11 Fun Facts About Jodie Whittaker

Joe Scarnici, Getty Images for BBC America
Joe Scarnici, Getty Images for BBC America

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.

Jodie Whittaker and Peter O'Toole in 'Venus' (2006)
Miramax

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."

Jodie Whittaker stars in 'Doctor Who'
Sophie Mutevelian, BBC

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.

Jodie Whittaker stars in 'Doctor Who'
Steve Schofield, BBC Worldwide

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.

Jodie Whittaker appears on 'The Graham Norton Show'
Matt Crossick, BBC

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.”

New Jersey's Anthony Bourdain Food Trail Has Opened

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Before Anthony Bourdain was a world-famous chef, author, or food and travel documentarian, he was just another kid growing up in New Jersey. Earlier this year, Food & Wine reported that Bourdain's home state would honor the late television personality with a food trail tracing his favorite restaurants. And that trail is now open.

Bourdain was born in New York City in 1956, and spent most of childhood living in Leonia, New Jersey. He often revisited the Garden State in his books and television shows, highlighting the state's classic diners and delis and the seafood shacks of the Jersey shore.

Immediately following Bourdain's tragic death on June 8, 2018, New Jersey assemblyman Paul Moriarty proposed an official food trail featuring some of his favorite eateries. The trail draws from the New Jersey episode from season 5 of the CNN series Parts Unknown. In it, Bourdain traveled to several towns throughout the state, including Camden, Atlantic City, and Asbury Park, and sampled fare like cheesesteaks, salt water taffy, oysters, and deep-fried hot dogs.

The food trail was approved following a unanimous vote in January, and the trail was officially inaugurated last week. Among the stops included on the trail:

  1. Frank's Deli // Asbury Park
  1. Knife and Fork Inn // Atlantic City
  1. Dock's Oyster House // Atlantic City
  1. Tony's Baltimore Grill // Atlantic City
  1. James' Salt Water Taffy // Atlantic City
  1. Lucille's Country Cooking // Barnegat
  1. Tony & Ruth Steaks // Camden
  1. Donkey's Place // Camden
  2. Hiram's Roadstand // Fort Lee

10 Sweet Facts About Napoleon Dynamite

© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox
© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

ChapStick, llamas, and tater tots are just a few things that appear in Napoleon Dynamite, a cult film shot for a mere $400,000 that went on to gross $44.5 million. In 2002, Brigham Young University film student Jared Hess filmed a black-and-white short, Peluca, with his classmate Jon Heder. The film got accepted into the Slamdance Film Festival, which gave Hess the courage to adapt it into a feature. Hess used his real-life upbringing in Preston, Idaho—he had six brothers and his mom owned llamas—to form the basis of the movie, about a nerdy teenager named Napoleon (Heder) who encourages his friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez) to run for class president.

In 2004, the indie film screened at Sundance, and was quickly purchased by Fox Searchlight and Paramount, then released less than six months later. Today, the film remains so popular that in 2016 Pedro and Napoleon reunited for a cheesy tots Burger King commercial. To celebrated the film's 15th anniversary, here are some facts about the ever-quotable comedy.

1. Deb is based on Jerusha Hess.

Jared Hess’s wife Jerusha co-wrote the film and based Deb on her own life. “Her mom made her a dress when she was going to a middle school dance and she said, ‘I hadn’t really developed yet, so my mom overcompensated and made some very large, fluffy shoulders,’” Jared told Rolling Stone. “Some guy dancing with her patted the sleeves and actually said, ‘I like your sleeves … they’re real big.'"

Tina Majorino, who played the fictional Deb, hadn’t done a comedy before, because people thought of her as a dramatic actress. "The fact that Jared would even let me come in and read really appealed to me," she told Rolling Stone. "Even if I didn’t get the role, I just wanted to see what it was like to audition for a comedy, as I’d never done it before."

2. Napoleon's famous dance scene was the result of having extra film stock.

At the end of shooting Peluca, Hess had a minute of film stock left and knew Heder liked to dance. Heder had on moon boots—something Hess used to wear—so they traveled to the end of a dirt road. They turned on the car radio and Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” was playing. “I just told him to start dancing and realized: This is how we’ve got to end the film,” Hess told Rolling Stone. “You don’t anticipate those kinds of things. They’re just part of the creative process.”

Heder told HuffPost he found inspiration in Michael Jackson and dancing in front of a mirror, for the end-of-the-movie skit. But when it came time to film the dance for the feature, Heder felt "pressure" to deliver. “I was like, ‘Oh, crap!’ This isn’t just a silly little scene,” he told PDX Monthly. “This is the moment where everything comes, and he’s making the sacrifice for his friend. That’s the whole theme of the movie. Everything leads up to this. Napoleon’s been this loser. This has to be the moment where he lands a victory.” Instead of hiring a choreographer, the filmmakers told him to “just figure it out.” They filmed the scene three times with three different songs, including Jamiroquai’s “Little L” and “Canned Heat.”

3. Napoleon Dynamitefans still flock to Preston, Idaho to tour the movie's locations.

In a 2016 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, The Preston Citizen’s circulation manager, Rhonda Gregerson, said “every summer at least 50 groups of fans walk into the office wanting to know more about the film.” She said people come from all over the world to see Preston High School, Pedro’s house, and other filming locations as a layover before heading to Yellowstone National Park. “If you talk to a lot of people in Preston, you’ll find a lot of people who have become a bit sick of it,” Gregerson said. “I still think it’s great that there’s still so much interest in the town this long after the movie.”

Besides the filming locations, the town used to host a Napoleon Dynamite festival. In 2005, the fest drew about 6000 people and featured a tater tot eating contest, a moon boot dancing contest, boondoggle keychains for sale, and a tetherball tournament. The fest was last held in 2008.

4. Idaho adopted a resolution commending the filmmakers.

'Napoleon Dynamite' filmmakers Jerusha and Jared Hess
Jerusha and Jared Hess
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

In 2005, the Idaho legislature wrote a resolution praising Jared and Jerusha Hess and the city of Preston. HCR029 appreciates the use of tater tots for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.” It extols bicycling and skateboarding to promote “better air quality,” and it says Kip and LaFawnduh’s relationship “is a tribute to e-commerce and Idaho’s technology-driven industry.” The resolution goes on to say those who “vote Nay on this concurrent resolution are Freakin’ Idiots.” Napoleon would be proud.

5. Napoleon was a different kind of nerd.

Sure, he was awkward, but Napoleon wasn’t as intelligent as other film nerds. “He’s not a genius,” Heder told HuffPost. “Maybe he’s getting good grades, but he’s not excelling; he’s just socially awkward. He doesn’t know how much of an outcast he is, and that’s what gives him that confidence. He’s trying to be cool sometimes, but mostly he just goes for it and does it.”

6. The title sequence featured several different sets of hands..

Eight months before the theatrical release, Fox Searchlight had Hess film a title sequence that made it clear that the film took place in 2004, not in the ’80s or ’90s. Napoleon’s student ID reveals the events occur during the 2004-2005 school year. Heder’s hands move the objects in and out of the frame, but Fox didn’t like his hangnails. “They flew out a hand model a couple weeks later, who had great hands, but was five or six shades darker than Jon Heder,” Hess told Art of the Title. “If you look, there are like three different dudes’ hands—our producer’s are in there, too.”

7. Napoleon Dynamite messed up Netflix's algorithms.

Beginning in 2006, Cinematch—Netflix’s recommendation algorithm software—held a contest called The Netflix Prize. Anyone who could make Cinematch’s predictions at least 10 percent more accurate would win $1 million. Computer scientist Len Bertoni had trouble predicting whether people would like Napoleon Dynamite. Bertoni told The New York Times the film is “polarizing,” and the Netflix ratings are either one or five stars. If he could accurately predict whether people liked the movie, Bertoni said, then he’d come much closer to winning the prize. That didn’t happen for him.

The contest finally ended in 2009 when Netflix awarded the grand prize to BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos, who developed a 10.06 percent improvement over Cinematch’s score.

8. Napoleon accidentally got a bad perm.


© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

Heder got his hair permed the night before shooting began—but something went wrong. Heder called Jared and said, “‘Yeah, I got the perm but it’s a little bit different than it was before,’” Hess told Rolling Stone. “He showed up the night before shooting and he looked like Shirley Temple! The curls were huge!” They didn’t have much time to fix the goof, so Hess enlisted Jerusha and her cousin to re-perm it. It worked, but Jon wasn’t allowed to wash his hair for the next three weeks. “So he had this stinky ‘do in the Idaho heat for three weeks,” Jared said. “We were shooting near dairy farms and there were tons of flies; they were all flying in and out of his hair.”

9. LaFawnduh's real-life family starred in the film.

Shondrella Avery played LaFawnduh, the African American girlfriend of Kip, Napoleon’s older brother (played by Aaron Ruell). Before filming, Hess phoned Avery and said, “‘You remember that there were no black people in Preston, Idaho, right? Do you think your family might want to be in the movie?’ And that’s how it happened,” Avery told Los Angeles Weekly. Her actual family shows up at the end when LaFawnduh and Kip get married.

10. A short-lived animated series acted as a sequel.

In 2012, Fox aired six episodes of Napoleon Dynamite the animated series before they canceled it. All of the original actors returned to supply voices to their characters. The only difference between the film and the series is Kip is not married. Heder told Rolling Stone the episodes are as close to a sequel as fans will get. “If you sit down and watch those back to back, you’ve got yourself a sequel,” he said. “Because you’ve got all the same characters and all the same actors.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER