The serial scene-stealer talks to Cath Clarke about playing troubled women and why she won’t be changing her ‘ridiculous’ name any time soon.
Tumbleweed silence. That’s what follows when I compliment Imogen Poots on her skill at making not-great films ten times more watchable. ‘Thanks…’ she says warily, eyes narrowing. Then she lets rip a cackle. ‘That’s really nice… I think.’
If you saw Need for Speed over the weekend you’ll get what I mean. Give Imogen Poots a two-dimensional love interest role and she’ll give you a woman with brains and a sense of humour. And the camera loves her. In person she’s girl-next-door pretty; on screen it’s like she’s swallowed a lightbulb. ‘My face is an odd assemblage of big things,’ is how she puts it.
Profiles of Poots always rave about her being the next Kate Winslet. But being famous is the last thing on her mind.
‘It can be so dangerous if you start believing your own press,’ she says, like a 24-year-old going on 47. ‘Or if you’re under the misapprehension that anybody actually cares.’
Growing up in southwest London, she landed a lead role in 28 Weeks Later at 17. So far she’s avoided the bonnet-wearing ghetto Brits can fall into – which is fine by her. ‘Maybe it’s growing up in England,’ she says. ‘Jane Austen is shoved down your throat. I’m like: “Give me Cormac McCarthy. Give me crazy characters”.’ She swears as only the posh can, in a brilliantly over-the-top way like a character from TV’s Absolutely Fabulous.
In her new film, an adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel A Long Way Down, she is party girl Jess – one of four characters who meet while attempting to commit suicide on top of a skyscraper. ‘I love playing damaged characters,’ she admits. ‘With Jess, she’s just full of self-loathing. I really wanted to play that, because I’ve never behaved that way.’ She skipped teenage rebellion. ‘I was distracted by acting.’
It occurs to me that she might be having a bit of career re-think – maybe applying the ‘deathbed test’: asking whether on her deathbed she would wish she’d made X or Y film. She chews her lips asking me if I liked Need for Speed (based on the mega-selling video game). I tell her that I’m not exactly the target demographic. Did she like it? She squirms, answering in a half-finished sentences: ‘I find elements really cool… I’m not crazy about cars… I mean, I get it…’
A million miles from Need for Speed, she has just finished working with the filmmaking legend Terrence Malick on Knight of Cups.
Before she leaves, I can’t resist asking her about her surname. Surely someone – an agent or publicist? – must have pulled her aside at some point and suggest she change it? ‘No! And my dad is so cool I would never consider getting rid of it. The more you hear it the less ridiculous it sounds.’
A Long Way Down is out soon in cinemas across Dubai.
Essential Poots filmography
28 Weeks Later
In this 2007 follow-up to Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, set six months after the rage virus devastated Great Britain, Poots is a teen who – along with her brother and father – is part of the US Army’s attempt to repopulate London with survivors.
Due out in cinemas across Dubai this year, this film (based on the Irvine Welsh novel) stars James McAvoy as a substance-ravaged cop on a mission to win back his wife and daughter. Poots appears as fellow cop Amanda Drummond.
That Awkward Moment
Poots played Zac Efron’s love interest in this 2014 romcom about navigating the crucial moment in every American 20-something’s relationship: ‘So… where is this going?’
A Long Way Down
Also starring Aaron Paul, Rosamund Pike and Pierce Brosnan, this adaptation of the Nick Hornby novel sees four suicidal strangers become a surrogate family for one another after meeting on the same rooftop at New Year’s Eve.
2014’s other rising stars
After playing a high-schooler in 21 Jump Street and a magician in Now You See Me, Franco (younger brother of James) also leant his voice to The Lego Movie, and is set to star alongside Seth Rogen and Zac Efron in Neighbors, as well as Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in 22 Jump Street, due for release this summer.
Son of Hollywood legend Clint, Scott has been directed by his dad in four films already (Flags of our Fathers, Gran Torino, Invictus, Trouble with the Curve). He’s set to star in war drama Fury – due out towards the end of this year – alongside Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf.
Younger sister of Mary Kate and Ashley, Elizabeth won praise for her role in 2011’s Martha Marcey May Marlene, before going on to star alongside Daniel Radcliffe in Kill Your Darlings. Catch her this year in Godzilla, alongside Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, and in 2015’s much anticipated Avengers: Age of Ultron.