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Exclusive Interview: Sophia Myles for "Tristan and Isolde"

By Paul Fischer Friday January 13th 2006 10:44PM
Sophia Myles for "Tristan and Isolde"

Looking like a young Kate Winslet, Sophia Myles is Britain's latest starlet finding her way in Hollywood and doing nicely, from the romantic tragedy "Tristan and Isolde", to the sexy comedy "Art School Confidential", which will have its world premiere at this month's Sundance Film Festival.

Sophia Myles was born on March 18, 1980. She spent the first 11 years in Notting Hill, where she attended the Fox Primary School. Then her father, who is a vicar, was relocated to Isleworth, a west London suburb. It was there where her acting began. She never had any intentions of becoming an actress, but when she started her A levels at the Green School before going to Richmond College she also took Drama. 

When she was 16, she was spotted by Oscar winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes in a school production of 'Teachers' by John Godber which led to her being cast in the BBC film "The Prince & The Pauper". That was the beginning of Sophia's real acting career.

Myles then appeared in the TV series "Big Women" in the role of the young Saffron. A year later, she played Fanny's sister Susan in the cinema adaptation of "Mansfield Park". But despite this promising development of her acting career she wanted to study Philosophy at Cambridge university. She was going to take a gap year before starting her studies. During that year she played Agnes Fleming in the "Oliver Twist" TV series.

Since then Sophia Myles has appeared in such film and TV projects as "From Hell", "Abduction Club", "Nicholas Nickleby", "Out of Bounds", "Thunderbirds" and now as the tragic heroine in "Tristan & Isolde" and the upcoming "Art School Confidential". In this exclusive interview, Myles talked Isolde, nudity and the press.

Question: So how does the daughter of a vicar decide that she wants to be an actress cause you were saying you never really wanted to be an actress.

Sophia Myles: No I didn't. It had never crossed my mind until... Did I talk about my drama teacher when I was here? No? Well, when I was 16 at school we had to decide which subjects we wanted to specialise in and you had to choose, and there was this rather handsome young teacher that was walking around the hallways...

Question: So it was lust that got you into acting than?

Sophia Myles: Yeah. My drama teacher's name was Kevin Broadway and I thought 'oh I would like him to teach me'. So we put on a play and Julian Fellows was in the audience and he was writing and producing a BBC costume drama "The Prince and the Pauper", a Mark Twain story and they cast me a small part as the Lady Jane Grey. I think I only had two scenes and the minute I walked onto the set I just completely fell in love with it and I just knew...I knew...

Question: When was that?

Sophia Myles: 1996.

Question: So were you hooked pretty easily?

Sophia Myles: I just felt walking onto the set for the first time I was so excited by it all I just knew it was where I wanted to be and what I wanted to be doing, and it just felt bizarre to me. I mean it was so much fun and on top of that to get money for it I just couldn't believe it. I do feel as if I get paid to do my hobby and I feel so privileged I am one of those people who looks forward to work, which is never a chore for me.

Question: It is unusual for an English actress not to have had the kind of rigid training that the Brits tend to have. Why did that happen and do you regret not going to drama school?

Sophia Myles: Well at drama school they specialise in teaching skills for theatre. I mean they do a little bit of television and film I think, but it is more theatrical training so in that sense I think if I was to ever get on the Boards and do a play in London I would like to do some vocal training because I don't have that equipment and I didn't train. I have kind of winged it, you learn on every job and I've been really lucky I've worked on productions with some incredible casts. You pick up a lot just observing the others...you know working with people like Malkovich, Angelica Huston, Jim Broadbent, Steve Buscemi who steals "Art School Confidential". I've just been lucky I've worked with some really, really great directors who've really taken me under their wing and made me feel very safe. When you are working with people that you feel comfortable with, you are more relaxed, willing to give more and go the distance.

Question: Was Isolde somebody that you felt you could identify with or was it hard to get in the skin of her?

Sophia Myles: I think the main sort of similarity between her and myself is that we are both very kind of head strong young women. I mean I've always done what I wanted to do and have never allowed anyone to dictate how I should live my life or what I should be doing with my time and so in that sense we are similar. She has much nicer hair than me...

Question: And more jewellery than you? Sophia Myles: Yeah a lot of bling yeah.

Question: And you weren't familiar with the legend before you began?

Sophia Myles: No. I wish I was because I think it is a fantastic, fantastic story.

Question: There is also a lot of King Arthur elements to this the love triangle is almost a Lancelot, Guinevere and Arthur story. Did you recognise any of those similarities? Sophia Myles: I guess so. I mean not really...I didn't think too much about it, and it didn't cross my mind so much. But isn't it true that they actually put Tristan at the round table?

Question: Apparently he was in the original the poem The Morte D'Arthur which was the inspiration for Camelot. What kind of challenges do you see for yourself as a beautiful young actress working in an industry, which is so competitive and how competitive are you. Do you have the will to pursue a profession that is so tough?

Sophia Myles: It is very tough and I think there have been times in my career especially in times of unemployment when I thought to myself if anyone had actually told me what this was like I don't know if would have actually have done it.

Question: Really?

Sophia Myles: No, and until you do it is impossible to consider...the one thing I wish is I wish there was a handbook that they give out as you never know what to expect. I mean this is only my second junket and you learn as you go along.

Question: You seemed to handle the earlier group interviews with poise.

Sophia Myles: Yeah well you know it is show business, it is not show art and publicising your movies is an important as making the film. I mean it is Hollywood you know it is a business.

Question: How hard is it for you to avoid talking about your personal life because you were very reluctant to do that during the round table?

Sophia Myles: Well the reason I don't do it is because I've seen so many people get burnt and Keira Knightley, she is a very dear friend of mine, I remember just before "Thunderbirds" came out I said 'you know any advice you have having been through it', and she said 'just be yourself and answer the questions politely and don't talk about your private life'. I think the thing is, is that once you dance with the devil you can't expect not to pricked by the horns. Not to say that journalists are the devil but I just don't understand why my private life is relevant.

Question: So how hard has it been for you to learn to say no, because it is not easy?

Sophia Myles: Hard. At the beginning...well actually quite frankly no one was that interested. It is only recently...

Question: People ask you who you are dating and if you are single and then they go from there?

Sophia Myles: Yeah. I just feel uncomfortable talking to a complete stranger about my personal relationships and I don't understand why there is the interest really.

Question: When you were growing up did you read gossip magazines?

Sophia Myles: Yeah I did and I suppose it is because I am on the other side of the fence now, I never do now because I mean it is all rubbish most of it. And also the thing is, I think because we come from England I mean our press is notorious...

Question: Much worse in England and in Australia than here I think?

Sophia Myles: Yeah and I mean this whole thing of paparazzi as well. I hate the word celebrity with a passion, but I have been lucky. I have been doing this for nine years now and something like "Thunderbirds" was a great experience for me because it was built up to be this huge, huge hit and it absolutely bombed and so I kind of am able to be objective because the wave hasn't been smooth for me...I mean I have been sort of on a steady progression, a slow burner and I am in no rush. I think the thing that I do find about the business is that you know it is all about momentum and you know people are terrified to not work because they think they are going to be forgotten but I would just like to take it slowly, because otherwise you lose sense of yourself.

Question: Will you go back into another "Doctor Who"?

Sophia Myles: Oh it was fantastic, I did one episode I mean it is a bit like being called... when you get asked to do Doctor Who it is a bit like being called to jury service you can't really say no I mean it runs through the veins of the British public and its Doctor Who.

Question: Are you and your boyfriend going to be together at Sundance with "Art School Confidential"?

Sophia Myles: I am on my own at Sundance.

Question: What future aspirations do you have at this point? Sophia Myles: You mean work wise?

Question: Yeah are you biding your time and are you able to be a little bit picky now?

Sophia Myles: Yes, I did a great job called 'The Hades Factor', a gripping mini-series for American television just before Christmas and that has filled up the coffers so I am all right financially. I mean I don't desperately need a job right now so I've got some time and I am very picky about material and really I make my choices on the script and the director. The director is vital to me.

Question: How trepidatious were you about doing something like "Art School Confidential", which required you to bare more then just your soul?

Sophia Myles: Terrified. I was...I mean I had a no nudity clause for "Tristan and Isolde" because I didn't think it was appropriate I didn't think you needed to see anymore than you see to believe that we were in love or making love and quite often you see so much gratuitous nudity in films, especially from women, and my body is a very kind of precious thing to me. So when I was first sent the script and I opened it and flicked through it, and it says 'she enters and she disrobes' I thought no way and threw it across the other side of the room. I didn't really know who Terry Zwigoff was at this point and then it was actually James Franco who told me Terry Zwigoff is really good and you should think about that and I said 'no, no, no, no I couldn't possibly'. Apparently Terry scoured the country and I think other parts of the world...he is very, very picky about his casting and the producer had apparently got him by the throat and said 'look just tell us what you want'. There was about two weeks left before shooting and he said 'I don't know maybe like a young Kate Winslet' and I had met the producer Rus Smith when I was 21 in LA and he said 'okay I know where she is, that is fine' and they tracked me down. It was really when my agent Tony Howard ICM said 'listen you really should take it...you don't not take a meeting with Terry Zwigoff'. So I said 'fine' and they flew me out and we met at the Standard and just hit it off straight away and when I found out the rest of the cast that was attached like John Malkovich, Angelica Huston, Jim Broadbent, Steve Buscemi...

Question: You can't really turn that down.

Sophia Myles: No, but I did shut my eyes when I watched it yesterday.

Question: Oh really?

Sophia Myles: A little bit. I kind of went 'oh god' you know. I mean most women don't like looking at their arse in the mirror in the privacy of their own home...

Question: And on a six-foot screen?

Sophia Myles: I don't know, I am frightened. I am sure people will scrutinise it and whatever but you know it is out there now but it is in the past and...

Question: It will be on the Internet soon...

Sophia Myles: Yeah I think that is the one thing that I thought 'oohh I hope they don't put like stills up' but they will or whatever. Well it is just a body at the end of the day isn't it?

Question: What are you doing next, do you have any ideas?

Sophia Myles: I don't, I quite like that. I don't know what I am doing next. I am going to try an squeeze in a couple of meetings here before I leave and but I don't know...it seems so early in the year I kind of am not sure yet. I would love to do a really good romantic comedy...

Question: Where does that sense of comedy come from?

Sophia Myles: I don't know, but it is the thing that really gets me going. There is nothing more pleasurable to me then making other people laugh and it is very challenging. I mean playing something like Isolde is great but you know it is emotionally draining when you've got to bawl your eyes out for a few days on end.

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