English model and actress Lily Cole got her first cover of British Vogue at the age of 16, has worked with luxury brands from Chanel to Louis Vuitton and is the face of G-Star denim. The 26-year-old was in Sydney recently to launch G-Star’s autumn/winter range and I caught up with her to chat about her work, moving from modelling to acting and working alongside Heath Ledger.
When you were young did you always want to be a model?
I very much fell into it. I was 14 when I was scouted and then I just went down that pathway. But I always loved dressing up and I always loved to perform, so I always knew I wanted to perform.
Was it a hard transition to go from model to actor?
It was extraordinarily easy considering how hard it is, if that makes sense. Because it’s not an easy transition to make I feel lucky I got it as easy as I did. I actually had been acting since before I was modelling but not publicly. At first, becoming an actor professionally, I think there was a little bit first of that “model turned actor” [criticism] conversation, and then by now that has subsided because I spend more time acting than modelling.
Was your modelling a help or a hindrance in your acting career?
It is not so much [a help] nowadays [but] I think initially my exposure in fashion helped with acting because it made me confident and it has made me understand the camera better, and you do play characters in modelling.
Do you prefer acting or modelling?
I prefer acting. I like the challenge of it. Modelling, I get so bored with it. I get bored of the actual act, like being in front of camera walking down the catwalk. Whereas in acting then the actual challenge of being in character and telling the story and trying to portray an idea in a truthful way, it’s constantly challenging.
You worked with Heath Ledger in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus back in 2008. What was that like?
He was so amazing. He was such an amazing man, so it was a pleasure to work with him.
Who inspires you?
Philip Seymour Hoffman I always thought was extraordinary, and I always hoped I could have worked with him. I also admire Cate Blanchett.
If you could play any role, what would it be?
I’m about to play Helen of Troy [in The Last Days of Troy at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester], which should be interesting.
How do you prepare for a role?
Usually a mixture of thinking, reading, experiencing, absorbing, but really the real work happens when I’m actually playing. So it begins when I start rehearsals and can actually start testing the landscape and find the character through that process and work on it.
You have a first-class honours degree in Art History from Cambridge University. Who’s your favourite artist?
I don’t have one especially – I have lots of artists I like. Practising contemporary, probably Gerhard Richter would be one of my favourites.
What do you do for fun?
It depends where I am in the world – usually involves friends, sometimes it involves dancing, sometimes it just involves going for a hike or a walk, cooking a nice meal, watching movies. It’s really normal obvious things like everybody else. And I also have my project impossible.com.
Tell me about that project.
Impossible is a money-free community where you can give or receive for free, get help or help others, whether it be skills, advice or physical things. It’s trying to encourage a culture of giving and receiving, so the idea is doing things for non-monetary reasons, really, so connecting people: peer to peer, neighbour to neighbour, where people help each other for free. You can post things you want help with or things that you want to offer to the community and then you can see each other’s posts and hope it triggers people to start doing things for each other.
How did you get involved in that?
I had the idea with a friend about three years ago and it just really haunted me, it felt so simple and obvious of why it should exist. Then I start to try to build it and then I realised it didn’t exist maybe because it was so hard to do. But we got so much support and help in the process and so we managed to build something and see where it goes now.
What’s the biggest hurdle you’ve had to deal with?
One was technical infrastructure: how to find the right people to build that and how to design it. But there are also cultural obstacles: what stops somebody wanting to give, what stops somebody wanting to receive and wanting to ask for help? And trust – how can people trust each other more.
What’s something you’ve asked for help with?
I just posted today that I wanted somebody in Sydney to read lines with me.
Will you always continue modelling?
I mean if they still ask me to turn up when I’m 80 and paying me well for it, then maybe. It’s like a supplement to my life. It still pays better than most of the jobs that I do and it’s still interesting to travel and meet interesting people, but it’s very few days of the year that I do it so it’s now a tiny part of my life.
WE WENT TO G-STAR Australia HQ, Woolloomoolloo.
WE ATE Miss Chu vegan rice paper rolls & tofu dumplings.
WE DRANK San Pellegrino sparkling mineral water.
Photo: Anthony Johnson