Meet four actresses carving out their places as artists in today’s industry while also finding a balance between commercial and passion projects. Shot by Mafalda Silva.

By Kate Handford

Hera Hilmar

Hera Hilmar speaks in a quiet, low voice, and a mischievous smile often plays around her lips. We crouch in the corner of a photography studio in Dalston and talk about art. Hilmar is the daughter of Icelandic filmmaker Hilmar Oddsson, so one might think acting was a natural path from an early age. Yet when I ask about her start in the industry, she explains, “It wasn’t pushed in my face at all…which always made me really curious.” After playing small roles in her father’s films, and landing her first lead at 16 in the award-winning Icelandic film, Quiet Storm, Hilmar moved to London to train at the Academy of Music & Dramatic Art (LAMDA). “In Iceland, that’s what you do,” she says. “You train.” She graduated straight into work on Joe Wright’s opulent drama Anna Karenina, followed by a starring turn in the BBC/Starz drama, Da Vinci’s Demons. Hilmar’s career move to Hollywood leads with 2017’s highly anticipated period drama, The Ottoman Lieutenant, and in 2018, the Peter Jackson/Fran Walsh production of Mortal Engines, which starts shooting in New Zealand this spring. Of accepting her role in The Ottoman Lieutenant, she says, “It’s an American lead, with names that I’d known since I was very young [the film also stars Ben Kingsley and Josh Hartnet], and for a second I was like, ‘Can I actually do this?’ But you know, I could, and I did.” It was during the filming of The Ottoman Lieutenant that Hilmar landed her role in An Ordinary Man, also starring Kingsley. “It’s a two-hander, just me and him. It’s very intimate work. I loved it.” She and Kingsley became a real team, sitting down after each week of filming to drink vodka and talk about life: “I learned so much from the man.” Hilmar’s latest Icelandic film is The Oath, which she describes as “the Scandinavian, grounded version of Taken,” and she speaks warmly of returning home to work in Iceland. She describes the film industry there as “raw and guttural,” saying, “You’re allowed to be more flawed, and people see the beauty in that.” Sensitive and empathetic, Hilmar is carving out her place in the industry and finding a balance between commercial and passion projects. One thing’s for sure: She isn’t afraid to fight for her art. 

Which actress would you love to meet for lunch?
The obvious ones are Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep; the less obvious one is called Edda Heiðrún Backman. She's from Iceland, and she passed away about a week ago [as of October 21st, 2016). She got MS and she had that for about 10 years, and she's just an amazing character. She was an amazing actress and singer, and then she ended up painting with her mouth and fighting for the environment. This would be my ideal situation: I'd get the three of them and we'd do something a bit mental like go the highlands of Iceland and go to a sweat lodge or something like that, where everyone becomes very intimate through some kind of ceremony of nature and peace…and then we'd sit by a lake or something, or a hot spring, and then we'd have the conversation. I'd ask them what they wanted to do as artists. Basically, the most general question ever, but I think the key is the situation. 

Hera wears a top by Frame Denim and a dress by Ghost.

Isabelle Fuhrman

American actress Isabelle Fuhrman first entered the public eye at age 10 when she played the lead role of Esther in the horror film Orphan. “Prior to filming Orphan, acting was just fun,” she says. “[Then] I fell in love with the work.” She describes herself as “falling into” acting: first landing a role as a girl on Cartoon Fridays in her hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, then getting an agent and “convincing my mother to move the whole family out to Los Angeles.” Fuhrman’s currently at work shooting her next project, Down a Dark Hall—another horror film—in Spain. “My character Izzy is Luna Lovegood meets Poppy from Orange is the New Black,” she says. Fuhrman is thrilled to be working with fellow actress AnnaSophia Robb on the film, and will also collaborate with another talented up-and-comer, American Honey’s Sasha Lane, on Shoplifters of the World, set to start filming soon. “I am so looking forward to that film,” she says. “It’s a wild ride.” After completing the shoot for Down a Dark Hall in Spain, Isabelle will head to New York and will then perform in a play. “It’s exciting not really being based somewhere, because I get to have a lot to miss and love from all these places around the world.” Having worked in the industry from such an early age, Isabelle offers some sage advice to other young actresses—as well as her younger self: “You have to stand up for what you deserve and want. I’ve worked in this industry for 11 years and only in the past two years have I been able to adopt that gem of advice.” 

Which actress would you love to meet for lunch?
Judi Dench. I would ask her how to achieve career longevity and still keep such an incredible reputation for being so lovely! She is a goddess. I’m convinced. 

Isabelle wears a top by Protagonist, jacket and trousers by Ganni, her own jewelry.

Milly Thomas

Milly Thomas is an actor and writer. And no, she doesn’t feel confined to choose just one. “The [question] I get all the time is ‘What do you prefer?’ and you just want to say, ‘Why do you want me to give one up?’ I want to do both for the rest of my life.” Thomas’s writing career began in drama school: “I wrote A First World Problem thinking, ‘I can act in this,’ but it morphed into something bigger than me, and more important.” A First World Problem went on to be staged at Theatre 503 in Battersea. The production was closely followed by her second play, Clickbait, which joins the complex conversation of sexual agency in the online world. 

Thomas says that through the process of staging the play, she was made to feel like a distinctly “female playwright” for the first time. “I suddenly felt so keenly aware that I was a woman, and I’ve been lucky enough never to feel singled out for that before.” As an actor, she says she always expected to be objectified to some extent, but has been surprised to find herself far more objectified as a writer.  

Leaving drama school “braced for the worst,” she has already met with a lot of success: most recently, a successful run of Cargo at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston, and landing the role of Florence Nightingale in an upcoming BBC 2 comedy/drama. She cites the intensity of her writing career as allowing her to “really chill out” about acting, saying, “I’m tired of the emotional labor that goes into making yourself amenable all the time. Because then you’re not then doing the job you’re meant to be doing, because half your energy is going into being this perfect person all the time!” Yet Thomas says all of this with a grin: “I mean, I’m not hella grumpy either,” she laughs. Whether acting or writing, Thomas possesses a bright spark and a wry sense of humor that will surely see her through the next phase of her career.

Which actress would you love to meet for lunch?
I would love to have dinner and drinks with Clara Bow. Her story’s astonishing to me! The gumption and the sheer grit, and all the shit that got chucked her way because she was working class and she had a thick Brooklyn accent, and the fact that she didn’t want to play the game. She’d eat her lunch with the crew, because she liked them, and to have that presence of mind and strength in a time when everyone is screaming at you to do something else—I’ll have what she’s having. 

Milly wears a dress by Beautiful Soul

Lucy Chappell

When we speak, Lucy Chappell has just returned from Prague where she has been having the time of her life shooting the first two episodes of National Geographic Channel’s anthology series, Genius, starring Geoffrey Rush as Albert Einstein. Chappell plays the eldest child, Rosa, in the Winteler family, with whom a young Einstein stays as he is trying to get into university. “[We’re] kind of like the von Trapps, but we don't sing. It's a lot of banter. Well, Swiss-German banter.” After a rather unorthodox entry into the industry—not through drama school, but rather via work on web series and music videos— Chappell says she’s loved having the opportunity to work with people her own age on Genius. She describes with glee a scene she shot a few days earlier: “We were just eating birthday cake and throwing grapes at each other… that was the scene. And you're just like, ‘This is my job?’” There’s a fierce, intelligent exuberance that pours from Chappell as she tells me about her beginnings in the acting business. “I think I've always kind of lived in my imagination. I've written stories since as long as I can remember, created a lot of characters, [and] I wrote a novel when I was 14,” she says. “There was a character in it that was my age at the time, and there was a moment where I thought ‘I want to be this person and have this experience,’ and then I'm pretty sure I said to my mum that night, ‘Mum, I wanna act.’” Following her first experience on set while filming The Suspicions of Mr Whicher as a teenager, she was convinced that this was where she belonged and dedicated herself to traveling to and from London for auditions. “I wanted to be an actor, and I wanted to do it for myself,” she says. “You do it your own way, blaze your own trail. I just wanted to work.” After appearing in several shorts and small television roles, Chappell experienced a breakthrough when she appeared as Eddie Redmayne’s younger sister, Mary Hawking, in the Academy Award-nominated film The Theory of Everything. By the following year, she was sharing the screen with David Thewlis and Miranda Richardson in the BBC film An Inspector Calls. “It was a dream,” she says. “I remember, even if I wasn't in a scene, but I was still on set, I just wanted to watch, because the tension that they had between them was so incredible.” Chappell hasn’t stopped writing, and she reveals that she’s currently at work on a screenplay of her own. When I ask what’s surprised her most about the business side of the industry, she throws her hands in the air and exclaims, “That it is a business at all!” She laughs this off and says more seriously, “I don't understand this side that is about being a commodity and it being about who you know and how many Instagram followers you have. I want to be an actor, I want to do good work, and if I'm lucky, to work with people who inspire me.”

Which actress would you love to meet for lunch?
Kristen Stewart. We’d meet in a car park, in a truck, and we’d just sit and have a conversation. I think she’s so smart, and passion just flows out of her like no one else. I find her really captivating to listen to because she’s got such good ideas. I don't really know what we'd talk about, but I'd just love to hear what she has to say. 

Ruth Bradley

When we spoke on the phone last November, the first thing I wanted to ask Irish actress Ruth Bradley about was her recent role in the BBC series The Fall, starring Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan and set in modern-day Belfast, Ireland. Bradley plays Wallace, a lawyer enlisted to defend Paul Spector, Dornan’s enigmatic serial killer, in the show’s third season. Regarding her memorable final scene, when, after witnessing a brutal attack by Spector, she quits her job rather than continuing to represent him, Bradley says, “That scene was the reason I wanted to play the part, really. I loved that dilemma.” Bradley’s no stranger to playing characters with complex morals; among Bradley’s breakout film roles is the Australian/American film (based on a true story), In Her Skin. She plays Caroline Robertson, a troubled young woman who murders her former neighbor, 15-year-old Rachel Barber, and tries to assume her identity. “I read the script and felt this really strong connection to it. I felt like it was a story that really needed to be told sensitively,” she says. It’s clear in speaking to Bradley that she possesses that distinct sensitivity. She speaks with care about all of her roles, emphasizing her desire to show the humanity in each of her characters, whether in the form of Frances O’Flaherty, a member of Cumann na mBan (an Irish republican women's paramilitary organization formed in Dublin in April 1914), in the RTE miniseries Rebellion, or as sentient synth D.I. Karen Voss in Channel 4’s Humans. Says Bradley of the latter, “It’s a show about robots and humans, but really it’s just about human nature.” As far as the piece of advice Bradley would offer to her younger self, she sums it up in two words: “Relinquish control.” “When I started in the business,” she says, “I was much more concerned with [control], and then I think having been in it for so long, [I realized], ‘That’s not my job. I’m an artist.’ And if you let that go, I think things open up to you a little bit more.” 

Which actress would you love to meet for lunch?
Asia Argento. She’s an Italian actress, and she made this film called The Heart is Deceitful Above all Things. It’s a brilliant film that didn’t get the recognition that it should have. Her performance is so incredible and she directed and wrote it as well. I would really like to sit down with her and figure out how she managed to juggle both those things, because they’re such huge jobs in their own right—playing the lead and directing the film. I’d like to find out how she found her voice. ★

Ruth wears a dress by Beautiful Soul

Photographer: Mafalda Silva. Stylist: Hannah Sheen. Makeup: Fiona Gallagher. Hair: Weic Lin. Photographer's assistant: Gabi Lee.