"I'm the type of person that you'd walk past and go, 'I think I went to school with her,' or 'I know her and I can't quite place it.'" says Jodie Whittaker, calling from the kitchen of her London flat. "It certainly isn't, 'I know her full name, and I can tell you who she is.'"
For the British actress, that's probably about to change. On July 17th, it was announced that she would be playing the next Dr. Who — the 13th incarnation of the time-traveling alien, and the first female to ever take on the iconic role since the debuted in 1963.
"I remember walking through London after that going, 'What the fuck?!?'" she says, recalling a coffee date with Dr. Who showrunner Chris Chibnall — the one in which he had asked her if she would consider auditioning for the part. "I was like, 'I want to audition now!'" she says. "As a young girl, I did not think that 'Time Lord' would ever be on my CV."
Whittaker — who grew up hooked on Eighties movies ("I'm from that Spielberg era of wonderful make-believe") in Huddersfield, a Yorkshire town in the north of England — had already made a name for herself in a number of feature films (from Venus, opposite Peter O'Toole, to the cult sci-fi flick Attack the Block) and the breakout BBC hits Broadchurch and Black Mirror. Still, she had to fight for the part, going through multiple rounds of auditions. And Whittaker says she was heartened by the fact that the casting search was not a scattershot one. "I have no idea who, but I know I was up against other actresses," she claims. "It was very much that [Chibnall] was auditioning people for the first female Doctor."
Then, this past March, Whittaker found out that the role was hers. "The morning of the reveal" — which, she notes, is always a moment of fanfare in the UK — "I was just walking about my street, thinking, 'Oh, this is so weird. Right now, I'm completely anonymous. I've got four hours' time.'"
Since then, she has already been hailed as a feminist icon and become the target of Internet trolls who view her casting as a form of sacrilege (i.e. "Nobody wants a Tardis full of bras").
"I'm playing an alien," Whittaker scoffs, "and gender is not a part of that." In fact, to her mind, the genderlessness of the role only makes the iconic part more feminist. "A moment like this of being the first woman cast as something," she says, "it makes you really think about your sex, whereas actually what you want to do is play a part where your gender is irrelevant. I am a woman, so I don't need to play that. And so for me, this was the most freeing experience because there's no right or wrong way to do it. The rules went out the window.'"