When I ask Ellie Bamber for the names of some of the actresses she admired growing up, her answer unintentionally provokes a giggle. “Definitely Nicole Kidman,” she starts. “Moulin Rouge was one of those films that I watched as a kid and was like ‘Oh my god, that’s what I want to do.’ And I love Emma Stone, I think she’s a really amazing actress.” I pause, waiting for the moment of recognition, then laughing, point out the common theme of red hair, shared also by Ellie. All at once, she’s surprised and apologetic, almost as if it didn’t occur to her. “That’s so weird, sorry!” She nervously laughs. “When I was a kid, I was blonde. I’m naturally blonde. It’s weird how as a kid I was already gravitating towards that – that’s funny actually.”

Real or not, Ellie Bamber is a redhead rising through the ranks, her signature strawberry-blonde hair a striking point of difference from many of her peers. It’s this hair that would have played at least a small part in snagging her career-making role in Tom Ford’s haunting 2016 thriller Nocturnal Animals, where she joined a flame-haired acting trifecta completed by Amy Adams and Isla Fisher. After a disturbing, but powerful performance as a daughter on a doomed family road trip, it sparked excited murmurs surrounding the Berkshire-born newcomer. But hair is just one thing. Talent is another.

And talent is something that Ellie has in buckets. She’s been lauded as somewhat of an industry chameleon, seamlessly embodying all manner of roles. Pre-Nocturnal Animals, there was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a comic, feminist, gore-filled riff on the Jane Austen classic which saw her train for two months in martial arts. Last year, she made her much-celebrated Donmar Theatre debut for a modern adaptation of the famous Henrik Ibsen play, The Lady from the Sea. In 2017, after the visuals for Shawn Mendes’ hit “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” were released, fans went into a frenzy investigating the identity of his music video love interest – played convincingly by Bamber, a free-spirit in the early raptures of love.

A stint as Tom Ford’s muse means that her style – which she describes as “a combination of classic, pretty things, and street style” – has also snagged her opportunities such as being appointed as a Chanel ambassador. Casual. She’s also the lead in upcoming project, Taipei (High Resolution), a love-in-the-age-of-social-media tale, about “a couple who takes loads of drugs together, film themselves and put it out on the internet.” Currently, she’s speaking to me over the phone from Brazil, where she’s shooting a harrowing abduction true story, The Seven Sorrows of Mary, which she calls a “tough” but also “really important piece of work.”
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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.


Marius & Cosette in Les Misérables

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.

Bamber (second right) on the front row at the Chanel Haute Couture a/w 2018 show in Paris

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.”

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2019 is set to be a golden year for TV and the show’s respective leads. From Jodie Comer’s return as Villanelle in Killing Eve season two, to Ellie Bamber’s new role as Cosette in Les Misérables, these are the fourteen faces set to dominate your screen next year. All you have to do is cancel all social plans in favour of a boxset binge.

#3 Ellie Bamber: Les Misérables

 

Ellie Bamber has been acting since she was young, but her new role as Cosette in BBC 1’s six-part adaptation of Les Misérables is set to make the 21-year-old actress a household name. You heard it here first.

Les Misérables Andrew Davies’ six-part adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic 19th century novel, for BBC One:

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…

Do you wanna build a snowmannnn…

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.

Les Misérables Trap Queens

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!

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