The talented Jodie Whittaker has made a name for herself across the acting board; on the stage, in critically acclaimed television series, and in cult film classics. Known for her versatility, Whittaker’s roles range from ITV’s Broadchurch to indie movie Attack the Block. “It’s been lovely that directors trust that I can do other things they haven’t seen me in before. That’s been a wonderful aspect. Attack The Block was brilliant – all my cinema influences are full-on 1980s creature features; Goonies, Gremlins, that kind of thing, so for me it was the dream film to be a part of.”
Now, the classically trained actress is rerouting to the small screen as Trish Tooley, the partner of firefighter Kev in Sky’s much talked about drama The Smoke. Jodie tells us what all the fuss is about.
[callout title=Jodie Whittaker]“I deal with quite a big fire – I was terrified I’d had no training and I had no wish to be anywhere near it!”[/callout]
“I suppose on the surface it appears an action piece about firefighters. But actually it’s about when someone goes through something horrific that has consequences for the rest of their life; how people deal with that, how relationships work, as well as the day-to-day life of a firefighter.
“In the first episode Kev suffers a life threatening injury and the rest of the series is about him rebuilding his relationship and career. Kev’s the commander of White Watch, his firefighting team and they essentially represent the family of the piece. So it’s got everything – a lot of action, a lot of drama, and humour – there’s not point having drama if you’re not having comedy.”
The series features some awesome fire scenes. Were they a challenge to shoot? “The actors that play firefighters definitely have the complicated job, working with real fire. The producers were very keen on a lot of training for them and not a lot of CGI. I think the results are great… you only ever see the point of view of the firefighters so if they’re in the middle of a fire you’re there.
“At one point towards the end of the series I deal with quite a big fire – I was terrified I’d had no training and I had no wish to be anywhere near it!” she laughs. “But we were really well looked after, you had the right amount of adrenaline pumped through you as you went through it. With any massive acting sequence the actors are very protected.”
Having now spent over a decade immersed in the world of British acting, Whittaker has become well-respected across the field. With the successes of Broadchurch and The Smoke, is getting recognised becoming a problem?
“People look at me with a sense they might know me, but I think because I look so different I don’t think anyone can really place where I’m from – my accent changes in most things so I never get any hassle, maybe the odd look of ‘did I go to school with that girl?’ I’ve done quite well, I’ve avoided all sense of attention, which I’m delighted about!”
She might be chuffed to have maintained a level of anonymity but a life of acting has as always been her dream.
“I was really lucky – well, some people don’t call it lucky, they consider it limiting – but I knew I wanted to do it. I always knew I wasn’t massively academic so I never had the kind of trauma of thinking that I’m bright enough to be a lawyer, or athletic enough to be a professional, but should I be an actor? There was no trauma for me because I was absolutely not that good at anything else!”
Instead, Whittaker went from school, to travelling, to drama school and straight into the working actor’s world. “And then, as is with life, all the chaos happens from there!”
This ‘chaos’ includes the strain of government cuts affecting all aspects of the entertainment sector. “There’s so much cinema that wouldn’t have been made without the support for independent and low-budget cinema… what’s frustrating is that obviously government workers – which I am not and I have no idea of how difficult that job is – look at how that film made that much and that film made that much – but that is the opposite of art. But whether it made X amount in the box office doesn’t reflect in any way upon the quality or importance of that work. Some people have to think in money and some have an artistic brain. Mine is of the other and I hope to be part of independent cinema for the rest of my career – it’s basically been my career since I started.”
The Smoke makes its DVD bow on 14 April 2014 courtesy of RLJ Entertainment’s Acorn Media, following its run on Sky One.