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Little Claire Foy

from Evening Standard Magazine / by Emily Bearn

The star of BBC’s Little Dorrit looks appropriately meek and Dickensian. But the girl who’s going on to Hollywood to star with Nicolas Cage is an actress with great expectations…

All hail the 24-year-old Miss Claire Foy of Southwark, who is set very fair to be the next big thing. She is currently topping the bill in the BBC’s autumn blockbuster, a lavish 15-part production of Dickens’ Little Dorrit, and Vogue has declared that she will be the brightest star of the season, placing her at the top of its list of the 40 hottest phenomena to watch out for. Foy, it claimed, is more desirable than a bijou bag.

I have caught up with her at a hotel bar in Soho, peopled by ornamental Buddhas, to which Foy has been chaperoned by a BBC publicist. They have arrived early, and Foy has discreetly hidden herself away at a table in the corner. Dressed in layers of vests and baggy T-shirts, and with a twinge of estuary in her accent (she grew up in Aylesbury), she’s a far cry from the girl in Little Dorrit‘s chocolate-boxy publicity stills. She looks like a student – which, until she graduated from the Oxford School of Drama last year, is what she was. Even so, she appears remarkably undazzled by the sudden fuss being made of her. ‘It’s all complete bollocks,’ she says emphatically, wresting the lid off a bottle of water. ‘I mean, someone said I was hotter than patterned tights! All that stuff is unreal. It’s like a credit card; it doesn’t mean anything.’

There is something instantly engaging about Foy’s flippancy. She seems genuinely unable to take herself too seriously. When I ask her, for example, if the filming schedule for Little Dorrit was tough (it was filmed over five months, much of it spent camping in trailers in the car park of Pinewood Studios), she replies: ‘Not really. I mean, the crew do all the work. They get up at 3am to get everything ready, then the actors swan in and fanny around and swan out again. You can’t complain. And I got on really well with the directors. There was never a moment when I felt I couldn’t say, “Look, that was shit. Can I do it again?”‘

But while she would be the last to admit it, Foy is undeniably a hot ticket. Little Dorrit is one of the BBC’s most ambitious dramas of the year. The screenplay is by Andrew Davies, and Foy’s co-stars include Matthew Macfadyen and Andy Serkis. Her father is played by Tom Courtenay. It is a massive break for Foy, whose brief CV until now has hardly been dazzling. She made her professional debut earlier this year, when she was cast in the BBC3 drama Being Human, playing the ex-fiancée of a werewolf. She subsequently appeared in an episode of the BBC1 daytime soap opera, Doctors, and in a short play at the National Theatre (DNA by Dennis Kelly), which was aimed at teenagers.

Then came Dorrit. How did she get the part? ‘Oh, God only knows. I went for four auditions. I was in complete shock when I heard they’d chosen me. For the first week I kept thinking they were going to ring up and say, “Sorry, there’s been a mistake.” ‘ According to the response, there’s no chance of that: ‘The newcomer Claire Foy was terrific, a combo of realism, anger and accidental charm,’ said The Times. As another critic put it: ‘Foy’s look is perfectly drawn for playing Amy Dorrit.’

Does she worry about being typecast as an English rose? ‘God no!’ she replies, laughing. ‘I’d never worry about something like that. I mean, I don’t think I’m the rose type. And if people see me that way I just have to fight my way out.’ In fact, Foy says she found the character of Amy Dorrit fairly hard to relate to: ‘She’s so kind and patient and giving, but she never has a go at anyone,’ she explains. ‘She never feels the need to push herself. That’s not me.’

Foy, by her own definition, is ‘quite ambitious’. She is the youngest of three children; her father, David, is a sales director and her mother, Caroline, works for a pharmaceutical company. Aged 12, Claire scraped into the local grammar school in Aylesbury. ‘I only just got in – I was never a brainbox. At school I always had to work hard to do well, and that made me conscientious.’ As a child she didn’t consider acting as a career: ‘I liked it, but I never thought I was good enough.’

She got off to a bad start when she fell off the stage playing Titania in a primary school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But she improved at secondary school and, with the encouragement of a teacher, went on to read drama and screen studies at Liverpool John Moores University. She then embarked on a oneyear postgraduate course at the Oxford School of Drama, but remained reticent: ‘I remember on the first night of term we all went to the pub, and one girl said to me, “So, when you leave here are you going to go to London and do the whole actress thing?” And I said, “Oh, no. I don’t think so.” The whole idea of it just seemed so weird.’

When she did subsequently move to London, work was thin on the ground. ‘I did a lot of temping, and I was handing out sports magazines at Beckenham Junction at 5am.’ Those days appear to be over. Shortly after we met, it was announced that she is to play the lead role in the Hollywood thriller Season of the Witch, due for release in 2010. Directed by Dominic Sena, its plot centres around a suspected witch, played by Foy, who is believed to be the source of the Black Death. Foy’s co-stars will include Nicolas Cage.

She still lives in the digs she found when she arrived in London last year, a hippie-sounding house in Peckham that she shares with five friends from drama school. Jobbing actors come and go, and they grow their own vegetables in the garden. Given her recent success, has she considered trying to get on the property ladder?

‘The property ladder?’ she asks, aghast. ‘You must be mad. The BBC didn’t pay me that much.’ She has a boyfriend, who also recently graduated from drama school, and she says that, eventually, she would like to settle down: ‘I’m fairly domestic. I love baking and I’d like to own nice crockery and things. But then, how can you justify going and spending £50 on some plates when you can buy them for £1 at Ikea?’

Meanwhile, her housemates have a star in their midst. Does her sudden success make her feel isolated? ‘It’s isolating in that when you’re at drama school you all have a good moan together, and I feel I haven’t got so much to moan about now. But you can never get complacent. Tom Courtenay told me that the last actress who played Little Dorrit – Sarah Pickering – never worked again. Well, think of that!’

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