Tumbleweedy silence. I’ve just complimented Imogen Poots on her skill at making not-great films ten times more watchable. ‘Thanks…’ she says warily, eyes narrowing. Then she lets rip a cackle. ‘That’s really nice… I think.’
If you saw ‘Need for Speed’ over the weekend you’ll get what I mean. Give Imogen Poots a two-dimensional love-interest role and she’ll give you a woman with brains and a sense of humour. And the camera loves her. In person she’s girl-next-door pretty; on screen it’s like she’s swallowed a lightbulb. ‘My face is an odd assemblage of big things’ is how she puts it.
Profiles of Poots always rave on about her being the next Kate Winslet. But being famous is the last thing on her mind. ‘It can be so dangerous if you start believing your own press,’ she tells me, like a 24-year-old going on 47. ‘Or if you’re under the misapprehension that anybody actually cares.’
Growing up in Chiswick, she landed the lead in ‘28 Weeks Later’ at 17. So far she’s avoided the bonnet-wearing ghetto Brits can fall into – which is fine by her. ‘Maybe it’s growing up in England,’ she says. ‘Jane Austen is shoved down your throat. I’m like: “Give me Cormac McCarthy. Give me faakkin’ crazy characters.”’ She swears as only the posh can, in a brilliantly over-the-top, ‘Ab Fab’-ish way.
In her new film, an adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel ‘A Long Way Down’, she is party girl Jess – one of four characters who meet while attempting to commit suicide on top of a skyscraper. ‘I love playing damaged characters,’ she admits. ‘With Jess, she’s just full of self-loathing. I really wanted to play that, because I’ve never behaved that way.’ She skipped teenage rebellion – ‘I was distracted by acting’.
It occurs to me that she might be having a bit of career re-think – you know, applying the ‘deathbed test’: asking whether on her deathbed she would wish she’d made X or Y film. She chews her lips asking me if I liked ‘Need for Speed’ (based on the megaselling videogame). I tell her that I’m not exactly the target demographic. Did she like it? She squirms, answering in a half-finished sentences: ‘I find elements really cool…’ ‘I’m not crazy about cars…’ ‘I mean, I get it…’ A million miles from ‘Need for Speed’, she has just finished working with the filmmaking legend Terrence Malick on ‘Knight of Cups’.
Before she leaves, I can’t resist asking her about her surname. Surely someone – an agent or publicist? – must have pulled her aside at some point and gently suggest she change it? ‘No! And my dad is so cool I would never consider getting rid of it. The more you hear it the less ridiculous it sounds.’
‘Need for Speed’ is in UK cinemas now and ‘A Long Way Down’ opens on Mar 21 2014.
Watch the ‘A Long Way Down’ trailer
Read ‘A Long Way Down’ review
There are funny moments: when the story ends up on national news, attention-seeking Poots tells a reporter how they saw an angel resembling Matt Damon on the roof. Rosamund Pike is hilarious as a bitchy TV host. But it’s hard to care about these characters. None of them is believable for a second. And the film lacks that slip-into-a-Slanket cosy feel you want from Hornby.
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