Interviews

THE TALKSMs. James, how do you usually feel the night before your first day on set?
It’s weird because I’m not that nervous anymore. I don’t stay up all night getting nervous about work. I do get frightened of not being good enough. I’ll get quite anxious after days where I’ve had a big emotional scene, I worry that I haven’t given enough or I get frightened that I haven’t been true enough. So that’s a kind of fear that lasts pretty much the whole shoot. But it’s doesn’t make me nervous, weirdly — except in auditions.

Do you still audition?
I still audition but it’s done in a different way. It’s like I meet the director now and we talk about the role. There are less of those relentless, open call ranks… What I really love is when you’re in an audition or the first day on a film set where you’re like, “Hi, pleased to meet you and I’m proposing to you today,” and you’ve literally never met them before. (Laughs) I’m quite used to being flung into a false intimacy with someone on set. I like when things are a bit more relaxed because that’s when I’m a bit better I think. Like, if I audition and I don’t know the scenes well, I’m accidentally funny, or I do more of what you can’t do when you’re actually working.

When is the last time that happened?
Well, when I auditioned for Baby Driver, and I was thinking a lot about the American accent, so much that it became the focus rather than the actual scene, like, “Fuck, what am I actually doing in the scene?” (Laughs) It ended up coming out in quite a natural way. I feel like because I’m British and the way that I’ve started, you know, I’ve ended up doing period dramas, more classical stuff. I’ve gone down that route… I really wanted to break out of that kind of style and genre.

Were you starting to feel like the prototypical English Rose character?
Yeah, I wouldn’t say that is even more me, that’s just what I’ve been doing. It’s not even necessarily where I’m most comfortable — it’s just kind of where English girls from drama school end up going. Cinderella and those roles make people think of me in a certain way, and I’m excited to change that perception. Making more contemporary film is the route that I want to keep going down so I can express myself in a manner that is closer to me as a person.

Has it been hard for you to take control over your own career?
Yeah, it’s really hard! You’re often at the mercy of circumstance. It’s hard to do things that are what you want rather than what your agent or family or whatever it is thinks is best. It’s hard to navigate all of that stuff.

But you still have plenty of time to explore all those different roles.
Yeah! I have to remind myself that life is long and your career is hopefully long. Sometimes I get stuff that I really want to do but it feels like something I’ve done already… But you’ve just got to do it if you want to because everything you do you will teach you something even if you fail. So I try not to let these things like get me frustrated, I’m more just keen to explore different stuff.

What kinds of things do get you frustrated?
I guess I get frustrated when things don’t play out the way I imagined them. I once had an audition with an amazing filmmaker, and afterwards, I said, “That was not how I imagined it.” And this director said that your imagination can limit you because you’re controlling it. He said that what happens is what happens, and it’s really brilliant because it is the truth of the moment. So your idea of what it should be can actually be holding you back. I think that’s really true, we try to control the moment.

In sports, you’re actually taught the opposite. In football they say, “Always have a picture of what you’re trying to do.”
Athletes really have that, don’t they? You visualize it. So, it’s the opposite. They told us at drama school to write down your goals and just to carry them in your wallet or whatever because if you visualize it and see it and plan for it, so the more that you make it a reality it will happen.

And did you actually write one of those lists?
No! (Laughs) It’s too… It’s almost a bit limiting as well because I don’t always know exactly what I want. I didn’t know how to put that in words. I couldn’t bring myself to write I will win an Oscar, that just felt too naff. I guess I could have written to be happy? I suppose really the first one should be happiness and safety.

But when you’re 18, those are not necessarily the things you want. You measure your happiness through your achievements when you’re young.
Yeah, I mean, the equilibrium of that is so… Happiness doesn’t mean what you think is going to make you happy. It is so constantly in flux and so hard to achieve. That’s the mystery behind it. I have a friend who is so optimistic and it’s taken a while but she really knows what her truth is. She doesn’t try to adapt or bend to other people and there is a real brutal honesty to that. You can’t be living your life with other people’s happiness all the time, you know, you have got to put yourself first.

How do you find that balance on set when there are sometimes hundreds of people involved in making a film?
Yeah, trying to make some director happy, or a producer, or the other actor… I think it’s still a balance. I mean, I’m quite mixed about it. Actors need a director or a filmmaker to thread the story together but it can be so frustrating when you are being told to stand here and just do that and there is no give and take. I think without that you can lose direction. I find that usually your instinct about a particular moment or a particular character is right because you’re the one that has lived with that character and explored everything. So, I try to stick with what is right.

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  • Quoc-Huy Pho

    ‘She doesn’t try to adapt or bend to other people and there is a real brutal honesty to that’

    best way to discover the unexpected