It’s hard not to envy Ellie Bamber, she’s got the killer triumvirate: beauty — think a cross between a young Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore; talent — Tom Ford handpicked her for his thriller noir, Nocturnal Animals; and youth — she’s only 20.
Oh, and she’s an ambassador for Chanel.
We meet in a private room at members’ club Library on St Martin’s Lane on a chilly afternoon before Bamber’s evening performance of Ibsen’s The Lady from the Sea at the Donmar Warehouse.
The play, about a lighthouse-keeper’s daughter who is trapped in her marriage and longs for the sea, is directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, who was recently appointed artistic director of the Young Vic. ‘Kwame is wildly intelligent, wildly bright, and just has the most incredible nature,’ she says, grinning. ‘I knew that I wanted to work with him.’
She shares a dressing room with Nikki Amuka-Bird and before they go on stage they dance around to relax. Bamber creates the playlist: ‘I like trap music, but then I like Otis Redding and Ella Fitzgerald, Georgia Smith — she’s really cool — and then I’m a big Stone Roses fan. I like rap music, I like A Tribe Called Quest.’
‘I don’t really get nervous,’ she says in her soft middle-class voice when I ask about pre-performance nerves. ‘I just get really excited.’
Next year she’s starring on screen in Jason Lester’s substance-infused romance, Taipei, based on the novel by hipster American novelist, Tao Lin, and in Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, which also stars Morgan Freeman and Dame Helen Mirren.
Former roles include Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and, most notably, Tom Ford’s exquisite thriller, Nocturnal Animals, in which she performed alongside Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, playing a daughter who is abducted on a road trip through Texas. Ford famously said of Bamber, ‘I had an immediate crush on her the first time I met her,’ and the feeling is clearly mutual.
The fashion designer’s attention to detail is legendary, something Bamber said she loved ‘because they were things that I didn’t have to think about… he had these incredible mood boards. I remember we had meetings with him and I would have an hour’s session with him and talk about things like the accent. Obviously he’s from Texas, so he was able to give me a clear idea of what my own character’s upbringing was like. He was great with the direction, giving me notes. He would say, “Okay, we need to work on that, we need to work on this. Let’s get that together.”
‘I had a really lovely upbringing, I did a lot of skateboarding down country lanes,’ she says of her childhood in Berkshire. Her father ‘manages people’s private investments’ and her mother is her manager, although not in a scary momager way — ‘The nice thing about Mum is she’s not full-on’ — and she has one younger brother. Bamber was featured in the press in the summer embracing Game of Thrones actor Richard Madden in Ibiza, but says she wants to keep her love life private. We sit in awkward silence for a moment, the sound of an opera singer practising her scales at the English National Opera opposite drifting gently in through the windows.
She is keen, however, to talk about the work she is doing for the African Bush Camps Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation working with rural communities and wildlife around Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia. ‘The great thing for me is they are helping people and animals simultaneously,’ she says of the charity. She visited Zimbabwe and Zambia in the summer to see the work in action, is starting a blog for them and will be returning to Africa at Easter for a sponsored run.
She rents in Russell Square, loves eating out — Balthazar, Kiln and Rosa’s Thai Café are favourites — and drinks at Soho’s John Snow. She loves dressing up — ‘Tom used to call me Barbarella on set because I used to wear these silver boots; there was a Halloween party the other day and I went as her’ — and is a keen shopper. ‘My favourite vintage shop in New York is called Screaming Mimi’s, and whenever I go I’ll spend three hours in there just trawling.’ In London she loves Machine-A, Dover Street Market and Pop Boutique. ‘It’s round the corner from the Donmar, so it’s quite handy.’
And then, of course, there’s always Chanel, which is ‘beyond generous with me’, she says.
The Box and The Scotch of St James are regular haunts (the former hinting of a hidden naughty side), but ‘I also like having friends round my house and getting a bit tipsy at home. I cook a good katsu curry.’ Her friends include Lily James, Douglas Booth and Crystal Clarke.
Surprisingly, she’s not naturally a redhead but a blonde. She dyed it for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies — ‘I was immediately like, why haven’t I always been this colour?’
As we walk through Covent Garden together after the interview, she tells me she’s reading A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes and how much she loves Bret Easton Ellis. Oh God, she’s clever, too.
Ellie Bamber stars in ‘The Lady from the Sea’ at the Donmar Warehouse until 2 Dec (donmarwarehouse.com)
Photographed by Alex Bramall
Styled by Martha Ward
Hair by Hiroshi using Kiehl’s Since 1851.
Make-up by Celia Burton using Chanel.
Fashion assistant: Ella Gaskell.
Shot on location at Mark’s Club, Mayfair, W1 (marksclub.co.uk)