Devon Ross on fame, fashion and her new Sky show Irma Vep: ‘I want to play rockstars not the girlfriends’

·7-min read
 (Matt Writtle)
(Matt Writtle)

About 20 minutes into my conversation with model and actress Devon Ross, I notice that the name ‘Keith’ is tattooed on one of her fingers. “Yeah,” says the 22 year-old waving her cigarette nonchalantly. “I got that when I was too young to get a tattoo.”

It is a reference to Keith Richards. The Rolling Stones maverick is, by all accounts, Ross’s idol and it’s something that runs in the family. “My dad loves Keith,” she says. “Keith’s always been our guy, he’s a guitar player. He’s our man.”

A strange decision, perhaps, but it’s one that captures Ross’ appeal. With her distinctive looks, passion for Sixties music and a vintage aesthetic, this bright young thing is a new breed of London bohemian – and her star is on the rise.

In 2021, Vogue ran an article calling her “possibly the coolest model in fashion right now” and this week marks her breakout role on TV, in the series Irma Vep opposite Alicia Vikander which started on Sky Atlantic.

 (Matt Writtle)
(Matt Writtle)

Ross is not a native Londoner, but the capital is her adopted home. As the daughter of Craig David Ross, Lenny Kravitz’s lead guitarist, and Nineties model Anna Bauer, she spent an unconventional childhood at an ever-changing roster of primary schools.

“I was going to hippie schools, which were really chill with me having time off. Calling teachers by their first names, no homework. That’s how I grew up.” Interspersed with this were long periods of time on the road, accompanying her father’s band on tour.

“My sister and I would just be backstage, entertaining ourselves,” she says. “We were the only kids. It was fun - we’d find little jobs to do: in wardrobe, we’d pretend to sew things. Or we’d get rollerblades or skateboards and skate around backstage.”

This sense of independence has stood Ross in good stead when it comes to starting and navigating her skyrocketing career. Already she has walked for major fashion brands including Gucci, Simone Rocha and Valentino, bee and she has now made the transition to prestige television with Irma Vep.

Modelling has always had a bit of a shady side, especially in recent years with revelations about bullying and mistreatment of young women. But having only come into it in a big way around 2020, Ross seems to have avoided the grimmer side of the business.

“I mean, it is a great experience, if you can do it and you can handle it. But it’s a lot,” she says. “You have to have a good head on your shoulders; to be secure in yourself. Because if you’re not, it’s really deteriorating. You have to be super strong to do it, which I learned.

“There’s a lot of competition with other girls and rejection, which some people handled very well, [but] it’s a horrible thing sometimes. I was just lucky that I could do it for a few years.”

Devon Ross (right) with Alicia Vikander in Irma Vep (Handout)
Devon Ross (right) with Alicia Vikander in Irma Vep (Handout)

When she made the leap to acting, she didn’t take any lessons, instead sending off a demo tape and auditioning via a few Zoom calls with Irma Vep’s director Olivier Assayas, who has adapted his 1996 film of the same name for the small screen. It doesn’t seem to have fazed her.

“A lot of modelling is like acting,” she says. “I mean, for me it was: being in front of the camera, being on set loads, and having people watching me. Going into film, the only difference was having to talk.”

In Irma Vep, Ross plays Regina, the sardonic assistant to Vikander’s movie star protagonist Mira Harberg, an American actress who has come to Paris to star in a TV version of a silent film serial, Les Vampires. The pair spent a lot of time together on set – Ross describes Vikander as “sweet” – while the rest of the cast and crew supported her without babying her, she says. This first acting experience was a nice introduction to a whole new world, walking La Croisette at Cannes alongside Tom Sturridge and allowing her to pursue acting as a full-time career.

Despite her growing fame, Ross seems unfazed by the whole concept of celebrity. She has a relaxed relationship with social media – despite having more than 100,000 Instagram followers, “I don’t let it get to me”, she says, making it sound very easy – and her early years on the road have prepared her for life in the spotlight, as well as the negative impact of celebrity.

“I did grow up seeing that stuff,” she says. “Not in a bad way at all. I wasn’t exposed to anything horrible, but I was exposed to real life, which was good. Because I knew what not to do.”

Having just moved to London’s Portobello Road, it seems like she’s been living here all her life. If nothing else, it’s the perfect home for a woman who’s been obsessed with vintage music since she was a child.

Together with her boyfriend, the actor Earl Cave (son of Nick), the pair spend their days tracking down vinyl records and creating music at home – Ross is a skilled guitarist and is looking to create her own band, something that can also be traced back to her father’s influence.

“The first song that was playing when I was born was Neil Young or something,” she says. “Literally from the second I was out of the womb, I didn’t really have a choice: he would only play that stuff. And so that was all I knew.”

Devon Ross and Earl Cave at the dinner to celebrate the relaunch of ES Magazine in February this year (Dave Benett)
Devon Ross and Earl Cave at the dinner to celebrate the relaunch of ES Magazine in February this year (Dave Benett)

Even today, she says she barely listens to any music that isn’t from the Sixties – and her own aesthetic is distinctly vintage, sourced in the main from the many charity shops dotting the length of Portobello Road, augmented with designer pieces; she is a model after all.

The fact that many of her heroes hail from the UK isn’t lost on her either. In addition to Richards, Beatles stalwart George Harrison is also an inspiration – while living in London is the fulfilment of a long-held dream.

“Growing up, I feel it’s maybe the same way that people feel about going to America: like, ‘Whoo, I gotta go there!’”

She waves her hands, “London is the shit. I always wanted to live in London. And when I first got here, I was like, ‘Everything looks like The Beatles!’ Every day, I still feel that way. Abbey Road is so close to our house.”

With a life so steeped in rock’n’roll, does she visualise this bleeding into her acting roles? “I’d love to play Patti Smith,” she says.

 (Matt Writtle)
(Matt Writtle)

However, there’s a problem: the lack of diversity. “I feel like there are so many biopics coming out, like the Stones thing, the Sex Pistols thing, that are all about guys. Male actors get to play rock stars all the time. And I’m like, why don’t we get to play rock stars? I want to be the rock star. I don’t want to be the girlfriend.” Her dream role is a bit of a surprise then, though perhaps it shouldn’t be. “I mean, I’d love to play Keith Richards one day.”

Ross doesn’t blink at the suggestion she’s done more in her life than most people her age or, indeed, at any age. “I just always want to do more,” she says. “To me, it doesn’t feel like I’ve done enough. I want to make an album, I want to do film, I want to do more TV – I just want to do more.”

Irma Vep is streaming now on Sky