Mia Goth has been married for two months when we meet. The marriage to her boyfriend of four years, actor-turned-performance artist Shia LaBeouf, took place in October in the Viva Las Vegas chapel, and was officiated by an Elvis Presley impersonator. Goth looked like a not-so-modern-day Mia Farrow, dressed in a white mini A-line dress, arriving in a pink Cadillac driven by “Elvis”. LaBeouf’s vows ended with the line: “And I’ll do whatever you ask me to do”, while Goth’s last words were: “And I’m pretty much going to do whatever I want.” We know all of this because the entire ceremony was streamed live on TMZ. “It was never the plan that everyone would be watching it. But,” Goth says with a smile, “when it’s a $500 wedding, certain things are out of your control.”
The wedding dress was Miu Miu and had been hanging in her closet, unworn, for months. She teamed it with a pair of battered white Superga trainers, a piece of delicate lace draped over her head, and a delighted smile that never left her face. “We had been engaged for a while and getting married in Vegas just seemed so us. It was just us and our mums and it was the best day of my whole life.”
For some, Goth may best be known as the on-off girlfriend and now wife of 30-year-old LaBeouf; his hand-holding, coolly sullen-looking companion in a hundred paparazzi pictures taken after another of his anti-fame protests. But for those who have been captured by the 24-year-old’s vulnerability and innocence on screen, she is so much more. Since her film debut in Lars von Trier’s scandalous Nymphomaniac: Vol II in 2013, who cares who she is married to.
Goth was 18 when she landed the role of P in Nymphomaniac, and had never had an acting lesson in her life. What was expected of the character – arguably exploitative, and definitely graphic, sex scenes, including pissing on Charlotte Gainsbourg’s lead character, Joe – may have scared and intimidated a more practiced actress, but, says Goth, “because I hadn’t had any experience of anything before I was more open to it for sure. Actually I think I was very naïve back then with my knowledge of film as a whole. Of course I knew who Lars was and I had watched his films, but I didn’t know what he had achieved as a director, and I think that is what saved me, being too aware of it would have been to my detriment.”
Instead she has learnt on set, and luckily from the best in the business. Gainsbourg was the first actress Goth worked with, LaBeouf the first actor, and there followed a list of talent that traditionally trained, long-term actors fantasise about. Consider the Bafta-nominated 2015 apocalyptic drama The Survivalist, directed by Stephen Fingleton and starring Martin McCann, for which Goth was nominated for a British Independent Film Award for Most Promising Newcomer; or Everest, released that same year, in which she starred opposite Josh Brolin and Robin Wright. This year takes her to another level again as she appears alongside Dane DeHaan in The Ring director Gore Verbinski’s psychological horror drama A Cure for Wellness, and becomes part of director Luca Guadagnino’s close-working family – he habitually casts his actors more than once – in the reworking of iconic 1977 Italian horror Suspiria, starring Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson.
“Mia’s ability to remain outside the system has kept her interesting. She is a singularity. Undiluted. Unhomogenised. And with a personality that just might keep her that way” Gore Verbinski
Goth watched A Cure for Wellness for the first time the day before we meet, and describes it as akin to looking through a family photo album. “It was like I was reconnecting with family and revisiting places we used to go,” she explains. “We were shooting in Germany for six months, and we all became close very quickly. Gore was like a father gure to me, and Dane, Jason [Isaacs] and the producers were like family.” Goth plays Hannah, a sheltered and childlike teenager who subtly develops into a woman over the course of the film. She brings to the role a wide-eyed simplicity at first, which grows in strength as she discovers more about herself and those around her. Goth’s performance has undertones of Shelley Duvall in The Shining, an actress who she refers to several times as an inspiration, and with whom she shares an air of purity and open-mouthed bewilderment.
“When Mia came in to read for the part of Hannah, it was immediate. She connected with the character intuitively,” says Verbinski. “Mia has a deep reservoir to draw upon from her personal life. Yet it is her passion for the craft that allows her to access specifics, and keep focus. She can find an honest moment in the clutter.”
DeHaan and Goth playing off each other on screen is as gorgeous to watch as the film is visually breathtaking. The realness in their features isn’t immediately traditionally beautiful but is so striking that you can’t take your eyes off them. “I have been a fan of Dane for years,” she says excitedly (Goth has the quality of someone who can’t quite believe what is happening to her). “He has an intensity to him and when you are working with him, everything else just shuts out, and it is just you, him, the scene, and you play with it.”
She feels similarly about working with Swinton on Suspiria, from which Goth is on a break. She will soon be heading back to Italy and then on to Budapest to finish filming. “I am in awe. I don’t know how Tilda does what she does,” Goth says. “She has a real subtlety to everything that she does, but she makes everything so real. I just watch her in wonder and have to remember that I am in a scene with her and not at the cinema taking it all in.”
News of a remake of Suspiria was subject to disapproval from fans of Dario Argento’s original, but Goth describes it as more of a cover than a remake. “It’s set in Berlin in the 70s, but that is pretty much where the comparison ends. We are all huge Argento fans and we understand what he made is a masterpiece and we honour that.” This version has an all-woman cast, and Goth plays Sarah, who in the Argento film is the character who knows that something strange is happening at the ballet school, puts together pieces of the puzzle, and is murdered in a highly memorable, surreal and stylised manner. “Sarah is the one who is questioning what the audience is questioning,” says Goth. “She is logical, very rational, and she comes from a very a affluent family. She is very elegant in the way she carries herself and I’ve never done something like that before.”
DeHaan and Swinton have not only captivated the world of film, but also that of fashion. Swinton has been an inspiration and muse to designers including Karl Lagerfeld, Alber Elbaz and Haider Ackermann, while DeHaan has been a recurring star of Prada’s menswear campaigns. Goth also caught Miuccia Prada’s eye early in her career, appearing in the Spring/Summer 2015 Miu Miu campaign, which became notorious after being banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for being “irresponsible”. A member of the public complained that the Steven Meisel image of the 22-year-old Goth lying on an unmade bed in a modest outfit, “appeared to show a child dressed as an adult in a sexually suggestive pose”. Admittedly, even under the bright lights of a Mayfair coffee shop, Goth looks much, much younger than her years, but while she was as incredulous about the ban as everyone else, she also found it funny. And it didn’t put her off. “I love working with Prada, I would do it all the time if I could. Working with them is like working on a film, it is very collaborative.”
Goth is often described as a model-turned-actress and compared to Cara Delevingne and Agyness Deyn, but the reality is she didn’t have nearly that level of success as a model – which turns out to have been a help not a hindrance. Scouted by a fashion photographer at the age of 13 at a London music festival, she was signed by Storm and sent on castings. “I did go to castings for the luxury trendy brands but it never quite worked,” she remembers. “It was more BHS catalogue work and that was a nice money job. The fashion world has become a lot more embracing of me since I became an actress.” She credits modelling with helping her be less aware in front of the camera, and better understand the bigger picture. As a jobbing model at a time when the Victoria’s Secret aesthetic was flavour of the day, Goth with her invisible eyebrows, slight frame and expressive face, was slightly out of sync with the beauty of the time. Today she believes not having become too widely seen then has worked in her favour when it comes to creating believable characters on screen.
“I love working with Prada, I would do it all the time if I could. Working with them is like working on a film, it is very collaborative” Mia Goth
Goth has known all her life how it feels to not quite fit in. She was born in south London to her Brazilian mother, Rachel, and Canadian father, Eric. “I always say that they are like fire and ice, they have totally opposite personalities.” Christened Mia Gypsy Mila Da Silva Goth (with a name like that, surely acting was inevitable), her parents predicted that she would have a gypsy lifestyle. When Goth was just two weeks old the family moved to Rio to have the support of the 20-year-old Rachel’s family (her mother is an actress in Brazil). Her parents split when Goth was three, and she returned to London with her mother two years later. “I remember leaving Brazil and it was really difficult. At five you make such strong connections and one of my first memories was holding my grandmother’s hand in Copacabana and thinking ‘This is where I live, and this is where I’ll grow up’, and even as a five-year-old I appreciated the beauty of that place, knew that it was special and that I was lucky and that not everywhere was like this. But then we moved to New Cross...”
The weather alone was a culture shock, and in school she often got her English and Portuguese confused. “I think the other kids thought I was a nutcase, and when you are five that is a big deal. It affects you as you just want to fit in. I was gap-toothed, had no eyebrows and my last name was Goth, so the odds were pretty much stacked against me.” In Brazil she stood out for looking different too, and still does. “When I’m in Brazil I’m not Brazilian at all, I am a gringo. And then when I’m in England I’m not really English, but when I lived in Canada I was considered too English. So I never really felt like I clicked somewhere, or that I belonged to one place.”
But Goth credits the moving around a lot with teaching her about characters and behaviours. “When I was ten, I went to seven schools in one year in Nova Scotia. Me and my mum moved there so that I could be closer to my dad who is an ice-truck driver, but it didn’t work out. It was difficult because my mum was a waitress and with that income it was difficult to raise a child in Brazil, and in Canada the logistics were hard and so London seemed like the rational place for us to be. Then, when I was 12, we settled in Catford and mum is still there now.”
“I think the other kids thought I was a nutcase, and when you are five that is a big deal. It affects you as you just want to fit in. I was gap-toothed, had no eyebrows and my last name was Goth, so the odds were pretty much stacked against me” Mia Goth
Goth relaxed into teenage life and, while she says she wasn’t necessarily the smartest kid at school, she worked as hard as she could. Affected by her transient background and watching what her mum went through with money issues, she saw doing well at school as a way to be able to provide a better future for the two of them.
Like all teenagers, Goth used fashion as a way of trying to find herself. She describes her look as very London, dressing in Doc Martens, skinny jeans, Barbour jackets, tights, little skirts. This look came complete with flicked black eyeliner and a beehive – for Mia Goth was a massive Amy Winehouse fan. Massive. “I was obsessed,” she says and her eyes grow wider and wider the more she describes that teenage fixation. “I would camp outside her house every weekend hoping to meet her. One time I flicked through her letterbox – yeah I was a bit creepy – I was with my friend, and we were like, ‘Aw, look she’s got a little kitten’, then, ‘Aw, she’s got another one’, and then one by one all these cats came out and there must have been 15 kittens that appeared. God knows what else was in there. I camped outside with my friend Tanya. All my other friends thought I was a freak. It was our Friday night out and actually quite innocent.”
As Goth got older she decided that she didn’t need to be stylish, stopped wearing make-up, would go out in an old shirt and unwashed hair and not care. Now she is coming into a different part of her style. “I’m like Hannah,” she says of her character in A Cure for Wellness, “at first she is a shy and innocent girl and shuns womanhood. I also felt intimidated by the power that you have as a woman and I thought it was easier to hide. It was a lot of responsibility. I had no experience of it but now I’m surrounding myself with empowering women and I go with it. Now with my style I try to honour who I am, and instead of going to a shop and buying something ready packaged I am trying to find something that means something.” Today, wearing no make-up, her hair hanging free and undone, she is dressed in an oversized grey sweater, black jeans, her Superga wedding shoes and a black coat. The only designer item of note is a black Miu Miu handbag.
She has lived in LA since getting together with LaBeouf and is loving the healthy lifestyle that it promotes. “It’s a positive environment, but it’s quite daunting to go to LA as an actress, because there are thousands of people like you,” she says. “But I take all my meetings and auditions with a pinch of salt. Coming from Catford has given me a good perspective on what is and isn’t real. I think I have a pretty good sense of judgment and character.” The paparazzi are a constant part of the couple’s life, but Goth describes them as quite respectful. “They are at a distance and often you never see them, it’s not Kardashian levels of cameras in your face at all times.” And despite what the media want to portray, the pair is very low key. Goth doesn’t go to parties or hang out with other actresses, instead she is a homebody who loves gardening, cooking and reading. She will fully immerse herself in a role – during The Survivalist she didn’t wash for nearly two months – and believes that after a job an actress should feel robbed as otherwise she maybe didn’t try as hard as she could have.
“I find that it takes a bit of time to shake off a character,” she says. “But when it’s finished I like to go home and take a week off and not do anything. Have baths, maybe watch documentaries as I think they are more honest than some telly. I tried a bit of meditation and I did try a bit of yoga, but I was doing it in LA and I realised that I was becoming that person – it was midday on a Wednesday and I was at a yoga class with the yummy mummies. I decided that it wasn’t very me.” In fact she just did most of these things a little earlier than most. At 15 she was a party girl going to London Bridge raves, but by doing that she reckons she has exorcised that side of herself and doesn’t feel the need to do those things anymore. “Obviously I’ll have a drink,” she clarifies, “but I don’t need to get absolutely smashed.”
Her days as a London raver have paid off for her role in Suspiria, for it has moved from the world of ballet to that of contemporary dance. “I’ve never danced like this, but I’m playing catch up. I got the job and three days later I was in the studio learning to dance. It’s challenging mentally, physically and emotionally. It’s taken a lot out of me. My body has changed, and I am more flexible.” Those dance lessons are no doubt why she physically looks stronger in person than she does on screen. And for all the vulnerability that she perfectly portrays, there is a not-so-underlying steely determination to her that you wouldn’t want to challenge.
“I also felt intimidated by the power that you have as a woman and I thought it was easier to hide. It was a lot of responsibility. I had no experience of it but now I’m surrounding myself with empowering women and I go with it” Mia Goth
On paper, with no training or connections, Goth’s career is extraordinary, but this is a girl with her own future carefully mapped out. Her early choice of roles have allowed her to dodge the commercial actress bullet, and yet throwing herself entirely into each character, then taking time out to recover and not get blanket media coverage, has attracted the attention of the world’s greatest directors while leaving audiences waiting for more. “Mia’s ability to remain outside the system has kept her interesting,” agrees Verbinski. “She is a singularity. Undiluted. Unhomogenised. And with a personality that just might keep her that way.”
Working with directors Steve McQueen and Paul Thomas Anderson, acting alongside Kate Winslet, Viola Davis, Natalie Portman and Denzel Washington, and starring in a theatre production of A Streetcar Named Desire are all on her most-wanted list. They should ready themselves, for what Mia Goth wants, Mia Goth gets. Though always with a delighted can’t-quite-believe-it smile on her face.
Hair Eugene Souleiman at Streeters; Make-up Sally Branka at LGA Management; Set Design Jean-Hugues de Chatillon; Manicure Typhaine Kersual at Jed Root; Photographic Assistants Jérémy Massa, Margherita Muriti; Digital Operator and Retouching Antonio Pizzichino at Dtouch London; Styling Assistants James Campbell, Lydia Simpson, Aurora Burn, Henry de Castillon; Hair Assistant Alfred Sackett; Make-up Assistant Emma Broom; Production ProdN Paris.
This article originally appears in AnOther Magazine S/S17.