Erin Kellyman: “You get transported into this world, but you still feel like you're being seen, and I think that's something really special.”

The Willow star talks representation, what she would tell her 15-year-old self and all things fantasy…

erin kellyman
(Image credit: Kyle Galvin)

Is there anything Erin Kellyman can’t do? The 24-year-old has earned her stripes in the world of fantasy, starring in Solo: A Star Wars Story in 2018 and now featuring in the brand new Disney+ series, Willow

They say, get you a girl that can do both, and Kellyman can do just that. Away from the fantasy realm, she played her dream role of Éponine in BBC’s Les Misérables and showcased her range in Top Boy. 

Ahead of the release of Willow, Kellyman joined us on set with five other Women in Fantasy for a day filled with female empowerment, captured by Kyle Galvin. 

While she would describe herself as empathetic, non-judgmental and trustworthy. Jade is the character she understands the most out of all she has played. “I really feel connected to her,” she explained. “I want to be like her. In the parts where we're not similar, I strive to be like that.” 

Post-shoot, features writer Dionne Brighton caught up with Kellyman to deep dive into Willow, all things fantasy and how the industry can do better.

What drew you to the role of Jade?

Honestly, as soon as I got the email with a summary of the character, I knew I was all in. 

I didn’t even know where the story was going to go, but it was just the way that she was described - this very brave, heroic and determined character. I am always trying to play characters like that so I knew straight away. 

Erin Kellyman wears: Organza top, £1,200; Double-breasted blazer, £2,200 and Crepe couture trousers, £980 all Valentino; The rose garden ring, £395, Bleue Burnham; 18k yellow gold and white diamond Berceau Cinq ring, £3,500, Almasika

(Image credit: Kyle Galvin)

What does the fantasy genre mean to you? 

The fantasy genre is a great way for people to escape everything that’s going on in the world right now - all the negativity and the bad things that are happening. What’s really cool about Willow is that you’re not fully escaping - there are things that are addressed in Willow that are happening in the world right now. The characters are going through real life modern things, with that fantasy spin on it, so you’re seeing yourself and relating to these characters, but it's almost subliminal. You get transported into this world, but you still feel like you're being seen, and I think that's something really special.

What is your process for getting into Jade’s character?

I made a 'Jade' playlist of all the songs that she would like. I had songs for each episode, and throughout getting ready I would just keep my earphones in and stay in that zone for a little bit. It was actually super helpful and a lot of the cast did it too. So we would all be in our own little zones before they started rolling, which was really cool. Mine had a lot of songs that I wouldn’t usually listen to - quite emotional songs, but the lyrics would hit home for Jade, and so I would listen before going on set. 

How did your wardrobe inform your character?

The costumes are so insane - all of us on set were so excited when we had costume fittings. We would all be texting each other and sending photos. It’s the level of detail that goes into every costume, it’s just stunning. My costume for Jade is strong but feminine at the same time. She’s got quite a lot of armour, but it’s leather armour cinched in with a leather belt which is really cool. It's quite nice to have this kind of masculine energy within the costume.

What's the coolest thing that you've done on set? 

The thing that I'm probably most proud of is one of our fight scenes. The schedule was packed and I had no time to learn the scene or practice. Then when it came to the day of filming, I had to learn the entire fight routine in the time that they changed the cameras around and set up for the next shot. It was probably about seven or eight minutes, so I was very proud. It was difficult and I had to really concentrate because obviously there were swords involved and I was fighting somebody who was a lot bigger than me, who also couldn't see.

Do you have a favourite line from a script?

When I was playing Éponine In Les Misérables, there was a line that got to me every time. When she’s dying, she says “kiss me on the forehead when I’m dead”. It's quite depressing, but every single time I read it, it just gets me and can make me so emotional. I think that's really special - especially because I read it so much and it would still get me.That whole scene actually was just heart wrenching.

The characters are going through real life modern things, with that fantasy spin on it, so you’re seeing yourself and relating to these characters.

What is something that helped you on set?

Being told, “I’m here”. If I was spinning, overthinking or not understanding what was happening with my character, it was so helpful to have another actor stay in their character and tell me, “I’m here”. It’s really grounding having somebody be in that moment with you and it would really bring me back. With fantasy, it’s all about making it as believable as possible, and especially on the set of Willow, people were able to notice. Ruby and Dempsey specifically were able to notice immediately if I was overthinking a certain line or move, and they would just tell me to stay with them. It's a really grounding thing to hear - it brings you straight back, and I would also do it for them. We just became really susceptible to noticing when the other one needed the extra support which was so lovely. 

How do you stay positive?

Being around people who make me feel good. There have been a lot of times where people say certain things, and you have to really focus and hone in on how you actually feel, rather than how you feel about them. That is a big lesson and once you understand that, it makes the people that you're surrounded with a lot more enjoyable to be around. As for what inspires me to get up in the morning, it’s my family and my sisters - I just love their company. That, and music - that has saved me so many times.

What has been your career highlight, so far?

Playing Éponine was something that I'd wanted to do since I was tiny, but I never thought it was an option because I can't sing at all. So when this opportunity came around - an adaptation where there was no singing, I remember thinking, “I have to do it, I just have to” and this has to work out. So when it did, that was just a genuine bucket list, dream come true situation.

Erin Kellyman wears: Organza top, £1,200, Valentino; (on index finger) Plants move in slow motion ring, £550 and The rose garden signet ring, £395, both by Bleue Burnham

(Image credit: Kyle Galvin)

What piece of advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

The 15-year-old me was such a different person. I would say to generally stress less, especially about your career. To remember that you are 15-years-old, and you can be a 15-year-old. You don't have to be so focused on the next job. Also it's okay if you like girls.

Did the lack of representation within the industry play a part in you feeling comfortable to come out?

There were no queer people in my life growing up, and no queer people on TV. I just didn’t see it, and so because I didn’t see it, I felt really alienated. It took a second to come to terms with that. But I did and it’s cool.

What is a key change you would like to see in the industry?

More representation and diversity when it comes to crew and cast. There is movement, but it can always be better. Still now, there are moments on sets where I’m stressing about my hair and feeling like a problem and it shouldn’t be the case. This is just the way it grows on my head - I can't help it and it is not a problem. Afro hair is beautiful, and I think there’s always improvement that could be had in the language used and the way it’s treated. 

It's so heartbreaking to hear that there's not adequately trained hair stylist's available.

Yeah, that happens - more so when I was younger. I didn't realise that I shouldn't be doing my hair before coming to set. None of the other people on set were having to do their own hair but because I was so used to prepping mine so that they could deal with it, I didn’t realise that it wasn’t normal. It took a long time. My agent was so shocked when she found out - she couldn’t believe I had been doing my own hair. Now I know that is not how it should be going down. It's great when people are actually able to handle it.

Erin Kellyman wears: Organza top, £1,200; Double-breasted blazer, £2,200 and Crepe couture trousers, £980 all Valentino; The rose garden ring, £395, Bleue Burnham; 18k yellow gold and white diamond Berceau Cinq ring, £3,500, Almasika

(Image credit: Kyle Galvin)

What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?

I really did not like school when I was younger, and I wouldn’t go to lessons because I just thought it was pointless. Then one day my teacher asked me “what if one day you play a character and you need to understand or be a religion that you've never experienced before? Go and learn about it so you can have that information for when you play that kind of character.” I literally just got up and left straight away and went to RE. It gave me a different outlook and I got my head down more because I thought maybe I'll need this in future. It gave me more patience with other things too, and from then I just tried to see every situation in my life as a learning curve or something that I could use in a character someday.

What are you looking for in your next projects?

Something that is always a constant baseline is wanting to play somebody that I can relate to, and who has gone through things that I can relate to. That way, I can help people going through the same thing, and help them feel seen. Also to know that the actor has either been through that themselves or identify with that themselves. Whether that's being queer or being mixed race or any sort of thing like that. Then to completely contradict that, to play somebody so polar opposite to me that it’s a real challenge to try and understand them and to have experiences that I've not experienced before. 

What legacy would you like to leave behind?

That you can just be unapologetically yourself. It really does not matter what other people think - it’s irrelevant, because whatever anybody else thinks is just a reflection on them anyway. It’s important to come to terms with not caring about what other people think.

Willow is out 30th November on Disney+

Photography, Kyle Galvin
Styling, Sarah-Rose Harrison
Videographer, Rodney Rico
Makeup, Carol Lopez Reid at Carol Hayes Management using Charlotte Tilbury
Hair, Nicola Harrowell at Premier Hair & Make-up using KEVIN.MURPHY assisted by Alyssa Kraus
Manicurist, Julia Babbage using Mii Cosmetics Nourish + Nurture Nail & Cuticle Oil and Care + Caress Hand Serum assisted by Sara Sorrenti
Casting and production, Sarah-Rose Harrison
Production assistant, Angel Brown
Features writer, Dionne Brighton
Editor-in-Chief, Andrea Thompson
Editor, Sunil Makan

Dionne Brighton

Dionne Brighton is a writer at Marie Claire UK, specialising in all things shopping, beauty and fashion. Born and raised in North London, she studied Literature at the University of East Anglia before taking the leap into journalism. These days, you can find her testing out the latest TikTok beauty trends or finding out what the next full Moon means.