Actress Lucy Boynton on the allure of acting, what finding balance looks like and the characters she struggles to leave behind...
Lucy Boynton – if bookies were to take bets on such a thing – would be a sure-fire contender for busiest actress in the business right now. Having already starred in highly-acclaimed projects like Murder on the Orient Express, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Politician and the second series of Modern Love, she’s set to play singer Marianne Faithfull in upcoming biopic Faithfull as well as playing assistant Jean Courtney in ITV’s remake of spy thriller The Ipcress File, taking on Marie Antoinette in new biopic Chevalier de Saint-Georges and playing Lady Frankie in a new adaption of Agatha Christie’s Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?. We’re speaking to her today as the face of the new Chloé Eau de Parfum fragrance, Chloé Eau de Parfum Naturelle. It’s a 100% natural origin vegan fragrance, developed with ethically-sourced ingredients and lower impact materials (fans of the original will be happy to know it’s got the same deliciously woody rose scent). Here, Lucy fills us in on the relationships in her life – with fragrance, the roles she’s left behind and the people who mean the most to her…
Lucy, it’s great to speak to you. How have the last 18 months been for you?
I’m so aware of the fortunate version of it [the pandemic] I’ve had. Now we’re coming out the other side, I’m starting to realise the impact it’s had on my life and mental health. I think it’s something that will continue to unfold as we get further away from the initial impact and can see things more clearly. The main thing I’ve been grateful for is a group of close friends and family. Having a unit of people close to me means we’ve all been able to piece it all together as things have happened, and check in on each other’s mental health. That has had such a positive impact. I’m not sure I’d feel as grounded or able to make sense of it all if I hadn’t had that.
Has this period given left you motivated to get back into projects again, do you think?
I learned so much in the last year, so I feel slightly more confident going back to work because I think I’m more tethered to my own expectations for myself and my own preferences. I think a year away from work means you get to look at it [work] from the outside and have a much more analytical perspective. And when you have no choice, you have to be separate from it. The things that you crave about it become much clearer, so the elements that I missed about it are now informing the kind of jobs that I want to do and the kind of environments I want to work in. This year, I’ve been so lucky in the jobs I’ve been able to do. They’re much more in line with the kind of work I do want to do going forward.
As the face of Chloé Eau de Parfum Naturelle, can you tell us about your relationship with fragrance?
I’ve always had quite a sentimental relationship with fragrance. I think it’s the most evocative scent and kind of memory-triggering. It’s only in discussing it in terms of Chloé that I’ve really interrogated my personal relationship with it, but it’s my go-to for feeling slightly more elegant and ‘put together’, as well as triggering some sentimental values.
What are the fragrances you love? And do you have any you really dislike?
I think I’m drawn to floral scents. I think night-blooming flowers are the most romantic scent. When you walk through LA and smell the night-blooming Jasmine it’s so beautiful and romantic. I kind of like all the slightly toxic smells as well, like petrol. I can’t really think of any scents that I don’t like – I’ll focus on the positives!
The fragrance campaign [directed by Jonathan Alric] is really beautiful – it’s full of female creatives and felt like a real shift from the traditional ‘romantic’ fragrance adverts we see. Did that appeal to you?
It was just so empowering being in that group of women who are all artists in different mediums. It felt like a really fulfilling experience. There was obviously the exciting element of working with a brand like Chloe, for a fragrance I really love. And then to complete that by sharing that experience with those women in such an inspiring, empowering and artistically-fuelled environment was an incredibly rare experience. I felt very lucky.
You’ve been doing this job since you were very young and have played some really interesting roles in your career so far. What do you think the best part of your job is?
I think the transportive nature of it is the most surreal and the bit that makes me feel the most fortunate. It’s the closest experience you can get to living in a completely different time and place, and being accepted as someone completely other than yourself. It’s incredibly liberating. And getting that ‘behind the curtain’ look at history. I love reading, it’s always been such a passion of mine. And I think in acting, it’s the most transformative experience and the closest experience you get to that complete removal from your own life. I love that.
I imagine a lot of people picture acting as a very glamorous profession. Are there any misconceptions about the job you can share with us?
I think the misconception is that it’s very glamorous or that there’s a lot of swanning around, I guess. As inaccurate as it is, I can understand why that is the case – because everyone gets to see the public and presentational side of it, rather than the work. But I think it’s kind of OK that it’s still a bit of a mysterious industry and that people don’t have huge insight into what goes into the day-to-day. Because it’s all about the façade and presenting the final project and you want the audience to be able to suspend their disbelief and believe in the world entirely, in its entirety. So I think the less you know about the process and about what went into creating that and the reality of it, I think it keeps it slightly more magical and mysterious.
How do you deal with rejection, is that something that’s difficult to handle as an actor?
I think it’s hardest getting so close to being able to live a certain experience or live in a certain character’s shoes. Because in the audition process you get a taste of what that can be like with a certain character or project. So it’s the really hoping that you get to live in that world and when you don’t get it, it’s kind of hard, having had that taste but then walking away from it.
How do you deal with that?
In terms of taking the rejection personally, I don’t think I do anymore because I realised it’s absolutely not personal so there’s no point in trying to interpret it as such. I think that’s something you have to work to wrap your head around because in the beginning, obviously, you can’t imagine that it’s not personal and not something you’ve done wrong. But as soon as you do gauge that, I think it’s very liberating and freeing.
You’ve worked with some incredible actors over the last few years. Who has had the biggest impact on you?
It’s hard to name one individual. I’ve been really lucky getting to work with a lot of really brilliant ensembles. Recently I had the privilege of working with Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson and Jim Broadbent [on Agatha Christie’s Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?]. Just observing them and seeing how much fun they have with it. They take the work incredibly seriously but they don’t take themselves seriously. So there’s this playfulness and lack of preciousness and freedom to explore and really enjoy it. That was really inspiring to watch.
Do you find it difficult to leave each character behind when you leave the set each night, or when you wrap a project?
I do. I think during the process of filming, it’s hard to leave the character behind because there’s usually such a small window between getting home and then leaving for work the next day. So there’s kind of no point! I’m slightly biased because I’ve just wrapped two really special projects and I’m still in that grieving period, but I think the hardest thing to walk away from is the family unit you build. Especially when it’s a particularly long shoot or stressful shoot. The unit you become and the bonds you form are the things that really keep you afloat and excited for Monday morning. I’ve been really lucky with the characters I’ve got to play so there is a certain element of missing living in those shoes and feeling like those people. It can feel really weird leaving it behind when it’s been so all-encompassing. It feels quite unnatural to just part ways.
Marianne Faithfull and Marie Antoinette are two very different roles you’ve taken on. What do you look for in a role? What makes you say yes to something?
I think it’s always quite instinctive. When you’re reading a script, you might get this adrenaline rush of inspiration or excitement reading certain dialogue. And it’s like, ‘OK, I know what I would want to do here’ or ‘I know how I would want to unpack that scene’ and the challenge is so thrilling. But I think great writing is obviously the first catalyst and entry point. And then the creatives involved, because I think there are certain creatives – whether that be writers or directors – who have quite an idiosyncratic way of working so you know you’re in for something very different or particularly inspiring.
Is there anybody you’d love to play?
I think my dream roles usually come from books I’m reading, but more the feeling that I get from the books rather than specific characters. I love Shirley Jackson, she’s one of my favourite authors so I feel like her roles are too sacred in a way to me, so I might not want to dive into that. I love that kind of gothic world authors like Shirley Jackson or Helen Oyeyemi create.. The roles I’m really drawn to catch you off-guard – when you read them for the first time, you haven’t read a character like that or played a character like that before. It’s the surprise element that’s so appealing.
Do you feel roles for women are shifting and becoming more realistic and representative of women today?
Yeah, but it’s hard for me to gauge the way roles for women have changed because of the ages I’ve been over the course of my career. I started acting at 11 so obviously the scripts I’ve been reading have constantly grown and become more interesting as I’ve got older. I think it must have gotten better, just because of the conversations that are so prevalent now. You can’t get away with writing such simplified women anymore. And if you have written it, no-one wants to do it because they know they don’t have to. I think there’s still a more vast landscape for men and we’re still unfortunately, slow to catch up. But it is happening and I’m so grateful for women like Michaela Coel and Brit Marling who are writing such brilliant, informative and textured pieces which can then pave the way for lots more eclectic characters and a more interesting tapestry.
How do you stay balanced day-to-day? Do you have any habits you rely on?
I think staying balanced often means very different things, depending on the stage of work I’m in. During filming, conserving energy is the priority so for me personally, it’s seeking opportunities to be quiet and somewhat reclusive. It’s such a privilege to love your job so much and to be able to be all-consumed by it, but it’s trying to stay in a healthy headspace while doing that. I think the amount of travel that this work requires is another element that’s important to try and maintain balance within. As I get older, I’m realising – looking around at my friends who are putting down strong roots in places – that this job prevents that from happening. So I think as I grow, what balance looks like will take different forms. At the moment, it’s staying tethered to friends and family and feeling more rooted in that world.
Do you see your roots as here, in the UK?
Oh, hell yeah. London is home. Always has been and I think always will be.
You’ve spoken out about issues like Black Lives Matter, Repeal the Eighth and mental health on your Instagram account. I wondered how important it is for you to use your platform for causes like this, do you feel a responsibility?
Even when my Instagram was private and I just had friends following, I think my friends and I have always posted in a political sense if we feel passionate about something or particularly drawn to do so. It’s always felt pretty organic. I think with any kind of platform, that comes with a certain element of responsibility because it is such a privilege to get the opportunity to reach a certain amount of people. But I think the further that reach goes, the more sensitive I’ve wanted to be about the way you put forward that message, because I think it very quickly becomes a weird thing of looking at people in the entertainment industry to be the catalyst for that conversation. Or to make statements about their opinions – as if that matters any great amount. I think, more than anything, it’s an opportunity to continue the conversation and the great thing about social media is the opportunity to see outside your local perspective.
Who do you look up to? How do you feel about role models?
I think I believe in role models in the sense of taking a little bit from an eclectic group of people, as inspiration and motivation. I’ve been lucky with the women in my life who I’ve been able to look up to. My sister has always been one – I’m so lucky to have such a clear guide in life. She is such a powerhouse and has always been so curious about the world and everyone’s experiences. She’s challenged everything that’s been presented to her, and I feel incredibly lucky to have had her as a role model.
How would your sister describe you, do you think?
Oh, god, I don’t know. I hope more than anything my sister or friends would describe me as someone who makes them feel good, or someone they can go to. I think I’ve always just wanted to be someone who is a safe place to come to, and is always willing to listen and help out.
What do you think your proudest accomplishment is?
I guess that would be my proudest accomplishment. Being someone who friends or family feel they can confide in, or go to. Someone who is dependable. I think, especially in the job I have, still being someone who you can depend upon is really important to me. So if I provide that for the people closest to me, that would be my proudest accomplishment.
What would you do on a day off? Is there anything you’re especially craving right now?
Sleep. Whenever I have downtime, the thing I look forward to most is just a clear schedule and the opportunity to hang out with my friends and sleep. Sleep a lot. And the space for any sense of spontaneity as well – no plans, just freedom.
If you could live any day again, which would you choose?
I’m such a sentimental person, I could probably have a long list. I think more than anything – and especially informed by last year – any time that I’ve been with a good group of humans, where you just have time to be with those people close to you. Having the luxury of being in the company of people who really feel like your humans, and the ease, love and excitement that comes with that. I’d relive any of those days.
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