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Sophia Myles: An English rose about to blossom

April 2006   |   Written by Rob Carnevale

THE green, green grass of England seems to be a fertile ground for talented young actresses at the moment, what with the likes of Kate Winslet, Rachel Weisz, Sienna Miller and Keira Knightley attracting some of the top Hollywood roles of the moment.

Following hot on their heels is Sophia Myles, star of epic blockbuster Tristan & Isolde and Terry Zwigoff’s forthcoming indie flick, Art School Confidential, who seems to have every chance of emulating their success.

Critics have generally been raving about Sophia’s performance in Kevin Reynolds’ historical epic, produced by Ridley and Tony Scott, even though the film itself has received lukewarm reviews.

While word of mouth is strong surrounding Art School Confidential and she is currently shooting in Scotland with David Mackenzie on Hallam Foe, alongside Jamie (Billy Elliot) Bell.

Given the buzz surrounding her, it may come as a surprise to find that acting was only something Sophia came to late on in her educational life.

The daughter of a vicar from Isleworth, Sophia was a brilliant academic who was accepted at Cambridge University to study Philosophy after getting straight As at A-level.

It was only after being discovered by writer-director Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park/Separate Lies) in a school play that she began to consider an alternative.

“I still can’t believe it,” she recalls during an interview to promote Tristan and Isolde. “I did drama as a subject at school when I was 16 only because I really fancied the guy that did the drama school.

“We put on a play as part of the exam and Julian Fellowes came along with a director who was doing an adaptation of The Prince & The Pauper with him and they cast me in that.

“It sounds cliched but the moment I walked onto the set I thought: “Yes, this is it!” It was such a joy to be there in the first place I would have almost paid to do it myself. But then I knew this was what I was meant to be doing.”

Not bad for a self-confessed “swatty, boffin-type” – but then Sophia candidly admits that she “burned out academically” by the time her A-levels were over.

It is one of the most refreshing things about spending time in the company of this particular English rose. She is honest, articulate and above all open.

Whether laughing openly about which of her Tristan and Isolde co-stars she would most like to snog (for the record, it’s Rufus Sewell), blushing upon seeing her first magazine cover (for Tatler), or contemplating the potential pitfalls of her new-found fame she is endearingly level-headed.

Tristan & Isolde does, of course, mark her first romantic lead, although she has previously appeared as Lady Penelope in the Thunderbirds remake.

Needless to say, she is very excited. “It’s so rare to find really great roles for women so I just jumped on it as soon as I read the script,” she says.

But the shoot did provide a tough learning curve, especially as much of it was filmed on location in Ireland.

“It felt like the longest shoot that I’ve ever done,” she reveals. “James [Franco] picked up an injury, he hurt his knee very badly halfway through – it snapped the wrong way in a battle scene – so we had to stop shooting for a bit and go back.

“So it was over the course of a good eight months that the film was made. And it was tough because there were a lot of physical elements such as being out in Ireland.”

One of these physical scenes included having to wade into the Atlantic ocean towards the end of the October to bid her lover, Tristan, farewell after nursing him back to health.

“I’m a real sissy and I’m terrified of the sea,” she recalls with a nervous laugh. “I love looking at it but don’t like going in it. I’m scared of fish and creepy crawlies and I’m always convinced that a Great White is going to get me even if I’m in Cornwall!

“Obviously, in real life, Tristan and Isolde would have done it once – push the boat out and say bye – but this was two and a half days of James and I going in and then sitting on the beach like a couple of old ladies with a cup of tea and moaning about having to do it. But it was well worth it in the end.”

The words seem prophetic. Sophia is already being hailed by some as “the next Kate Winslet”, while directors are keen to work with her – she has also appeared in a US TV mini-series called Convert One: The Hades Factor alongside Angelica and Danny Huston.

But in spite of the impressive list of forthcoming roles, Sophia is determined not to get too carried away, taking each job as it comes and judging them on her own strict criteria.

“I always base my choices on the material that’s in front of me, as well as who’s in it, who’s directing it and is the writing any good? I don’t care how much money is in it, who’s producing it, who’s whatever.

“It’s also instinctive because when I read a script and the character they’re asking me to look at, if I can hear the voice in my head, that’s when I know. Sometimes you read stuff that’s obviously good but you can’t see yourself doing it.”

As for the prospect of hordes of paparazzi photographers chasing her up and down the high street as her profile heightens, she promises to tackle the problem if it arises.

“Quite frankly, I’m so boring in my real life that the only thing that’s cool is what I do for a living. That’s the rock ‘n’ roll bit of me. My daily existence would make them so bored.”

It’s refreshing to learn, therefore, that Sophia remains a good old English girl at heart, someone who would take the comforts of home over the bright lights of Hollywood.

“LA is seductive, it’s incredible but there’s no other place like it in the world… there’s no industry really other than the film industry so it’s kind of 24/7 film, film, film. I love my job a lot but I love my life more.

“I love it when I get jobs where I can actually stay at home and sleep in my own bed,” she concludes.

Given the acclaim surrounding her, coupled with her obvious talent, Sophia might just be missing home a lot more in the future given how beautifully her career is blossoming.