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Ellie Bamber: the future of british cinema

From high school to Hollywood; Ellie Bamber is the 19-year-old actress and Chanel ambassador about to hit the big time with her starring role in Tom Ford’s noir thriller Nocturnal Animals.

Lying on a sun lounger in the south of France, wearing an emerald green bikini and Chanel shades, Ellie Bamber is every inch the star. The 19-year-old British actress is in the Côte d’Azur for the Cannes Film Festival as a guest of Chanel, who recently appointed her with the hugely coveted title of brand ambassador. With her porcelain skin, delicate features and long auburn hair, Ellie is made for film. She has the beauty and poise of a young Julianne Moore or Nicole Kidman, and a brilliantly bonkers personality that’s as fiery as her hair. For now however, the young Brit is enjoying a rare moment of quiet, before Tom Ford’s highly anticipated sophomore effort, Nocturnal Animals, hits the cinemas and Ellie’s star is born.

“When my agent asked me to put together an audition tape for Tom Ford I didn’t really think much of it,” Ellie says, wrapping herself up in a big white dressing gown. “But a few days later I got a call saying ‘Tom really likes you and wants to meet you at his offices.'” Auditioning at Ford’s Pimlico HQ is something Ellie will remember forever. “Everyone was wearing suits and stilettoes,” she says wide eyed, “and there were Diptyque candles everywhere. I obviously made an effort because it’s Tom Ford – you’re not going to turn up in pyjamas, are you?” Her choice of outfit – a pair of flared jeans, a shirt and clogs – was a success as Tom told her she “‘had great personal style’ and it made [her] year!” A follow up meeting a couple of weeks later, and Tom called a very excited Ellie to tell her she’d got the part.

Nocturnal Animals is a dark, potent, gripping thriller whose characters live on in your imagination long after the closing titles have rolled. It tells the story of LA art dealer Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) whose privileged but unfulfilling life and second marriage is interrupted when her ex-husband Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal) sends her the manuscript of his first novel, Nocturnal Animals. Mesmerised by its plot, Susan envisages Tony as the protagonist who drives his wife Laura, played by Isla Fisher, and his daughter Helen, played by Ellie, across the Mojave Desert to their summerhouse. En route, however, the family are terrorised by a gang of men spearheaded by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Beautifully executed by Ford, the brutal story within a story offers star turns from all the cast, including Ellie; who was forced to explore new avenues as an actress, but also new emotional depths within herself. “It was really emotionally draining at times,” she confesses. “The film is heart-breaking and traumatic, and I had to play a lot of intense scenes where I’m essentially getting ripped apart from my family. I had to think about how I would feel if I was in this situation, and how I would react to make it feel as believable as possible.”

I learnt so much just from watching Tom Ford. His grace, his aesthetic vision… he has this eye for detail that I’ve never seen before.
The intensity of acting out such scenes manifested itself in unexpected outbreaks of emotion that caught Ellie completely off guard. “I remember coming back to the hotel one night at 5am after playing a particularly emotional scene in which I’d been crying all night, and back at the hotel I was still crying,” Ellie says. “It was so weird.” On another occasion, she was hit with an adrenaline rush and had the overwhelming urge to run. ” I went down to the hotel running machine in the middle of the night in my pyjamas and just ran it out,” she recalls, “and then I went to bed!” Did Tom and the cast help her through these sensations? “I think it’s something you have to learn yourself,” Ellie says. “You have to be very conscious of it. You’re crying and experiencing these emotions and you have to control them and bring yourself back down.”

Working with Tom Ford was a huge learning curve for Ellie, not only as the director of her first heavyweight film but also in observing his behaviour on and off set. “I learnt so much from watching him,” she says. “His grace, his aesthetic vision; he has this eye for detail that I’ve never seen before. When I was having my fitting, he saw this nail varnish on a costume designer and said ‘I want that on your nails Ellie, that’s the colour I want.’ He’d pick things out just like that. It was so meticulous. I was a sponge on set, I’d try and take in as much information as I possibly could.” To get into character (she plays a Texan gal) Ellie binged watched Sissy Spacek in Badlands and Friday Night Lights, and on set she, Isla and Jake would stay in accent at all times. “Jake was amazing at helping me get into character,” she says, “and Isla was a bundle of laughs, so much fun!”

Born in Crowthorne, Berkshire in 1997, Ellie always knew she wanted to be an actress. Growing up idolising Keira Knightley – “I just love her” – Julianne Moore – “she’s incredible!” – and Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge – “she’s so beautiful!” it wasn’t long before her love for watching films turned into a desire to star in them. “Acting became this way of expressing myself,” she says. “When you’re growing up you have so many insecurities and issues, acting offers an amazing outlet.” Spotted in a school play at 11, Ellie starred in Sir Trevor Nunn’s production of Aspects of Love age 13, before landing the lead in High Society at the Old Vic under Kevin Spacey. “When I was younger I was so ballsy. I would just get up on the stage anywhere,” she says. “My mum was always completely terrified but I was cool as cucumber.” Her debut film, a small role in 2014’s the The Falling alongside Maisie Williams, landed her a starring role in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, for which she spent three months in a barn learning to fight. “I’m not very coordinated, so I was pretty dangerous,” she laughs. “We had some very near misses!”

Ellie – like any other 19-year-old – enjoys listening to music and hanging out with her friends. “I’m really really into my music,” she says. “I love 90s hip-hop, The Stone Roses, Drake, Beyoncé’s Lemonade…” She also loves fashion. “I’m a total shopaholic!” Her favourite designers are Tom Ford, Giles and Chanel, for whom as brand ambassador she gets to attend ready-to-wear and couture shows, which she rightfully describes as “absolutely incredible!” Ellie still lives with her family in Surrey but is looking to buy a flat in London, and while she sometimes finds it hard working while her friends are at uni, pursuing her dreams is a sacrifice she’s more than happy to make. “It’s hard when I’m away filming and all my friends are going to parties and going abroad together, I do feel left out,” she confesses, “but I just have to keep reminding myself that I am living a life I could only have dreamed of!”

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