Camilla Rutherford: The night I stood up to Harvey Weinstein – and got away

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Camilla Rutherford best and worst - Getty
Camilla Rutherford best and worst - Getty

Camilla Rutherford made her film breakthrough as Isobel in Gosford Park in 2001 before becoming the face of Max Factor three years later, and then appearing in Vanity Fair. She was in the TV mini-series A Very British Scandal last year and is now co-starring in the horror film Father of Flies. Rutherford lives in west London with her two children, Hector and Maud, by her former husband Rufus Abbott; her daughter and son, Nancy and Blaise, with boyfriend Dominic Burns; and a cat called Boxer.

Best childhood memory?

Among other things, my father was a theatre critic and he would sometimes take us with him to the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill and some of the bigger theatres in the West End. I loved that, but didn’t appreciate at the time discussing the piece afterwards with someone who was passionate and knowledgeable because I didn’t realise how my father wouldn’t always be with me. And in fact he died 22 years ago, a year before I did Gosford Park.

Best career decision?

I was studying mathematics at Newcastle University and, at the time, it was free education, which is pretty amazing when you think about it. But I was indecisive about what I was doing with my life; I just wasn’t engaging properly with the course. So I dropped formal education – which was a bit of a controversy for some people that I spoke to – and went to live in Paris. And that was the right thing to do.

Best moment in your career?

When [director] Robert Altman came to England to shoot Gosford Park he rented a lovely apartment overlooking Hyde Park and asked all the actors to come and join him for a casual get-together and a little chat about the film. And I got there, I was young, I had hardly done any acting, and just looked around the room, seeing the other faces – who were so recognisable – and realised it was such a privilege just to be in that meeting.

Anyway, he said we shouldn’t mind what critics thought of us, that we were here doing what we loved. And that was such a moment to be among all those people so early on in my acting life, and he made us all feel so optimistic. And then afterwards, we made quite a good film… Bob has sadly died, but his words stay with me.

Most influential person working in your field?

I love Claire Foy – she’s got this straightforward manner and doesn’t overact, and I absolutely adore Dame Judi Dench for her style, versatility and longevity. When I saw her at an event, I went up to her to tell her how brilliant I think she is, whereupon she told me how good she thought I was. Having done so little, I found that to be exquisitely generous and encouraging, and if there was any room for her to go even further up in my esteem she did.

Claire Foy best and worst - PA
Claire Foy best and worst - PA

Best purchase?

I saved my money when I was modelling so that I could buy a house. Some of my friends didn’t do that, but I did. I lived frugally. Luckily, they didn’t expect you to eat much, so that helped, but my house has been brilliant because it’s been a home, and it’s given me some security.

Best trend?

I often bought stuff from charity shops when I was growing up and now this is a “thing”, which is great because you used to not want to particularly admit that you got an outfit from Oxfam, but now it’s a badge of honour.

Best thing about 'Father of Flies'?

When [director] Ben Charles Edwards said the film was about his childhood I found that pretty intriguing, so he didn’t really have to “sell it” to me as such. And the fact that it was a stepmother story also appealed. I’ve always wanted to do a horror because I’ve often thought I have a face for horror. It was a weird script and so I thought I’ll do it… the other good thing is that whenever I get a new script, I think, “I’d better just quickly clean the house before I start my work” so all that got done.

Worst night out?

Well, it was certainly one of the craziest. I was at the Cannes Film Festival with a film called Stardom by Denys Arcand. We went to the awards and then on to Harvey Weinstein’s after-party. My friend and I were having a lovely time, dancing and drinking champagne, when Harvey’s assistant came over and said Harvey wanted to meet me. He came over and began being quite overbearing asking what room I was in at the Carlton. I left to go to the bar and he followed me and asked me again. I told him that I had checked out, which was true, but he became quite angry with me saying that I had not understood him and that I needed to go with him or I wouldn’t work as an actress again. My friend, emboldened by champagne, turned to him and said: “How dare you treat my friend like a prostitute.” Encouraged by my friend’s support and now certain of his intentions, I got cross with him, too. Harvey then raised his arm in the air, clicked his fingers and his assistant came to him. He told her he was leaving! After he left, people came and congratulated us on standing up to him. I have never told this story before because in a way there was nothing to say – I got away. Whether, in some way, he made things difficult for me afterwards, I’ll never know.

Worst thing about filming on location?

We shot Father of Flies in upstate New York when it was snowing a lot and really, really cold, so when my character was running through the forest in her negligee and high-heeled sandals, it was exerting at best. It was a night shoot and took hours, so it was all about trying to get warm in-between shots. The film wrapped pre-pandemic and was a long time in the edit, so the real tragedy is that [co-star] Nicholas Tucci died before he could see it. He was fighting cancer when we were shooting, but we didn’t know.

Worst thing about being an actress?

When I told my father that I wanted to act, he said, “Most actors are resting most of the time,” and I didn’t really understand that, but it has been difficult… It is easy to think that rejection is the worst thing about being an actress and model because there is so much of it. And it is so awful, every time. But, actually, rejection can be good for you as it teaches you that failing is OK. What is much worse is waiting and hoping because that can feel like you are wasting your time. In moments like that, I feel compelled to rethink my career but, so far, just as I am about to launch myself at something else, the phone rings again.

Worst thing about your appearance?

When I was a model, I found it really stressful because I am only 5ft 7in. You’d go to these castings and not only were all the girls really beautiful, they were also super tall. The clothes were always really big. I had to have clips to hold them on. And the shoes were vast. But sometimes being shorter had advantages. The tall models all found the long-haul flights so uncomfortable, but I was able to get into a ball on two seats and sleep.

Worst thing about technology?

There used to be a joke about why actors should leave the house as often as possible, and the punchline was about the moment of jubilation they experienced when they returned and the answer machine was flashing, but it’s impossible to escape your phone today. It is a kind of tyranny.

Worst thing you've heard recently?

The thing that seems to have been consuming everyone has been the astonishing event at the Oscars when Will Smith smacked Chris Rock. I didn’t see it live, but it has been fascinating listening to people talk about it. From my point of view, it’s difficult seeing any justification for violence. I just thought you aren’t allowed to hit people, whatever they say. All this stuff has been coming out about Will Smith’s traumatic childhood and that’s very sad. He maybe needs to have some therapy.

Interview by Bill Burrows

Father of Flies is streaming now

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