Sophia Myles and the Peeping Tom
by Paul Fischer
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Gorgeous British actress Sophia Myles made quite an impact on U.S. TV audiences in the cult series Moonlight, in which she played Beth Turner. Born in England, daughter of an Anglican vicar, the 28-year old first starred in a school production of Teachers, written by Kevin Godber, at the tender age of 16. Among those in attendance was Julian Fellowes, the Oscar-winning writer of Gosford Park. She was subsequently cast in the BBC production of The Prince and the Pauper. Two years later, Myles was cast as young Saffron in the TV miniseries Big Women. In 1999, after enrolling in Cambridge University to study philosophy, she got a small part in Mansfield Park and was then cast as Agnes Fleming in the TV series Oliver Twist, after which she dropped out of university to pursue acting. After that, she got a number of small parts in movies and television shows. Most notably, she was cast as Johnny Depp’s wife in From Hell and starred in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, The Abduction Club, Heartbeat and Foyle’s War—the latter two for British television.
In 2003, Myles got a supporting role in Underworld followed by the thriller Out of Bounds about an awkward young girl in an English boarding school who falls in love with her American art teacher who is married to the headmistress. Later that same year, she was cast in the big screen version of the English cult hit the Thunderbirds, earning praise for her role as the iconic Lady Penelope. Soon, she began working on Art School Confidential, directed by Terry Zwigoff playing an American who is the muse of a student in an art school. Afterwards, she returned to her television roots, starring in Colditz as Lizzie Carter, who is the object of affection and desire for two brothers before appearing in Miss Marple: Sleeping Murder as a young woman who discovers that as a child she witnessed a murder. The actress’s big Hollywood break came in Tristan & Isolde, playing the fiery young Irish princess.
In 2006, she returned to television, starring Madame de Pompadour in Doctor Who as the Doctor’s love interest, before signing on to the CBS series Moonlight. In the Scottish indie drama Mister Foe, Myles gives an alluring performance as the object of Hallam Foe’s affections [Jamie Bell] who spies on his neighbours while dealing with his mother’s suicide.
Myles talked exclusively to Paul Fischer.
Paul Fischer: What attracted you to the character?
Sophia Myles: It’s very hard to find good roles for women, as you know, and I couldn’t put the script down when I read it. I was very interested in playing an average girl and somebody who works a nine to five office job, and the fact that she’s not a one-dimensional character. I mean, on the surface, she’s able to kind of project this air of complete poise and togetherness and control, when in fact, underneath it all there’s a very damaged, dark soul, I think.
PF: Could you identify with her?
SM: Absolutely. Yeah.
PF: What aspects of her could you identify with the most?
SM: Well, I think, you know, as an actor—I mean, I think I make my living pretending to be someone else, so I think that element of kind of wearing a mask—which I think Kate does. I think she has a kind of professional mask that she puts on every day in the office, but it’s only through—it’s through Hallam’s eyes that the audience sees who she really is.
PF: There’s a line in the film where she says, “I like kinky guys.
PF: It’s obviously part of her character.
PF: What do you think is the attraction between these two characters?
SM: Well, I think the union of the two of them is like a life raft, because both of them are rather lost souls and I think they provide comfort for each other at a period where both of them are already struggling with their demons. And Kate says herself, she likes creepy guys and Hallam kind of ticks that box, I guess. I think she’s attracted to his—I mean, despite the fact that he has this kind of weird voyeuristic obsession, it’s not perverse. And he’s not getting any kind of sexual thrill himself out of watching her and I think that she can see through all of that, and she can see that underneath the craziness that he has, he’s actually just a very—he’s very damaged by what’s happened to him. But underneath it all—there’s a purity there that I think she’s attracted to. And I also think she’s not stupid. And she knows that he’s gonna—you know, he’s gonna age well. You know, he’s got potential. [laughs] I like also the fact that a relationship between an older girl and a younger guy was explored. Because I haven’t seen that for a while on film.
PF: In fact, the sexuality of this film is obviously a very important part of the movie. What kinds of trepidations did you have in doing those kinds of intimate moments with a co-star who was obviously a lot younger than you? Was that difficult for you?
SM: No. Well, the thing is, is that David—I mean, let’s be honest. I was more worried about the dancing scene than I was about any of the sex stuff. It was more intimidating, the idea of having to dance in front of Billy Elliot, than having to pretend to make love to him. [laughs] No. I mean, David Mackenzie had worked with Tilda Swinton, who’s repped by my agent in London. And my agent said that he would trust his grandmother’s life in David Mackenzie’s hands. So the fact that we had a director who was so sensitive, and made us feel completely comfortable, and never exposed at any time—it made it pretty easy.
PF: It’s interesting, because American cinema is generally a lot more conservative than European cinema. Do you think that American audiences will find it difficult to deal with the sexuality of a film like this? Especially within its context?
SM: I think everyone who sees this film will come away with a very different experience, and I think it will affect people in very different ways. I mean, I think what I like about this movie is that—like I said before, it’s not—you know, take a bucket of popcorn and forget about your life for an hour and a half. It really is a film that kind of deals with archetypal themes, you know? So it’s gonna have a profound effect on the human soul. I mean, it deals with the search for love. You know, it’s about a voyage of self-discovery and growth, and also the fear of death. You know? And I think—so it will. You know, it’s not—it’s going to make people think. And it will make them feel. How it’s gonna make them feel? I’m really not one to judge. But again, you know, the sexuality in the movie, it’s not—like, all of the sex scenes, they’re not there to be sexy. They’re not sensual. When I watched the film, I didn’t think, “Oh, that’s erotic.” I mean, it’s not about that. And that’s again why I felt very comfortable in being cast, because often nudity and sex is very gratuitous in movies. But this isn’t—these movies aren’t supposed to—the scenes aren’t designed to turn people on.
PF: In fact, I’m assuming one of the things you must be looking for when you’re looking for a role is to avoid those kinds of sexual stereotypes. And you are obviously very beautiful. You have been naked on film before. Is it hard for you to get scripts offered to you where in fact producers and casting people look past that, and see you as a really diverse actress?
SM: Yeah. I mean, I don’t—I don’t know I’ve ever been really typecast. I think I’ve been lucky, because I’ve always kind of jumped from different kinds of roles. You know, I like to kind of spice things up a bit, and always keep people guessing. So, no. And I’ve got very good representation, both in England and in America. And both agents have impeccable taste in directors. And good directors attract good scripts, which then attract good actors. So, no. I mean, if you choose the right director to work with, then they’re not going to run into any of those kinds of problems.
PF: Do you know what you’re doing next?
SM: No, I don’t. I’m basking in the glow of the California sunshine right now. I just finished Moonlight for CBS. The vampire show. Yeah. So that was a very exciting, wonderful experience, dipping my toes in the waters of American television. But that’s kind of dead. Completely dead.
PF: It is, is it? So it’s not coming back?
SM: No. No.
PF: It must have been interesting. Because, you know, you talk to actors who work in American television, and they really do have a very philosophical approach to the politics of working in American TV. How do you come away from that experience?
SM: Incredibly tired. They work—I mean, I have never worked so hard in my life. It was wonderful, but absolutely exhausting. I feel completely prepared for having a young child now, in terms of the amount of sleep deprivation that’s involved.
PF: You do have a young child, or you’re preparing?
SM: No, I don’t. I mean, but I will be, because of the experience of Moonlight. I feel prepared for having one. We also shot—you know, ours were six-day weeks, and an 18-hour day was quite common.
PF: So you’re saying that probably and childbirth and child rearing are much easier in comparison.
PF: Really? I’ve never heard that analogy before.
SM: I don’t think—in terms of the amount of sleep deprivation that would be expected during the first year or so of having a child. I think it would be on a par with being the lead in a television show in America, yes.
PF: It’s probably more fun, though, in some ways.
SM: Yeah. Which one?
PF: The child. The child.
SM: Yeah. Probably slightly more spiritual, I can imagine. [laughs] But it was great to be part of something—you know. I mean, the wonderful thing for me about working on Moonlight was the fan base. I mean, we’ve got massive—eight million fans, who are still, God bless them, campaigning to try to get the show back.
PF: I take it you’re not too depressed that it’s over.
SM: Everything happens for a reason. It was a massive shock that it finished, because we were all expecting to go into a second season and I would have welcomed that. But the powers that be have decided that it won’t go any further, so. I’m excited that I’m now free to do movies again.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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