Who's best for Sophia?
Steve Pratt chats to Sophia Myles about her TV and movie projects, but finds her slightly more shy about discussing boyfriend David Tennant.
ASK Sophia Myles to name her favourite Doctor Who and she replies, “David Tennant”. Then adds mischieviously, “For obvious reasons – you know what those reasons are.” The vicar’s daughter who was pretty in pink as Lady Penelope in the flesh-and-blood movie based on the puppet series Thunderbirds is reportedly stepping out with Tennant, the latest actor to go time-travelling. But she remains coy about confirming stories about who’s who in Who’s love life. On the big screen, she’s one half of a pair of star-crossed lovers in the new movie Tristan & Isolde, produced by the Scott brothers Ridley and Tony. Her leading man is US actor James Franco.
Around the same time that opens in cinemas, she’ll be alongside Tennant on the small screen in the latest Doctor Who series on BBC1, playing Madame de Pompadour in an episode called The Girl In The Fireplace.
“When my agent called and said I’d been offered Doctor Who, I thought, ‘brilliant, I’m going to meet the Daleks’. But no, I’m in a corset in Versailles,” she says.
“Madame de Pompadour is the mistress of King Louis and, in Doctor Who terms, has known the doctor since she was a very young girl. He’s visited her through the course of her life. I used to watch Doctor Who when I was a kid so to be in it is such a privilege. It’s a job you can’t say no to, it’s a bit like being called to jury service, it’s not cool to say no.”
Filming the series in Cardiff was a bonus as Myles is half-Welsh and the job offered the chance to visit her elderly grandfather. “I’d been out of the country for so long, so I thought, ‘great, I can go down and see granddad’. So I did a couple of days shooting and then went to see him at his pensioners’ home. I told him I had a day off the following Sunday and I’d come and see him again. And then he dropped dead the next day.
“It was kind of meant to be really because it was lovely to go to see him and we had a good old chat. So it was very special to me from a personal point of view.”
Myles got into acting by accident after being spotted by a British casting director at the age of 16 in a school play and offered a small role in a TV production of The Prince And The Pauper. During her A-levels, she appeared on TV in Fay Weldon’s Big Woman and turned down a place studying philosophy at Cambridge in favour of an acting career.
TRISTAN & Isolde, based on a Celtic myth from the Dark Ages, marks her first starring role in a movie directed by Kevin Reynolds, who made Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. The love story is played out against a background of the British and Irish at war.
Filming in Ireland and Prague was tough – and dangerous when her wig caught fire as she sat chatting to Reynolds. “Suddenly people started screaming my name, ‘Sophia, Sophia’ and I was like, ‘what’s their problem?’. What they were actually saying was, ‘It’s a fire’,” she says.
“I had a three-quarter length wig on and there was a candle behind me. I lent back and the whole thing just went up in flames. My life flashed before me, then the hair stylist came in and was really pissed off this had happened. She was more worried about the wig than my life.”
She also had to cope with scenes shot off the Irish coast in the Atlantic. She loves swimming in a pool but is terrified of the sea. “It must be the fear of the unknown. It was really cold – the end of October – and we took two days to film the scene,” she says. “We did it about 20 to 25 times. We had wet suits on hand but they looked too bulky under my costume.”
Ridley and Tony Scott have been trying to get Tristan & Isolde made for some years, so there was that added pressure on her of working on their pet project. “It was a big challenge for me because I’d never done a romantic lead before,” she says.
“As soon as I read the script, it was such a beautiful story with so much heart to it and the writing was so good, I couldn’t possibly say no. It’s common knowledge that really good roles for women are hard to come be.”
She had to adopt an Irish accent as Isolde and is now doing an Edinburgh accent in Hallam Foe, the film she’s currently shooting with Billy Elliot star Jamie Bell in Scotland. She doesn’t say if her character, a human resources manager at a hotel, is another of the posh girls she gets asked to play much of the time.
“I’m not a posh person. I’m state school all the way and just happened to be brought up in Notting Hill where I probably heard the upper class ya-ya accent going on. So it’s weird that I often get cast as either royalty or a Lady,” she says.
* Doctor Who returns to BBC1 on Saturday at 7.15pm.
Tristan & Isolde (12A) opens in cinemas on April 21.