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Sophia Myles interview

April 2006   |   Written by Rob Carnevale

SOPHIA Myles talks about her first romantic leading role in Tristan and Isolde, as well as her career so far and her plans for the future…

Q. This is your first leading role. How exciting is that?
A. Yes, it’s great because it’s my first romantic lead. It’s so rare to find really great roles for women so I just jumped on it as soon as I read the script.

Q. How did you get involved? Was it a long casting process?
A. This was quite easy actually. It was weird because I’d just finished Thunderbirds and my agent called me and said there’s an audition tomororw. But I initially said I couldn’t go because we had the wrap party for Thunderbirds and I was on such a high, trying to figure out what to wear that evening. But then I did meet Kevin [Reynolds, the director] and did a reading and they called back a week later and said that James Franco was in town and could I come and do a chemistry test. Literally, as soon as I walked into the room and shook James’ hand I felt he was cool and that we’d get on.

Q. Was there any such chemistry test with Rufus Sewell?
A. No. But we had chemistry anyway. He’s become a really good mate of mine since the job.

Q. Did you know much about the story beforehand?
A. No. My first reaction was ‘oh Wagner’. I knew the opera but I didn’t realise the history of this story because it’s an ancient myth that’s been told by word of mouth. I don’t think it was put into prowse until the 13th Century. So like with every story that’s told by word of mouth this kind of Chinese whisper develops and I’m sure they’ll be die hard fans of the original saying we’ve got things wrong. But I think we can take liberties because of the nature of how this story has evolved. This is definitely the Hollywood version of it.

Q. This was a long-held ambition for Ridley Scott. How involved on a day to day basis was he and did you get much chance to work with him or meet him?
A. On a day to day he wasn’t at the shoot but he was heavily involved in the editing. He was very instrumental in the final cut of the film. And yes, I’ve met Ridley a few times. He’s lovely.

Q. Was it a tough shoot?
A. It was. It felt like the longest shoot that I’ve ever done. James also had some injuries. 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. It was over the course of a good eight months that the film was made. At the time, it did feel like the never-ending movie. It was also tough because there were a lot of physical elements such as being out in Ireland. But they often say that the most gruelling ones turn out to be the best.

Q. What was it like filming in period clothes? Was it uncomfortable?
A. No, these were great because there was no corsets! They were very long and they occasionally tripped me up. Kevin would shout ‘just run up that hill’ and it would be tough. But otherwise it was really easy.

Q. And how was filming in the sea? Was that cold?
A. Really terrifying. I’m a real sissy and I’m terrified of the sea. I love looking at it but don’t like going in it. I’m scared of fish and creepy crawlies and am always convinced that a Great White is going to get me even if I’m in Cornwall! To make matters worse, we shot the scenes in the Atlantic at the end of October so it was really cold. 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.

Q. How did the experience of making an epic movie like this compare with Art School Confidential, which I imagine has a much smaller budget?
A. It’s weird but when you’re making something the reality of the day in and day out means that you don’t actually notice that much different, to be honest. Tristan and Isolde was filmed in the countryside and Art School Confidential was shot in LA. I’ve always said that I’d rather work for nice people for no money, than get paid millions to work with idiots. People think and say that I’m really interesting because I’ve done studio pictures and then arthouse films, but I’ve never made any conscious choices. I’ve just done whatever has been offered. I’ve turned so few things down.

Q. You’ve also worked with David Mackenzie on Hallam Foe. I imagine all three films are very different. Is that because you’re getting more opportunities now, career-wise?
A. Very different, yeah. 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? Those are the three main things. I don’t care how much money is in it, who’s producing it, who’s whatever. So whether it’s TV, film or independent studios, that’s the critera.

Q. So is it quite a day by day existence and therefore quite instinctive?
A. It is 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. I’m quite shy naturally so acting is good for me because it’s really forced me to face my biggest fears and come out of my shell. Hallam Foe, for instance, includes some scenes that are going to be, for me, quite terrifying. I have a scene where I have to dance, which is something that I’m terrified of doing. But I also have to dance in front of Jamie Bell – Billy Elliot himself. But things like that scare you but at the same time make it a better experience.

Q. Would you like to branch out into action roles? Can you see yourself as a Bond girl, perhaps?
A. I’d love it because it would force me to go to the gym, which I find really hard. It is part of the job because you have to keep yourself in shape but it’s the one part of it that I do find difficult. The only thing that I like about going to the gym is leaving it.

Q. What do you find most challenging and what’s easiest to do as an actress given that you’ve worked in many mediums?
A. The most challenging is the amount of travel that’s involved. I’ve been doing this now for ten years so I’ve been on the road for a long, long time. It’s just that thing of learning how to live out a suitcase but keeping yourself grounded. But being away from home and my own flat is challenging. I love it when I get jobs where I can actually stay at home and sleep in my own bed.

Q. Are you away much?
A. Last year, I must have crossed the Atlantic about 16 or 17 times. It was mad. To me, getting on a plane across the sea is almost like getting on a bus now. You get used to it and find ways of coping. But we’re also really lucky in this business because you do get the whole first class or business sort of thing. The luxury of a flat bed makes travelling bearable.

Q. Can you see yourself spending more time in Hollywood?
A. I do love Hollywood and I love the way they celebrate success out there in a way that’s kind of unheard of here. When we win awards it’s kind of like ‘thanks, sorry’, whereas Americans thank mum, dad, God, Jesus and everyone. So I like that and the energy in LA is great but I’m British and I miss things. There’s just something about the smell of coming back to Heathrow, for instance. You can’t pinpoint it but I miss it. LA is seductive, it is incredible but there’s no other place like it in the world. The only thing that I find hard with it is that 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. So that can be overwhelming when you’re out there – I mean, every waitress is an actress, it’s all film.

Q. What inspired you to become an actress?
A. I was actually spotted in a play at school when I was 16. I had no ambition to do this whatsoever. I still can’t believe it. 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, who wrote Gosford Park, 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.

Q. Is there a sense that it’s quite an exciting time to be a British actress at the moment, what with the acclaim surrounding the likes of Rachel Weisz, Kate Winslet and Sienna Miller?
A. My kind of generation or peers – such as Keira, Sienna, Romala Garai, etc – have been a very, very strong team, which makes me kind of proud. The proportion of strong young girls to blokes of our age – Orlando is kind of flying the flag on his own a bit. So it’s nice and it’s a good time for young women.