Hayley confidential : the actress takes Flyte

Upfront and racy, Hayley Atwell at 26 has landed the lead in the upcoming film of Brideshead Revisited. She spills the beans about her unconventional upbringing – and her nude scene secrets

I’m expecting Hayley Atwell to be something of a minx in real life. A highly intelligent one, of course, but a minx nonetheless. There’s something about her sense of sexual power on screen that makes this charismatic young actress riveting to watch as she unfurls her tantalising half-smile.

If you want an alluring but complex heroine, the chestnut-haired, almond-eyed Hayley is your woman. For someone who left drama school only three years ago, she shows astonishing poise and confidence as the archetypal dark horse from nowhere who became Woody Allen’s leading lady within two years of graduating.

So impressed, in short, are the movie moguls that Hayley is even being talked about as the new Keira Knightley, who just happens to be the star of Hayley’s current film, The Duchess.

Pretty impressive for a girl who started her acting career in a Pringles ad during a gap year before drama school.

Named after her mother’s movie heroine Hayley Mills, she first made her name as wild child Catherine Fedden in BBC2’s 2006 drama serial The Line of Beauty – where she managed to shock even that irrepressibly racy screenwriter Andrew Davies with her direct approach.

’He came on set and asked us if we had any questions about his script, so I asked if Catherine had ever had an orgasm, and I think it threw him – I’m a bit straight up,’ she laughs when we meet at her publicist’s London offices.


So impressed was Woody Allen by her performance as Catherine that he made her his new muse in his 2007 film Cassandra’s Dream alongside Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell and gushed to the press about her beauty.

Now she is tempting fate with her highest-profile role yet as one of the most iconic heroines in screen drama.

As Julia Flyte in the new big-screen version of Brideshead Revisited, she has to compete with people’s cherished memories of the multi-award-winning 1981 TV version. Yet not only does she look like a younger version of Diana Quick (who played Julia in 1981) but she even manages to eclipse Diana’s acclaimed performance as the woman who is wooed by her brother’s friend.

’I didn’t watch the TV version as I didn’t want to appear to be imitating anyone, but a man came over to me in a pub near home last week and said I reminded him of his friend, Diana Quick, even though he didn’t know what I did for a living,’ says Hayley, who has just bought her first flat, in North London, with her movie earnings.

So she was clearly made for the role, even though she readily admits that ’the director said I wasn’t an immediate choice for Julia. It was partly because I really went for it in the audition and slapped Matthew [Goode, who plays Julia’s lover Charles Ryder] really hard. The shock created that little bit of frisson between us that got me the part,’ says Hayley.

Hayley as Julia Flyte in Brideshead Revisited

That boldness is also exactly right for the sexual chemistry in another love triangle, between Hayley, Keira Knightley and Keira’s screen husband Ralph Fiennes, in The Duchess, a film adaptation of Amanda Foreman’s biography of Princess Diana’s 18th-century ancestor Georgiana Spencer.

Playing the duchess’s best friend, Hayley is the skilful power broker with mixed motives in a ménage à trois. She is also the duchess’s sexual awakener in a scene that suggests a Sapphic attraction between the two.

’I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a lesbian relationship,’ says Hayley. As for the comparisons with Keira, the hype-wary Hayley dismisses them in her direct way.

’Keira and I are very different actors and very different human beings,’ she says. ’She has this childlike, girly quality but also the incredibly tough skin of someone who has had an awful lot of press, whereas I can be quite geeky.’

Geeky ? I don’t think so, looking at the assured woman with a spark of mischief about her sitting opposite me. Her Benetton dress does nothing to disguise the womanly curves she acquired at 17, when doctors advised her to put on weight to be fit enough to play her beloved full-contact rugby.

’We had to tape down my bosom for Brideshead, as 20s fashions didn’t celebrate women’s curves at all. I love my breasts and I felt imprisoned in those difficult costumes. It was the complete opposite, of course, for The Duchess,’ she grins.

I meet her just before she flies out to Africa to film a remake of 60s TV cult classic The Prisoner in Namibia and Cape Town. Co-produced by ITV1 and US network AMC, the cast includes James Caviezel, Sir Ian McKellen and Ruth Wilson.

Hayley, left, in The Duchess with Keira Knightley

Hayley plays the role of a woman who is, she says, ’not what she seems’.

It’s her first big American series and she can’t wait to perform on that world stage. ’I’ve wanted to act for so long – I just knew it was what I wanted to do,’ she says.

Her unusual childhood taught her to be independent and bold, so much so that at 26 she already seems like an old soul who has lived many lives.

’My parents were so supportive that they really instilled in me the confidence to go for it.’ Hayley was raised as a free spirit by her parents : Grant, a part-Native American shaman and massage therapist, and Alison, a motivational speaker.

They split up when she was two, but continued to co-parent their only child and were teaching her to walk over burning coals at the age of nine by chanting the mantra ’Power’. And she hasn’t lost that fearlessness.

’When I went to New York to meet Woody Allen, I told myself I had done something harder than this – firewalking. If you tell yourself reasons to be nervous, you will be a wreck,’ says Hayley.

As a child growing up in London, she campaigned against animal vivisection, attended a tough comprehensive and then went to the London Oratory for sixth form, where she played rugby and met her first boyfriend (’a magical time,’ she recalls) before turning down a place at Oxford to read theology and philosophy in favour of Guildhall School of Music & Drama.

Currently single, she admits that she ’can’t wait to have a family when the time is right’. Reports tried to link her with that incorrigible flirt Colin Farrell when they filmed Cassandra’s Dream, but it turns out that the truth is much funnier than the fiction.

’I was going out with someone at the time who had worked with Colin for years,’ explains Hayley, ’so I said to Colin, "Oh, you know my boyfriend, don’t you ?" And he said to me, "Oh God, he’s a great guy. I’m so pleased you’re together – now I don’t have to worry about trying to sleep with you !"’

Nevertheless Hayley is unashamedly a man’s woman. ’I absolutely adore the company of men. I’d rather spend a weekend with guys than with girls – I’m more masculine that way,’ she admits. ’But I do have a close group of girlfriends too, from outside the acting business, which is important to me.’


For one of the many interesting things about Hayley is that although she has, like Keira, wanted to act from an early age, she’s not tunnel-visioned about it. She would also, she says, like to teach drama after getting a taste for it by running a workshop at the National Theatre earlier this year where she played Shaw’s Major Barbara.

Talented though she is, Hayley is astute enough to keep her options open, for as she acknowledges, ’This is a tough, fickle and sometimes deeply cynical business.’

Yet nothing so far seems to faze her, even playing a stroppy care assistant opposite the formidable Vanessa Redgrave’s rebellious old lady in the forthcoming Irish indie comedy How About You. So what was it like working with Big Van ?

’Unpredictable,’ she says. ’We did a scene where she calls me in to ask for a martini, and I walk in and she’s trying to swat an imaginary fly during the entire scene – which wasn’t planned. It was extraordinary watching this brilliant woman who is not in the same world as most people. She’s an incredibly free spirit.’

Takes one to know one. But as you might expect from Hayley’s background, even love scenes don’t bother her. For years she admits there were elements in her of Ab Fab’s Saffy, ’rebelling against rebellion’.

At 17 she stayed at a Native American reservation with her father where the Indians would suddenly strip off to go into their ’sweat-lodges’, or saunas. Now, when it comes to the movie-making equivalent of such challenges, she goes her own practical way.

’In Cassandra’s Dream I had a love scene with Ewan, so I said to myself, "I’m going to take myself seriously and wear a body stocking out of respect for Ewan’s wife,’ she explains, ’because my body was not going to be seen. And I wore control pants in Brideshead for the love scene with Matthew. Oh,’ she adds teasingly with – yes – a minxy grin, ’I’m giving away all my secrets !’

So open is she that she doesn’t hesitate to tell stories against herself, relating how her global acting career nearly ended before it had started with her audition for Woody Allen.

’It was so bad that I actually considered giving up acting. I hate auditioning. Once in a while I do think, "God, I just want to be a baker and live in the country and have lots of kids." Because it’s such a weird daunting thing to sit in a room with people you don’t know and with a camera in your face and it’s all secretive.’

She should worry. I think there will come a time when Hayley will be so in demand that she won’t have to audition at all.

The Duchess is out now ; Brideshead Revisited will be released on 3 October

Source : DailyMail Uk du 27/08/2008 par Maureen Paton

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A propos de Hayley Atwell, actrice britannique
Hayley Atwell, née le 5 avril 1982 à Londres, Angleterre, est une actrice britannique. Après plusieurs téléfilms, elle obtient son premier rôle au cinéma dans Le Rêve de Cassandre de Woody Allen aux côtés d’Ewan McGregor et Colin Farrell. En 2008, elle apparait dans The Duchess avec Keira Knightley. En (...)
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