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Myles above the clouds

9 April 2006   |   Written by Marianne Macdonald

She has a headline-grabbing love life, best friends called Sienna and Keira, and the down-to-earth chumminess of a young Kate Winslet. Why do we get the feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more of Sophia Myles? Marianne Macdonald meets the actress of the moment

Sophia Myles is Hollywood’s new English Rose. The latest in a crop that includes Kate Beckinsale, Emily Mortimer, Rosamund Pike and Keira Knightley, Myles has three films out this year – Underworld: Evolution with Beckinsale was released in January, this month there’s Tristan & Isolde with Rufus Sewell, and later in the year there’s Art School Confidential with John Malkovich.

She should, however, be ready to deal with the attention that will come her way. She has been in big-budget, high-profile films before (she had her break playing Lady Penelope in Thunderbirds two years ago) and it’s not her first time in the media spotlight (there was much excitement last year over news of an affair with the actor Charles Dance, 34 years her senior). She has been friends with Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller for years, and is dating the actor David Tennant (Bright Young Things, Casanova, Dr Who).

But, despite her starry credentials, there’s nothing self-regarding about Myles, who is, disconcertingly, the image of Kate Winslet in her down-to-earth, bangers-and-mash-on-her-wedding-day phase. She even shares Winslet’s jolly groundedness and rather pubbish turn of phrase: ‘He’s a top lad,’ she says of her younger brother, who is a surfer; and, ‘My top things are funny people and strong women.’

She refuses to read gossip magazines such as Heat, which she describes as terrible ‘food for the soul’ and is amazed by women who strain to be thin ‘with no thought of what it’s doing to the health of their insides’.

Still, looking good on the outside has done Myles no harm. In Tristan & Isolde she plays the heroine, a beautiful queen in a swashbuckling tale of star-crossed lovers – a kind of Dark Age take on Romeo and Juliet. As Isolde, Myles has an affair with James Franco, the loyal knight of her husband, played by Rufus Sewell.

‘It’s great,’ she exclaims in her flat, mockney voice. ‘The last few jobs I’ve done I’ve got to play a girl stuck in between two guys. It happened in Colditz with Damian Lewis and Tom Hardy, in Art School Confidential with Max Minghella and Matt Keeslar, and now in this one with James and Rufus. I’m not going to complain!’

But I can’t help wondering if she identified with the notion of forbidden love after her affair with the venerable Dance – he reportedly left his wife of 23 years for her. A pause, wide-eyed. ‘Not really. I mean – I think the difference is, in those times your family and your country came before anything else.’

Her coffee arrives. ‘Oh, bless you! No, but I think I can identify with her in one area. She’s very headstrong, Isolde: she’s very set on living her life as she wants to do it. I think I’ve always been like that. I wouldn’t say I’ve been a rebel, but I think I was determined to find my own way. As soon as I started acting I totally fell in love with it and no one could tell me different – it was a complete love affair.’

And, indeed, what’s not to love about being cast as Johnny Depp’s wife – in From Hell – at the age of 19. Myles laughs: ‘I think it was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. We had to go to bed together. And it’s scary enough doing a love scene with someone you’ve been working with for six weeks, but to do it with a complete stranger, and for that stranger to be Johnny Depp, is nuts!

‘He finds working with music very helpful, because it’s completely silent when they turn the cameras over. So he wears a microscopic chip in his ear, and, depending on the mood of the scene, he’ll ask his sound guy to play music that fits what he’s trying to do. So when we did the scene in the bedroom I said, “Have you got the chip in?” He was like, “No, no, no!” – as if I’d be offended that he might need something to get him in the mood!’

She sits back easily, the light warming her broad face, bright highlighted hair and flawless creamy skin, and continues. ‘At the time his first child was very young and he was totally in love with the whole concept of being a parent! He showed me hundreds of photos of the little one. It was a real inspiration. It’s nice when you meet people in this business who are really successful in their private life as well as their work. Because you can make millions, and be the biggest star in the world, but if you come home and you’re miserable and lonely, what’s the point? Those are the people I look up to. Him, and Kate – she had her kids young, as well.’

It’s clear Myles would like to follow her lead, her determination to keep her feet on the ground presumably the legacy of her upbringing as a vicar’s daughter. She bursts out laughing at this hypothesis. ‘Everyone’s always really interested in this,’ she cries. ‘My dad loves it. He always says after I’ve done an interview, “Ooh, did they ask about me?” “Yes, they always ask about you!”

The opening caption is always “vicar’s daughter Sophia Myles”! But my dad’s very liberal, and he’s really kept his job very separate. My mother comes from a small village in south Wales, and church was very much part of her growing up – she loved it. So when we were younger we used always to go. But when we hit puberty, that was it of a Sunday morning. You want to have a lie in or do some homework.’

Try as I might, I can’t find any sign that it has affected her – she looks cheerfully dumbfounded when I ask if she lives her life by Christian values.

Jane and the Reverend Peter Myles, her parents, sound like a bookish, academic couple – Jane went to Cambridge and loves Jane Austen, while Peter gobbles up books on philosophy. Until the age of 12 Sophia lived in Notting Hill, where her father was a minister. Myles and her brother, Ollie, climbed trees in the shaded grandeur of Campden Hill Square. Then they moved to the west London suburb of Isleworth.

‘Notting Hill was very yah yah, and we weren’t,’ she explains. ‘We were always the poor kids on the block because the church had given us a very posh house on an incredible road – I think Anne Robinson bought it afterwards. And Isleworth is very suburban, but I loved the school there. I had got a bit bullied at school in London because I followed the dress code.’

Her acting career began four years later when Julian Fellowes, the writer of Gosford Park, saw her in her school play at the Green comprehensive school in Isleworth.

‘He had known my mum at Cambridge. And they wanted a well-spoken girl to play Lady Jane Grey in The Prince and the Pauper for the BBC. A lot of the local private schools wouldn’t let kids out to audition. So they went round the state schools.’

Myles loved doing it so much she was in tears when filming finished. So she wrote to several agents and found one. ‘I was quite lucky at the beginning – I got a few jobs quite quickly. My parents saw how much I loved it, they couldn’t stop me. Whereas my brother’s the polar opposite. He fell in love with surfing and he’s built his life around the water. He lives in Cornwall in the summer and in the winter he works in Rick Stein’s bakery. He’s done so many jobs, he’s been a hospital porter, he’s done everything, everything. He’s totally salt of the earth, he’s totally rooted in reality, whereas I’m off gallivanting round the world.’

She turned down a conditional place to read philosophy at Cambridge to continue the acting. But she says it wasn’t quite as dramatic as it sounds – ‘I didn’t actually make one of the three grades. And I was having a gap year anyway, and in that year more and more work came through and I just got the bug so bad, I knew there was no way I was going back.’

Her life consists now of flying between Los Angeles – ‘they celebrate success but the people just don’t look normal’ – and far-flung film sets. Back in London she holes up in her two-bedroom flat in Queen’s Park.

‘I think you adapt,’ she says when I ask how this affects her relationship with Tennant. ‘You just have to make things work. It is tough, and spending so much time in the air means you’re not physically grounded, and it always takes me a few days to get centred again. But those flat beds make all the difference.’

She is clearly madly in love. She blushes when I mention Tennant’s name. ‘Saved by the bell!’ she cries when the phone rings. ‘It’s really nice, yes,’ she concedes at last. ‘ I just feel so lucky at the moment. I’m reluctant to talk about it because it’s a sacred thing. I think if you love, you have to keep it pure, and it needs to be private.’ Does she see a future for it? ‘I just take each day as it comes. None of us knows what’s round the corner. Life has been very, very kind to me, but I’ve also had dark times and hard times.’

She clocks my expression. ‘Yes! I’ve had months of unemployment. Definitely, I’ve struggled. You think, “This is the worst time of my life.” But if I hadn’t experienced difficulties, I wouldn’t appreciate when things do go right.’

One of those dark patches must have been the Charles Dance scandal. Their affair was outed by the tabloids, and he abruptly ended the relationship. ‘I don’t really pay any attention to the press,’ she says of this, uncomfortably.

‘ I don’t understand this desire to know about actors’ private lives. That’s why I’ve always kept mine hushed, because the minute you talk about it, it invites people into that arena.’

But it did seem odd that he was so much older than her, could she see that? ‘Mm. I don’t know.’ She clearly hates talking about it, and shakes her head when I ask if they are still in touch. ‘I really don’t, I really don’t want to talk about it, would you mind?’ she asks sweetly.

She is more willing to talk about her famous friends. ‘God, Keira [Knightley] and I have known each other for years,’ she says when I bring up her name. ‘She is one of the most beautiful women. Have you met her? She is just exquisitely beautiful. Really, like, such a nice girl. If I’d had the success she’s had at her age, I’d probably be in the Priory!

‘But I think it’s so odd, the concept of 20 grown men following a 20-year-old girl down a street, and the fact that they have cameras in their hands somehow validates their right to do that. If they didn’t, you’d think, “What a bunch of pervs.'”

And some of the things they say to get reactions are so hateful. They’ll pass comment on people’s weight, just to get a rise, an angry facial expression that Heat can print. Keira’s said they can be really nasty. But she’s very strong and she’s got a good family around her.’

Myles’s next project takes her to Scotland – David Mackenzie (Young Adam) is directing a film called Hallam Foe, co-starring Jamie Bell as a voyeuristic teenager. Then she has firm plans to take her flat in hand. ‘I’m about to get serious and convert my spare room into an office and get hooked up with broadband.

I still don’t have a computer. Well, I did have one, but two cats pissed on it in LA a year ago and I couldn’t afford a new one. But now I’ve filled up the coffers I’m going to go shopping at the weekend.’ I ask what she wants from the future. ‘Keep going and keep sane and healthy!’ she says simply.

‘I’ve just turned 26, and suddenly I’m four years away from 30, and I can’t get away with being a kid, young and foolish. But I’m in a very, very good place. I think 30 must be quite scary if you’re not where you want to be.’