Walk a mile inmy shoes

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

Hay­ley Atwell is re­call­ing her first school disco, aged 15. “All my friends were in cropped tops, short skirts and knee-high leather boots,” she says, her mel­liflu­ous tones warm at the mem­ory, “but I rocked up in this full-length velvet skirt that I got from Por­to­bello Mar­ket.” Brazen style state­ment aside, wasn’t she boil­ing? “I was roast­ing, but I pre­tended I was com­pletely fine! I wasn’t very suc­cess­ful with the boys but I loved it be­cause it twirled nicely on the dance floor.”

Thir­teen years down the line, there’s still some­thing of that per­versely in­de­pen­dent teenager in the 28-yearold Atwell. She’s a rare breed: a beau­ti­ful ac­tress re­luc­tant to be­come a mannequin. Where her con­tem­po­raries have du­ti­fully em­braced lux­ury brands – Keira Knight­ley, Si­enna Miller and Carey Mul­li­gan have con­tracts with Chanel, Burberry and Ba­len­ci­aga re­spec­tively – Atwell is more cau­tious. “I don’t want to be worn by a brand, I want to wear them my­self,” she says, firmly.

She’s par­tic­u­larly re­fresh­ing on the sub­ject of free­bies. “I still want to have my own sig­na­ture on the clothes I wear so I feel a lit­tle bit more in con­trol,” she says. “I ac­cept things I ac­tu­ally like and would buy if I had the funds my­self.”

Surely her re­cent Hol­ly­wood block­buster out­ing in 2011’s The First Avenger play­ing Cap­tain Amer­ica’s girl­friend, Peggy Carter, means she can af­ford the odd splurge? “Once in a while, yes, but the rest of the time I will wait un­til I need some­thing. I usu­ally just shop at Topshop and River Is­land.”

Such self-as­sur­ance has marked her out for strong roles. Her ca­reer took off soon af­ter she left drama school in 2005, when she played the wil­ful manic-de­pres­sive Cather­ine Fed­den in the BBC adap­ta­tion of The Line of Beauty. Woody Allen took her as his muse in 2007 for Cassandra’s Dream; in 2008 she in­vig­o­rated a lack­lus­tre re­make of Brideshead Re­vis­ited, her curves lend­ing Ju­lia Flyte a lusty sen­su­al­ity be­neath un­for­giv­ing drop­waisted dresses. In the same year she donned a corset to star along­side Knight­ley in The Duchess; in 2010 and 2012 she played char­ac­ters from the For­ties in two Wil­liam Boyd adap­ta­tions.

Atwell’s cur­rent pro­ject is Alexi Camp­bell’s play The Pride. She plays the dual role of Sylvia, the wife of a re­pressed ho­mo­sex­ual man in the Fifties and to­day. For her first scene, she asked the cos­tume de­signer to come up with an el­e­gant, hour­glass dress. “Sylvia is about to go out for din­ner, and the sub­text is that she’s aware her hus­band is gay. There’s a gay man also com­ing for din­ner and there’s an elec­tric­ity be­tween them that she can pick up. So I wanted her to look sen­sa­tional – to the point where the au­di­ence go, ‘My god, they must be gay if they don’t think this in­cred­i­bly glamorous woman is at­trac­tive’.”

When it comes to her wardrobe, Atwell knows her own mind. “I know my body

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