Exclusive Interview: Jodie Whittaker



Jodie Whittaker on her role in the highly anticipated second series of Time, why she will never get tired of talking about Doctor Who, and what the pandemic taught her about appreciating the joy in life

Words Liz Skone James

Photography Joseph Sinclair

Styling by Toni Caroline

Hair Lewis Pallett

Make up Nathalie Eleni

Location The Soho Hotel

Jodie Whittaker had it all planned out when it came to her career. “I was like, I’m gonna go travelling for a year, I’ll work for a year, and then I’ll go to drama school in London. And as naive as that was, that actually was what happened,” she tells me. “I went travelling for a year, and I then worked in Huddersfield for a year to earn some money and try and apply for drama school… And I was really lucky, I got into my first choice, which was Guildhall School of Music and Drama. It was a wonderful way into such an incredible industry, you know, without Guildhall, I absolutely wouldn’t be sat here talking to you on Zoom eating my lunch,” she laughs.

Jodie wears, Maathai Lyocell shirt in deep green by A Day’s March; Alvescot jacket and Talia pleated straight leg trousers in olive wool by The Fold; women’s sneaker 51, in white/green by Grenson; and jewellery by Folde Jewellery

Jodie’s work schedule is so busy with filming that we have struggled to find time to sit down and talk, finally managing to grab half an hour between scenes – it is lunchtime though, so she is having to multitask. We’re here to talk about her role in the second season of multi-award-winning prison series Time, which comes to BBC One and the iPlayer soon.

Orla’s own story was a poignant one that Jodie felt was representative of a broken system. “She’s a single mum of three,” she explains. “We meet her literally at the beginning of her sentence. She is in absolute shock because what she has done is fiddled the electricity bill, which you would think would be a kind of slap on the wrist kind of crime. Obviously, we have just lived through a horrific winter of people not being supported, and not being able to pay electricity bills… She’s sent to prison for a relatively small amount of time, it is only weeks, but it has a devastating effect on her family. Because obviously, when you don’t have other caregivers in the home, then there’s no one to turn to, then that family unit is forever broken.”

The fact that the world Orla was inhabiting was such an alien one actually made playing her easier, Jodie explains. “The good thing about playing someone like Orla is she herself has been thrown into the deep end,” Jodie explains. “The system can’t explain the system, never mind make someone else understand it who’s not a part of it, if you see what I mean. It was really important that I felt like a fish out of water in that sense, and also, I was away filming something else, and so I missed the first two weeks of filming. It was a stressful thing, because I was like: ‘Oh my God, filming has already started and I’m just going to be thrown in the deep end’. But that was Orla, she  was completely thrown into the deep end. And it was weirdly brilliant preparation.”

Jodie speaks so passionately about the series that it is obvious that reality more than lived up to expectation on this particular project. “Absolutely,” she agrees. “I really enjoyed it. It is a gift, as an actor, to play such a kind of raw and vulnerable and fiery, layered character, and within a huge storyline that features so many different threads – for Bella and Tamara their storylines are very different – but the marrying of all that, it’s so brilliantly realistic. I think Jimmy and Helen’s work on this, particularly for me, it feels as if it is kind of apologetically useful. I just hope that all this hard work and attention to detail translates, and that people ask questions and feel challenged when they watch it.”

Jodie wears: crimson cashmere sweater by Dai; red suit by Whistles and rings by Folde Jewellery

It is certainly a world away from the role for which Jodie is most famous – she played the first female Doctor in Doctor Who between 2017 and 2021, a time she describes as “a pocket of heightened joy and adventure” between social realism and dramatic projects. I wonder if she minds still being asked questions about this time. “Absolutely not! I mean you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” she exclaims. “Getting the Doctor in Doctor Who will probably be featured in every interview I ever do and I’m very happy that that will be the chat. It was such a special time: I will happily spend the rest of my career talking about it. People often ask me about it, and I can see they’re expecting a really quick answer, but 10 minutes later I’m still going on about it, and they’re like: ‘Oh my God, I should never have asked!’. But what a thing for me to have been able to do; the 23-year-old graduating from Guildhall didn’t see that coming!”

The 35-year-old probably didn’t see it coming either – how did she take the news? “I remember feeling overwhelmed, very emotional about it, scared by the thought of such huge responsibility, all that kind of thing,” she admits. Though these insecurities were, of course, outweighed by huge excitement and an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. “It’s an incredible role because you are given the keys to something that is limitless; there’s no boundaries. You’re not constrained in any way: time, period… anything. It is a gift. It’s yours to take and run with it.”

What are Jodie’s favourite memories of that time? “The people. Absolutely the people,” she says. “I was lucky to have my core, which was Mandip (Gill), Tosin (Cole), Brad (Walsh) and John (Bishop). And we walked into a family that had been formed over all the previous seasons; and we were taken on board, taken under everyone’s wing. It was so full of love, and so full of fun. And I absolutely adored living in Wales. I think it’s such an amazing country; I was very naive about how extraordinarily beautiful it is there. I think, at the time it was a dream job, but in hindsight, it’s more of a dream, because I had the most incredible time on it.”

“Getting the Doctor in Doctor Who will probably be featured in every interview I ever do and I’m very happy that that will be the chat. It was such a special time” Jodie Whittaker
Jodie wears, low key eco tee in black by Dai; and Ava pinstripe wool blazer and Harris pinstripe wool trousers in navy, both by A Day’s March

How did it feel saying goodbye, I wonder? “I was given three amazing seasons – they’re long shoots as well. The last one, we shot for a year,” Jodie tells me. “And so, the thing is, you’re so ready at the end of three years to do something new. But then it’s like that weird thing where you know your ice cream is finished, but you really don’t want it to be. You’re like, can I just keep the wrapper? Just to pretend that I have still got it. They said cut, and I cried. I cried quite hard for about 20 minutes solid in front of 200 crew; trying to say thank you. Trying to say thank you in Welsh, trying to say thank you in English, just blubbing my eyes out.”

Indeed, Jodie’s time as the Doctor was prolonged thanks to the interruption of the pandemic. She believes this hiatus makes it all the more joyous to look back on. “We all lived through the apocalypse,” she exclaims. “For the world to live through something so epic: you know, it was a very heightened time. Work stopped with the lockdown, and we were allowed to start shooting again in November 2020. It provided its challenges, but Jesus were we lucky we were actually working – a lot of livelihoods were totally decimated. I think when you can look at life and go ‘that was joyous’, you should really be aware of that and grateful for it. Because we’ve seen that it’s not like that for everyone every day.”

As well as an appreciation for her work, the pandemic made Jodie even more aware of how much family and friends meant to her. “It feels so long ago,” she says, recalling the dark days of the first lockdown, “but as necessary it was, the thing I found so hard was the isolation. The fact that you couldn’t just go see your friends and hug them. As hard as all that was, what I think it has done as a positive is that it made me realise you can’t take anything for granted. I’m really lucky, I’ve got a lovely close family. And a brilliant group of mates. And what I love more than anything is having the time to catch up with them. I think just being able to give your god kids a massive squeeze, and to be in a group of friends and family and everyone’s running around and making noise and causing chaos. That’s just my absolute heaven.”

Indeed, it seems that the simple pleasures are the best for Jodie, who is reassuringly down to earth. When I ask her how she would spend her perfect day off, she tells me: “I am lucky to love where I live – I mean, every area of London is cool, but I really like the area I live in, so I like hanging out there. My dream scenario is going for early dinner at a really great local pub that we have really fun family dinners at.”

London has been home to Jodie since she came down from Huddersfield to take up her place at Guildhall. “I think it is one of the greatest cities in the world. I adore it – it is my home, and it has continued to be my home for the last 20-bit years. It would take a lot for me to move out, I think,” she tells me. “I love the melting pot of culture and creativity. I love the greenery with an urban backdrop. I love the noise, and I love the crowds. But London does let you go at your own pace as well: if you want to be really manic and fit a million things in, you can, but you can also do nothing. So, I love that it caters to both sides of my personality, which is incredibly hyperactive and incredibly horizontal.” There’s a knock at the door – Jodie is needed in make up. The horizontal side of her personality will have to wait.