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My Fair Lady

1 September 2003   |   Written by David Bassom

Thanks to her role as Lady Penelope in the new film adaptation of Thunderbirds, Sophia Myles is set to become one of Britain’s biggest young stars. David Bassom quizzes Myles about International Rescue’s live-action debut, and learns about her contrasting outing as a vicious vampire in the new monster movie, UNDERWORLD

Sophia Myles is about to be unveiled as Britain’s leading Lady. When the live-action film adaptation of the classic 1960s’ puppet series Thunderbirds hits the big screen next summer, Myles will rocket to worldwide stardom as the flesh-and-blood incarnation of the show’s beloved heroine, Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward. It’s a daunting yet thrilling prospect for the 23-year-old British actress, who finished filming the special effects-laden blockbuster in June and now faces a long wait until its release.

“I don’t know what to expect next year at all,” says the charming and lively Myles in her classy Lady Penelope-esque tones. “I’m frightened about Thunderbirds coming out, but excited at the same time. I have no idea how it’s going to do. It’s a gamble when you’re remaking something – Thunderbirds runs through the blood of British people and it’s such an institution in this country. I just hope the film does well und people like it.

“We had such fun making it, and if that shows on screen then the audience will love it. The film is so rich and there are so many different colours and characters, and you can’t really pinpoint a genre to it – it’s comedy, action, science fiction and adventure. It’s just fun – und there are not enough films that are really good fun at the moment, so it’s nice to be a part of that.

“Making Thunderbirds was an amazing experience,” she adds. “I still am in awe about it. I haven’t got over it yet. “

Pretty in Pink
Directed by Star Trek: First Contact’s Jonathan Frakes, the big-screen adaptation of Thunderbirds sees Lady Penelope, her loyal chauffeur/butler Parker (Ron Cook) and the rest of the regular International Rescue team fighting to save the world from the evil criminal mastermind, The Hood (Sir Ben Kingsley). Myles had never watched the original Thunderbirds TV show prior to auditioning for the role of Lady Penelope in its film spin-off, and was instead initially drawn to the project by the chance to star in a movie made by Working Title Films (of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’ Diary fame). The virtually unknown actress was also well aware that she faced exceptionally tough competition for the coveted role, and readily acknowledges that she never really believed she would win the keys to Lady Penelope’s legendary FAB-1.

“When I went to the first audition for Thunderbirds, I just thought there wasn’t a chance in Hell I was going to get the job,” she recalls. I didn’t even read the script, I just read the pages at the audition, and then Jonathan Frakes said, ‘That was fantastic! Will you come back So then I went for a screen test.
“They had about five other girls there at the screen test – I don’t know who the other girls were – and it was in full costume and full make-up and hair. Again, when I did that, I just thought. ‘There’s no way l’m going to get it’, and I just had fun with it. And then by some miracle I got the job. I was just honoured and really flattered to be offered the role.”

Once she had signed up for the project, Myles drew on several different sources of inspiration to bring Lady Penelope to life. “I watched [the original] Thunderbirds on DVD und I talked to Jonathan about the character. Ron und I also really bounced off each other, because our characters don’t really exist as individuals – it’s always Lady P. and Parker. Obviously we want to be loyal to the original, but at the same time we want to bring it forward into the future and make it appeal to a young audience of today.

“Ron und I were fortunate enough that Richard Curtis came in and wrote all of our dialogue for the tilm,” adds Myles, referring to the celebrated Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill scribe. “It’s pretty easy when you’ve got a genius like him writing for you.”

So, how would Myles describe the live-action Lady Penelope?

“I think she’s the archetypal female. Lady Penelope is not only a very strong, confident woman who can kick some serious butt, but she’s also very kind and funny as well. She’s just a really lovely role model. She never wears revealing clothes, she’s strong. she’s sexy and – even though she’s always dressed in pink – she’s in no way ditzy or stupid.

“She’s just a lovely character.”

Although the exact nature of Lady Penelope’s relationship with Parker in the TV series has been a great source of debate over the years, Myles reports that there is no romantic tension whatsover between the two characters in the movie. Instead, she guesses. Lady Penelope would be more likely to find love with International Rescue’s widowed founder, Jeff Tracy (Bill Paxton).

“Lady Penelope und Jeff Tracy definitely have an attraction to each other, although we don’t know whether it’s sexual ot purely because they have respect for cach other,” she reveals. “The producers Ieft it ambiguous. ‘They wanted to keep the script very open, so that they can go any way they like in the sequels, which we’re already locked into.”

A World Apart
Before Thunderbirds or any of its planned sequels land on the big screen, cinemagoers will get a much more immediate opportunity to see Sophia Myles in action with the release of Underworld. A fantasy-actioner which revolves around a centuries-long secret war between vampires and werewolves, the film was shot just prior to Thunderbirds, and gave Myles her first chance to really branch out in her career, following her earlier work in the likes of The Prince and the Pauper, Nicholas Nickleby, Abduction Club and From Hell.

“Underworld was really good fun,” she states. “I play a vampire called Erika. She’s basically the personal assistant to the head vampire in the house, Kraven, und she’s a feisty little minx. She’s a tomboy, she has no loyalty to anyone, and she’s on a mission to take over the whole house. I really enjoyed playing her. It was great fun and a really nice team of people to work with.

“The film really gave me the chance to do something totally different and be a bit more rock ‘n’ roll than anything I’d done in the past. I thought it would be quite cool to do an action film, because I’d never done anything like that before. I’m just up for trying different things all the time.”

While Myles happily admits that she has no particular interest in horror movies or vampire flicks, she makes it clear that she’s genuinely excited about what first-time filmmaker Len Wiseman has done with the $21 million slice of monster mayhem. “The movie looks fantastic. It’s very sleek and I think people are going to be shocked by what Len has done for the budget we were working under. I mean, they even make me look cool – which is incredible!” she laughs.

Following Underworld and Thunderbirds, Sophia Myles will change genres once agein for her next project – Tristan & Isolde, a romantic-drama set in Medieval times. The movie will complete a momentous year for her life and career.

“It’s been a really great 12 months for me,” she declares. “It was so nice for me to get out of the corset for a bit, because I’d done a lot of period drama, so to play a vampire and then Lady Penelope was pretty cool! Now I feel like I’m on this rollercoaster and it won’t stop, but I’m loving the ride. It’s really great. So much is happening, but it’s all good stuff. I’m really happy.”

Thunderbirds is released worldwide in the summer of 2004. Underworld opens in the US & UK on 19 September