Love scenes with Luther? Yes please...
Sienna Guillory quit a glittering film career in Hollywood for the sake of her twin toddlers. Now she’s in bed with TV’s dishiest detective, Idris Elba’s talented but tortured John Luther
I ’ve only been chatting to new Luther star Sienna Guillory for a few seconds but already the poor girl is in tears. She is someone, she admits, who has ‘emotional Tourette’s’. It’s refreshing, endearing and, in the refined confines of the trendy hotel where we are meeting, a touch disconcerting.
The tears are over her two-year- old twin girls. It’s clear she adores them. But it’s also clear that she is struggling. We are introduced as I am finishing a phone call trying to juggle my own childcare with work. She empathises and I tell her it must be even harder with twins. That’s when her eyes start watering. ‘Why doesn’t anyone tell you how hard it is?’ she says, struggling to talk. ‘Before you have children, you think parenting is about your capacity of love. “I can do that,” you think. “That’s the one thing I know how to do.”
‘Then you have kids, and you have two at once and you just feel like they both need you all the time and you have to put one down when the other one is crying for you. It always feels like you are neglecting one; it just breaks your heart. You feel like you are not giving them enough love. It’s really hard.’
She admits that just a few days earlier she had been to see the doctor for advice. ‘ I said, “Where am I supposed to go for help? For someone to tell me what to do?” It’s really hard. He looked at me like I was mad. That was embarrassing.’ She shrugs sadly. It’s heartbreaking; I want to give her a hug.
Help is one reason why Sienna, 38, and her actor husband of 10 years, Enzo Cilenti, also 38, returned to London from LA, where she’d built a successful film career. ‘I needed my mum,’ she says, more tears falling. ‘She’s been a big help.’ Appearances can certainly be deceiving. From the outside, Sienna is the cool-as-ice blonde who found fame in Jilly Cooper’s Riders, became a top model, was a tabloid darling while dating Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels star Nick Moran, then moved to LA, where she played a string of tough girls including warrior Jill Valentine in the critically mauled but box-office-blockbusting Resident Evil series.
She is certainly beautiful but surprisingly unconfident. She says she’s not cool; she is, but in a very quirky, unconventional way. After having her daughters, Valentina and Lucia, she was terrified she would never work again. Instead she was given just a few weeks after their birth to get super-fit and skinny for the most recent Resident Evil film, Retribution. ‘If it had been any other film, I would have given myself a break, but basically I was going to be going up against Milla Jovovich; a supermodel in a cat suit,’ she says. ‘It was like, “Oh. Goodness. Okay.” I worked out three hours in the morning, then an hour at night. I only did it on the proviso that they gave me a nanny. I said, “I’ll do anything; just give me a nanny. Help me!”’ Until that film Sienna, who once said she had drifted into acting rather than seen it as a life’s ambition, had always felt uncomfortable on set. Not good enough. But oddly the disaster in her domestic life meant she felt happier than she had ever been on set. ‘I’d always felt that everyone must be better at this than I am; I was sure I was doing something wrong,’ she says. ‘My agent used to say I was my own worst enemy. But after I became a mum, I realised being at work was heaven. I realised I am good at this; I know how to do it.
‘After doing it for 20 years, I felt confident. I love being part of a team. It’s a complete juxtaposition with the blithering wreck I am at home. At home it’s terrifying because I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m team leader. And I’m not good at that.’
Filming the movie in Toronto made her realise she wanted to leave LA. ‘You could walk to the shops, rather than having to drive everywhere,’ she says. ‘People would wear
nice clothes rather than tight clothes because they thought it made them look young. I didn’t want my children to grow up in a place where they use the term “Mexican” in a pejorative way. There’s a lot of that in LA.’
Returning to Britain was a risk for her — ‘I was terrified people would have forgotten me,’ she recalls. But almost immediately she was given the script for Luther, to play the maverick cop’s new love interest, Mary Day, while Enzo got work on Prisoners’ Wives.
‘It’s much easier to play characters that are very different to you,’ she says. ‘With Jill Valentine, I got to kill things and I was all-powerful — and men were really scared of me. With Mary, I had to be really honest — she’s got emotional Tourette’s like me. Playing her was a big emotional ride but it sort of helped that I was being kept up all night by the twins; I didn’t need to fake being premenstrual. But I loved the script. It’s so well written and that is rare — well, for me at least — that you get to do things that are properly written. Luther is a man who does the wrong things for the right reasons; everything is based on his gut.’
Mary and Luther meet when they literally collide into each other. Sienna says it was a joy to work with Luther’s lead, Idris Elba. ‘He’s amazing,’ she gushes. ‘He is really big; tall, wide, with a big voice and I never knew what he was going to do next: pick me up and kiss me or knock me over. The love scenes were definitely a perk of the job,’ she adds, a smile finally coming over her face. ‘It was much nicer kissing him than Antonio Banderas, who told me that I was a terrible kisser in front of the whole crew of a film [on 2011’s The Big Bang].’
Sienna has been famous since she was 16 years old and chosen to play the lead role of Fenella Maxwell in the television adaptation of Jilly Cooper’s bestselling book Riders. The daughter of the model Tina Thompson and American- Cuban folk guitarist Isaac Guillory, she was a little different from the rich farmers’ daughters at her boarding school and she was badly bullied. ‘Teenage girls can be awful,’ she says.
Acting was always her release — and was partly inspired by family friend Helen Mirren, who once lived in a commune with her mother. ‘We always used to go and see Helen’s plays and she was a real role model for me,’ Sienna says. ‘She is hypnotic, extraordinary, warm and funny, vivacious and brilliant. She is kind of superhuman — everything you want to be and more.’
Riders made Sienna a ‘name’ and that was increased fourfold when she started dating Nick Moran, who was at the height of his fame after the success of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. The spotlight made her want to hide — ‘It made me horribly, horribly insecure’ and she deliberately sought out low- key work. She went on to meet Enzo 12 years ago and the pair seem to have a strong bond. ‘He’s such a fabulous dad,’ she smiles. When she was offered a role on an American pilot six years ago the pair moved
‘After I became a mother, I realised being at work, on set, was heaven’
to LA. She is honest about her motivations: ‘Even if you are working back to back here on brilliant jobs, you look at your bank balance at the end of the year and see there is still nothing in it. You think of things you can sell on eBay to pay the mortgage.
‘In LA, you are well paid very nicely, thank you very much, but I have come to realise that in life there are many things that you don’t actually need — but one of them is to do good work and another is to work with people you admire.’ So now Sienna is back — and already on primetime television.
What’s more, she seems like someone who is finally getting to the place she has always wanted to be. ‘I’ve always wanted to be older as I think it’s all right to be a little bit odd when you are out of your 20s,’ she muses. She is odd, but you can’t help but love her for it. The brand- new series of Luther starts on BBC1 on Tuesday at 9pm
Sienna with Idris Elba in Luther
Sienna in 2004’s Resident Evil: Apocalypse