Though she long dreamed of being an actor, celebrity life has never held much appeal for Jodie Whittaker. She didn't set out to make history either, but she’s about to do that, too: This weekend, the 36-year-old actress will make her official debut as Doctor Who’s Thirteenth Doctor, and the first woman to ever permanently commandeer the TARDIS in the iconic sci-fi series’ 55-year history. Here are 11 things you might not have known about Jodie Whittaker.
1. IT DIDN’T TAKE LONG FOR HER TO LAND SOME PLUM ROLES.
Unlike so many actors who spend years waiting to get their big break, Whittaker found success pretty quickly after graduating from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2005. That same year, she made her professional debut at Shakespeare’s Globe in a production of The Storm, in which she shared the stage with Mark Rylance. Shortly after, she landed a role opposite Peter O’Toole in Roger Michell’s critically acclaimed Venus, which premiered at the 2006 Telluride Film Festival. Whittaker received a positive reviews across the board for her performance, which earned her nominations from the British Independent Film Awards and the London Critics Circle.
“I'll never be able to quantify how important Venus was for me or my career,” Whittaker told The Guardian in 2011. “I ticked a huge box.”
2. PETER O’TOOLE WAS AN EARLY FAN.
Peter O’Toole reportedly cited Whittaker as one of the two best young actresses he had ever worked with. (The other was Rose Byrne.)
3. SHE NEVER WANTED TO BE FAMOUS.
Though she long dreamed of making a living as an actor, being famous has never been on Whittaker’s to do list. “People never recognize me in the street and that’s brilliant—I love it,” Whittaker once said. “A chameleon face is good—because you don’t want to be going everywhere and have people thinking they know you. I’ve been around people who that has happened to, and sometimes it makes me angry on their behalf.” Like it or not, Whittaker’s surely about to lose a bit of that anonymity.
4. SHE STEPPED IN FOR CAREY MULLIGAN IN THE SEAGULL WITH THREE HOURS’ NOTICE.
In 2007, producers of the Royal Court’s production of Chekhov’s The Seagull found themselves in a bit of a pickle when the show’s star, Carey Mulligan, had appendicitis. They needed a great actress and needed one quickly, so they called Whittaker—who had auditioned for the part of Nina, but lost out to Mulligan—to take over. She had a full three hours between that phone call and her first performance.
“Carey powered back to health after a few days—she was an absolute warrior,” Whittaker later told the Daily Mail. “And when I saw her on stage again, I realized why I hadn’t got the job in the first place. There are a lot of good girls out there."
5. SHE CONSIDERS HERSELF A “QUIET PERSON’S NIGHTMARE."
While many actors are happy to rattle off any number of professions they would have possibly attempted had they not gone into show business, Whittaker doesn’t see herself as a 9 to 5 type. “I’m a quiet person’s nightmare,” she said. “The only time I shut up is when I’m reading, because I’m a book geek. I was the attention-seeking child in class who needed everyone to look at meee … Luckily that got channeled into acting, because I would have been terrible at anything else. I would have been a nightmare in any kind of office, because I wouldn’t have had any friends in any environment other than performing.”
6. SHE LIKES THE UNPREDICTABILITY THAT COMES WITH ACTING.
While some people can only be comfortable with stability, Whittaker loves the unpredictable nature of being an actor. “I’ve got a very manic energy,” she once explained about why living in London was a good match for her personality. “And I’ve always panicked about taking an acting job that would be really long, because the motivation for me is that I don’t know from day to day what I’ll be doing. I don’t want to know that in five years’ time I’ll be at such-and-such a level. I like the unpredictability of it all.”
7. WHITTAKER WAS CHRIS CHIBNALL’S FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY THE THIRTEENTH DOCTOR.
Whittaker isn’t the only newcomer to the new season of Doctor Who: Broadchurch creator Chris Chibnall, who has worked with Whittaker for years and has written for the sci-fi series in the past, was tapped as the show’s new showrunner. And the Thirteenth Doctor will be surrounded by a whole new cast of companions.
While it’s always a big deal when the Doctor regenerates on Doctor Who, Chibnall made it clear that he wanted the next Doctor to be a woman. And Whittaker quickly rose to the very top of his list of the very few actors who could pull the role off.
"I always knew I wanted the Thirteenth Doctor to be a woman, and we’re thrilled to have secured our number choice," Chibnall said. "Jodie is a force of nature and will bring loads of wit, strength, and warmth to the role."
8. HAD CHIBNALL NOT BEEN RUNNING THE SHOW, WHITTAKER DOESN’T THINK SHE’D BE AN OBVIOUS CHOICE TO PLAY THE DOCTOR.
Because so much of her past work has been dramatic in nature, Whittaker’s pretty sure that it was only because Chibnall knew her offscreen personality that she was even considered for the part.
“If Chris had only known my work, I don't think he would've necessarily thought of me as right for the role, because a lot of my work has been emotional or heavily traumatized, with a quite heavy energy,” Whittaker told TV Guide. “But in real life, I'm quite hyperactive and manic. So I think he saw qualities in me that lent themselves to the role. I was lucky that he knew me personally, and knew that I was a team player and I really enjoyed being part of an ensemble, and I really love filming and being on set. You need someone who enjoys the job, because it's long hours.”
9. CASTING A WOMAN AS THE DOCTOR HAS BEEN A LONG TIME COMING.
Although Whittaker’s casting as the first woman to play the Doctor made headlines around the world, Doctor Who producers have been toying with the idea of having an actress lead the ensemble going back nearly 40 years.
When Fourth Doctor Tom Baker departed the series in 1981, he famously wished "good luck to the new Doctor, whoever he or she may be," fueling speculation as to whether the next Doctor would be a man. (It was.) When Tenth Doctor David Tennant left the series 10 years ago, then-showrunner Russell T. Davies was gunning for Catherine Zeta Jones to become the Eleventh Doctor.
10. SHE HAD TO TELL A LOT OF LIES WHILE NEGOTIATING HER DOCTOR WHO ROLE.
Because of all the secrecy surrounding her casting, Whittaker gave The Doctor a codename: The Clooney. “In my home, and with my agent, it was The Clooney,” she said. "Because to me and my husband, George is an iconic guy. And we thought: what’s a really famous iconic name? It was just fitting.” (Yes, her husband was one of the few people she was allowed to tell.)
11. SHE STAYS FAR, FAR AWAY FROM SOCIAL MEDIA.
Given Doctor Who’s immense popularity, and the number of fans who like to make their thoughts about the series public via social media, it’s probably a good thing that Whittaker has never been into the whole Twitter thing. For her, it’s an important part of staying grounded as an actor.
“One of the main things that's been very healthy for me throughout my life and my career is having never entered social media,” she told TV Guide. “I didn't get a Facebook page, I never got Twitter, I never went on Instagram. It's a wonderful tool for so many reasons. But for me personally, it was never a direction I wanted to go in, because it lets in things that don't necessarily need to be a part of your day. I am very proactive of making sure I know the news and what's happening. So to then kind of dilute that with opinions, whether good or bad, of people who've never met me isn't necessarily helpful for my type of personality.”