On the cusp... EMILY BEECHAM
THE ACTOR WON BIG AT LAST YEAR’S CANNES FILM FESTIVAL, AND 2O2O IS SHAPING UP TO BE EVEN BIGGER. MEET A STAR WHO’S SET TO GO SUPERNOVA
Emily Beecham forgot her toothbrush for last year’s Cannes Film Festival. She can, perhaps, be forgiven. She was enjoying a lie-in in her east London flat when she got a call to say she was needed back on the red carpet within the next few hours. The consummate professional grabbed a bag and whizzed to Gatwick just in time to catch the last available flight. En route, she’d frantically sorted out the Chanel sequinned number she was wearing at the festival when legendary director Alejandro González Iñárritu announced her as the winner of the Best Actress award for her part in indie cinema hit Little Joe, out this month. ‘I thought I might have been hallucinating,’ she laughs, recalling the most surreal day of her life. ‘At one point, I had to sit in the bathroom with my head between my legs because I suddenly felt dizzy. The last time I got like that was when I went skydiving when I was 18.’ When we meet, she is suffering from ‘the lurgy’, a side-effect no doubt of suddenly being one of the most in-demand actors in Hollywood. She is enveloped in an oversized coat, jumper and scarf,
“FEMALE WRITERS AND DIRECTORS WANT TO TELL STORIES ABOUT RELATABLE WOMEN”
and she sniffles and sneezes as she talks. She’s polite, considered and entirely serious about her work; more the thespy Tilda Swinton type than glitzy paparazzi bait. Born in Manchester, Beecham grew up moving schools a lot – ‘Sometimes it was exciting, sometimes it was unsettling’ – owing to her father’s job as a pilot. She found solace in the arts and sought out stability in each new place by joining the local drama club, and her educational psychologist mother took her to see independent films and plays. She studied at The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, where she picked up her ‘drama school’ accent, nabbed an agent by 21 and began winning bit-parts on TV shows such as The Bill and in Hollywood films including 2OO7 horror 28 Weeks Later. But it would take 14 years for Beecham to score her Cannes award-winning breakout role as Alice in Little Joe, playing opposite Ben Whishaw as a single mother who genetically engineers a plant to make people happier. She experienced her share of industry challenges when she started out. ‘A false fear was instilled in me in my twenties. As actresses, we were conditioned to fear ageing. It’s super damaging. Why the f*ck wasn’t I just chilling out when I was 25?! Why was I so fearful that I would never work again if I didn’t work that year?’ she says. ‘There are so many incredible actresses, who are 5O and above, just killing it. You’re not just supposed to be eye candy and then be in the bin. It’s getting better though. There are more female writers and directors coming through and they are going to want to tell a story about a woman who’s relatable.’ But at 25, she came close to throwing in the towel. Tired of invariably being offered ‘the girlfriend’ part, described purely in physical terms, she also contended with bullying behaviour from a director with ‘a reputation for not being very nice to women’ and casting feedback such as, ‘Why does Emily look so ugly in her tape, she looked pretty in her showreel?’ Instead of giving up, Beecham paused, regrouped, cut off her hair, wrote scripts, networked, changed agents and soon gained the lead role in independent British film Daphne, where she played the Fleabag-esque titular character, won a part in the Coen brothers’ George Clooney-led film Hail, Caesar! and a recurring role in the US TV post-apocalyptic series Into The Badlands. Now, Hollywood has come calling, her UK drama Sulphur and White hits cinemas in March, plus she’s just wrapped the muchhyped Disney prequel Cruella, alongside box office heavyweight Emma Stone. Did she pick up any tips from the Oscar winner? ‘You’ve got to be free to become another person. The weight of this massive production has to become irrelevant when you’re there,’ she says. ‘Emma was very down to earth and relaxed.’ With her recent hard-won critical acclaim and newly laidback outlook, Beecham looks set to soar this year. No doubt there will be more awards heading her way – and hopefully, next time, she’ll be in the country when the winners are announced.