British actress Jodie Comer, 31, is a rising star. After breaking out as a sociopathic Russian assassin in “Killing Eve” (BBC) and co-starring with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon in Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel” (Twentieth Century/Disney), she took home a Best Actress Tony for her bravura one-woman play “Prima Facie.” So it’s no surprise that casting director Francine Maisler suggested her to writer-director Jeff Nichols.

They were looking for faces that might measure up to the Danny Lyons photography book on ’60s Chicago bikers that inspired “The Bikeriders.” They had cast Tom Hardy and Austin Butler for the motorcycle picture. The question was, could Jodie Comer nail a local Chicago accent and stand up to these powerful actors?

Apparently, she can do anything. When she first took on “Prima Facie” on the West End, she had no classical training and had appeared as a teenager in one theater production. There was resistance to her taking on the role, but director Justin Martin supported her, and let her use her own Liverpool Scouse intonations. “Theater is about enunciation and end of words and clarity,” she told me. “And a Liverpool accent, we drop our letters and abbreviate an awful lot. It was definitely lovely to use my own accent, because of the subject of class; my family are working class.”

Playing to packed Broadway houses was “euphoric,” she said. “The first year everything was so unknown, and I had so much fear. And coming back to Broadway: ‘OK, I know I can do this now. There’s no question about that. And the material has lived in me for a little longer. I’m a year older, life has gone on.’ That newfound confidence enables you to take all the excess energy that you were wasting on fear, even though the fear is still there, and put it towards discovery and acceptance.”

KILLING EVE, from left: Jodie Comer, Sandra Oh, Hello, Losers', (Season 4, ep. 408, aired Apr. 11, 2022). photo: David Emery / ©BBC-America / Courtesy Everett Collection
‘Killing Eve’©BBC America/Courtesy Everett Collection

In “Bikeriders,” she plays Kathy, a self-sufficient Midwestern single mom with three kids who happens to come across a motorcycle gang and instantly falls for Benny (Austin Butler). Nailing Kathy’s “Bikeriders” accent was a tough task for Comer and her dialect coach. Luckily they had some audiotapes of the real woman to lean on. “She’s from North Chicago,” said Comer. “But her accent was a total contradiction. She was such a great storyteller.”

When Kathy first meets Benny, you understand her strong reaction to him. She goes into a noisy biker bar to give her friends some money and is about to leave when she sees Benny. “Oh, hang on a minute, who is this guy?” said Comer. “And that’s where the intrigue starts.”

(L to R) Jodie Comer as Kathy and Austin Butler as Benny in director Jeff Nichols' THE BIKERIDERS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Kyle Kaplan/Focus Features. © 2024 Focus Features. All Rights Reserved.
‘The Bikeriders‘Kyle Kaplan/Focus Features

It’s all about the seductive way he rests his muscled arms on the back of a chair. “Austin sat down initially just as normal,” said Comer. “Tom was facing us from behind the camera. And he shouted over to ask them to spin his chair around. ‘OK.’ And then Austin spins and leant over the chair. That’s now one of the most iconic images from the film. That’s a testament to Tom. He has a clear awareness of what the camera needs, wants, and what the audience is going to enjoy. His technical awareness and ability is fascinating to me, because I’ve never thought about that. I will try and almost forget about the camera and play the truth of it and go in and hope that the truth translates. And sometimes it doesn’t. He’s spontaneous and surprising. Anyone will say, you’re not quite sure what Tom’s going to do, which keeps everyone on their toes.”

Kathy and Benny get married, but she starts to feel abandoned by him as he spends more time with the motorcycle club. “The club starts off as a mutual love and admiration for riding,” said Comer, “but over time becomes dark and criminal and violent. Because she is on the periphery and she’s a woman, she can see what these men are avoiding and not facing and the danger they’re putting themselves in for the sake of appearing a certain way.”

(L-R): Jodie Comer as Kathy and Austin Butler as Benny in director Jeff Nichols' THE BIKERIDERS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features. © 2024 Focus Features. All Rights Reserved.
‘The Bikeriders’Courtesy of Focus Features

Things come to a boil when Kathy confronts Johnny (Hardy), the head of the Vandals biker gang, at a bar. “I hadn’t spent a lot of time around Tom,” Comer said. “I had to go in with gusto and energy. She’s coming in prepared, but she doesn’t know how he’s going to react. He’s not going to take it, or take it. He was more reserved; he was very slow, which made me as Kathy be even more frustrated. Neither one was going to back down. Which was fun to play.”

According to Nichols, “Tom was a little nervous because they knew of each other,” he said. “She came in with both barrels of a shotgun blast to his chest to where he actually skipped a line. Because he was just sitting there, watching her performance. It was like, knockout.”

(L to R) Tom Hardy as Johnny and Austin Butler as Benny in director Jeff Nichols' THE BIKERIDERS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Kyle Kaplan/Focus Features. © 2024 Focus Features. All Rights Reserved.
‘The Bikeriders’Kyle Kaplan/Focus Features

Next up: Danny Boyle’s horror sequel, “28 Years Later,” opposite Oscar winner Cillian Murphy. “You’re constantly wanting to be inspired and challenged by the people you’re working with,” she said. “I’ve been doing scenes last week with Aaron Taylor Johnson. Working with someone like that is only going to force you to step up.” She hopes to star in Kenneth Branagh’s “The Last Disturbance of Madeline’s Mind” later this year.

She’s also developing as a producer “Big Swiss” (HBO/A24), from “Killing Eve” writer and “In My Skin” creator Kayleigh Llewellyn, which is not officially greenlit. Producing makes her happy. “It’s lovely to be a part of the process in a different way,” she said. “You’re able to be a part of much bigger conversations and have influence and also learn from people. Reading a script and knowing that it works structurally is a skill in itself. That’s something that I’m trying to hone because I’m instinctive. Something I’m always looking for as an actor is how something provokes an emotion in me. The thing I love about Jeff [Nichols] is that his films are so visually beautiful and cinematic, but I’ve always felt like he was driven by character and story and emotion.”

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