Jodie Whittaker on 'brilliantly difficult' Broadchurch performance

She says she finds watching herself difficult, but Jodie Whittaker, who is in top TV  dramas Broadchurch and The Smoke, is watched by millions

Kaleem Aftab
Friday 05 December 2014 12:14 GMT
Jodie Whittaker off set
Jodie Whittaker off set (Dan Burn Forti)

They should put out a tornado alert before a chat with Jodie Whittaker.

The speed with which she spits out her Yorkshire accented words makes Usain Bolt look like a tortoise. The personality is also big – a wonderful mix of boisterous and savvy, and most of all down to earth. It’s clear she appreciates her own good fortune.

Take her appearance as Beth Latimer, the mother of a murdered child in the hit television show Broadchurch, which returns early next year for a second series. It’s the toughest role of her career, four months on set in which she plays a mother, coping with grief, a rebellious teenage daughter and a strained marriage.

“We [actors] have it easy a lot of the time,” she says. “We get to go through all these jolly bits so it’s good when we’ve got to work hard.”

Yet even as she discusses the difficulty of the role, it’s with appreciation that she’s doing a job she loves. “It was brilliantly difficult. A part like that, where you know, unfortunately, thank God it’s a small percentage of people, but there are people who have [gone through], and do have to go through, something as horrific as that, so you commit to it and throw yourself in, but you know that you are the one who at the end of the day can have a glass of wine and put it to one side.”

She refuses to give any insights into the new season, saying that one of the strengths of the first series was that no one could read in a magazine what was going to happen the week after. She has the same issue with trailers for films at cinemas: “You’ve shown it to me, now what?”

The 32-year-old can be seen in two films at cinemas over Christmas. The seasonal one is the kids’ caper Get Santa, in which she plays the mother of a boy (Kit Connor), who with his estranged father (Rafe Spall), has to spring Santa (Jim Broadbent) from prison. It was a part she jumped at: “I don’t think I’ve seen – I know there are some – another recent British Christmas film like it”.

She won’t be spending Christmas in Huddersfield: “I’m doing the thing of being a wife where you spend one year with your family and one year with their family.” She’s married to the American actor Christian Contreras, who was in the year below her at Guildhall drama school.

“I lucked out with his family, because he lives in Tucson, Arizona, they live in the sunshine. So that’s where I’ll be, while my family will be freezing, probably in the rain, in the north of England.”

It’s not that she doesn’t enjoy Christmas dinner at her parents’ house: “I’m quite laid back. I’m happy wherever. As long as everyone is happy, I’m quite transferable. I can hang with anyone. I think my ideal Christmas would be to hang out with my mates.”

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Jodie Whittaker as Beth Latimer, right, and Andrew Buchan as Mark Latimer from the series "Broadchurch."
Jodie Whittaker as Beth Latimer, right, and Andrew Buchan as Mark Latimer from the series "Broadchurch." (AP Photo/BBC America, Patrick Redmond)

The other film hitting the screen sees her play a cameo as the only female in Kevin Macdonald’s pirate treasure-hunt drama Black Sea. She plays the wife of Jude Law, in flashback scenes on a beach. “That was brilliant, I got a call four days before. The film was in pre-shoots and it wasn’t in the script, so it was all improvisation. It was shot in Cornwall on the three hottest days of year. At the time I was filming The Smoke, a gritty TV series for Sky and I got to hang out with Cornwall and work with Jude Law for the first time.”

She is no stranger to taking roles at the last minute. She once stepped into an incapacitated Carey Mulligan’s shoes to take on the role of Nina in an acclaimed Royal Court production of The Seagull in 2007 with two hours’ notice. “Me and my book,” she recalls. “I’ve never been so scared in my life, it’s like your worst nightmare, walking on stage and not knowing your lines. I got a phone call at 5pm. Can you do this? I was actually more concerned that I’d not had my tea. I was walking around starving and anxious that I didn’t eat and had to sit in a corset and was thinking, ‘I’m going to have a sugar low in a minute’. When we bowed I thought, ‘I don’t think I’m doing this again!’.”

She has been in demand ever since her brilliant film debut as feisty Huddersfield lass Jessie in Roger Michell’s 2006 tale Venus. There have been relatively few career knockbacks. One of them was her attempt to break into American television earlier this year in the ABC spy drama The Assets, based on a book by retired CIA officers Sandra Grimes (whom she played) and Jeanne Vertefeuille. The show was cancelled after just two episodes. “I got an email the other day and I think they’re going to put all eight episodes on Netflix. America, it’s a very different thing over there, if the ratings aren’t good they’ll cancel the show, whereas over here, they’ll air the whole series anyway. But we all know that about American shows, it happens all the time.”

She’s sanguine about the experience. “It sounds awful, and it doesn’t mean you don’t care, because you really worked hard and would love it to be on, but you can’t let things like that break you in anyway. I’ve not even seen any of it.”

That last comment seems extraordinary, but it turns out that it’s partly because she doesn’t want to seem like a highly-strung actor, even with show producers. She doesn’t ask for DVDs. “I’m not really the type of person that can sit and watch my own performances. If I called and said, ‘can you send me all the things that I’ve been in?’, it’s like, ‘no’. Even with The Smoke and Broadchurch, I’ll watch it when it’s on, I’m not going to ask for DVDs. It depends on who you are, some actors are really comfortable with it, but it can knock your confidence massively, you can think you’re brilliant one moment and then you’re picking your heart off the floor in other moments.”

I then bring up One Day, the disappointing 2011 adaptation of David Nicholls’s bestseller. Like many, I thought one of the main problems with the film was the Hollywood casting of Anne Hathaway in the role of Brit Emma Morley. “Don’t be so provocative,” exclaims Whittaker. “You will not get me in one second of an interview criticising another actress for a phenomenal performance. There is no way I could ever step into the shoes of Anne Hathaway, much as I would love to.”

The one area that Whittaker immediately says is off-limits is the death of her nephew, three-year-old Emmerdale actor Harry Whittaker, who had Down’s Syndrome. She adds, “The worst thing about being in the public eye is that journalists write things that you can’t control.”

Whittaker has just completed filming How To Live Yours, the debut from film editor Rachel Tunnard. It is a feature length version of the short Emotional Fusebox, which been nominated for a British Independent Film Award and is a comedy drama about someone who has recently lost her twin. The actress served as executive producer on the project. “I’d be a terrible writer as I can’t take the solitude and directors have to work too hard outside hours. When they wrap, they don’t really wrap. I think producing is more natural to my shout-ey, scream-ey, disposition.”

I wonder if her gregarious personality ever leads to clashes on set, “I think I’m quite Marmite, I’ve always probably been quite Marmite. I don’t think you’re on your own being an actor described like that. Being on set is often like being back at school where you’re in the classroom and you have a melting point of different people, different ways, I’m sure I rub people up the wrong way.”

‘Get Santa’ and ‘Black Sea’ are on general release. ‘Broadchurch’ season two airs next year

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