Freya Mavor on her first starring feature role, working with Charlotte Rampling, and owning her failures
By Kate Handford
Cafe OTO in Dalston has a curated effortlessness about it. It daylights as an office or meeting place, while at night, it's a go-to for unexpected music of all genres. Scottish-born actress Freya Mavor, who’s warming up with a fresh mint tea, fits in perfectly.
She’s newly back in London after four years in Paris, and chats with vigor about cycling around her new neighborhood, settling into her flat, and going to the theater. She's dressed coolly and comfortably, and conveys a sense of ease, warmth, and independence that is immediately endearing. The independence, I'm sure, comes from having packed her bags at 19 and moved to Paris by herself to pursue her acting career. She spent some teenage years in La Rochelle with her family, becoming fluent in the language and falling in love with the country. “I wanted to return to France in some way or another,” she says, “I was really interested in getting involved with French film. And then I also wanted to do [some] training in Paris… So I went and did physical theater there.” France seems to have suited her, and last year she starred in a French-language feature, The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun, in which she plays a secretary who gets pulled into a world of crime. “It was terrifying! I’d done features before, but I'd never been the lead in a feature, and it was also the first time I was doing a French film. The fact that Joann [Sfar, the director] took a chance on a Scottish girl in a leading role for a French film—it was a big risk! It's a lot of pressure, having to carry that.”
This self-sufficient, self-aware young actress certainly can carry an audience through a full-length feature. She has another starring turn in one of my most anticipated films of 2017: The Sense of an Ending, adapted from the novel of the same name by Julian Barnes. It also stars Charlotte Rampling, Jim Broadbent, Emily Mortimer, and Billy Howle. I tell Mavor I was obsessed with the book. “Believe me,” she grins, “so was I! There's a lovely sense of time in the book. I think he's got a lovely pace.” Mavor sees Ritesh Batra, the director, as an absolute gift in this regard: “The thing that's fantastic about Ritesh is his way of approaching work. He took so much time and allowed us to stretch out scenes to spend ages before we ever began the dialogue to just let things settle. There's nothing rushed, everything has been given its fair due.” The Barnes novel (which you should read immediately if you have not already done so) takes place over nearly a lifetime, and Mavor plays the young version of Veronica, around whom the plot pivots. None other than Charlotte Rampling plays the older version. Is that kind of crazy? “It is,” she says. “It’s completely insane. She’s a goddess. She just is.” Mavor talks with enthusiasm about emailing with Rampling prior to filming and watching almost all of her films: “The thing I wanted to get, more than anything, was an idea of her mannerisms and the way that she speaks. You don't want to be mimicking—as long as you get an echo of something.”
Mavor, now 23, returned to London this autumn to take a role onstage—her first professional stage appearance. She played the lead role in Good Canary at the Rose Theatre, Kingston, directed by Academy Award-nominated actor John Malkovitch. “He's the most wonderful man,” Mavor says. “He's got this very chilled sensitivity.” Mavor received rave reviews for her portrayal of Annie, a young woman struggling with addiction. “I loved it. I loved it so much. [Theater’s] always been what I wanted to do. It's kind of the truest form of the craft, I feel.” Did she audition for the part, I wonder? “I did, yes, and funnily enough I saw the play People, Places & Things the night before the audition.” It was apt timing, as both plays focus on a female protagonist struggling with similar demons. “There’s a lot that was very similar, so when I saw her—Denise Gough [who won an Olivier Award for her heart-rending performance]—I was just blown away. I think it had a huge impact on how I did the audition. It filled me with this sense [that] regardless of how it goes, you just [have to be] willing to bare everything, not be reticent, and not hold anything back.”
The obligatory “what’s next” question proves an interesting one for Mavor—in addition to joining the cast of Tom Edmunds’ comedy, Dead In A Week (Or Your Money Back), which stars Christopher Eccleston, Freya will turn her attention to music. While in Paris she formed a band with fellow actor/musician François Civil, whom she met while working on the French mini-sketch series, Castings. Mavor and Civil, along with Ferdinand Cros and Raphael Acker, call themselves Collective Kingdom, and have already recorded their first EP, which will be released in 2017. Mavor sings, writes lyrics, and plays “various little weird instruments,” which I can’t wait to hear. Mavor also wants to pursue more theatre, and for that, she plans to stay in London. “Paris is brilliant for film,” she says. “It's got incredible cinema, but it lacks, for me, a theater scene that speaks to the younger generation. In London there’s space where that can happen.”
Before we part ways—Mavor’s off to pick up her newly mud-guarded bike from the shop—I ask what advice she would give her younger self, or for that matter, to any young actress starting out: “I think I'd probably say not [to] be afraid of humiliating yourself. As a woman and as a young actress, it's very easy to become wrapped up in that side of things. So I'd probably say that: That it's okay. You're not there to please people; you're not there to be everyone's friend. You're there to try things out and fail!” ★
Photographer: Mafalda Silva. Stylist: Hannah Sheen. Makeup: Fiona Gallagher. Hair: Weic Lin. Photographer's assistant: Gabi Lee.
Looks 1 and 3: Freya wears a top and jumpsuit by Ghost, Freya’s own trainers, Earring by Sophie Bille Brahe. Look 2: Freya wears a dress by Beautiful Soul, Earring by Sophie Bille Brahe, Freya’s own scarf.