Jodie strikes out in an invasion of the aliens

Jodie Whittaker has found herself taking the lead in new movie Attack The Block.

We first saw Jodie Whittaker in 2006 in Venus, as the teenage misfit who overturns the lives of two old actors, played by Peter O’Toole and Leslie Phillips, and becomes the object of desire for an autumnally lusty O’Toole.

It was her first major job, aged 23, and since then, with her “chameleon face”, as she calls it, she’s carved out an impressive stage and screen career, playing roles in corsets in Cranford to tunics in St Trinian’s and all stops in between including a Nazi wife in Good and Tess Of The D’Urbervilles.

Her new film is the witty comedy-horror film Attack The Block, in which she plays a practical and rational trainee nurse who joins forces with a south London gang of hoodies to battle an alien invasion on their council block.

The film’s writer and director is Joe Cornish, best known as the taller, drier half of Adam and Joe, and co-writer on Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures Of Tintin.

“When we started shooting, I was the oldest actor there and my character was leading the show and I felt totally out of my depth,” laughs Whittaker. “I am used to being the youngest one there and I am usually cast in emotionally traumatised or quirky roles. I’ve never played anyone rational before.

“I haven’t quite worked out why not, but it’s given me a brand new energy.

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“I’ve sort of ‘come out’. Just today, walking down Berwick Street Market in Soho, I heard a stall guy talking about the film and I rushed up to him and said, ‘I’m in that!’ and gave him a hug.”

Whittaker is indeed chameleonesque. Petite and quietly dressed, she could be any young woman with lovely cheekbones, an enthusiastic laugh and a garrulous manner. She looks different in every role and I could easily have walked right past her when we met.

“Nobody ever recognises me,” she says gratefully. “I use public transport all the time and love to roam around London. London suits me – I’ve got a very manic energy! I left Yorkshire seven years ago and, unlike in the film, which opens with me being mugged for my phone on a dark street, I think London has more to fear from me. I’ve never been mugged, never experienced street fear. In fact, I’m the one who gets into arguments because I don’t keep my mouth shut. A few times, if there’s somebody smoking on the night bus and it’s really irritating, I’ve done that thing of pulling the fag out of their mouth and snarling, ‘There’s no smoking on this bus.’ Then I’ll sit down and absolutely brick it.”

Whittaker knew early on she wanted to make it to London from her home in Skelmanthorpe (population 2000) in Yorkshire. She says she knew at a young age she wanted to be in the big city and to have a million things to do. The daughter of a businessman and a nurse (who is now a magistrate), she left school at 16, messed about for a couple of years doing a BTEC in performing arts and pulling pints in a pub in Huddersfield, then went travelling, alone, in America and Asia for a year.

“I was very na�ve. I just knew I would go travelling, come back and work for a year to save money for drama school, and that’s what happened. I realise now that it shouldn’t have been that easy. I’ve been very lucky.”

She went to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the same year as Hayley Atwell and Michelle Dockery and graduated with a gold medal. There she also met her husband, the American actor Christian Contreras. They married two years ago and live in Muswell Hill. It was while they were honeymooning in Hawaii that she received an email saying she’d got the part in Attack The Block with co-stars including her near neighbour Nick Frost, Luke Treadaway (Killing Bono) and a posse of talented young unknowns lead by John Boyega.

“I’m a bit concerned that, when people see this film, they will assume that the kids in the gang are just playing themselves,” she comments. “They certainly are not and they took acting very seriously, doing workshops and character work. It’s a great little film, so funny and so dark, like one of the hoodie characters in the film says, ‘It’s blacker than my cousin Famous.’”

o Attack The Block is released tomorrow (May 13). For the Ham&High’s review by Michael Joyce, see page VII.