As an actor and model, Amber Anderson has spent much of her career wanting to be liked. From impressing casting directors to winning over audiences, there’s always been a pressure to please – until now. Having joined the cast of the BBC’s gangster drama Peaky Blinders, the 29-year-old has swapped the good girl act for a darker demeanour as Diana Mitford, the fiery new villain who’s giving Cillian Murphy’s Tommy Shelby a run for his money in the show’s sixth and final season.
‘She’s a very powerful woman, but she doesn’t use typical violence or force to get what she wants,’ says Amber. ‘She’s very clever and funny, and almost cat-like. She enjoys playing with people and being emotionally manipulative.’
For Amber – who starred as kind-hearted Jane Fairfax in the 2020 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma – it’s been liberating. ‘I’ve always played people who care a lot about being liked, so this role has been really refreshing because she doesn’t care what anyone thinks at all,’ says Amber. ‘It was almost a therapeutic experience for me because as a woman, especially as an actor,
I know the feeling of thinking, “Please like me, please like me,” when I step on set. I think women feel that a lot more than men.’
While she’d never call herself a method actor, Amber’s role as the devious Diana has helped her adopt a more carefree approach in her own life. ‘I tend to leave my work behind when I get home, but I did absorb some of her energy. It was really interesting to see how different I felt.’
Sadly, Amber didn’t get to work with the late Helen McCrory, who played Peaky Blinders’ magnificent matriarch Polly and died of cancer aged just 52 last April. ‘I looked up to her hugely as an actor,’ Amber says. ‘I was supposed to have scenes with her but they had to be rewritten. Her absence was felt greatly on set by the cast and crew who’d had the good fortune to work with her over so many years. There was a sense that she had been a huge part of the lifeblood of the show and was missed, not just as a colleague, but also as a friend.’
Acting wasn’t always Amber’s plan. A classically trained musician, as a teenager growing up in the Scottish Highlands she had hopes of pursuing a professional career as a pianist. Then, aged 15, she was scouted by a modelling agency. ‘It was a mad experience. I started going to London for shoots during the school holidays and that’s when I began to realise that there was a life outside of music.’
Her big fashion break came in 2015, when she starred in a Burberry fragrance campaign directed by Steve McQueen. Despite the success that followed (she walked in Burberry’s London Fashion Week show shortly after and featured in a slew of fashion and beauty campaigns), acting always seemed the more appealing career option. ‘I wanted to be a part of a community and felt that acting offered that, as well as an outlet for my creativity.’
Since then, she’s had her fair share of gigs, appearing in the 2017 BBC drama Strike, an adaptation of JK Rowling’s The Cuckoo’s Calling, and winning Best Supporting Actress at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival for her role in indie film White Lie. Most recently, she featured in the critically acclaimed The Souvenir: Part II alongside Tilda Swinton and Joe Alwyn.
Her next goal is to bag a comedy role. ‘Right now I’m looking for something fun. I’m in a mood where I want to play a funny person. I’ve played quite serious women up until now, so I’m after something where I can just mess around.’