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Interview Extra: Sophia Myles

14 September 2010   |   Written by David Collins

Sophia Myles plays Beth Bailey, a new agent in the returning BBC1 spy drama Spooks. Here, she tells us more about her character, and reflects on how her time in Hollywood inspired her to take a year off to go backpacking.

Is your character based on a real-life person?
Yes, and in her youth, she was a rebel — she’d been expelled from a couple of private schools. So after she completed the MI6 course, she decided she didn’t want to work in such a heavily regulated bureaucracy. Instead of working for Her Majesty’s Government, she decided to pursue a private area of investigation. So she went first to Columbia, but the majority of her career was in the Middle East, and by the age of 27, she was a shareholder in a private company worth just over £1m and had 600 people working beneath her, the majority of which were ex-SAS soldiers.

She sounds like quite a formidable woman?
I think she felt comfortable in this world because her father was a brigadier and I think her grandfather worked in military intelligence. But I never thought anyone could have seen so much death by the age of 30. I asked her how she deals with stress, and she said, ‘I run 11km every morning before breakfast.’

Does Beth clash with the rest of the Spooks’ team?
Lucas [Richard Armitage] doesn’t like her at the beginning — he’s not sure who she is, because she’s been making a lot of money in the private sector. I don’t know if you know, but in MI5 you’ll be lucky if you make £25,000. But she doesn’t care, and she’s not threatened by any of them.

Who are her allies?
She ends up living with Ruth at the beginning, they’re in a flat share. And she’s friendly with Dimitri, played by Max Brown. They’re like the two new kids at school, having a giggle at the back of the classroom. Beth is massively professional, but she also has a great sense of humour. I think she’s forcing them all to lighten up. She’ll make inappropriate jokes.

Does your character have any romance? Is there a spark with Dimitri, for instance?
At the moment it’s more of a brother and sister type of thing. She strikes me as the kind of character who knows that getting involved with people at work would be rather unprofessional. I don’t know if she has a love life outside of work. It’s the first time I’ve done a part that hasn’t involved romance or sex. So it’s lovely, because it’s just about the woman — not in relationship to a man.

What’s her relationship like with Harry [Peter Firth]?
At this point, there’s a mutual respect. I sense it might develop into a father-daughter scenario. I’m not quite sure where they’re going with that.

Hermione Norris [who played Ros] used to say she got very good at running in high heels. Is that going to be the same for you?
No, because I ran in high heels for two years in America [for vampire drama Moonlight]. So after chronic back problems as a result, I said to them, ‘If I’ve got to run, then the shoes need to be flat.’ But I wear high heels on the Grid, to add a little glamour.

How did you feel when you got the part?
On the day I heard about it, a really spooky thing happened. I went to the theatre to see a friend of mine in a play at the Royal Court in London. In the play was Rupert Penry-Jones, and then in the bar afterwards, I met Keeley Hawes and Hermione Norris. Then I’m in the cab on the way back and I get an email saying, ‘Would you be interested in Spooks?’ and I thought, ‘I don’t have a choice.’

Have you filmed a lot of stunts?
I run, I shoot. Beth’s quite aggressive, and she’ll take on a man without any fear. I’ve grabbed a couple of guys by the throat, especially when they question my integrity. But I hate guns. The only thing that bothers me, quite often in TV and film, is when there are acts of violence, but the emotional repercussions aren’t addressed. I would hate to be making guns or death look cool, because neither of them are.

How do you feel about your career now?
Really happy, and thrilled to be working in the UK. Last year, I took a year off. It was an interesting experience. I’d always had the Hollywood dream, and I finally got there and ticked every material aspiration box I had on my list — work at the studio, make the money, have the car, have the house. But I suddenly realized there was still something inside me that wasn’t fulfilled, so I took a year out, packed a backpack and went to Thailand on my own. It was the most liberating and amazing thing I’ve done.

So when you were living the Hollywood dream, was it not what you were expecting?
Don’t get me wrong, I had an absolutely amazing time. But like I said, I realized that there was a fundamental spiritual part of myself that had been completely disconnected. And Hollywood is probably one of the most material and egocentric places on Earth, so I just wanted to go and explore. I’d go back to work in Hollywood in a flash, but I don’t know if I’d live there.

What sort of spy would you make?
I think I’d be rubbish. I show my emotions and feelings — maybe too freely. I’m not very good at pretending, and I don’t think I’d be a good enough liar. It’s different when you’re acting, someone has written the stuff for you. But if I had to improvise, I’d fall to pieces.