Design & Living / Film in Focus

The Actress Playing Everyone’s New Favourite Misanthrope

As new film Daphne hits cinemas nationwide, Alex Denney speaks to Emily Beecham about her titular role and sharing an ‘intimate moment’ with Ryan Gosling

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Daphne, 2017Photography by Agatha A. Nitecka

Everyone knows someone a bit like Daphne. She’s the friend who kills it in a pub debate by calling Slavoj Žižek a “donut”, only to slink off with some creepy-looking bloke at the bar a few hours later, leaving you on your own. The kind of character accustomed, as Marianne Faithfull once sang, to “sliding through life on charm”. But all is not well in the world of Daphne, our wayward heroine in Peter Mackie Burns’ film of the same name. Half-assing her way through a line-chef’s job and a string of boozy one-night stands, Daphne is living her life on autopilot. Until, she witnesses a stabbing in a local off-licence, and cracks start to appear in her carefully maintained façade of emotional detachment. What is she doing with her life? And when, exactly, did she decide that she’d “given up on people”?

Daphne succeeds with this slender premise thanks to a cracking script by Nico Mensinga, and the kind of performance from Emily Beecham that makes you wonder where an actor has been all your life. (Quite busy, it turns out: a butt-kicking regular on AMC's Into the Badlands, she also starred in the Coen Brothers’ Hail Caesar!) In Daphne, Beecham finds the warmth and humanity in a figure for our fly-by-night times: rash, impulsive, and absolutely not above internet-stalking Ryan Gosling over a 3am Chicken Cottage. We spoke to the actress about her role in the film.

Alex Denney: What drew you to the role of Daphne?
Emily Beecham:
She’s a relatable character that you don’t see presented on screen very often. There have been some interesting responses – early on there were a few people who were a little bit offended by her, who wondered why she had a right to be on screen as such an abrasive character...

AD: Did you worry about how likable you should make her?
EB: I feel women shouldn’t feel like they have to conform to a stereotype in order to please others, and certainly Daphne doesn’t feel any pressure to. It would probably be difficult being her friend; she'd never call you back! But I liked her – though I guess it’s my job to like and understand her, or else I’d be playing her as a caricature. But I found her very honest, refreshing and opinionated.

AD: If anything, Daphne feels closer to male movie archetypes than female ones – the boozing, the sleeping around and reluctance to commit…
EB: We never really thought of Daphne as female particularly – she’s a unisex character. I think in that respect it has had comparisons to Fleabag, which we hadn’t seen because we were both shooting at the same time [Beecham is friends with Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge]. But I think people really do respond to these flawed characters; it’s underestimated how much people relate to them. And that goes for women and men.

AD: How did you work to develop the character with Peter?
EB: We talked a lot about her interests, what she reads, Slavoj Žižek, her music tastes and opinions. But in terms of her backstory she doesn’t really dwell on things at all, and that’s what gets her into trouble. She doesn’t seem to be reflecting on whether she has those connections or support in her life. She’s doing a good job of avoiding everything.

AD: Do you think the film would have turned out differently if it was written and directed by a woman?
EB: Well, there are many women film creatives who don’t want to write films about dating and so on. But we’re not sexualising Daphne in the film. I think it also helps that her character was inspired by an old friend of Peter’s who passed away – their character traits are very similar. So I think there’s a lot of love and understanding that’s gone into it.

AD: Does Daphne strike you as a very current sort of character?
EB: Yes, definitely. She’s a modern woman living in the city. She doesn’t really know what she wants to do, she doesn't have a job that she cares about, she has no plans to have a family or a relationship for that matter. She’s a bit like a jellyfish in that she doesn’t quite know or care.

AD: Daphne lives in south London – to what extent do you think the city is a big part of the film?
EB: Very much so. In London it’s easy to feel disconnected being surrounded by so many people, which is how Daphne feels until this incident happens and she sees a side to the city that’s very different from her own experiences. In London people don’t make eye contact, it’s almost too provocative. So she’s a product of her environment in that sense.

AD: Peter said in an interview that Daphne would never live in east London, which I thought was funny. Why do you think that is?
EB: She’d probably find it a bit pretentious. Daphne’s got this bullshit-o-meter and she just won’t tolerate anything like that. I think she probably finds it a bit too trendy-wendy.

AD: You’ve worked on a lot of very disparate projects over the past few years, how did you first get into acting?
EB: When I was young I went with my mum to see some really random independent films, which really spoke to me: My Beautiful Laundrette, Secrets and Lies… It wasn’t all arthouse, though! I watched a lot of Wayne’s World on repeat.

AD: And you ended up going to LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art)?
EB: Yeah. I got my agent through that, then I was doing the audition slog which was very up-and-down. There was definitely a moment when I was considering if this was for me, then I think funnily enough that mindset just changed things. I decided to just do what I wanted to do and represent myself in a way that I felt that I could be proud of. 

AD: Lastly, you enjoy an ‘intimate’ moment with Ryan Gosling in the film, but who would your own 3am Google-stalk be?
EB: Ha ha, that’s very revealing. I actually have a boyfriend, sooo… I don’t stalk handsome actors online. That would be inappropriate.

Daphne is released in cinemas nationwide on September 29, 2017. 

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