we meet the new Dr Who
She came to notice in TV hit Broadchurch but as the irst female Doctor Who Jodie Whittaker is going to be a household name worldwide. Chrissy Iley meets the notoriously private British actor.
When I meet Jodie Whittaker she is dressed entirely in black. A black knit rib top, black skinny jeans, black ankle boots – at, no nonsense. We’re sitting in the library of the London’s Charlotte Street Hotel which is all cluttery cosy with tapestried couches. She couldn’t be more at odds with the surroundings. Her hair is in a variation of a blonde bob, her make-up understated. Down-to-earth Yorkshire woman. There is a rmness to her. You don’t mess with her. There’s a strange kind of deep-seated con dence and strength and that’s something that she brings to the roles she plays. There’s very little of the vamp in her, but with her huge eyes and voluptuous lips there’s a trace of a woman who can do anything. Including take on the role of the rst female Doctor Who, play a boxer’s wife in the recent movie Journeyman, and in the gruelling but compelling TV series Broadchurch play the most terrorised woman on TV (her son was murdered by a family friend) while managing to stop the character from being tragic or a victim.
She is struggling with her newfound Doctor Who fame – people coming up to her in the supermarket and asking for sel es – but has taken it on gamely, as long as it isn’t too invasive. She’s more than willing to make someone’s day. In fact, she does a little video message for my friend Rob – a lifelong Doctor Who fan. He almost cries when he gets it. She knew he would. That is the kind of emotion Doctor Who evokes in people. Jodie is hugely empathic to its fans. She knows she’s taken on something that comes with heritage. She knows that the supermarket will never be the same but there are certain things she doesn’t want to share. She’ll talk about her husband, actor/writer Christian Contreras, and talk about the fact that she’s a mother but she will not say what sex her child is. She is rather a contradiction – warm and friendly, open with her opinions, yet barriers are so indelibly drawn there’s absolutely no crossing them.
Jodie sounds as if she’s never left Yorkshire although she’s lived in London since drama school. She’s now 35 and has spent a lot of time in Los Angeles. “Not for work,” she shudders. “Just because my husband is American and he often works over there. So we’ll go for eight weeks at a time. To me eight weeks is a long time. That’s one of the things I love about this job. It means you can travel to
different places and learn how they can become incredibly familiar quite quickly. I nd it’s a certain mindset. If you’re used to having to just land somewhere and get to know it quickly you just immerse yourself in it and Google the best places. I’m good at being somewhere new. I’ve already done that with so many places in the UK.”
Broadchurch was shot in various locations in Dorset and Jodie did three series, and Doctor Who is set in Cardiff, Wales. She lmed her rst episode for it in October 2017 – a small but integral part in the Christmas special where the previous Doctor played by Peter Capaldi regenerated into Whittaker’s 13th Doctor. It’s interesting to think of the concept of a female Doctor Who, not because having a vision and uber-knowledge are necessarily male criteria but because there are not so many superhero female role models. Jodie is certainly no cat woman. She doesn’t play her as an ultra-female but she’s not exactly non-binary either. It’s an interesting mix. An eight-month shoot for the entire series means she won’t be taking breaks to shoot another movie. “Basically, because I’m in every scene.”
We have a long discussion about the word “mardy” which is a northern word. It means grumpy. Jodie says sometimes she is mardy and she has to remind herself, “What would 10-year old me do? They wouldn’t complain that it was freezing or whatever. They’d be a pig in shit, so stop moaning. I’m not a big complainer. If I’m annoyed, I’m annoyed and people will know where they stand. If I’m upset I’ll be crying and if I’m happy I’m proper happy. I don’t have a lter or a poker face. But strangely I can do it with work, if you need me to be somebody I’m not, I can manage that.”
She laughs, a proper laugh. Maybe she doesn’t want to work in her personal life. She just wants to relax. Playing all these emotionally wrought women must take its toll. Jodie’s work is often about the minutiae that damages us. She is always on screen, very accessible, very human and now she is in the world of science ction, the world of Doctor Who. I’ve no doubt she is perfect at nding the human side of the Doctor. Part of Doctor Who’s appeal is that it has always managed to be ordinary as well as extraordinary and it knows the issues that move us, past, present and future. Jodie reminds me how she was moved by the lm Avalanche, particularly by the family dynamics. The father runs away. His animal instinct is to run.
“You think, please don’t be a f***er. Please be a good person.” Would she run or stay to protect her kid? “Ha!” she says, accusingly. “I agree that I’ve got one kid. That’s as much as you’ll get out of me about that. I’m just really funny about it. I want their life to be private for as long as that’s maintainable.” There’s a millisecond of a pause and she continues: “But would I do ight or ght? I hope I’m a ghter. You don’t know though, do you?”
At the end of last year she shot
Trust Me, a TV drama about a nurse who takes a job as a doctor. Sinner or saviour? She likes that. “Also morally dubious. I like playing characters that are not sugar coated.” Again, it’s about survival. “I am lucky, though, that no one’s had one idea of me and held on to that and thought this is all I can do. I’ve got a strong accent, I’m very obvious in my personality type but I want people to believe I can do anything. I was brought up in a household where you were celebrated
“I want to tell the fans not to be scared by my gender because this is exciting.”
for what you could do and you were never shamed for the things you struggled with. There was no part of my upbringing that suggested I needed to focus and get a proper job. There was no telling me what I wanted to do was ridiculous or unrealistic.
“Also, from a young age me and my brother were told if you don’t know something, just ask, so I’ve never been embarrassed about not knowing anything. I nd gaining knowledge wonderful but I don’t mind not knowing something. I just ask.”
Jodie grew up not knowing any actors. There was no family tradition, so you wonder where this brilliant creature came from. She just seems to have landed in herself from a different universe. Maybe that’s what she and the rst female Doctor have in common.
“No acting in the family, nothing, just the love of lm.” (She grew up in the 80s when cinemas were very accessible.) “I was far too young to watch Jaws but I did, I loved being exposed to Spielberg and cinematic adventure.” Her father ran a small business and her mother was stay at home, but as soon as Jodie was old enough her mum went back to work as a teaching assistant at a school for children with behavioural problems.
She cites Some Like It Hot as an inspirational movie growing up. “I must have watched it like 500 times when I was young.” Did she want to be Marilyn Monroe? “I think I wanted to be Jack Lemon, you know. I liked the journey of that character. It was phenomenal.” And here we learn what is extraordinary about Jodie – she is probably the only woman who could watch that movie and identify with the man who dressed up as a woman.
“If I hadn’t been an actor I would have loved to be involved in a team sport. I have never wanted to direct because I don’t have a vision. I have never wanted to be a writer because I don’t want to be in a room by myself. I don’t know the answers or the bigger picture but I don’t mind someone saying ‘That doesn’t work, why don’t you do it this way?’ I like being part of a team. Growing up, I played squash, hockey, rounders, not netball because I couldn’t cope with standing still. I like watching teams on the Olympics, everyone is individual but it only works because they are all in something together. I love relationships with other actors and directors. Doctor Who is very collaborative, it is a very exciting job.”
Jodie had a code name with her family and with her agent before her Doctor Who announcement. It’s always top secret and this time even more so. “It was The Clooney. Because to me and my husband George is an iconic guy. And we thought, what’s a really famous iconic name? It was just tting.” And although it felt daunting, she also took comfort in the fact she was part of a team, a team that existed before she was even born. “It’s wonderful and overwhelming and I absolutely love it. As a family we didn’t watch it except at other people’s houses. But I was much more aware of it when it came back with Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith.
Who was her favourite? “David, of course, because I know him (her co-star in Broadchurch). I think he was amazing. But there is no right or wrong, there are no rules.”
What does it feel like to be the rst woman Doctor? “It feels completely overwhelming; as a feminist, as a woman, as an actor, as a human, as someone who wants to continually push themselves and challenge themselves, and not be boxed in by what you’re told you can and can’t be.
“I want to tell the fans not to be scared by my gender because this is a really exciting time and Doctor Who
represents everything that’s exciting about change. The fans have lived through so many changes, and this is only a new, different one, not a fearful one.”
Does she play the role as a woman or simply a being from another planet who doesn’t really have a gender? “That is a dif cult question because I am a woman, I don’t ever play being a woman, I wouldn’t know how to play being a woman. Just like a man wouldn’t know how to play being a man. It’s me, but I am not bringing gender to my choices. I am bringing character to my choices. I don’t mind not knowing.”
Often the Doctor becomes very close to his female companion and there’s a semi-romance. Is her companion male or female? “I’ve got three companions, two boys and a girl. Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill. Everyone is a different age.” But is there a romance? “I am only a few weeks in so I don’t know the answers to quite a lot of questions yet.”
Is she signed on for one or more series? “I am not allowed to answer that.” (Again, this is traditionally surrounded in secrecy). As female empowerment came into the news there have been a lot of questions surrounding her pay. And the BBC gender pay gap has recently been uber criticised. The question is, is she paid the same as her predecessor Timelords? Fortunately, she was able to achieve the same pay as Peter Capaldi.
“It’s an incredibly important time and equal pay is a notion that should be supported – and it’s a bit of a shock that it’s a surprise to everyone that it should be supported.”
Jodie’s already lost her anonymity and she’s so far only been a cameo in one episode. Just before Christmas, a picture of her Doctor Who costume was released. It’s quite clever. It acknowledges the heritage of previous Doctors but it is its own entity: a T-shirt with a rainbow stripe echoes the multi-coloured scarves of previous Doctors. Petrol-coloured trousers with braces and multiple earrings that are stars and planets. Days after its release, social media endlessly pondered their meaning. Did she feel daunted by it? “No,” she beams. “I went to the audition excited but I always come into the room with the attitude ‘I sound like this, I look like this but believe me, I can do it’.
“Doctor Who de nitely puts me on a level where if I go into a meeting
I probably don’t have to say what I have been doing for the last few months.” She grimaces. She has worked hard at being the most unrecognisable recognised British star. “People are lovely but I am very private. It’s hard to be private but it is possible as long as you stick to certain things. I still get on the tube and I will continue to get on the tube but I might wear a hat.” She laughs.
Her rules for what’s private are interesting. She doesn’t consider talking about her husband Christian Contreras as private. “I have been with my husband for a really long time. He is a screenwriter and an actor, he is Googleable. I just think it’s easier for people to believe in me on the screen if they don’t know that much about me.” She and her Christian have been together since drama school. Does she consider this relationship as something that doesn’t really de ne her? She laughs warmly but doesn’t commit to a yes or no.
She never even posts anything on Instagram or Twitter. “I don’t want to know what people think about me … sometimes when I am really passionate I would love to throw my voice in, but perhaps I am too argumentative and I will say something immediately offensive. The problem with Twitter is we all think our opinions are facts. I have never been able to face Facebook. I am in touch with all of my mates. I see them. I don’t have to see them on the internet.”
This must mean she missed all of the social media posts about the Doctor Who announcement, including the one “Who needs a Tardis full of bras?” We laugh at this. “Well, I’ve missed that good stuff,” she says. “Who does need a Tardis full of bras? I wonder which person we could nd to say, ‘See, what I really need today is a Tardis full of bras’.”