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Myles ahead

8 August 2003   |   Written by Emily Sheffield

Sophia Myles beat Sophie Dahl and Rosamund Pike to the coveted role of Lady Penelope in next year’s ‘Thunderbirds’. Now she’s about to star in Hollywood’s vampire tale ‘Underworld’. Not bad for a vicar’s daughter from Isleworth, says Emily Sheffield

Success, easily attained at a young age, can wreak havoc on the most innocent of characters, especially when Hollywood is involved. Thankfully, 23-year-old actress Sophia Myles appears totally without guile. She arives for our interview exactly on time, leaving her airs and graces wrapped in the gossamer folds of Lady Penelope’s Chanel costumes, and is accompanied by her childhood friend, Olivia – ‘because we are trying to spend time together before I move to Los Angeles,’ she says apologetically.

Dressed casually in jeans and white T-shirt, she sits opposite, hands neatly folded in her lap, answering questions with grave sincerity, often glancing towards Olivia for approval. So quiet and self-contained, you wouldn’t guess that Vanity Fair recently hailed her as the Next Big Thing. Last autumn, she beat Sophie Dahl and Rosamund Pike to the coveted role of Lady Penelope, the glamorous secret agent, in a new £50-million production of Thunderbirds. When the film opens next summer, Sophia will rise from fresh-faced newcomer to established leading lady. Not bad for a vicar’s daughter from Isleworth. But on the whole she still seems likes a normal London girl, describing herself as ‘rather boring’, definitely not a rebel, she doesn’t even have a boyfriend at the moment and only left home a year ago.

This month, that’s all set to change as she moves to Los Angeles to set up home more permanently. ‘I love LA – it’s so bright and spacious, though I know I’m going to miss my friends,’ she says, ‘and the small home comforts, like a good corner shop to walk to, but I’m not going forever!’

Her big Hollywood break came three years ago in From Hell, Hollywood’s ghoulish yarn about Jack the Ripper. Myles was Johnny Depp’s wife and became the envy of all her girlfriends when she go to kiss him. She grins, ‘ Well, mmm, yes, it was rather nice – and he was so friendly, it was easy, but I only knew him for four hours.’

Her first 11 years were spent in Notting Hill, where she attended the Fox Primary School: ‘Liberty Ross was in the class above, she was so pretty and clever we were all a bit scared of her,’ she recalls. ‘I was really shy then, and asked to be the donkey in the nativity play rather than show my face.’ Her father was then relocated to Isleworth, and Myles was sent to The Green School, an all-girls comprehensive. ‘It was a real shock at the time. I loved Notting Hill, still do, and I had to leave all my friends like Olivia. I found it difficult to make new friends; they thought I was posh because of my accent but my family has never had any money.’ Her mother, Jane, works in educational publishing and her younger brother, Oliver, is training to be a nurse. The Reverend Peter, she says, ‘was a liberal father who never forced religion on the rest of his family. He just treated it like a job in front of us,’ she admits, then laughs: ‘I did occasionally steal the sacramental wafers.’

Myles’s first break came when Oscar-winning scriptwriter Julian Fellowes spotted her in a school play at Richmond College. He was so impressed he offered her the role of Lady Jane Grey in the BBC production, The Prince and the Pauper. She accepted while still studying for her GCSEs. ‘I just said, “I can do it.” I did’t really think about it.’ To her credit, she gained six starred As and four As, but says: ‘I was a bit burnt out after that.’

Although she did sit her A levels, the offers of work were pouring in – parts in Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist and Big Women – so she decided against going to Cambridge University. In 1998, a small role in the film Mansfield Park, alongside Jonny Lee Miller, convinced her that cinema was where she really wanted to be. ‘It was so fascinating, you can’t beat the energy on a film set, I felt right at home straight away.’ And clearly still does – her latest role is as a vampire in the forthcoming film Underworld, starring Kate Beckinsale. ‘I’m a cheeky minx, a sort of tomboy vampire,’ she says. It’s set in the modern day and was filmed last autumn in Budapest. ‘For six weeks it was like we really were vampires.’ she says. ‘We’d start filming at 7pm and finish at dawn, and my skin went all white and flaky.’

Little chance of that in LA – soon she’ll be swept up in a whirl of beauticians and stylists and personal trainers, I say. ‘Oh no, I don’t think so,’ she says, looking horrified. ‘Last time I went to LA I put on weight because the Mexican food is so good.’ She swears success won’t affect her, and only her taste in clothes has become more sophisticated. The lovely Lady Penelope has 15 fabulous costume changes during the film, all Chanel, and, naturally, everything, including her car, is very, very pink. ‘It was an incredible crash course in fashion,’ she says wide-eyed. ‘I didn’t want to give them back at the end of the day.’

Well, who can blame her? Somehow I don’t think Chanel will mind Sophia borrowing anything she wants in the future.