A swinging 60s sensibility and a sense of style to match: From Gender roles to good old-fashioned manners, actress Ophelia Lovibond gives us something to think about…
In an unlikely move for feminism, Ophelia Lovibond is teaching me about the Béchamel test.
It’s got everything to do with the substance of female characters in fiction, apparently, and nothing to do with the substance of white sauce. I’m never going to dinner at her house.
Except, actually, I probably would. So at ease am I in Ophelia’s company that, over the course of our interview, I talk at length about myself, my hangover, and my afternoon spent assuaging said hangover with her latest small screen triumph – as delightful 60s flower child Robin in bittersweet comedy Mr Sloane. No level of kitchen confusion can detract from that.
Actually, though, she’s not talking about Béchamel sauce, but the Beshdel Test. “It’s to gauge the presence of women in film,” she explains. “Is there enough conversation between and about women? What are they talking about? Is it only the men in their lives? So often female characters are underwritten; it’s still heavily male-weighted.”
“I do feel like things are improving though. Recently there’ve been more scripts passing that test. You think, ‘Ah, this is more interesting – she’s actually more complex, not just hot.’”
Although hardly tough on the eye herself, Ophelia likes her roles “warts and all”, and her characters are invariably women of substance. Which goes some way towards explaining why she’s so tough to typecast; well-rounded women aren’t typically bound by genre. So far, Lovibond has found them on small and large screens, in period pieces, from Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy to Polanski’s Oliver Twist, gritty dramas like A Single Shot and comedies – opposite Jim Carrey and Simon Pegg – and, soon, in the much-anticipated Guardians of the Galaxy.
“I’d hate to be typecast,” she says, “or have to choose between drama and comedy. Sometimes you’ll read a really dark psychological thriller on Monday and enjoy it just as much as a broad comedy on Tuesday, and you’ll push yourself from one end to the other. I love that.
I can’t get enough of it.”
And if there’s one other thing Ophelia can’t get enough of, it’s clothes; more often than not, her women of substance are very much women of style, too. “I love a bit of dress up,” she admits. “Any excuse. And costume is so important when you’re developing a role. It’s such a visual medium, it really helps tell a character’s story.”
Off-screen, too, Ophelia has always used her sense of style for self-expression, and quickly found her fashion feet. “I found my style era: the 60s. That was my default. That silhouette, that whole attitude, appeals to me; it’s something I feel comfortable in.”
Which is, of course, why Mr Sloane – a six-part series from Curb Your Enthusiasm director Bob Weide, also starring Nick Frost and Olivia Colman – was such an appealing project. Set in the swinging 60s, in the slightly-less-swinging Watford, the unlikely friendship between Haight-Ashville hippie Robin and down-trodden Sloane (Frost) struck a chord with Ophelia.
“The fashion was borne out of a sensibility. With Robin, I thought, ‘I know this girl’s story, I know who she is.’ Born at just the right time, she’s embraced this sexual awakening and free spirit. That’s what appealed to me about Mr Sloane: this poor guy is stuck in a groove, and she just breezes in and blows the cobwebs away. I thought it was lovely.”
At our photoshoot, however, flower power prints give way to this season’s more severe side. But if Ophelia’s unsure, it doesn’t show. “I love it,” she says, hoisting herself happily into what can only be described as a leather harness. But, then, sheis very polite; a hunt for a hoodie, for example, becomes a moment of severe self-chastisement. “This was a present; I was supposed to write and thank them. It’s old-fashioned, but I love to.” I’m sensing some good breeding…
And indeed, growing up in Shepherd’s Bush, Ophelia attended creative breeding ground Latymer School on a drama scholarship: “In terms of facilities, it’s as good as any West End theatre.” Going on to read English at Sussex, she now lives in Hampstead with her boyfriend. Unsurprisingly, she hasn’t had the luxury of much free time there of late, but remembers it fondly: “I often just like walking about London – walking from here to town – or having a cycle. And going to the cinema on my own. When you go in the middle of the day and you’ve got this massive screening room to yourself, it feels like you’ve stolen time.”
Frankly, though, having enviously eyed her wardrobe in Vogue’s ‘Today I’m wearing’ feature last month, what I really want to know is where she shops. Here, however, Ophelia is uncharacteristically unhelpful; a vintage and charity shop queen, hers is no easy style to emulate. “There’s something so satisfying about finding something really lovely for just a couple of quid,” she says. “I’m so smug when that happens.” And, although equally enamoured with Mulberry and Dolce & Gabbana, Ophelia’s top shopping tip is – shock horror – charity shopping out of town: “It’s become so knowing in London.”
And will she be following suit? Possibly. “I love London. I’m definitely a London girl. I get such a nice feeling when the sun comes out and it’s heading towards summer. Suddenly seeing the parks filled with people – I just love it. But I’m not cocooned in it; if you told me I have to up sticks and move to Texas for a few months, I’d love to. That’s what’s amazing about this job: you never know where you’re going to be, you just fly into different situations. At the moment there are lots of scripts coming through. You read them and think, ‘Ooh I wonder what I’ll be doing in a few months’ time.’”
Any ideas? “I do really want to go to Japan. That, and I’d love to do a play. So, a play at the Royal Court, and a trip to Kyoto. Not much to ask!” Not half. But, then, when she asks so nicely, you can’t help but feel that Ophelia might just get it.
Mr Sloane airs on Sky Atlantic HD in late May