Ellie Bamber has a confession to make: she judges books by their covers. “Sometimes – and I know people say this is awful – I do just go into a bookshop and think, ‘Oh, that cover looks nice’,” the actor laughs.
But that doesn’t mean the content of the book need be equally palatable. Her current read, My Year Of Rest And Relaxation, which she brings to breakfast with Stylist, has a quaint, period cover. But Ottessa Moshfegh’s second novel “is about this woman who gets loads of sleeping pills and decides to hibernate for a year because she thinks it might help her,” explains 21-year-old Bamber in a Bloomsbury cafe near her central London flat. “It’s intriguing. The author has a dark voice.”
Another less-than-light read is the reason we’re meeting. Bamber recently devoured Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables in anticipation of her role as Cosette in a new dramatisation of the French historical novel. The six-part BBC drama dispenses with songs to stay closer to Hugo’s doorstop of a book. The period piece also draws parallels with contemporary global unrest.
It’s lavish, but it is gruelling. Fans of the novel, the blockbuster musical or this new adaptation on BBC One will know that Bamber’s turn as Cosette comes after several episodes of untold misery. She gets all the nice costumes but she doesn’t escape scot-free. “You see that Cosette is given away by her mother to this extremely abusive family and, as Victor Hugo says, she’s treated like the household drudge by the parents and children.”
We meet the week before Christmas and Bamber is working right up to the break. This is what it’s like when you’re an actor of the moment. She’s just back from shooting a film, The Seven Sorrows Of Mary, in Rio. Currently, she’s juggling work on another British film, The Show (“a comedy shot through an LSD lens”, she laughs) and a second BBC drama. It doesn’t leave much time for rest and relaxation.
“I was filming two different things all last week,” she says. “So I had a fairly chilled out weekend just hanging out and reading this book.”
Bamber has been in demand ever since she started acting at school, where she won drama scholarships. Brought up in Berkshire and with the support of her parents – her mum is her manager – she was on the West End stage with a part in a prestigious Sir Trevor Nunn play, Aspects Of Love, by the age of 13.
Television, theatre and film work followed but it was playing the daughter of Jake Gyllenhaal and Isla Fisher’s characters in Nocturnal Animals that gave her a Hollywood break. Chanel appointed her as an ambassador in 2016. But while Bamber is major red carpet material, she’s much more than outward appearances.
She’s drawn to all sorts of stories, but she excels in dramas that blend her obvious glamour with substantial amounts of grit. It started with Nocturnal Animals. The work of a celebrated designer, Tom Ford’s film looked suitably stylish. But its substance dealt in the knottier, often violent aspects of the human condition. Bamber’s character, in particular, had a grim time of it.
Her new work, discussed over scrambled eggs and Americanos, also sits on the grittier end of the spectrum. The Seven Sorrows Of Mary is a terrifying-sounding thriller about a tourist couple who are kidnapped and tortured by a gang in Rio de Janeiro. The other BBC drama in the works is The Trial of Christine Keeler, a take on the political sex scandal that rocked the British establishment in the Sixties, written and directed by women.
Bamber plays Christine Keeler’s friend and fellow showgirl Mandy Rice-Davies, who challenged the characterisation of herself as a fallen woman. It’s a meaty role that should seal 2019 as Bamber’s year. She shows Stylist a snap on her phone of herself in character, complete with Sixties’ bob and red lipstick.
But while the actor enjoyed the glitzier side to Rice-Davies, she was drawn to the substance of her story. She read her memoir (Bamber really does her homework) in which the former showgirl proves herself to be more than what the headlines of the time portrayed.
“Mandy was so fun and vivacious, she didn’t hold back,” says Bamber, a woman who clearly likes to look beyond appearances. “But the way these girls got labelled by men at the time… it was a lot.”(more…)
Ellie Bamber plays Cosette
Tell us about Cosette
For me, Cosette is a representation of hope and the future for the story. Her journey is the story of her becoming a woman, but one from a really tough past. Previously I feel audiences have had a different idea of Cosette – she’s often seen as a passive character within the plot, but Andrew Davies’ script delves into her past so you can see why she is nervous at the beginning of her teenage life. She does have a huge capacity to love and that begins to show.
I haven’t played a character recently from this time period so wearing these amazing costumes is incredible, as are the sets.
Tell us about Les Misérables as an adaptation
I loved Andrew’s scripts, they are so eloquently written. An audience who hasn’t read the book but might have seen the play or seen the movie adaptation will see new details that they wouldn’t have seen or known before, especially about the characters’ pasts and where they are going.
Tell us about the relationship between Cosette and Jean Valjean
The relationship between Cosette and Jean Valjean is wonderful, as they depend on each other. She teaches him how to love and that’s beautiful. The interesting thing about the journey they go on together is Cosette becoming a woman: it’s a father holding onto his daughter, but also letting her go.
If you were going to categorise Ellie Bamber’s 2018, ‘intense AF’ springs to mind. No stranger to a gritty role – you will recognise Ellie from her chilling role in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals – Ellie jetted to Brazil to portray a real-life backpacker who was kidnapped, repeatedly raped and abused in the back of a tiny van for the film, The Seven Sorrows of Mary.
Then if that wasn’t gut wrenching enough for one twenty-one-year-old, she popped on a corset and tackled one of the most iconic roles of all, Cosette in BBC’s sans singing adaption of Les Misérables. Set to become Christmas TV’s break out star, Ellie’s star turn takes her from rising eugine to fully fledged power house.
Here, one of Britain’s best rising stars opens up her photo album and takes us on a whistle-stop tour of her 2018 from the trap music loving set of Les Misérables to the Chanel Couture show…
I don’t think this snowman has been my best work. With this being taken a year ago, I am looking back at myself in this picture and realise I have gone through tonnes. I don’t think I would speak to you about things in the same way, then. It’s hard to put my mind in the same place that I was because I feel like I’m growing at such a rapid rate that I can’t even keep up. Playing different roles escalates that growing up process, too.
My first reaction when I watched Les Misérables was, ‘wow, my hair looks good!’ They put half a wig in and I was always kinda worried it was gonna make my head look twice as big! This is the girl playing younger Cosette and I. It was actually really bizarre as there was an even younger child, called Milo and then there was a baby me. It was interesting to see what they had gone for and how similar they had made us.
The real lol was, one morning at 5am I asked Dominic West if it was it ok if I played trap music and he said, ‘absolutely I love trap music!’ Next minute I’m playing trap music and we’re having a dance around the trailer. That was fun.
Some Friday nights the crew put on parties in the car parks where we had the trailers. We had fire breathers, smoke machines, disco lights, like, 90s raves!(more…)
The 21-year-old actress – who is dating ‘Bodyguard’ actor Richard Madden – spent six weeks away in Brazil shooting ‘The Seven Sorrows of Mary’ and admitted her absence can be tough on her loved ones, but things are always fine again once they get chance to reconnect.
In an interview with the new issue of Red magazine, she said: ‘Being away puts a strain on family and friends, but my best friends came [to the ‘Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ premiere] and, even though I hadn’t seen some of them in ages, we just picked up where we left off.’
But despite being away from her loved ones a lot, Ellie always gets to spend a lot of time with her mother, as she’s also her manager.
She added: ‘It means we make time to see each other and she’s always got my back.’
Meanwhile, the ‘Nocturnal Animals’ actress doesn’t feel particularly famous but revealed there are aspects of being in the public eye that she finds tough.
She said: ‘[The hardest thing was] moving away from my friends and family… walking to the chip shop on a Sunday with a hangover, that’s not so good.’
‘I don’t acknowledge it, I don’t really feel I am famous in any way.’
Boyfriend Richard starred in ‘Bodyguard’ – one of the year’s biggest TV shows – and he and Ellie enjoyed watching it back together.
She admitted: ‘We watched it together at his house.’
Despite a very successful year herself, the ‘Les Miserables’ actress feels she is still “learning”.
She said: ‘I’m still finding my way, so it can be hard. I’m still growing, still learning, still changing.’
The 21-year-old actress was delighted to film alongside a star-studded cast including Keira Knightley, Dame Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman and Mackenzie Foy in director Lasse Hallstrom’s Disney fantasy and will never forget the experience.
She said: ‘It’s a live-action film and it’s a lot more story based than the ballet but there’s still going to be dancing‘.
”Getting to work with Lasse Hallstrom was so incredible and that cast, I mean… Mackenzie is amazing, Matthew Macfadyen is so brilliant – it was a really cool cast and being able to bring that magical tale to life… well, it was really, really special.”
Next year, Ellie can be seen in ‘The Seven Sorrows of Mary’, which is based on real events and sees her play an exchange student who is kidnapped, raped and beaten while in Brazil and though it was the ‘toughest’ role she’s ever had, the actress embraced doing night shoots in Rio de Janeiro.
She said: ‘It was very intense. I think it might have been my toughest role to date’.
‘We did lots of night shoots so I’d come home to see the sunrise. There was something really special about a beautiful end to the day.’
But it isn’t the British actress’ first difficult role as her big break came in Tom Ford’s dark thriller ‘Nocturnal Animals’, on which she formed a strong bond with her on-screen parents Jake Gyllenhaal and Isla Fisher, which helped her through filming.
She recalled to Britain’s Elle magazine: ‘On set, the three of us formed a really strong relationship together’.
‘We all got on really well and we’d hang out a lot outside of filming. I think that was really important because we had this bond with each other where we felt safe together, no matter what space we were put in.’