Brit actress Sophia Myles is landing some of the hottest roles in Hollywood. Not bad for someone who got her start playing a donkey, By Philip Oltermann
Photographed by Roberta Ridolfi
Sophia Myles’s true calling came, loud and clear, when she was studying for her high school exams in England seven years ago. There she was in the library, plodding through Mansfield Park. Only a few weeks earlier, she had been filming an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Victorian blockbuster, with playwright Harold Pinter acting the part of her uncle. “I thought: What is the point in studying,” Myles says, “when I know I can make literature come to life?” The textbooks went out of the window, and with them her plans to study philosophy at Cambridge University.
Now 25 years old, Myles hasn’t looked back since. After appearing in a string of British TV productions, she got a part in 2003’s vampire fantasy Underworld. She was originally offered a leading role alongside Johnny Depp (after a shuffle, Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedrnan ended up as the leads in the film – one assumes the casting director is still banging his head against a wall somewhere). Her career started moving at high speed after that, with more movie roles and a jet-set schedule that included, for example, drinks in L.A. one night and a press conference in, Tokyo the next – not bad for an actress who admits to suffering from a lifelong case of stage fright. “I used to run home crying when we were doing Nativity plays at school,” Myles recalls. (She played a donkey one year – another casting error for the history books.)
Though her patrician looks are often compared to those of fellow Brit Kate Winslet, Myles’s propensity for being cast as the obscure object of desire in emotionally charged love triangles aligns her more closely with the vampish Scarlett Johansson. In the epic historical romance Tristan & Isolde, Myles plays the wife of Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell) and love interest of a young knight (James Franco). Later this spring, she will attract more stares from newcomer Max Minghella – with less Wagnerian pomp and more comic realism – in Ghost World director Terry Zwigoff’s adaptation of Daniel Clowes’s darkly humorous cartoon Art School Confidential. In the latter, Minghella’s Jerome falls for Myles’s character, a self-centered student who strips naked for a life-drawing class taught by John Malkovich.
On-screen nudity, lecherous knights, horny art students – isn’t this a high price to pay for fame in Tinseltown? Actually, no, says Myles. “After all the period dramas, Hollywood has given me the chance to play a sexy person, a woman, not just some innocent young maiden robbed by an evil uncle. I don’t mind doing the straight stuff, but comedy is what really turns me on.” Bad news for Cambridge, good news for movieland.