Parlez-vous Doctor Who?
Sophia Myles went back to 18th-century France with Doctor Who and liked it so much she’s now sharing the present with a Time Lord
When a beautiful young woman dressed like Marie Antoinette comes charging at you out of a French palace, your first instinct is to run for cover. But all Sophia Myles wants is a light for the Marlboro in the corner of her mouth.
We’re just outside Stratford-upon-Avon, at a country house that is doubling for Versailles, and Myles is taking advantage of a break in filming the new series of Doctor Who. Immaculately coiffured and made up, the 25-year-old actress has been shoehorned into a deep-cut, flowing 18th-century dress for the role of Madame de Pompadour in the fourth episode of the new series, which starts on BBC One on Saturday. Not that she is overly impressed with her costume.
“This old thing? It’s the same dress that Helen Mirren wore in The Madness of King George. They’ve just made a few alterations to make sure I can get into it.”
This sort of down-to-earth comment is typical. Almost in defiance of her alabaster complexion, supermodel looks and cut-glass English accent, Myles comes across instantly as warm and completely unaffected. When she’s not puffing away on her cigarette, she is discussing the hangover she is nursing after what sounds like a hell of a night with the BBC cast and crew at their hotel.
Five months on, in a swanky Soho hotel, Myles is still a breath of fresh air. The ballroom gown has gone to be replaced by jeans and a plain top. She has given up smoking – “apart from the odd one behind the bike sheds” – and is so enthusiastic that she barely pauses for breath.
“God, yes, Doctor Who was great,” she smiles. “When you get offered that show, it’s a bit like jury service; you can’t really say no. I think I was offered the part because Steven Moffat, the writer, was a big fan of the Thunderbirds film [in which Myles played Lady Penelope]. I thought ‘Great I’m going to meet the Daleks,’ but it was, ‘No, you’ve got to go to France and put a corset on.’ Also, my grandfather lived in South Wales, so getting to him was a great pulling point. I fit a day’s shooting then went to the nursing home to see him. He was in his nineties, and he told me a story about the war that I’d heard 20 zillion time before. I left him, planning to come back on Sunday, but he died the next day. It was weird, but it was kind of magical to have that bit of time with him before … it was as if he’d done his time.”
She like the Doctor Who experience so much that, after her three weeks of filming, she took the Doctor home with her. She and David Tennant are still very much an item but, although Myles makes no secret of their relationship, it’s not something she feels happy discussing.
“It’s a first for me to be in a position where people are actually interested in who I’m going out with,” she says. “I son’t talk about it, not because I am aloof or I have anything to hide or I’m up my own arse about it. I just feel uncomfortable talking to a relative stranger about the ins and outs of my private life.”
It is to the credit of both Myles and Tennant that they quickly brought their relationship out into the open appearing hand in hand before Christmas at an early Doctor Who screening. “Neither myself nor David will deny that we’re together. We are,” says Myles emphatically. “At the same time, I think it’s better to be open, and turn up in public together, because if you start sneaking around saying ‘No comment’, then it can become difficult. If you show up somewhere together, have your picture taken gracefully, then it’s not news.”
Given their hectic schedules, it’s a wonder that Myles and Tennant get to spend any time together at all. After her Doctor Who episode was finished, Myles took a plane to Toronto where she filmed a Robert Ludlum-based mini-series, The Hades Factor, for CBS. She then went to the Sundance Festival, where Art School Confidential, in which she plays a life-class model, was being shown.
Art School Confidential is notable for being the first film in which Myles appears naked. “I used to be the girl who hoiked her knickers up under a towel,” she recalls. “But now, I’ll show my arse to anyone!”
Not that it always has the desired effect. “I was in the ladies’ changing room of my local pool in North London, and there was a mother there with her small boy. The next thing is that I hear him sobbing, ‘Mum, Lady Penelope’s naked over there!’ I felt awful.”
After Sundance, Myles headed back to LA, “to see if I could get a job”. Did she? “It was really disappointing. Of the material I was offered to read, there was nothing that really grabbed the attention, and I started to miss home. On the plane on the way back I found myself wishing that someone would give me a job in Europe. The day after I got back, someone did.” As you read this, Myles is in Scotland filming Hallam Foe, a tale of a loss and obsession, alongside Jamie Bell.
Before all this, she also found time to star in the feature film Tristan + Isolde, an adaption of the ancient doomed-love fable. It’s a strangely old-fashioned film, a gloomier, Dark Ages version of the medieval classics that Hollywood churned out in the 1930s and 1940s. As Isolde, Myles delivers an impressive performance alongside the American actor James Franco but, although it’s an enjoyable, well-written film, its low-key style and well-worn plot suggests the question: why now?
“I don’t really know,” admits Myles. “It’s something that Ridley Scott [the film’s producer] had been wanting to make for 20 years. I feel like I’ve been pregnant with this film for ages, I made it straight after making Thunderbirds in 2004, but Kingdom of Heaven and Alexander must have delayed its release, and it’s only now that I’m here to give birth to it. I must admit that looking at myself on the poster is like being confronted by my past. Having said that, I think it’s a great story. I think that one of the things it does bring out is the idea of loyalty to your community, which doesn’t exist today, when we’re lucky if we know our neighbours. It’s a classic head v heart story. Tristan allows himself to be ruled by his head, Isolde by her heart.” Myles pauses, as if weighing up an eternal truth. “But then, she’s a girl. Of course she would.”