Born in New York and grown up in London, Lucy Boynton has been acting professionally for many years. Scouted at the age of 12 for the role of young Beatrix Potter in Miss Potter she starred alongside Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor and was nominated for Best Supporting Young Actress in a Feature Film at the Young Artist Award. After a steep start in acting after her role in Miss Potter, Lucy has been seen in Sense & Sensibility, Ballet Shoes, Borgia, landed her first female lead in Ron Maxwell’s Copperhead and is currently working on a horror film called February.
We photographed Lucy in London and she talked with us about her role as Angelica Bell, daughter of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant in the BBC three-part drama about the Bloomsbury Group, Life In Squares.
Did you enjoy the shoot for our magazine?
So much! I find it so easy to feel self conscious at photo shoots, I suddenly feel like I lose all control of my arms and face, but Ram creates such a fun, easy atmosphere and directed me whenever I needed it (which was 99% of the time) so very much enjoyed it.
How do you feel when getting hair and make-up done? Is it a tedious process to go through for you or do you enjoy it?
Oh lord no I love it. I’m so useless with my own hair and make up so there is nothing more satisfying than watching an expert transform me.
What era in style would you say is your favourite?
Since working on Life In Squares last September I have totally fallen in love with that effortlessly glamorous style of the 1930s and 40s. So I’ve since been living on this online shop 20th Century Foxy, which has the most beautiful pieces in the style of that period. I love the cut and the silhouette created by that style. Then again after filming that, I went straight into shooting a movie set in the 80s and became worryingly comfortable with bright blue eye shadow and enormous hair. Bring on the hairspray!
How important do you think it is nowadays for an actress to look good and in a way comply with the ideal of beauty? How do you feel you are perceived as opposed to your male counterparts? Do you think there is a difference?
I think the idea of having to conform to a prescribed idea of beauty is ridiculous. And so boring! Sadly it’s an easy trap to fall into, I am constantly guilty of this, especially with the constant presence and pressures of social media, where everyone is able to filter their lives and themselves to appear flawless 24/7. It’s not real and it normalizes the idea of constantly scrutinizing people. Everyone should be able to appreciate the things that make them unique, rather than what matches girls in magazines. Men don’t get judged and pulled apart in the same way. I’m sure as actors it still happens, but it is nowhere near as brutal.
You seem brilliant at transforming into a character on set and working with the direction - is that something you've always been very good at and is that how you became an actress? Did you always want to act? If not, what kind of career did you want to pursue before acting (obviously you were quite young then)?
Well, my original plan was to work at Battersea Dogs Home. But when I was 10 we got a new drama teacher, Helen Kaye, who was actually an actress. Miss Kaye made acting feel like something very special. It was the first time we were being asked to observe how different people function and feel and then embody that. For me it was an entirely new concept and acting suddenly became a very valid and valuable use of time and something I knew I wanted to pursue. And then by the end of my first day on Miss Potter I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
How did you come to act in Miss Potter?
I was very lucky to go to a school where they allowed casting directors to come in and scout, so really I was just in the right place at the right time. One afternoon a casting director watched over my drama lesson then invited me to audition to play the young Beatrix. And after weeks of workshops and recalls I got the role!
Do you think your role in Miss Potter has defined you as an actress?
I wouldn’t say that is has defined me as an actress at all. It has definitely informed my taste in what type of roles and projects I enjoy, and I was given volumes of invaluable advice on that job which I shall take with me throughout my career, but I was so young then. It is a film I am incredibly proud of, and I feel so fortunate to have had that be my first job and my introduction into this industry, but I wouldn’t ever want a single role to define me.
More importantly, what roles in between you acting in Miss Potter and now have affected you most? Can you tell us more about those projects, who you worked with and way you enjoyed most about it?
Ballet Shoes was definitely a pivotal role for me. It was my first “lead” role, in an ensemble of the most incredible women, so it was a very special project. I actually recently spoke to Sandra Goldbacher, the director, and both of us are still receiving letters from young girls seeing it for the first time!
Sing Street was also a very special one. I’ve never worked with a director like John Carney before. He is a mad genius. He’s very keen for everything to feel authentic, and always want to hear your thoughts and how you want to play it, so a lot of days he ended up rewriting whole scenes of dialogue on the spot. It’s incredible to watch him work. That’s the genius part. But he also seems to run on this higher frequency, god knows where he gets his energy. You also absolutely need a sense of humour about yourself when working with him. Here’s hoping I made the cut and get to work with him again.
In Sing Street I play Raphina, a teenager who uses her ballsy, impulsiveness to conceal a deep fragility. I always feel kind of awkward talking about her, I feel so protective of her it feels like a betrayal! Like I’m totally exposing her!
What is your favorite film?
Drake Doremus’ movie Like Crazy; It is just perfect - and absolutely devastating. And then I love Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude, a dream movie.
Who is an actor/actress/director that you look up to? Is there anyone you’d really love to work with (whether actor or not)?
I’d love to be in a Baz Luhrmann movie. Or a Wes Anderson. Their movies are both so specifically stylised and theatrical I imagine you couldn’t find a more unique filming experience. I also love Sofia Coppola’s movies, Virgin Suicides especially. I am looking forward to working with more female directors.
Michael Shannon and Ann-Marie Duff are just two of my absolute favourite actors that I would kill to work with. And Felicity Jones, I think she is fantastic. And Joaquin Phoenix. Oh and I think Eva Green is just incredible. I really could so easily sit here and just reel of a long list of names.
Can you tell us more about Life in Squares? How did you come about the part of Angelica and did you enjoy the process of producing the series?
I very much enjoyed the process. I did most of my filming at Charleston House in Sussex, where Angelica actually grew up, which was an incredible experience of being submerged in the authentic world of the piece.
What kind of preparation did you go through to play Angelica in Life in Squares?
Angelica’s book ‘Deceived with Kindness’ was my bible throughout filming. Every one of my scenes was detailed in her book, which is of course a dream for any actor! It meant I could feel confident in the way I was playing her experience. I have such tremendous respect for her I hope I do her justice.
Having grown up in London, what does the legacy of the Bloomsbury group mean for you? Is it part of 'London life' in the sense that it has affected how London's world of writers and artists is today?
I’m ashamed to say I actually didn’t know a great deal about the Bloomsbury group before auditioning forLife In Squares. I have always loved Vanessa Bell’s paintings, and Virginia Woolf’s books, and of course learnt about Keynes in politics and so on. All of their work is so engrained in British culture but because they were all such strongly individualised artists, it’s hard to think of them categorized as a single group.
In this day and age, do we need 'another' Bloomsbury group? Someone that can challenge society and norms in the way the members of the group did?
I think we are always in need of artists to challenge societal norms and push boundaries in the way that the Bloomsbury group did. However, one of the key ideas behind the Bloomsbury group is that it developed organically and spontaneously. And so to try and devise another one like it could only be contrived.
What do you take away from Angelica’s character? Are there any parts of her that you can identify with at all in your own personal life?
I don’t think I can. I think it would feel patronising to her to say I did. She had to weather so much dishonesty and betrayal from such a young age, and from the people closest to her, and to survive that requires an incredible amount of strength and resilience. I am able to empathise with her of course, it is impossible not to after reading her book, but I cannot say I am as strong a woman as she was, as I’ve never had to be in the same way.
What’s next for you?
Desperately waiting for everything to come out! Life in Squares is out very shortly, which I cannot wait to see. Then Sing Street, which is this beautiful coming of age story set in the 80s and directed by John Carney, should be out soon after. And I’ve also just finished filming February, a horror film directed by Oz Perkins.