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Lady and the vamp

28 December 2006   |   Written by Elaine Lipworth

Sophia Myles is as famous for her love-life as her acting – just as Charles Dance, Damian Lewis or David Tennant. But in Dracula, has this seductress finally met her match?

Five years ago Sophia Myles was unemployed and desperate when a brush with vampirism brought her career back from the dead. Aged 21, the TV roles and bit-parts had dried up, and she’d been on the dole for 18 months – eight of them spent learning to ice skate for a Michelle Pfeiffer film that collapsed for lack of money. So she gambled everything.

“Even though I was skint, I managed to get a credit card and I bought the cheapest one-way ticket to LA I could find.” Her first audition was for Underworld, the hit vampire film starring Kate Beckinsale. “I got that job, which was my salvation,” says Myles. “I played a vampire called Erika, who was a feisty little minx.”

History repeats itself this Christmas when Myles plays a sex-hungry vampire in the BBC’s terrifying adaptation of Dracula. The TV production promises to ‘blow the cobwebs off traditional period drama’ with its predominantly youthful cast headed by Marc Warren (Hustle) as a surprising Byronic Count Dracula, and Rafe Spall (son of Tim) as Jonathan Harker.

“It’s very lavish and sexy in a way I don’t think the BBC has seen before,” Myles says. She plays Lucy, the nubile bride of Lord Holmwood (Line of Beauty’s Dan Stevens), who has syphilis and can’t consummate the relationship without infecting her. “Lucy is 21 and ripe for the picking,” says Myles. “She sexually confident and hungry for sexual exploration. I didn’t have any confidence when I was her age, whereas Lucy loves the fact that she has blossomed into a woman. So when her husband won’t sleep with her, she develops a wandering eye.”

In the drama, Lord Holmwood summons a Transylvanian aristocrat with the ability to cure ills with transfusions of his blood. But when Dracula arrives, he seduces Lucy to the ranks of the undead …

At 26, Myles has received as much press for her love-life as for her acting – she’s had a well-publicised affair with 60-year-old Charles Dance and has also been linked to Damian Lewis. She’s currently involved with David Tennant, 35, having met him while filming an episode of Doctor Who. When we meet in Los Angeles, she’s carrying one of the new Doctor dolls in her bag. “I’m pretty excited that my boyfriend has an action doll – how cool,” she says. “Yes, I am stupidly in love, and it’s all brilliant.” However, Myles is careful not to disclose more than she should about her relationship. Close actor friends Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller have cautioned her about revealing too much. “Once you take your relationship into the public arena, it’s a bit like dancing with the devil, and you should expect to supper the consequences,” she says.

The daughter of a vicar – her mother is in publishing – Myles says she grew up in west London feeling so shy and insecure that she didn’t have many boyfriends, and remembers being unpopular with other girls. She never considered acting professionally, but was discovered at 16 by actor and screenwriter Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park), in a play at The Green School for Girls in Isleworth. He cast her as Lady Jane Grey in a BBC production of The Prince and the Pauper. Sophia says she knew immediately that she had found the right career and decided not to take up a place she’d been offered at Cambridge.

So far, Myles has had more success with her TV work (such as Colditz with Damian Lewis) than her films. She played Lady Penelope in Thunderbirds, and despite a massive publicity campaign and £1.3 million spent building her pink limousine, the film failed to take off. From Hell, with Johnny Depp, didn’t fare much better. She is now filming a big-budget Viking/alien epic Outlander, in Nova Scotia with John Hurt and Jim Caviezel (Jesus in The Passion of the Christ). “I’ve been wanting to do an action film for ages because I’ve never been pushed to my physical limits before,” says Myles.

Her English-rose looks and clutch of period drama appearances have seen her rise in Hollywood compared to Kate Winslet. “I’m flattered,” Myles says. “She is stunning. If someone ever needs an actress to play her younger sister, I’d be perfect.”

Like Winslet, Myles projects herself as an ordinary, jobbing actress who can’t stand fame – yet she clearly loves the circles she moves in. On the set of the recent historical epic, Tristan and Isolde, Myles spent many happy hours knocking back Guinness with Rufus Sewell. For that film, Myles insisted on a no-nudity clause. “I’m always thinking to myself, ‘Are Mum and Dad watching this?'” she says.

But she was prepared to strip as life class model in a previous film, Art School Confidential. “I had to have two stiff gin and tonics before I did it. I put on about a stone intentionally for that film because life models are not skinny. Anyway, I don’t think men like skinny girls”. Having said that, the actress, now an ultra-slim English size 8, admits she goes to the gym and is trying to be healthy. “I’ve just had an egg white omelette – only in LA! Obviously I wanted the grilled cheese sandwich and chips, but I knew I would feel bad after it. What I do for a living means that people look at me – I’m being scrutinised from 360 degrees”.

Having spent an hour in the hotel cafe receiving long, admiring stares from every man who passed by, Sophia Myles had better get used to it.