Ella Purnell FAN ° ° ella-purnell.org
Jess By August 04, 2017 0 Comments

This week marked the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death and if proof were needed of the author’s enduring legacy and influence, a new audio adaptation of her gothic satire Northanger Abbey has been released. The cast is impressive, starring Emma Thompson, Lily Cole, Douglas Booth, Eleanor Tomlinson and Ella Purnell.

We talked to rising star Purnell as she takes on the lead role of Catherine Morland, a tomboy who lives her life as if it were a gothic novel. The 20-year-old starred in her first television advert when she was nine and has gone onto appear in Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home For Children, as well as Never Let Me Go and Kick-Ass 2. All in all, her career’s off to a strong start, but there’s nothing like landing a Jane Austen heroine to take things to the next level.

How much did you know about Jane Austen before you signed to this project?

“I knew very little about Jane Austen. I think if I was doing a film, I would have wanted to look into the period, the woman herself – you know, all the research that has to go into those movies and TV series. I think because this was audio I managed to get the research done much quicker. I studied Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility whilst I was at school, but not in any great detail so I had to do a bit of work before stepping into the studio.”

In what ways do you identify with Catherine?

“I can definitely relate to Catherine, she’s my kind of girl. One of the characters is very gossipy – a socialite – and Catherine’s the complete opposite. She’s a girl-next-door type, she was tomboyish in her younger days and she can be quite naïve when it comes to social etiquette. She’s got a huge imagination and she loves reading books. She says what she sees and she doesn’t put on any airs or graces and I think that’s a really admirable way to be.”

What are the challenges in creating an audible-only production?

“It’s completely different – I’ve never done any voice work, but that’s what I loved about it. I aspire to do different things every single day, and luckily this job isn’t a regular 9 to 5. This year has been full of firsts for me – I did my first play in January, I recently finished this audio drama and now I’m working on my first TV series. I thought we’d do the audio drama chronologically, but we didn’t, we did it by scene numbers, which makes sense when you think about it. I had a vision of everyone sat in a dark room with headphones on, but it’s not like that at all; you have to put more energy into it because you’re animating the voice. It’s the only situation where you’re allowed to overact! You can have a bit of fun – nobody is going to see what you do! Douglas was almost dancing on the spot, his character is so over-exaggerated, splendid and grand.”

Are there any other existing roles or literary characters that you’d like to play?

“Obviously Harry Potter. There’s also a really good book called Vermin – it’s about a rat that eats loads of books and becomes really clever – if I could voice the rat that would be brilliant.”

Which women inspire you in terms of your career?

“Lots! Helena Bonham-Carter, Natalie Portman – actresses who aren’t afraid to step out the box. Actresses who say I’m not going to play a pretty role, I’m going to play a real, gritty role. That’s something I want to do, cover all sorts of genres to find the one I love most.”

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?

“A Spanish director once told me that your career is like a river – I can’t quite remember the quote exactly – but he talked about it rising and falling, ebbing and flowing. I was 14 at the time and that really made an impression. I thought about getting a tattoo of it – I didn’t, don’t worry! But I think that message is important. If you panic and try to swim against the current, you’ll tire out and drown.”

You have played the child version of many film characters – did your older counterparts offer their wisdom at all?

“I was 12 working on a film with Keira Knightley, the interviewer asked this exact question and she turned to me and said, ‘Don’t do it!'”

How important is fashion to you and why?

“It never used to be important – like my character – I used to be quite tomboyish and not really care. I think I probably dressed better then because I wore what I wanted. Then I went through my emo/goth phase, and then after I got through my teenage years I started to get more interested in designers and big fashion houses. Rather than the high street, I started going to vintage shops, thinking more about the shape and materials. I like learning new things, and going to shows, it’s completely changed my mind about it. I used to think fashion was silly, and now I think it can be one of the purest expressions of art.”

Do you like taking risks on the red carpet?

“Absolutely! I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great stylists and so I’ve always been able to go for stuff that’s a little bit weird, a little bit crazy, a little bit me. Not everyone’s going to like it and that’s fine.”

You’re known for using your profile to campaign – outside of work, what issues are worrying you at the moment?

“I’m working with a fantastic charity called Action Aid, and I just did a short film for Help Refugees – it’s based on the true story of a boy who saved the lives of 15 people. Both of those projects are really important to me. I launched a charity last year called Educate To Eradicate which tackles FGM. We’ve raised our money so now we’re putting that work into practice.”

Do you have any secret talents other than acting?

“I can do a really good animal impression! I’m great at ducks, cats, dogs and occasionally dolphins.”

Northanger Abbey is available to download at Audible.co.uk


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