At just 22, actress Imogen Poots – who has already starred opposite the likes of David Tennant, Colin Farrell and Michael Douglas – has the looks, talent and presence to take her far. Here she tells Benji Wilson why, despite the high-gloss movie glam, she’s still a backcombed-hair girl at heart
Imogen Poots sits in a Soho hotel room looking perfectly petite among all the plump sofa cushions and towering flower arrangements. She is surrounded by promotional material for Chloé’s signature scent, for which she is one of the new ‘faces’.
‘A fresh and feminine fragrance suited to a free spirit with an utterly innate sense of chic’, reads the description. Actually, that’s not a bad summary of Imogen herself. Just 22, she doesn’t conform to the normal formula for a Young British Actress. Beautiful, yes, but not in an Identikit way. Costume drama? Tick, but always from an oblique angle, such as Miss Austen Regrets (the 2008 BBC drama based on Austen’s letters, in which she played Jane’s niece) or this year’s Jane Eyre with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender (Imogen was Blanche Ingram, Jane’s rival for Mr Rochester’s affections). Consider also that her big break was in a horror flick, 28 Weeks Later; that her most famous scene to date was being seduced by Michael Douglas in 2009’s Solitary Man, and that her latest trick is this year’s classic horror reboot Fright Night with David Tennant and Colin Farrell…and ‘free spirit’ seems to cover it. Dressed head to toe in black except for a crisp pair of brown boyfriend brogues, ‘innate chic’ isn’t far wrong either.
I started working when I was 14. I’d done drama at school and enjoyed it, but it was limited – I was at an all-girls’ school where everyone was from a similar background – so I joined London’s Young Blood Theatre Company for a different kind of education. Attached to that was a small acting agency and I started going for roles through them, doing small parts in TV shows such as Casualty. I’m sure Mum and Dad had concerns, but acting existed parallel to school. School had right answers and wrong answers, whereas acting lets you offer your own interpretation of the world. That was very exciting when I was 14, and it still is. I’ve had the best time of my life because of it.
I didn’t go to university, although I had a place at London’s Courtauld Institute to study history of art. I wanted to continue acting but that doesn’t mean you stop picking up books or learning as much as you can. I’ve been lucky to meet some fascinating people, including Timothy Spall [who plays Imogen’s boss in the romantic thriller Comes a Bright Day, to be released next year] and Trevor Eve [her father in ITV’s remake of Bouquet of Barbed Wire], who’ve introduced me to other aspects of life. Education is important to me, but it doesn’t have to be with desks and teachers.
28 Weeks Later had a real sense of a surrogate family. It was my first film , when I was 18. It was the most substantial role I’d had, with actors who are doing amazing things now: Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner and Robert Carlyle [Imogen played his daughter Tammy]. I love that feeling of collaboration, and look for it in everything I do. I don’t really have a home at the moment. I was in New Mexico last year for six months filming Fright Night, and before that in New York for another film. I’m addicted to travelling – I feel I’ve got to keep moving, otherwise I’m scared I’ll miss something – so I’m grateful for what my job allows me to do. In a new city the first thing I do is head out to explore. I start with art galleries and then I take lots of photos and make weird little films of trees!
Fright Night meant filming with David Tennant in Albuquerque. We had the best time – New Mexico is stunning and Santa Fe is extraordinary. Looking at that sunset and sunrise, I’ve never felt so small and insignificant. And it was so hot. They had this guy who used to drive me around; we’d get loads of coffee and listen to a radio station that played readings of Allen Ginsberg’s poems. Best of all, I had the opportunity to play an all-American girl. My American accent isn’t so bad – I’ve played more Americans than Brits, which is kind of bonkers.
Is this my big year? Well, I have a lot of films coming out! But the idea of a big year is intimidating because it means the next year won’t be a big year. The saddest thing in this business is when somebody burns bright and then fades out. You see it all the time. Everything’s so disposable now.
I don’t necessarily go starry-eyed around actors. Musicians, that’s another story. If I met Bob Dylan I’d freeze, and I think if I met Leonard Cohen I’d faint, but when you see actors in person they’re just so normal. It’s only because they’re playing parts the whole time that people see them as special.
I’m obsessed with Alex James from Blur. I met him recently at a gig – at least, I asked him where the loos were or something. People say he looks a little crabby these days but I say he’s even better.
I’m a Gemini so I have a split personality. On the one hand I can be quite serious, but I’m also girlie in the sense that I’m completely melodramatic and illogical. I was known as Poodle at school because I used to backcomb my hair and wear more than five colours at once. I wasn’t going to be head girl, so whatever. Now I wear black and listen to Leonard Cohen: it’s all gone a bit peculiar. But the backcombed-hair girl is still in there somewhere. These days I rub butter into my hair. Well, not butter butter, but shea butter. It’s amazing – you can use it on your skin too.
I haven’t done lad mags or nudity. I don’t have anything to give them! It’s a way of getting your face in the media but it’s not the image I want to put out there.
I think the women in Woody Allen’s films got the look just right. I love Annie Hall and Manhattan and all the women in those films. They just understand that moment when you put on your boyfriend’s clothes or try on his shoes – and they’re better than yours. Paul Smith designed the clothes for Comes a Bright Day, and he has a range that makes me feel extraordinarily cool – it’s men’s-style clothes but made to fit a female form.
I love bags so big you could lug a sink around in them. I have so many ridiculous tote bags. And I have a gorgeous blue Marc Jacobs bag with tiny arm straps that my mum bought me a couple of years ago.
I find it difficult to talk to people about beauty regimes because I don’t have one! I’m honoured to be part of the Chloé campaign. The only times I’ve modelled is when I’ve been promoting a film or TV project, so it was interesting to do something purely visual. I thought, this could be a persona, a part I will play – and smell great while I play it!
The type of actor I want to be is…curious. Curiosity is a gift if you keep wanting to learn and evolve. I really admire Mia Wasikowska, I love Michael Shannon and I loved River Phoenix. They
all have this ability to make you feel and care about them, and forget that they’re actors. And in interviews they seem very gentle people.
I won’t talk about my love life. Not even a yea or a nay. I’m not giving anything away.