CO VER STORY

In­tro­duc­ing ac­tress Lucy Boyn­ton, the tsar of two new Net­flix dra­mas plus aolre in the -lAist film of the year, op­po­site Johnny Depp

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Hav­ing been dis­cov­ered as a South Lon­don school­girl, Lucy Boyn­ton may now be­come the Net­flix face of her gen­er­a­tion. The for­mer child ac­tress – who has made the elu­sive leap to adult star – is poised to be binge-watched by her mil­len­nial con­tem­po­raries when she ap­pears op­po­site Naomi Watts in Gypsy, a highly an­tic­i­pated new drama from the stream­ing ser­vice. In the ten-part series, re­leased this month, Lucy plays a young woman ad­dicted to pre­scrip­tion pills who be­comes overly close to her ther­a­pist [Naomi], who has is­sues of her own and en­cour­ages the cross­ing of doctor-pa­tient bound­aries. I have pre­viewed the show, filmed in New York and di­rected by Sam Tay­lor-John­son (among others), and pre­dict it will be a huge hit. ‘Big films used to be very much the thing, but nowa­days peo­ple see the value in get­ting to ex­plore char­ac­ters over a longer space of time,’ says Lucy.

We meet just hours af­ter she has fin­ished film­ing in a Welsh for­est for an­other Net­flix drama, Apos­tle, star­ring Dan Stevens (of Downton fame), about a re­li­gious cult in 1905, with Lucy play­ing the leader’s daugh­ter. Film­ing wrapped at 2am: ‘Sorry I am so in­co­her­ent,’ she croaks. ‘Lack of sleep is not help­ing my vo­cab­u­lary.’ Yet de­spite be­ing tired, she is ar­tic­u­late and ef­fu­sive.

From Black­heath, South­east Lon­don, Lucy, 23, is the daugh­ter of two jour­nal­ists, which may ex­plain her elo­quence. Her father Gra­ham is a news­pa­per travel editor and her mother Adri­aane is a free­lance writer. Lucy seems highly in­tel­li­gent and is a prod­uct of top Lon­don girls’ schools: first Black­heath High School, where she was dis­cov­ered in a drama class aged 11, and then James Allen’s Girls’ School, which also turned out ac­tresses Char­lotte Ritchie and Sally Hawkins.

For as long as Lucy can re­mem­ber, she has wanted to act. ‘It was never enough for me to just watch some­thing, I needed to un­der­stand it. My favourite film was My Girl [the 1991 com­ing- of-age tale]. I’d re­play Anna Ch­lum­sky do­ing the fu­neral scene [her best friend dies from an al­ler­gic re­ac­tion to a bee sting] over and over, and then go to the mir­ror to see if I could make my­self cry by think­ing of my cat dy­ing. The piv­otal mo­ment came when I was ten: I had this bril­liant drama teacher, He­len Kay. She taught us that act­ing was not play­ing pre­tend; it was un­der­stand­ing the hu­man mind and why peo­ple func­tion as they do. And that you act with your eyes – I found it fas­ci­nat­ing that you could be­come an­other hu­man through some­thing so minute.’

Lucy’s big break came when she won the role of the young Beatrix Pot­ter in the 2006 biopic Miss Pot­ter, along­side Renée Zell­weger, af­ter a cast­ing agent sat in on a drama work­shop at her school. ‘I came home with a let­ter say­ing, “Your daugh­ter has been in­vited to au­di­tion.” My mum thought it would be lovely for me to try. Nei­ther of us ex­pected it to come off, but I got through round af­ter round. Af­ter the last au­di­tion, we were in a café hav­ing hot cho­co­late, and my mum was say­ing, “As long as you did your best…” and then her phone rang.’ It was the agent telling them Lucy had the part. ‘Mum burst into tears, which I found mor­ti­fy­ing.

‘From that mo­ment, some­thing shifted per­ma­nently within me in terms of how I viewed my­self and school. Film­ing was mag­i­cal – be­ing on a set where I was treated like an adult.’ Renée, al­ready fa­mous as Brid­get Jones, was, she re­calls, ‘soft, sweet and such a gen­tle pres­ence’. (Lucy hasn’t kept in touch with her, but has seen the sub­se­quent Brid­get films. ‘Hell yeah! I loved the most re­cent one.’)

‘It was so spe­cial, delv­ing into the world of Beatrix Pot­ter, which was such a part of my childhood,’ Lucy says. ‘Ev­ery­thing about that ex­pe­ri­ence was per­fect, so to go from that back to school and be­ing told off for talk­ing was hard. I learned quickly not to dis­cuss my “other life”. In my ex­cite­ment at telling friends, some girls thought I was brag­ging, which was hurt­ful.’

Lucy there­after avoided the thes­pian scene at school. ‘It was very cliquey. I felt in­tim­i­dated, so I didn’t au­di­tion for plays and kept act­ing as some­thing I did out­side school. None of my old school friends are ac­tors; they have nor­mal jobs.’ Luck­ily, the work kept com­ing, though Lucy went through a ‘dif­fi­cult pe­riod. It was around the ages of 16 and 17, when I was too old for child roles, but too young to play the lead­ing lady. It’s this weird limbo where, if you’re not a Fanning sis­ter [ac­tresses Elle and Dakota who, un­usu­ally, peaked in their teens], it is hard to place your­self. Thank­fully, I came out on the other side. I’m con­sis­tently get­ting work now, but I never take that for granted; I cross my fin­gers ev­ery day. I would never say, “I’ve made it.” I hope one day to feel the calm of be­ing set­tled.’

Lucy says an­other piv­otal mo­ment came when she bagged the fe­male lead in last year’s Golden Globe-nom­i­nated feel-good film Sing Street, set in 1980s Dublin and di­rected by John Car­ney. When she does get recog­nised nowa­days, it is as Raphina, a big-haired as­pir­ing model whose beauty in­spires the male lead to start a band to im­press her. Lucy de­scribes film­ing as ‘pos­si­bly the best two months of my life. Raphina is dif­fer­ent from me in ev­ery way, and the fact that I could por­tray her as well as I did showed that I can be trusted with char­ac­ters who stray wildly from my own per­son­al­ity.’

The same can be said of Al­li­son, her char­ac­ter in Gypsy, who has

I’m drawn to dark ma­te­rial be­cause it’s a more ex­treme look at hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence

dropped out of uni­ver­sity and is los­ing her mother to cancer and her life to drugs. Lucy’s per­for­mance is com­pelling, as is her chem­istry with Naomi Watts – ‘the most gen­er­ous and present ac­tor’ – whose char­ac­ter, ther­a­pist Jean Hol­loway, be­comes some­thing of a sur­ro­gate mother to Al­li­son in a way that is not en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate. ‘Al­though I am not a drug ad­dict or in ther­apy, I re­late to Al­li­son and to that feel­ing of, “I thought I’d have ev­ery­thing to­gether by now.” When you’re younger, you have a per­fect plan for your life: I thought I would be en­gaged at 24, mar­ried at 26, have my first child at 28 and my sec­ond at 30. But as you get closer to each age, you re­alise it’s un­fea­si­ble. I am get­ting used to that lack of con­trol, but Al­li­son strug­gles with it. I em­pathise with her and the de­sire to re­treat to be­ing a child, when your mother solved ev­ery­thing.’

Al­though the series fo­cuses on a sin­is­ter ther­a­pist, Gypsy is gen­er­ally help­ful in fur­ther­ing the con­ver­sa­tion around men­tal health, Lucy thinks. ‘Ther­apy used to be some­thing I associated with America, while there was a de­sire in the UK to maintain a stiff up­per-lip, but I think Prince Harry com­ing for­ward and peo­ple talk­ing about it more now is great in terms of lift­ing the ta­boo. Hope­fully peo­ple are re­al­is­ing that see­ing a ther­a­pist is no dif­fer­ent from go­ing to a doctor for a phys­i­cal ail­ment. I am try­ing to be more ac­cept­ing of my­self: you feel what you feel; ev­ery feel­ing is valid; you have to ac­knowl­edge it and move for­ward.’

Lucy ad­mits that her in­dus­try is not one for the frag­ile: ‘The pressure to look good is in­tense. It is hard to be im­mune to that and the self- con­scious­ness that comes with it. Hav­ing been at girls’ schools, I am well-versed in fad di­ets and how bru­tally women can judge them­selves. It gets eas­ier as you get older. The peo­ple I look up to most are ac­tresses such as Kate Winslet and Amy Schumer, who have never been size zero and are judged on their bodies of work, not their bodies.’

Fun­nily enough, Lucy’s hair – nat­u­rally ‘a sad, mousy brown’ – has made her feel less scru­ti­nised. ‘No one knows who I am,’ she laughs. ‘I’ve been plat­inum blonde, which is my favourite. Cur­rently, I’m a red­head [for Apos­tle], which has taken some get­ting used to. Now I’m covet­ing dark hair. Some­times even my friends don’t recog­nise me, so walk­ing down the street isn’t an is­sue!’

That could be about to change. Lucy was re­cently named a new beauty crush by Vogue, and such is the reach of Net­flix that she will doubt­less be­come a house­hold name what­ever she does with her hair.

And there is the small mat­ter of her role in Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press (for which she went blonde), di­rected by Ken­neth Branagh and set to be the A-list en­sem­ble film of the year when it is re­leased in the autumn. Its all-star cast in­cludes Johnny Depp (who, US tabloids re­ported, fell for Lucy on set), Dame Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeif­fer, Pené­lope Cruz and Olivia Col­man.

Lucy con­cedes that the film­ing ex­pe­ri­ence was in­tim­i­dat­ing. ‘I’d as­sumed that af­ter shoot­ing ev­ery­one would re­treat to their own cor­ners, but we all hung out in one room to­gether, drink­ing tea. It was sur­real – all these faces I had grown up ad­mir­ing and hav­ing to hold up my end of it. Ken­neth cre­ated this warm at­mos­phere, though, where we were all like a fam­ily.’

The one per­son she felt starstruck about was Michelle. ‘It took me three days before I could even speak to her. She ex­udes cool, but ac­tu­ally she is warm and funny.’ Sergei Pol­unin, the con­tro­ver­sial Ukrainian bal­let dancer who quit the Royal Bal­let, also ap­pears in the film. Lucy was ‘in awe’ of him. ‘He never over­thinks a scene; he is just so present, mov­ing through each sec­ond in­stinc­tively. You can

I look up to ac­tresses who are judged on their bodies of work, not their bodies

feel the en­ergy change around him. I plan to steal his work ethic with im­me­di­ate ef­fect.’

She won’t coun­te­nance the Johnny ru­mours – ‘please write, “She says some­thing clever and witty about not dis­cussing her love life”’ – or say which of her lead­ing men has been her type. ‘I don’t have a type!’ She con­cedes that dat­ing some­one ‘who un­der­stands the twists and turns of this in­dus­try’ would probably make sense, ‘but that could be some­one be­hind the cam­era’. Her other big-screen re­lease this year is Rebel in the Rye, a biopic of Catcher in the Rye au­thor J D Salinger, with Ni­cholas Hoult in the main role. And there is, of course, Dan Stevens in Apos­tle. It’s rich pick­ings, but all she will say is that they are both ‘warm and lovely’.

Like sev­eral of her re­cent projects, Apos­tle is fairly dark. ‘It’s a lot of fake blood and scary night-shoots, but I’m lov­ing it. The set is a 1905-style vil­lage in the woods – it is re­ally spooky. I think I’m drawn to darker ma­te­rial be­cause it’s a more ex­treme look at the depths of hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. Good hor­ror is about so much more than slash­ing: it’s a way of ex­am­in­ing grief and loss of self. I have al­ways been afraid of loss, so now I am drawn to ex­plor­ing it in my work.’

Lucy’s fam­ily are sup­port­ive of her ca­reer, though they do not share her love of hor­ror. ‘Mum, in par­tic­u­lar, can­not stand it. Al­though I want her to be proud of me and my choices, we are very dif­fer­ent, so I do not feel I need to con­sult her when I am un­sure of a part. When I do, though, she tells me, “gut in­stinct above ev­ery­thing”, which is great ad­vice. Be­cause of the beau­ti­ful roles I was for­tu­nate enough to get when I was start­ing out, it’s been easy for them to be ex­cited for me.’

Af­ter Miss Pot­ter Lucy landed parts in the BBC adap­ta­tions of chil­dren’s novel Bal­let Shoes, op­po­site Emma Wat­son, and Sense and Sen­si­bil­ity. When, how­ever, she was asked to read for raunchy film St Trinian’s, her mother ve­toed it. ‘That was news to me at the time. I only found out about it more re­cently,’ she laughs. ‘I sup­pose it would have been quite fun, and I was a huge fan of the orig­i­nal St Trinian’s films.’ And when Lucy dropped out of school before her fi­nal year (to work on the US Civil War film Cop­per­head) – ‘much to my par­ents’ and teachers’ dis­tress’ – she duly returned the fol­low­ing year and fin­ished her A-lev­els at a sixth-form col­lege. ‘As I got older, my mother be­came pro­tec­tive about en­sur­ing that my ed­u­ca­tion was top pri­or­ity. She was my chap­er­one when I was a mi­nor, but she has no in­ter­est in be­ing my man­ager or try­ing to con­trol my ca­reer now.’

Lucy’s el­der sis­ter Emma-Louise – a ‘se­ri­ously in­tel­li­gent’ po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ist, to whom she is ‘in­cred­i­bly close’ – is based in New York, where Lucy was born and lived un­til she was five while her father helped to launch the US edi­tion of Condé Nast Trav­eller. ‘I di­vide my time be­tween Lon­don, Los An­ge­les and New York now, and I feel I belong in all of them, partly be­cause I sort of feel American. When we moved back to Lon­don, my sis­ter and I were dev­as­tated. It be­came a com­pe­ti­tion, who could keep their ac­cent more American. Any time ei­ther of us sounded English, the other would shriek, “English girl! English girl!” and that was the deep­est in­sult. I love Lon­don now, but can see my­self set­tling in New York. I like Los An­ge­les, but I start to go crazy there af­ter three weeks. I need to see ur­ban ar­chi­tec­ture and high-rise build­ings.’

Be­cause her par­ents worked in travel jour­nal­ism, Lucy glo­be­trot­ted ex­ten­sively as a child – good prepa­ra­tion for the peri­patetic life of an ac­tress. Her most mem­o­rable trip was a cruise down the River Nile, which was ‘ter­ri­fy­ing, be­cause right before we went my par­ents de­cided to show us Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile!’ Her fond­est me­mories are of sa­faris in South Africa. ‘I loved see­ing an­i­mals free, not in cages. I’m a mas­sive an­i­mal-lover. My plan B, if act­ing didn’t work out, was to be a vet or to work for the RSPCA.’

Luck­ily, it doesn’t look as though any plan B will be needed.

Gypsy will be on Net­flix from Fri­day. Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press will be in cin­e­mas from 3 Novem­ber

I never take work for granted; I cross my fin­gers ev­ery day. I would never say, ‘I’ve made it’

Lucy in Net­flix drama Gypsy with Naomi Watts, and in Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press

with co-star Fer­dia Walsh-Peelo, and, ten years ear­lier,

Lucy in in Sing Street Miss Pot­ter

SHIRT, Coach. SHORTS and JACKET, Giuseppe di Mora­bito. EAR­RINGS and BRACELET (just seen), Chanel. RINGS, Stone Paris

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