Ellie Bamber on embracing the gifts of her characters
Photographer and Director
Rosaline Shahnavaz/Monday Artists
Michael Miller/Stella Creative Artists
‘I remember reading the script and thinking – this is a show I would love to do. I also watched Willow for the first time and fell in love with the story and the message of hope that it brings. I think it’s important to remind ourselves that you can find heroes in the most unlikely places and that everyone can be one,’ melodiously on the phone says actress Ellie Bamber.
Having planted her roots in theater from the age of 12, she has become one of the most in-demand actresses on British soil. No surprise here as there’s a mixture of emotion, depth, energy, vulnerability and courage in the performances that Ellie’s brought to the bright screens of television and film (A Mother’s Son, Nocturnal Animals, Les Misérables, The Trial of Christine Keeler, The Serpent, The Seven Sorrows of Mary), with her latest project, the Disney+ period adventure series Willow, being no exception.
Ellie Bamber on the December 2022 Digital Cover of The Laterals. Photographed by Rosaline Shahnavaz.
All clothing and accessories CHANEL Cruise 2022/23
If this title does ring a bell or two in your ears, you’re not mistaken. The Disney+ series is an ambitious all-new sequel based on George Lucas’s 1988 fantasy-adventure film of the same title. The misfit yet lovable group of heroes, who’ll be joining their forces on a dangerous yet no less magical quest, will be portrayed by a cast to reckon with, including Warwick Davis (reprising his role of Willow), Ruby Cruz, Erin Kellyman, Tony Revolory, Amar Chadha-Patel and led by Bamber herself.
Ellie’s warmth and humbleness shine through our whole conversation – with sincere laughter filling that eight-hour difference that we’re both embracing. And most importantly, our cover heroine embracing the gifts of the character that she’s been so lucky to portray. ‘The character that I play is so brave. I wish I was that brave. I’m trying to keep stepping forward and putting myself outside my comfort zone. Also, understand that it’s okay to fail and that it’s okay to get things wrong sometimes,’ voices The Laterals cover star with a gleam of hope in her voice.
“I remember reading the script and thinking – this is a show I would love to do. I also watched Willow for the first time and fell in love with the story and the message of hope that it brings. I think it’s important to remind ourselves that you can find heroes in the most unlikely places and that everyone can be one.”
It’s so lovely to meet you, Ellie. Now whereabouts in the world are you as we speak?
It’s lovely to meet you too! I’m actually in Los Angeles. I arrived here quite late last night.
Are you in the States to promote Willow?
Yes! I’m here for the premiere, which is on Tuesday. I hope I’ll be feeling better by that time.
I’m so sorry to hear that and I can only apologize for dragging you into this interview.
No, no, don’t apologize!
What would you say is the best cure that always makes you feel better?
I would say smoothies, and rest. But I feel bad when I spend a prolonged period of time in bed. I’m one of those people who tries to get up and keep going, thinking that maybe I’ll get better. I think I need to learn to rest a bit more. I’m trying to work on that at the moment. (laughing)
I’m the same. If I’m in bed, this means that I’m really really run down.
Before we’ll dive into talking about all things acting and your new project, I wanted to ask about your ongoing partnership with CHANEL. How did it all come to life?
I started working with CHANEL quite a while ago. I can’t recall how many years back as it’s been a while. I love working with them. They’re an incredible house with such a beautiful ethos. They’re a real family. And the clothes… They’re to die for. Truly.
I was watching your editorial video for the magazine shot around London, and I saw that you were wearing these beautiful CHANEL trainers. I’m quite literally obsessed with them now. (laughing)
The CHANEL shoes are cool and have beautiful designs. I just bought these boots, which are like a cross-over between a boot and a trainer. They also have these spikes at the bottom so that you could wear them around snow too.
It sounds just like my cup of tea. I live in London, but I’m from a country where it’s snowing as we speak. Let’s get back to fashion – what do you find the most empowering about it?
I think being able to express myself through it. You choose what you wear, and you get creative freedom with what you wear. That’s always been so important to me. I love fashion, and whether I’m wearing a sweatsuit, tracksuit or whatever you want to call it, or a dress on the red carpet, I feel just as comfortable and beautiful in either outfit. Fashion has the power to transform you into something.
It’s like acting in a way, isn’t it. It can help to create a character and also tell a story.
Exactly. I remember when I was a kid, playing dress-up was one of the most important things to me. I loved that.
Did you also love putting up performances for your family and friends when you were little?
I did a lot of that, and I apologize to my family and friends. (laughing)
Do you remember your very first family and friends showcase?
I don’t remember the first one I did at home because there were so many. My first professional performance was at the Menier Chocolate Factory in an adaptation of Aspects of Love. It was an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical directed by Trevor Nunn. A big group of friends from school was coming to watch me, and I was terrified. I thought – oh my God, I can’t believe that they’ve decided to come and watch me perform. I was so scared. Way scared about my friends seeing it than anyone else.
“The character that I play is so brave. I wish I was that brave. I’m trying to keep stepping forward and putting myself outside my comfort zone. Also, understand that it’s okay to fail and that it’s okay to get things wrong sometimes.”
Do you still go through the same mixture of feelings? I wouldn’t call it fear but nervous excitement, perhaps.
Yes, and I think that excitement and nerves are so close together that you kind of transform one into the other if you’re patient and willing enough, I suppose. I will often have nervous energy, particularly when taking on a new project because it’s really important to do the character and the story justice. So there’s always a bit of both, I think.
We’re here today to talk about your new project, the Disney+ series Willow. I’ve seen the first three episodes, and I must say that I’ve enjoyed it – it’s nostalgic, it has witty dialogs, and, well, I won’t spoil it all for the readers, but there are a few surprises in the store as well. How did this project land in your hands?
I was in Mauritius shooting Prisoners of Paradise when I heard about the project. I’ve never seen Willow before, but I got to speak to the showrunner Jonathan Kasdan who’s the most wonderful writer. He’s written these characters and the journey they go on most incredibly. The dialogs are witty, clever and relatable in every single way.
I remember reading the script and thinking – this is a show I would love to do. I also watched Willow for the first time and fell in love with the story and the message of hope that it brings. I think it’s important to remind ourselves that you can find heroes in the most unlikely places and that everyone can be one.
What I enjoyed about the series is that the story has sort of a deconstructed fairy tale narrative. The prince is not the savior but becomes the one that needs to be saved by an unlikely team of heroes joining their forces on this quest. I think it’s a clever and modern way of writing a story.
Yes. The ability to create a modern fantasy by turning the tropes on their heads, playing with them and saying – actually, you don’t have a damsel in distress, but we have a prince that we’re going to save.
A prince in distress.
Yes. (laughing) We also have three strong females at the heart of the story, and I think that’s also really exciting.
Speaking of strong female leads, let’s talk about your character. We’ve made the off-the-record decision not to spoil all the details for the readers of this piece, but can you tell as much as possible about who she is without giving too many details away?
My character’s name is Dove. She’s a kitchen maid who lives in the castle and makes the best muffins in town. She falls in love with the prince, and as soon as he gets kidnapped, she wants to go on the quest to find him with everyone else, but nobody wants her there. They think she’s not useful and that she will only slow them down, but she proves to be incredibly brave and determined. I think her journey for me is about a woman who’s coming into her power and understanding who she is and what her destiny might be. Dove’s also still figuring it all out and making mistakes along the way. Just like most young people.
What would you like the viewers to find and take away from this story?
The message of people coming together and helping each other. I think that’s one of the things that was so prominent with Willow. It’s a story about a group of people, who don’t get along, to begin with, but they go on a quest and come together. When we all met on set, it was symmetry immediately. We got on so well even though we have very different personalities. We sort of formed this chemistry offset that I hope will come across on the show. Also, the theme of strong women and being in charge of your destiny, taking control and figuring it out.
“I think being able to express myself through it. You choose what you wear, and you get creative freedom with what you wear. That’s always been so important to me. I love fashion, and whether I’m wearing a sweatsuit, tracksuit or whatever you want to call it, or a dress on the red carpet, I feel just as comfortable and beautiful in either outfit. Fashion has the power to transform you into something.”
Rest assured that different character dynamics and personalities do come through on screen. Working with such an amazing cast must’ve been a joy.
I loved working with everyone, and I feel like I’ve made friends for life. Being in Los Angeles for the premiere, I think it’s evident that we’re all just so excited to hang out and celebrate the show together. We spent a long time in Wales shooting the show. We went on an adventure together and helped each other through the more difficult things. We also got lots of group chats. (laughing)
WhatsApp must be buzzing.
What would you say was the most difficult about this shoot?
I think being away from home, family, and friends. Also, just practically speaking, we were under a rain machine for a few good weeks. It was extremely cold as we were in Wales in the middle of winter. The challenges of Covid also put a spanner in the works.
Is there a lesson that you’ve taken away from Willow?
The character that I play is so brave. I wish I was that brave. I’m trying to keep stepping forward and putting myself outside my comfort zone. Also, understand that it’s okay to fail and that it’s okay to get things wrong sometimes.
I think what I also took away from the episodes I’ve seen so far is that good things happen when you believe in yourself. My personality type is too self-questioning and self-doubting for that, though. (laughing)
I feel exactly the same. I harbor a lot of self-doubt and question myself all the time. And I definitely have imposter syndrome.
And how do you keep the imposter syndrome on the leash?
Oh, I just give it a little wave and say – it’s nice to see you but see you later. (laughing)
With your roots in theater, what do you think helped to shape you into the brilliant performer you are today?
That’s an insane compliment. Thank you so much! I started in theater, and I always had such a wonderful time on stage. It was also the place where I learned things as I didn’t go to a drama school. For me, it was always about learning on the job, watching other people very closely and figuring out how they work or finding new methods while reading. My family and friends also made a huge impact. They have always been the most incredible support for me. I’m so grateful for that. I wouldn’t really be here without them.
Is there a character – whether someone that you’ve portrayed, seen on stage or screen, or read about in a book – that has stayed with you ever since?
There’s this book called My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Othessa Moshfegh. I haven’t read it again, but I keep thinking to myself that I must. I know that someone’s working on a film adaptation for it too. Other than that… I feel that I’ve been lucky to take on some really amazing characters.
Bjorn Krischker/The Wall Group using Sebastian Professional
Neil Young/Premier Hair and Makeup using CHANEL Beauty
Location and production
What’s one thing about you that surprises others?
One thing that always surprises people, but I’m not entirely sure why is that I really like cars. Especially, F-1.
Who’s your favorite race driver?
Oh, this is so difficult! Sebastian Vettel, who just retired, I absolutely love him, and I think he’s amazing. All of the younger drivers are great, and I have total respect for them. Lando Norris, George Russell, Charles Leclerc, Lewis Hamilton… I mean, now I’m just naming all of the drivers. (laughing)
What would you say are the most underrated places in London? I moved to the city seven years ago, and I still feel that there’s so much to explore as London is quite literally constantly changing.
I don’t even think this place is underrated because everyone that goes there loves it, but I absolutely love London Fields. And Exmouth Market.
What’s on your horizon next? Are there any projects that you’re allowed to talk about?
Yes! I actually just got back from Latvia.
No way! It’s a neighboring country to my home country of Lithuania. What were you doing in Latvia?
I was in Riga, which is the most beautiful place. I’m going to extend my trip when I’ll be going there next because I just loved it so much. I loved the people, food, and the fact that it’s snowing there.
The project I’m working on is a story about Anna Politkovskaya. She was a Russian journalist that was reporting about the second Chechnyan war. The story focuses on her and her team and how they were making incredible discoveries in advanced reporting. I think it’s such an important story that must be told quite urgently with everything that’s been going on.
I can’t wait to see it. Thank you so much for your time, Ellie.
Thank you. It was lovely chatting with you!
Willow now streaming on Disney+. Watch the trailer below.