Ella attended the Newport Beach Film Festival Honours at Bulgari Hotel on February 9, 2017 in London. We have added x28 photos from the event, plus some portraits taken by photographer James Gorley.
When I was little there were loads of things I wanted to be. At one point it was an astronaut and then I think I wanted to be an orange – just because I thought I could be actually anything!” says 19-year-old actress Ella Purnell. Thankfully her ambitions changed somewhat over the ensuing years, in large part due to acting workshops that a shy Ella went to as a child to make friends. “When you’re a kid it’s fun, it doesn’t feel like a job. Acting was always just something I did because I enjoyed it.”
Ella’s first role, playing a young Keira Knightley in Never Let Me Go, marked a turning point and all thoughts of astronauts (and oranges) disappeared from her mind. Critics and casting agents alike sat up and took notice, and a then 13-year-old Ella caught the acting bug big time. “It wasn’t until around this time that I thought about acting as a real job,” she says. She clearly had a knack for it, though, because more ‘youngers’, as she calls them, followed – there was a young Angelina Jolie in Maleficent that was filmed days after Ella came out of hospital with appendicitis, and this year a young Margot Robbie in The Legend of Tarzan. So with a healthy CV of ‘youngers’, is Ella now itching to escape the label?
She’ll have to put youngers on hold for the moment though, because next up is Ella’s biggest role to date, the part of Emma Bloom in Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, which was – at least according to her brothers – a dream role for her to nab. “They’d read the book and they were obsessed with me getting the role. They wrote me good luck cards for the audition, even though they’ve never paid attention to my work before!” she says. “For me though the biggest pull was Tim Burton; he’s the number one director that I’ve always wanted to work with.”
And it seems that Tim Burton lived up to his reputation – according to Ella there were many peculiarities on set, including the mystery of the five-foot carrot that sat outside the director’s trailer for weeks and caused much confusion among the cast. “Just an average day in Tim Burton’s world!” Ella says, laughing.
Following the film’s release, Ella is planning to dive head first into her acting career, but after listening to her animatedly chatting – about everything from fashion to dance classes at Frame and a renewed love of playing piano – you get the feeling that this is only one of the many strings to her bow. “I’m open to everything. I want to write, I want to direct, I want to make music,” she enthuses. “And I’ve also just set up a charity with my friend, called Educate2Eradicate, so I want to dedicate time to that too. I just want to keep my head down and keep carrying on!”
We have added the Schon magazine scans and feature to the gallery … you can also find the photoshoot by Mark Rabadan here.
Ella Purnell pulls down her denim overalls, baring her torso and belly button ring. “I love this look,” the 19-year-old actress says, giggling, as a photographer snaps shots of her inside a Los Angeles studio. She flashes her Adidas Superstar kicks, laces undone, as she twists into different poses like a pretzel. “I love the ’90s!” she yells, twirling her newly-curled locks. “I love everything about it! There is something so beautiful about the grunge and carelessness. The style, the mood, the music, the fashion. Kate Moss, Winona Ryder and Johnny Depp in their prime!”
Just minutes later, Purnell swaps looks, this time donning a Phlemuns sweater dress and vintage earrings. Her hair is slicked back from a mixture of smoothing balm, elixir restore and repair oil. It looks like she dived into a swimming pool and popped out five seconds later. Her face is sometimes buried in her iPhone, but she’s chipper and bubbly, smiling ear to ear. She’s fresh off the plane from East London and psyched to be visiting the States for ten days doing publicity for her new fantasy movie Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, out this Friday. She admits that she could never do modeling professionally, even if she’s good at it. “I don’t care what I look like,” she admits. “I don’t dress up much. I wear trainers and jeans. I would probably get so tired of people talking about my appearance all the time.”
It’s an ironic statement for a girl who got her start modeling as a baby. She switched to acting at age nine, when she started taking classes at the Sylvia Young Theatre School. Two years later, she auditioned for the play Oliver! and was cast in a London performance for one year. She says she absolutely loves theater and has also be into singing since a very young age. She would often strum on the guitar and play piano while singing classical tunes in French and German. She describes herself back then as a shy girl with glasses and greasy hair, sharing moments by herself reading in a corner at school. She didn’t like sports or socializing much, but she had a big imagination. She would play spy games with her only friend in grade school. “Everyone would think, ‘What are these girls doing?’ But we didn’t care. I was weird and didn’t want to be cool. I was never the popular girl,” she says. “I wasn’t really bullied, I enjoyed being by myself. It taught me how to be independent.”
Purnell received her first taste of movie stardom when she played younger versions of Keira Knightley’s character in 2010’s Never Let Me Go and Angelina Jolie’s title protagonist in Walt Disney’s 2014 Maleficent. Most recently, she wrapped the aforementioned Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, directed by Tim Burton. She spent six months bringing life to character Emma Bloom, a girl who has the ability to manipulate air. For a week straight, she performed in a large tank surrounded by a green screen as the camera captured her underwater. Interestingly, her biggest fear is drowning, which nearly happened to her in ocean when she was 13 years old (she was rescued by a passing boatman).
On set, not everything went to plan. Tim Burton smashed his head into a lighting device, and he ended up going to the hospital. They thought he might have had a concussion, but he quickly recovered. Another day, the set got so smoky that the sprinklers turned on in the electrical room and everyone scrambled to get the equipment out. Still, the film was completed and looks to be classic Burton. “He’s a genius. He’s an easy, beautiful and kind soul,” Purnell says of the director. “He’s so smart and open to everything: your interpretation, views and opinions,” she adds. “With his talent and level of fame, he doesn’t have to be that way. But he is so wonderful and humble. He would always give me great scene advice like, ‘Don’t let your sentences tail off.’ I appreciated that.”
As she twists her petite frame into different poses like a pretzel, Purnell radiates with confidence, and that shy kid in school feels like a lifetime away. She credits her current poise and sense of self with something her mother taught her when she was young — that every woman is beautiful. “If someone is going to say I’m too skinny, I don’t care. I grew a thick enough skin to deflect from it,” she declares. “I’m just happy with myself and where I am at in my life right now.”