Jodie Comer on why The Last Duel was 'quite a dangerous way to tell a story'
The Last Duel (2021 movie)
There might be three sides to every story in Ridley Scott's The Last Duel, but there's only one truth.
This was crucial to the woman at the center of the tale, Jodie Comer. The Killing Eve star joined executive editor Clarissa Cruz on the latest episode of EW's The Awardist podcast to talk about her powerful performance in the film and why, despite unraveling the tale from multiple angles, "there is ultimately one truth."
"The story's told from three perspectives, which I thought was quite a dangerous way to tell a story," says Comer. The film, written by her costars, Oscar-winners Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, as well Oscar-nominated screenwriter Nicole Holofcener, is based on the true story of Marguerite de Carrouges (Comer), who accused her husband's friend-turned-enemy Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) of raping her in the late 14th century. Le Gris denied the accusation but accepted Jean de Carrouges' challenge to a duel, leading to what would be the last sanctioned fight to the death in French history.
In the film, we first see things through the eyes of Jean de Carrouges, then from Le Gris' view, and finally, from Marguerite's, in an ending a title card confirms is the true version of events. "It was very important for everyone involved actually, that people come away from this movie knowing that she was the one who was telling the truth. And I was really fascinated by this kind of play with perspective because I think it's very true of how we live our lives," says Comer.
While the storytelling cleverly exposes the hypocrisy of both Marguerite's chauvinist husband and gaslighting attacker, Comer reveals she would not have taken the role if the audience was left with any doubt as to the truthfulness of Marguerite's accusation. "For me, it's the only way we could have told this story. Like I said, this playing around with perspective is so fascinating, and it did feel kind of dangerous because I was like, 'This has to be executed in such a way that there is no doubt.'"
Despite having the truth firmly on her side, Comer still had to give two separate performances that were true to De Carrouges and Le Gris's skewed perspectives. "I had to really think about how it was they saw me as a wife and as an acquaintance, and really try and think about what they needed from me in those moments to tell their side of the story," she explains. "Which is an interesting way to work as an actor because usually you only hone in and focus on your own instinct and your own motives. And I was often having to go against that, which was fun sometimes. It's great to be able to play around with that."
Still, Comer says she is "extremely grateful" that Scott made the decision to film her character's version of events first, which made her more comfortable when it came time to act out the story from the other points of view. "I felt a lot more relaxed about doing that once we'd established Marguerite's version on camera," she says. "I felt very protective of that."
Protecting and championing Marguerite's story was especially important to Comer because so many themes in Last Duel remain, sadly, pertinent as ever. "I feel like it really holds a mirror up to us as a society," she says. "When you think about the courtroom scene where she's sat alone in front of all of those men while they ask her the most personal, insulting questions about the experience of the assault itself, about her sexual pleasures. And you realize that many women who speak out today, they are doubted, they are questioned, they are publicly humiliated. It's all of these things."
She adds, "You realize that this has been going on for hundreds and hundreds of years, and yes, we have come a long way, but we've by no means come far enough. And I think that wasn't lost on me. I really felt a sense of duty of care really, when exploring this and showing this on the screen, because I knew there were going to be so many people who tune in to watch this film and connect with it in some way on a personal level. Yeah, I was always very aware of that."
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Inspired by a true story, Marguerite de Carrouges precipitates the last sanctioned duel fought on French soil when she accuses her Jacques Le Gris of raping her.