“The biggest misconception about me? That I’m a ginger! Dude, I like being ginger so much, but at the moment my hair loves going back to blonde recently.” There’s an ease right now with which Ellie Bamber is telling me that one of her most previously inarguably distinct characteristics – her burnt amber hair – one which no doubt would have helped her land her breakout role in Tom Ford’s stylish but gritty thriller Nocturnal Animals as Amy Adam’s doomed daughter, was so easily interchangeable. But this confidence is the direct result of a career has been built on sheer impressive talent rather than the physical characteristics that many of her contemporaries might find themselves relying on. It’s undeniable: this is not someone whose identity and currency are tied up in her appearance. And the fact of the matter is, it’s impossible to typecast someone who has gone from gun-toting zombie slayer, to an 18th century orphan, then a 60s showgirl, next – an American exchange student whose life is violently torn apart. And let’s not forget when we gritted our teeth enviably as Bamber lived out all our girlfriend fantasies being chased around Paris by an amorous Shawn Mendes in his music video for “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back”. We still haven’t forgiven her.
As mentioned, her latest feat saw her recently take on the role of orphan ‘Cosette’ in the new star-studded BBC adaptation of Les Misérables, one that riskily swapped its beloved songs for detail more aligned to Victor Hugo’s 1862 brick of a French historical novel. “Cosette as a character is really interesting,” muses Bamber. “Hugo explains her as being ‘innocence personified’. She lives in such a sheltered environment with her father and then the nunnery and she kind of doesn’t know anything about the outside world, or probably even been spoken to about what love is. She hasn’t seen anything, you know?” This sensibility is very, very different from Bamber, who at 22 has already solo-travelled around the world for her job.
I remind her that the last time we spoke she was in Rio, where she was filming ‘The Seven Sorrows of Mary’, a brutal crime thriller based on a true story. Bamber plays an American exchange student who is captured with her boyfriend while on her final year abroad in Brazil and raped by her captors in a horrifying ordeal in a van. When we chat in Rio at the time she is understandably more closed off, her voice is notably weighted like a string wound round too tight. This time around, she is chipper, affable, her voice sing-songing and stretching playfully over sentences. “Yeah, it was quite emotionally draining, I mean, it was full on,” she remembers. “I was there for 7 weeks. At the end, me and my co-star basically turned around to the producers and we were like, ‘for our wrap gift can we can destroy the van?’ We were so sick of it. We were joking, but James and I had been sat in that van for like weeks.”
It’s an intense role to say the least, but one that Bamber instantly relished, grasping at an opportunity to tell an incredible story and showcase the unbelievable resilience of one woman. “The script was so harrowing, but it was something that really struck me, that is an incredible story of a woman’s bravery,” she explains. “Rape is something that should never ever happen, and I think with society and how people go about dealing with the aftermath, there’s a lot of work to be done and I think that’s something I’ve always really been interested in. There is a very small percentage of people that say they’ve been raped. I just think there’s still this blaming and calling a woman a slut. This happens and needs to change.”
She is not one to shy away from challenging roles, or difficult scripts, or painful dialogue. But being alone in a foreign country by yourself for an elongated period of time, and in intense violent simulations is enough to put a strain on anyone. But Bamber had her own methods of decompressing. “I was getting up at 4 in the afternoon and going to bed at like 5 in the morning,” Bamber murmurs. “And I think the most amazing thing is that I would come back every night after being trapped in the van or in quite intense situations all day and I would get into my hotel room and stand on my balcony and watch the sunrise. That was really calming at the end of the day: I’d see this incredible piece of nature. This wonder of the world, on this beautiful coastline. And I think that combined with music and reading was something that really helped me. I also read The Alchemist while I was there and I think that was quite fitting”. A book aptly by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, but also one about adversity and travelling on difficult journeys, adventures and opening your mind to the journey. Very fitting indeed.
Also coming up this year, the actress has The Trial of Christine Keeler, a six-part BBC One series, based on the Profumo affair, the real political sex scandal which gripped the nation back in the 60s. Bamber plays showgirl Mandy Rice-Davies, a friend of Christine Keeler, a 19-year-old model who had a brief affair with the Secretary State for War, John Profumo. This went on to rock the British establishment and sparked a political crisis in the early 60s. Older generations might wonder why something that occurred in the 60s is piquing our interest once again, but the events and their respective disgraced men carry unavoidable parallels to the #MeToo movement. And with The Trial of Christine Keeler, it is the first time it has been told from a female perspective: written by women and directed by women. When I ask Bamber how she feels that these women were essentially scapegoats for the wrongdoings of men, she is exasperated. “Men were free to sleep around with whoever they wanted, and then these two young women who were having the time of their lives, honestly not doing anything wrong at all, they were dragged down for it,” Bamber sighs. “I don’t understand how there should ever be two separate rules like that. There were these names plastered around about these two young women, and quite frankly it’s disgusting what they had to go through. I hope it speaks to women about sexual freedom and how brilliant of a thing that is.”
For Ellie Bamber, a role is not just a role. It is an all-encompassing character study and deep dive into the emotions and bravery of the women whose stories need to be told. “Mandy Rice-Davies went through all of this horrible shame and she came out the other side a millionaire; she didn’t let it get in her way of anything,” Bamber adds. “It hasn’t been a conscious effort but I feel like I’ve been extremely lucky because all of the women I’ve ever played, I’ve absolutely fallen in love with.” And with her continuing dedication to these incredible roles and amorphous ability to shapeshift, it’s no wonder she’s one of the most in-demand actresses of her time. May the love affairs continue.
See the photoshoot by clicking on the thumbnails below.