Every now and again, you meet an actor who seems absolutely oblivious to the fact that they are about to become very, very famous. Emily Beecham is one of them. When we meet over Zoom, she apologises for being late – a whole one minute after our allotted time – and warns that the Wi-Fi in her Berlin flat is ‘a bit higgledy-piggledy.’ She speaks quietly, her eyes often wandering into the distance as she considers her answers. You get the sense that she’s present and interested, but also that she’s reserved, that there’s something else underneath the surface that she’s keeping for herself. She is a world away from the media-trained starlets who seem to arrive with pre-planned soundbites and ‘aren’t I adorable?’ anecdotes.
Emily may be a rising star, but she’s not necessarily a new one. Compared to some of her peers, Emily, 37, is arriving on the walk of fame comparatively late, but she wouldn’t dream of switching places. ‘I was very much a jobbing actor through my twenties,’ she explains. Early credits included Merlin, Silent Witness and The Street. Now, following her first lead role in the critically acclaimed 2017 film Daphne, after years in TV, she is on the cusp of joining a new wave of British actors – including Emma Corrin, Daisy Edgar- Jones and Phoebe Dynevor – who have achieved fame on the global stage.
That’s thanks in part to her impressive turn in The Pursuit Of Love, a racy period drama based on the classic novel by Nancy Mitford, which premiered on BBC One on 9 May. The magnitude of a role in the latest addition to the BBC’s incomparable period drama canon is not lost on her. ‘I feel a massive responsibility,’ she nods. ‘I’ve grown up watching these period dramas, so I was nervous. You do feel the pressure.’
Written and directed by Emily Mortimer, the show stars Lily James as a lovelorn Linda ricocheting through life. But as Fanny, Linda’s friend and foil, Emily asserts herself as a bona fide co-lead.
While the rest of us were baking sourdough bread and doing online quizzes, Emily and Lily were on Zoom calls, preparing for filming by bonding over poetry and Ingrid Bergman documentaries. The close bond we see on screen had to be fostered from afar. Emily says she loved working with Lily and went through a period of mourning when production wrapped.
‘I think we all felt like that, because it was such a special experience,’ she says. ‘And also because we were all so grateful to be there: lockdown was very isolating and it really made you realise that we’re social animals – that we really need each other.’
Covid, naturally, meant that production had to obey a long list of restrictions and regulations, both in the UK and on location in Italy. It was during a break from the latter that Lily and married actor Dominic West, who plays her father, were spotted together in Rome, and the show made headlines for a different reason – specifically, speculation that the two were a couple. The tabloid attention only heightened interest in the show, complete with the glare of the paparazzi. Months later, has Emily thought about the negatives that might come from being watched by millions?
‘I haven’t actually,’ she says. ‘I guess the stuff I’ve done before hasn’t been massively commercial, so I’ve never really had to experience that. Maybe that will happen now and I have to be prepared. But what can go wrong if you just keep a low profile, be nice and do your own thing? I can’t imagine people would be really that interested in chasing me around.’
Growing up in Manchester, Emily developed an interest in acting while watching ‘fancy French films’ with her mum and on family visits to the city’s Royal Exchange Theatre, where she longed to mimic the ‘bravery’ of the men and women standing before her. She pursued a similar career, with no Plan B.
Since then, she has watched the industry transform through the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, which she says inspired a change in the way female characters are written and depicted: she spent much of her early career battling sexist tropes and the industry’s focus on the visual.
‘In my twenties, I was just always going out for “the girlfriend”’, she recalls. ‘Actress friends of mine would be told to go away and come back with more make-up on. You try to ignore it, but you knew it was there. It’s still having an effect on young actresses: I talk to young actress friends of mine and try to support them, because I didn’t really have anybody explaining that to me when I was younger, or saying, “It probably gets better when you get older.”’
And it did. Her most high profile film to date, a leading role in the indie movie Little Joe, may not have set the box office alight, but Emily won the prestigious Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival. And now that adults have seen her portrayal of Fanny, she will command the attention of the next generation, too, with a prominent role in Disney’s Cruella.
‘It’s a hard one, because my whole character is a spoiler,’ she laughs when pressed for details, and pauses in thought as she works out what else she can say. ‘Her name is Catherine, and I have scenes with Emma Thompson. Her character has huge hair, so she had to lie down in-between takes because she couldn’t really keep her head up. And Emma Stone is brilliant.’ Emma is, of course, Cruella, the eponymous villain, a fur-loving fashion designer who will one day seek the cruellest of coats.
Talk turns to fashion. For our interview, Emily looks comfy in a simple, long-sleeve black tee. But she looks perfectly at home in Chanel tweed and denim on our shoot. Which should come as no surprise – her most memorable red-carpet moment to date, at Cannes in 2019, involved a regal Chanel gown with a high, sequinned neckline and puff sleeves. She’s not afraid to wear the big guns (Miu Miu, Prada) and often mixes in homegrown labels, such as Giles Deacon and Georgia Hardinge. ‘I used to be shyer about dressing up,’ she says. ‘But after the pandemic, it’s a treat to be around people on a shoot. Now, I quite enjoy it: I see it as playing a character.’
The Pursuit Of Love may have just three episodes, but Emily would, she says, not hesitate to sign up for a follow-up. ‘There are more books,’ she points out, brightly. ‘Love In A Cold Climate and Don’t Tell Alfred. It depends on whether Emily found directing us too exhausting. But I would like to go back and be Fanny again.’ Judging by her performance, viewers will surely want the same.
‘The Pursuit Of Love’ is available on BBC iPlayer. ‘Cruella’ is available on Disney Plus from 28 May
Photographer’s assistant: @willcorry
Stylist’s assistant: @sammiey_hughes
Bookings and production: @jeslucy
How old is Emily Beecham
Emily Beecham, born May 12 1984, is 37
Does Emily Beecham have Instagram?
She does. She can be found here.
Is Emily Beecham married?
Emily keeps her private life private. However, earlier this year the mum of her boyfriend - actor Max Befort - referred to Emily as her 'daughter-in-law.' Naturally, though, many people refer to their children's partners as their in-laws, regardless of whether or not they're actually married.