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Having to dance and climb was scarier than being nude

1 September 2007   |   Written by Andy Dougan

Filming Hallam Foe was nerve-wracking for Sophia Myles. She had to get over phobias, taboos, and things she was uncomfortable with; doing her first sex scene, heights, the Scots accent – but her biggest fear was dancing.

In Hallam Foe, Sophia plays a hotel HR manager who has to perform a sexy dance for Jamie Bell, a strange young man who fancies her because she resembles his dead mother.

“I lost a lot of sleep over the scene where I dance in front of Jamie. That was more nerve-wracking than anything else. That was my biggest fear about this film,” she says. “I have two left feet, and the pressure of having to dance on my own in front of the boy who created Billy Elliot was absolutely terrifying.”

So too was the notion of clambering across the rooftops of Edinburgh’s famous skyline. Director David Mackenzie recreated rooftops in the studio for some scenes but in others Sophia and Jamie Bell had to get out there high above Princes Street. “I think you can tell which scenes those are,” she smiles. “They’re the ones where I look absolutely terrified because I just don’t have any head for heights.”

Despite not good with high buildings, Sophia is very good at accents. In this film she has to do a Scottish accent and if she had extra tuition from boyfriend David Tennant she’s not saying. “We worked with a dialect coach called Jo Cameron Brown for a good few weeks before shooting and during rehearsals,” Sophia explains. “Also we were living in Edinburgh and Glasgow while we were making the film. If you’re submerged in the culture, your ear is quite in tune with it, because you’re hearing it day in day out, so that made it easier.”

Sophia says that taking on a new accent is one of the favourite parts of the job for her. Recently she’s done Scottish in Hallam Foe, Irish in Tristan & Isolde, cut-glass English as Lady Penelope in Thunderbirds, and now American on her US TV show Moonlight.

David Mackenzie’s film is a very different kind of role for Sophia who has generally been cast in a series of romantic, occasionally bland parts.

“Hallam Foe is a coming of age story of Jamie Bell’s character,” she continues. “His mother passed away two years before the film is set and he’s unhappy at home so goes to Edinburgh to try and find a job and get away from it all and sees a girl on the street who looks the spitting image of his mum. “So he gravitates towards me and get a job at the hotel and it gets all very dark.”

Sophia was so taken with the script when she saw it that she wrote to David Mackenzie and asked for the part. She’s never done that before and she’s a little embarrassed to mention it now but it paid dividends with a rule that could open up her career in all sorts of directions.

The one thing she was aware of however was Mackenzie’s reputation for having at least one explicit sex scene in each of his films. Sophia, a vicar’s daughter, had previously had a no nudity clause in her contracts. “It’s all me!” she says pluckily of her sex scenes. “As Jamie has said, none of those scenes are particularly easy to shoot. But my agent represents Tilda Swinton, who’s worked with David, and my agent couldn’t speak highly enough about him and the way he handles all that kind of stuff. I wasn’t so worried about those scenes. I had a proper nude scene in Art School Confidential,” she says of her first US film. “I was terrified, I’ve always been quite careful about nudity, I think it can be unnecessary in films, but in Art School Confidential I played a model in John Malkovich’s line drawing class so it was necessary.”

Hallam Foe opened this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival and looks like being Mackenzie’s most successful film to date.

For Sophia, who used to be forever mistaken for Kate Winslet, it’s the chance to fulfil the potential of being chosen one of Vanity Fair’s rising stars four years ago. Currently, that has taken her to America. “As an actor, you have to travel where the work is,” she says philosophically. “And American television, especially in the last few years, is on a par, if not better than, a lot of movies out there.”