Si­lence is golden

The ac­tress on un­ex­pected suc­cess, techno­pho­bia and be­ing buried alive

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Jeremy Tay­lor

Emilia Fox talks to Jeremy Tay­lor about un­ex­pected suc­cess

EMILIA Fox spent much of her early life in a time­warp cot­tage near the Juras­sic Coast in Dorset. There was no tele­vi­sion or mo­bile­phone re­cep­tion and, even if the world­wide web had been avail­able, her fa­ther, the ac­tor Ed­ward Fox, pre­ferred mail that had a stamp on it. It may ex­plain why the Silent Wit­ness star cur­rently has more than 19,000 un­opened emails in her inbox. There’s a large pile of post stacked on a chair in her west lon­don home, too.

‘I haven’t touched it for months—it’s like hav­ing an­other per­son in the house,’ she says. ‘Some of the emails are be­yond hope, but even the re­cent ones frus­trate me. I’m com­pletely hope­less and can’t bear to think what I’ve missed. I un­der­stand now why my fa­ther still doesn’t have a mo­bile or use the in­ter­net. I’m sure his life is much sim­pler for it.’

We’re talk­ing in a suite at the Mile­stone Ho­tel in Kens­ing­ton, a lux­u­ri­ous venue a world away from the pathol­ogy lab in which Miss Fox spends much of her time on set, clad in the white pro­tec­tive suit of her screen per­sona. This week­end, she will at­tend the Investec Derby Fes­ti­val as an am­bas­sador, along with the ir­re­press­ible jockey Frankie Det­tori. ‘It’s my first time at Ep­som and any ex­cuse to get dressed up is a treat. The theme is flow­ers and but­ter­flies—i’m wear­ing a hat de­signed by Rachel Trevor-mor­gan,’ she dis­closes.

Miss Fox, 42, has just started film­ing the 21st se­ries of Silent Wit­ness, due to be screened early next year on BBC1. Thank­fully, her char­ac­ter, feisty pathol­o­gist Dr Nikki Alexan­der, sur­vived be­ing buried alive in the fi­nal episode of sea­son 20— the nail-bit­ing cli­max, set in Mex­ico, at­tracted more than six mil­lion view­ers. ‘I did feel ter­ri­bly claus­tro­pho­bic dur­ing film­ing of those un­der­ground scenes,’ she re­calls. ‘It took a week to shoot and, al­though the crew was with me, I missed hav­ing other ac­tors around. It’s lonely when you’re in such a tiny space with only a scor­pion for com­pany.’

Miss Fox was born into an act­ing dy­nasty. Her fa­ther played the as­sas­sin in the 1973 thriller The Day of the Jackal, as well as ma­jor roles in the Bat­tle of Bri­tain, The Go-be­tween and A Bridge Too Far. He later por­trayed Ed­ward VIII in the tele­vi­sion drama Ed­ward and Mrs. Simp­son. Her mother, Joanna David, has been a stage and screen stal­wart since first ap­pear­ing in a BBC adap­ta­tion of Sense and Sen­si­bil­ity in 1971, brother Fred­die Fox starred in Ken­neth Branagh’s ac­claimed Romeo and Juliet at the Gar­rick Theatre last year and her cousin, lau­rence Fox, played DS Hath­away in the pop­u­lar crime se­ries Lewis.

‘I was born in lon­don, but we spent a lot of time in Dorset. My child­hood was about play­ing on the beach, mak­ing scrap­books and learn­ing about but­ter­flies and na­ture. It was idyl­lic, wild and unique. If Mum and Dad want a tele­phone con­fer­ence call with me now, one uses the phone in the kitchen and the other an ex­ten­sion in the bath­room up­stairs.’

Miss Fox was ini­tially ed­u­cated in lon­don, at Fran­cis Holland School. ‘I strug­gled at sec­ondary be­cause I was too naïve and in­no­cent—like a fish out of water—so I asked my par­ents if I could board in the coun­try in­stead. I moved to Bryanston [in Dorset] and ab­so­lutely blos­somed.’

Al­though Fred­die was ‘born singing tracks from Guys and Dolls’, she had no in­ter­est in fol­low­ing the fam­ily’s the­atri­cal tra­di­tion. ‘I never watched my par­ents be­cause we didn’t own a tele­vi­sion. When I did see The Day of the Jackal, I hid be­hind the sofa be­cause Dad was on cam­era kiss­ing an­other woman.’

Her big break came while study­ing English at St Cather­ine’s Col­lege, ox­ford. A di­rec­tor friend of her mother wanted a young-look­ing ac­tress who could also play the piano. The 1995 BBC pro­duc­tion of Pride and Prej­u­dice was also to star a fresh-faced ac­tor called Colin Firth play­ing her brother, Mr Darcy. ‘I took the part be­cause I thought it would be much bet­ter than be­com­ing a wait­ress. I don’t think any­body in­volved had a clue how big the se­ries would be­come. I re­turned to col­lege af­ter­wards and car­ried on with my stud­ies in the hope of be­com­ing a jour­nal­ist.’

How­ever, a the­atri­cal agent then con­tacted Miss Fox and a num­ber of ma­jor roles fol­lowed. She played Jane Sey­mour in a biopic about Henry VIII and the ti­tle role in Kather­ine Howard at Chich­ester Fes­ti­val Theatre as well as star­ring in Randall and Hop­kirk. ‘I had no for­mal train­ing, but my ca­reer never looked back. When I was of­fered Silent Wit­ness in 2004, tak­ing over from Amanda Bur­ton, I thought it would be good fun for a year or two—i had no idea it would still be so pop­u­lar now.’

She mar­ried Mad Men ac­tor Jared Har­ris in 2005, the son of hell-rais­ing su­per­star Richard Har­ris, but they di­vorced in 2010, af­ter which Miss Fox en­tered into a re­la­tion­ship with peace ac­tivist Jeremy Gil­ley. The cou­ple had a daugh­ter, Rose, but split up soon af­ter.

‘Hav­ing a child has taught me to live in the present and treasure ev­ery mo­ment. I’ve learnt more from Rose than any­body else. I’m hap­pi­est when I’m at home with her, curled up on the sofa with our two minia­ture dachshunds, Dolly and Clive.’

Miss Fox’s cot­tage-style house is cov­ered in wis­te­ria and clema­tis, tended by her fa­ther. ‘Dad has just turned 80, but he’s still a master at prun­ing. Mum looks af­ter the pot plants and I do the gen­eral main­te­nance. It was a con­crete jun­gle when I first moved in, but we’ve cre­ated an oa­sis of calm, with laven­der, roses and tulips. My ul­ti­mate dream is to have a kitchen gar­den, but each se­ries of Silent Wit­ness takes seven months to film and time is short.’

Will she sur­vive the 21st se­ries? ‘We had a lot of dis­cus­sions af­ter I was buried alive, but I’m still here. I have no idea what’s in the fi­nal script. It’s a pre­car­i­ous life be­ing an ac­tor.’

‘I hid be­hind the sofa be­cause Dad was on cam­era kiss­ing an­other woman

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