Emilia Fox: What my mother taught me
A patron for the human rights charity Environmental Justice Foundation, Emilia is the daughter of actress Joanna David.
Here she talks to GARTH PEARCE about what her mother taught her.
“I THINK it was my mum’s worst nightmare that I would want to become an actress. I was shy and often thought: “Do I really want this?” It is such an insecure job.
Her advice was always: “Don’t take it seriously, have a sense of humour and have another life. Otherwise, if you lose it, you lose everything.”
So I didn’t think of becoming an actress at all. At one point I went to live in Australia to teach drums and the cello.
I had started playing the cello at the age of four, had failed to progress enough to be a professional musician but thought the teaching would work out.
I was a disaster. I was intimidated by seven-year-old girls.
I also tried being a waitress in London. I was fired from every place I worked in, including a Cafe Rouge restaurant and a place called The Engineer.
I worked in health food shops and the mail order department in Hatchards bookshop and also served in many teashops. So compared with that, appearing in Pride And Prejudice with Colin Firth (she played Mr Darcy’s young sister in her TV debut in 1995) was a piece of cake.
I had tried doing a proper job and failed.My mum was always the most optimistic of people so she told me I needed foolish courage. It is a bit like a gambler — you become addicted to it. I was lucky in that I had incredibly loving parents. But I don’t accept it when people say that acting is “in the blood”.
If you are surrounded by a family of, say, doctors, you get used to the language and you may become a doctor yourself. It is more to do with being at ease in the environment.
Has it got me work? No. The opposite, in some cases. When I went to LA, old friends of Mum and Dad had a preconception that I was still a child. In Hollywood, I was thinking: “Oh, my God. This is a crazy world I am existing in.”
It was around the time The Pianist (she starred in the 2002 triple Oscar-winning film) was coming out.
I spent from dawn to dusk driving around LA with a change of costumes which I could whip off with one hand on the wheel. I was going from one audition to the next, learning lines for six auditions a day.
It is all very professional but you are a commodity out there. You will make money for them. So you are a dollar sign.
It sounds awful, as if I am a kind of loose actress, but I don’t mind doing naked sex scenes if it’s right for the story.
If I took my clothes off for no reason and bared my body, people would go: “Oh, God, can we get out of the cinema now?” So, each time I’ve done it, there has been a reason.
I don’t feel shy in front of a film crew. They are more embarrassed than you are. I had to do one with the mini-series Gunpowder, Treason & Plot and it was much more frightening for the actor. He looked very pale. I never have to think: “What would my mum say?” I already know she has an open mind on such things and trusts me to make the right decision.
My mum lived with my dad (actor Edward Fox) for 30 years, before they got married. They had children and didn’t feel they had to become attached with a piece of paper.
My own take was always that if I met someone who loved me and wanted to marry me — and I loved them — then of course I would get married.
Sex appeal is complicated. I adored the late John Thaw and would not miss a single episode of Inspector Morse.
Older actors like Dustin Hoffman and Bill Nighy also have sex appeal.
As for women, I’ve found that my hair colour has sometimes defined men’s expectations. When you are blonde, men are more flirtatious.
When I have been brunette, they are much more likely to sit over dinner as if you had an extraordinary brain. I’ve had red hair, too, and that gets calls and teasing from builders.
The acting industry is obsessed with women looking a certain shape. But, as my mum has always said, if that is at the cost of your happiness and well-being it’s not worth it.”