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.

The Australian Women's Weekly - - Contents -

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’.”

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