really moving.”
Similar to their characters, Oh and Comer both blossomed into their careers as outsiders. Oh is the middle child of a biochemist mom and businessman dad who emigrated from South Korea to the United States to Ottawa, Canada, in the 1960s. Academia, not acting, runs in her family. “Asking why I was picked to do this is a very spiritual question,” says Oh. “From the very beginning, I was very lucky to be born knowing what I wanted to do and have spent my life honing my craft.”
She attended the National Theatre School in Canada, then got her first break locally in 1993 when she was cast in the Canadian TV movie The Diary of Evelyn Lau (playing a former teen prostitute). Two years later, just before her 24th birthday, she moved to Los Angeles to appear in an independent film. The actress says that her good fortune soon struck again when she landed a part in Arliss, an HBO comedy series about a sports agent. It aired for seven seasons through 2002. “I want to say that I had a typical L.A. experience except that it wasn’t, because it wasn’t that difficult for me,” she says.
Acting gigs might have come easy, but life in the spotlight turned out to be considerably tougher. First Oh had a standout turn as a sommelier in the 2004 Oscar-winning wine-country comedy Sideways (directed by her then-husband, Alexander Payne). Less than six months later, she made her debut on a sudsy medical drama called Grey’s Anatomy. Among an ensemble of wide-eyed doctors, her character of surgical intern Cristina Yang, who works her way up to chief medical officer and director of cardiothoracic surgery, was the confident and no-nonsense voice of reason. The performance led to five Emmy nominations and, at the show’s height, more than 20 million people watched her every Thursday night.
It was a rush unlike anything she’d felt before. “It’s very challenging to describe to people the immense change that happens when one becomes famous,” the naturally private Oh says. “You have to say goodbye to something that you used to know, and it’s very emotional.” Plus, the definition of success takes on new meaning. “It’s one thing to be a successful actor, and it’s another thing to be on a hit TV show. I didn’t want to be a part of that. The loss of anonymity as a person and as an actor has consequences. For me, it became isolating.” She left Grey’s Anatomy in 2014 and “it’s an unfortunate no” when asked about a potential return. That even goes for a one-off cameo in the very last episode.
As Oh was making her TV debut in the ’90s, Comer had just been born. Like her co-star, the Liverpool, England, native was destined to perform. “I was so in tune with my emotions at a very young age,” she says. “I was always doing impressions at home and was a very confident and dramatic child.”
She went to a theater school down the road from her house that offered instruction in singing, dancing and acting. One day, her drama teacher encouraged to try out for the Liverpool Theatre Festival. “She found a monologue for me, and I stood on the stage and did it,” she says. That same teacher also tipped her off that a local playwright was searching for a girl to play the lead in a BBC radio play. “She drove me to the audition, and I got it!” Comer says. She was 12.
The actress jokes that her parents, Donna and Jimmy, wanted to pop champagne every time she snared a role early on in her career (including a popular daytime drama in the U.K. called The Royal Today). These days, though, “they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s great, babe.’ They’re used to it!”
Her past year in Hollywood has been especially amazing: She starred opposite Ryan Reynolds in the summer blockbuster Free Guy (for which she used an American accent to play a video game coder), and she was the female lead in the prestigious Ridley Scott–directed sword-fight drama The Last Duel with Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Adam Driver. “Doing Free Guy put me in a position where I could step on to the set of The Last Duel and feel like I was meant to be there,” she says. “My insecurity of doing film acting had fizzled out by that point.”
But she insists, she still doesn’t feel as if she’s made it to the big time. “I don’t think the feeling of ‘This will be my last job’ ever goes away,” she says. “There’s a constant fear, which I don’t think is a bad thing because it means you’re stepping out of your comfort zone in a new way. You never want to feel too comfortable.”
From Killing to Chilling
So what now? Oh has been trying animated voice work and reports there’s no word yet on a second season of The Chair, the Netflix dramedy in which she plays the beleaguered head of the English department of a fictional Northeastern university. Comer is readying to do the one-woman play Prima Facie, about a criminal barrister, in London’s West End. Both actresses, however, insist that their long-term goal is to go from Killing to chilling.
“This is something I’ve asked Sandra about, to be honest,” says Comer, who dates American lacrosse player James Burke. “Like, I just wanted to know how she navigates her personal life and is present for things when you’re being called away for work. How do you balance that?” Oh says when she turned 50 last July, she took a long look at her aspirations: “When you’re a young actress, your big goal is to have three auditions a week. But then there comes a time in your life when you just want to slow down and see your friends. My priorities have shifted.”
And some of that down time includes reflecting on the legacy of their pioneering show. “It’s the kind of show with a certain quirk that you could never put in a box,” Comer says. “That’s why fans are so invested and passionate and have their own theories about how it will end. I hope they’re satisfied.”
Oh and Comer’s Favorite Things
Comer: Billy Elliot
TV Show to Binge
Oh: “The Wire. It’s so magnificent and I feel smarter watching it.”
Comer: “In My Skin, which is a phenomenal Welsh BBC drama.”
Book on the Nightstand
Oh: “I’m looking at an old copy of Harper’s. I’m a magazine person.”
Comer: “The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken. It’s prep for my play.”
Song to Belt Out in the Car
Oh: “Chandelier” by Sia
Comer: “That Don’t Impress Me Much” by Shania Twain
Food Always in Your Pantry
Comer: “Eggs. We don’t put eggs in the fridge in England. That’s an American thing.”
Oh: “Pesto pasta made from scratch. I get the basil leaves and the seared scallops and asparagus.”
Comer: “I make a really good chicken curry.”
Oh: “The snow. There’s no shortage of it [in Canada].”
Comer: “The people in Liverpool have a very wicked sense of humor. And wherever you go, there will always be someone who wishes you to have a good day.”