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.”
Busy? Yes. But what’s clear, is that an easy ride is of no interest to Ellie. Challenging, demanding and mentally-stimulating? Sign her right up. And classics are very much the focus right now. The actress has wrapped filming on the BBC mini-series adaptation of Les Misérables, out later this year, where she will take on the role of Cosette, alongside Lily Collins and Dominic West. “The funniest thing is that I was in the musical version of it at my school when I was younger,” she reveals. “I really like reimagining the classics and looking at all the different adaptations. With our version of Les Mis, it’s very much based on the book – which is wonderful because there’s so much detail in it. It’s 1,500 pages!” Surprising to many though, unlike the 2012 film, which saw Amanda Seyfried in Bamber’s role, there will be no singing. Not that this is something that would have deterred Bamber. We already know that she’s not someone who is afraid to get stuck in. “I would have sung, for sure,” she clarifies. “I think obviously everyone loves the songs, but without the singing, it allows us to go into a lot more detail.” Classic Ellie.
Later this year, she will play Louise in the gargantuan Disney live-action of the iconic ballet, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, (also starring Helen Mirren and Keira Knightley as the Sugar Plum fairy). “In the film I’m kind of on the verge of adulthood,” she reveals. “I’m this young Victorian lady dealing with her mother’s death, and trying to step into her mother’s shoes of looking after her younger sister Clara [played by Mackenzie Foy]. I’m so, so grateful and lucky to have been involved in this kind of massive production. It’s quite a classic tale and to be in that reimagining has been really wonderful.”
There’s no doubt about it. At just 21 years old, Ellie has managed to tip a rare balance. She’s made solid forays into film, TV and theatre – and while being conscious of the graft she puts in, there’s an underlying sense of gratitude, as well as constant strive for improvement. “I think I can be very self-critical, for sure,” she ruminates. “I’ve still got tons to learn. But it makes me really, really excited, I think you can probably hear that. I don’t know much at all, so I’m looking forward to being challenged more and learning more from my peers and directors. I’m always ready. I just want to be as open to that as I can possibly be.”
While modest when it comes to her abilities, when it comes to her future direction, Ellie is resolute and focused. “Obviously I’m really keen to work with female film makers, that’s something I’m always keeping an eye out for,” she explains. “I mean obviously I’m a woman, so I’m going to be telling a woman’s story. But for me it’s about finding roles that have a real female presence. I think that’s important.”
I ask her what female filmmakers she has in mind. “Directors? I’d really like to work with Sofia Coppola,” she admits. “And actresses?” She offers, unprompted. We’ve come full circle. I hear a glint of a smile on the other side of the phone. “I would love to work with Nicole Kidman.”
Although never bullish or steely, you get the sense that Ellie Bamber goes after what she wants with the quiet, persistent determination of someone on the verge of big-league status. And judging from her meteoric momentum, it’s only a matter of time. Ya hear, Nicole?