INTERVIEW WITH ELLA PURNELL - CRASH Magazine
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Interview with Ella Purnell dressed in Chanel for Crashmagazine

INTERVIEW WITH ELLA PURNELL

By Crash redaction

On the occasion of the announcement of the release of the movie Army of the Dead on May 21st on Netflix, from Zack Snyder, rediscover our interview with the actress Ella Purnell dressed in Chanel from Crash#84.

Recently introduced to audiences in her role as Emma Bloom, a levitating young woman who must wear lead boots to walk on solid ground, in Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ella Purnell continued in 2017 with Jonathan Teplizky’s biopic Churchill, in which she plays the British statesman’s stenographer. She sat down with Crash to talk about her background, from her promising start in Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go to Sweet Bitter, a new series produced by Brad Pitt and set to premiere in May. Let’s meet the new phenom of British cinema.

Your first acting experience was on stage with the cast of the Oliver Twist-inspired play Oliver! How was that first experience at only eleven years old?

I got my first advert when I was nine. Before that I was doing auditions and baby modelling things. It was always something I did with my mum for fun and I met all my friends that way. I met so many amazing people through Oliver! It gave me a huge amount of inspiration. I never strategically planned my career at that age though. It was always just a hobby, something fun I looked forward to after school. Watching the older actors who really loved their job function like a family was really beautiful.

What role did you have in Oliver?

I was just in the chorus and there were a hundred-and-twenty other kids in the “orphanage.” It never really felt like a job, I was too young to understand that this was the beginning of a career. I took so many drama and dance classes after school that it just felt like an extension of those activities.

At what point did you want to make acting your career?

I went on to get my first film when I was thirteen and it didn’t ever really hit me until I was sixteen years old. When everyone else was thinking about what universities they were going to go to, I started to think of acting as a career choice. I had always enjoyed doing it so much and it grew organically. I’ve never had to overthink it too much. Of course, I asked myself “Do I really love this? Do I love this enough to spend the rest of my life doing it?” In the end, a career is not something that you choose when you’re sixteen and it doesn’t define your whole life. As long as I enjoy it and it challenges me creatively, I’ll do it. But I also want to do a hundred other things. I looked at the pros and cons of having a regular nine-to-five job as opposed to having mine and it was an absolute no-brainer. Yet, I’m not one of those people who’ve wanted to be an actor since they were four. I just love being creative and self-employed. I also enjoy travelling and meeting new people. I’m very easy-going, I take each day as it comes.

Throughout your career you’ve played many younger versions of actresses like Margot Robbie in Tarzan and Keira Knightley in Never Let Me Go. What did you take away from each experience?

With Keira, she had to mimic me more than I had to mimic her because I was quite young. The adults would actually imitate little things that we would do. We still paid a lot of attention to the way they talked and their accents. Keira speaks with a soft tone. For Maleficent, I never actually met Angelina and everybody thinks I’ve played the younger version of her but I wasn’t that girl, it was actually Isobelle Molloy who is a wonderful actress. I actually play the teenage Maleficent and have a very small part in the movie. For Tarzan, I’ve worked quite a long time with Margot, about three weeks. We had a week of rehearsals and training where we would do the same scene one after the other. We tried to do it the exact same way. I picked up on little things that the actresses did while acting. Margot wet her lips before she spoke and kept her hands quite still when she walked. Keira would always tuck a strand of hair behind her ear… It really helped, watching how disciplined they were and how they were devoted and committed to their craft. I actually just like to get to know them and see them as real-life human beings. Working with smart, driven women was a huge inspiration at a young age.

A lot of your movies were based on books. Do you feel a certain added pressure to live up to the book and please the readers?

I’m glad you asked that because it’s not something people usually talk about. I do feel a large amount of pressure, but actually I’ve learned to only think about the positive aspects in life. What’s sometimes hard with the script is that when you have questions about your character you have to fill in the blanks yourself. When there is a book, you’ve been gifted with two sources, two ways to get to know the character. When I’m given a role, I become absolutely obsessed with the character and create a whole backstory. I spend hours daydreaming about situations. When you have a book, you can get a much fuller understanding of the project as a whole. I loved playing true-life stories like in Churchill and The Journey is The Destination. I read all the books around that time period and study the story closely. It’s like education and I love learning. What’s important for me is not trying to replicate everything, especially when it’s based on a real-life person. You can’t put too much pressure on yourself to do it perfectly. The book shouldn’t be your Holy Bible but rather it should serve as inspiration.

Making a movie is also another creative endeavor and it makes sense that it doesn’t try to completely copy the book.

To start with, there’s no way you’re going to please everybody. If you take the movie as a copy of the book, you’ll always end up disappointed. You’re telling the same stories but through different people’s eyes. It’s like asking four different people to tell the same story, it will automatically sound different.

In 2015 you starred in Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Did it feel like your big break?

I spend a lot of time overthinking things and I tend to get quite stressed out. When something like that happens, I always prepare myself for the worst so that I don’t get disappointed or freak out. I absolutely love Tim Burton, he’s always been my number one person to work with. This being said, I didn’t ever think of it as the end goal. That movie inspired me to do more rather than thinking that I’d made it. When you start to have that mentality, you set yourself up for failure. It was definitely a life-changing thing. It was also a huge turning point in my career and my life. I had just finished my A-levels and everyone had just left school. It was the end of an era, the beginning of my adult life. Terrifying but equally exciting. I look back at that job and have so many fond memories. It was the longest shoot I had ever done, about six months.

You starred in the play Natives last year where you portray a young girl coming to grips with social media. Was that a relatable role since it is so close to reality?

My heart fluttered when I read that script. I thought it was a really cool project to be a part of. The character I play was called “A,” so immediately I thought it was a universal symbol for girls across the world. It was a general idea of how so many people feel. One of the best things was being able to talk to people after the show who were glad that someone put their feelings into words. I feel like I’ve managed to change people’s minds and open their eyes to a new perspective. It’s about how social media changes the way we deal with certain situations and how it can make our lives better or worse. It gives great power but can be very destructive, especially towards vulnerable young children. It was hugely relatable obviously, having grown up using social media. We don’t know how it is going to affect millennials. It is a completely unknown territory. I’ve watched countless talks about how our brains are affected by that and how our priorities have shifted, as well as our sense of satisfaction. Everything we have now is much more instant, perhaps we’re more materialistic or more shallow. Evolution is happening at such a fast rate, especially socially. I’m not an expert and everything everyone says is speculation. We can’t tell what’s going to happen in fifteen or twenty years. Like everything, there are positive and negative aspects. Social media is a fantastic thing and it is hugely responsible for the big social movements that we are experiencing at the moment. It allows people to be themselves and express different identities. It gives everybody a platform on which they can speak and bring up some important issues. However, for someone going through their early teenage years, if it’s not monitored correctly it could be damaging. We need to protect them from each other first of all and the huge amount of content that is out there. The Internet is a scary place.

Do you personally ever feel sucked in by social media?

If you have a lot of followers on a certain platform or are in the spotlight in any way, people expect you have to put up with things that are normally considered unacceptable. They think they are allowed to call someone ugly because that person happens to be famous. That’s what the media does. Disrespectful media outlets will report and objectify women. When people read that, they think it must be acceptable to talk about celebrities like that on the Internet. The media needs to change its attitude and be monitored. For a long time, mean comments got me down. I felt like I had to put up with it because I was asking for it. In actual fact, I’m a human being like anybody else so I just started blocking negative people who insult or objectify me. Since then, it’s been great. (laughs) Even if I know it’s not true, these insults still hurt. No matter how many they have, people do read their comments.

You work for Educate2Eradicate, a women’s rights charity. What is your exact role in that organization?

Read the full interview on Crash#84, available in our Crash Store.

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Photographer : Frank Perrin 

Stylist : Armelle Leturcq 

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