“Nocturnal Animals” isn’t young English actress Ellie Bamber’s first movie, or her first dalliance with America. But it was still a crash course in both. The latest from fashionista-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford is a jam-packed tale, with a story within the film about a family who are attacked by ne'er-do-wells while driving through West Texas. Bamber, 19, plays the teenage daughter (to parents played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Isla Fisher). The assault on them is long and intense. ButBamber’s had it rough before: She played one of the undead-battling Bennet sisters in the film of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.”
Bamber talks to us about loving going to dark places, her love of Joy Division and Tom Ford (while wearing Tom Ford).
I feel like I should ask about Michael Shannon, who plays a Texas detective here. You two only share one scene, though you don’t, as it happens, have any lines together. He’s a very intense actor, but I’m wondering what he’s like to work with?
He’s super, super intense. But also very authentic. I don’t think anyone really susses him out. That’s the whole point: It’s hard to figure him out. But he’s such a great guy.
Onscreen he’s very mysterious.
But he’s mysterious in a way that isn’t overly affectated. It almost comes naturally to him.
He’s been saying that Tom Ford would make jokes or just be fun in general to lighten the mood during really intense scenes. You have one of the most intense scenes in the movie. Was he doing that for you?
He definitely did that. He also really spoke to me about the Texan culture and how they live. Because he’s from there himself. He would talk about [India’s] naivete. He had an incredible way of saying, “But it’s not her fault. All she means is good, all she means is well.” He was always detailed and complimentary about the characters.
And it’s a very intense scene, especially for someone relatively new to movies.
I loved it. I sound like a crazy person, I know. But I would get home to my hotel and sit there and think, ‘Wow, that was amazing to have gone through that, to have really felt that.’ It’s something I definitely want to do again.
To be in an incredibly intense, unpleasant scene?
Yeah, absolutely. I remember going home, [and] my dad looked at me and said, “You’ve really grown up.” [Laughs] I’d only been away for nine weeks! But it was kind of true. It taught me a lot about acting, but also about myself and how important it is to really value the things around you and value your family and appreciate what you have right in front of you.
What did you parents think when they saw the script?
They were super cool, actually. They realized it was a film and it’s not me I’m playing. My friends definitely found it hard. I remember my friends coming out of the cinema and phoning me: “I found it really, really difficult to watch you in that scenario.”
You’ve spent some time in America before, but Texas is its whole other beast. And India’s a very American-style girl.
And I’m not. [Laughs] I watched Sissy Spacek in "Badlands." I actually downloaded the audio file of that. My vocal coach suggested that. We would sit and listen to the audio of it. It was kind of bizarre, but a good thing to do, I think.
That can be really helpful to get the musicality of the accent.
It was really helpful. Texas people today speak with a very light Texan accent. They almost sound American — standard American. [Laughs] They used to be a lot thicker with their accent. I remember going to the read-through and Tom saying, “You don’t have a strong enough Texan accent.” I said, “But this is how people talk nowadays.” He said, “No, it has to be more Texan.” Because it was a story within a story, we were able to make it a mix and match — make it sound classic Texan but more modern.
Stupid question: Were you a Tom Ford fan before?
I’m wearing one of his dresses right now. [Laughs] I remember seeing pictures online of him designing for Gucci. What’s nice about them is they’re simple and sophisticated, easy but sexy, but not in an overt way. A classy sexy. I think that [fashion side] translates to film, that he has this vision and level of detail.
I should mention “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” because it’s as though the only films you make are dark and violent.
[Laughs] I loved learning to fight. One of the amazing things about it is it’s five tough women beating the [briefly lowers her voice to a whisper] s— out of the undead. Also, I should mention working with [co-star] Sam Riley. I used to be obsessed with Joy Division — still sort of am. I watched “Control” [starring Riley] when I was young. I literally don’t think he ever met somebody like me, because I sat him down and grilled him about it. Then my dad and uncle came on set and they did exactly the same thing.
What’s your favorite Joy Division song? I hate when people ask me this type of question, sorry.
Uhhh…oh, I don’t know! It’s so hard. [thinks for a bit] Oh god, I can’t do it. Actually, maybe “She’s Lost Control.”
Which version: the album version or the single version?
[Thinks hard again] God, I have no idea. [Laughs] OK, I’ll leave that for next time.