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Bridgerton and Fair Play's Phoebe Dynevor: 'It's not a good time for actresses my age'

 (Sheryl Nields / Netflix)
(Sheryl Nields / Netflix)

What evenwas that?!” Phoebe Dynevor is laughing, still incredulous four years after her turn as Daphne Bridgerton thrust her headfirst into turbo fame. “I bumped into Regé [-Jean Page] on the red carpet the other day and we were both like, ‘But seriously what was that!?’ I’m still just coming down from it. Shooting season one of Bridgerton was probably the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.”

Today she is a long way from the Ton, Zooming me from the wealthy Hollywood Hills enclave of Brentwood, LA. She has dialled in to talk about how she traded her Bridgerton bustles for a something altogether more suited and booted as Emily, the lead protagonist in the erotic finance industry thriller, Fair Play.

The film is set in the corporate offices of One Crest, a New York-based hedge fund, and Dynevor plays a twentysomething professional navigating the cutthroat world of money, sex and Gordon Gekko wannabes.

We meet Emily and boyfriend Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) in the bathroom of a wedding party where the couple have slipped away for a shag in the toilets. He is on his knees, and rises from the tiled floor with blood all over his mouth. The scene portrays Luke as a modern man, one who baulks neither at menses nor kneeling at the feet of a woman, yet when girlfriend Emily gets promoted over him at their place of work, juicy themes of male narcissism and misogyny rear up.

“He’s not hiding any of the murky bits of being a man, he really puts it out there,” says Dynevor of co-star Ehrenreich’s performance. “I remember watching him, and having to try and stay in the scene, because his performance was so nuanced, and really a thrill to watch.”

Regé-Jean Page and Phoebe Dynevor in Bridgerton (Netflix)
Regé-Jean Page and Phoebe Dynevor in Bridgerton (Netflix)

Emily was a role that Dynevor says she begged director Chloe Domont to let her play – but  there was no need to. “When I met Phoebe for the first time, I had this immediate gut reaction that she was my Emily,” says Domont. “From her talent in previous work to our conversations about the character, and, most importantly, her excitement to go on this psychotic rollercoaster of a story gave me complete confidence.”

Dynevor didn’t realise the film was a thriller until she arrived on set after having somewhat naively prepared herself for a drama."There’s this hallway scene when Emily is getting back to the apartment for the first time after being promoted. It was one of the first scenes we shot, and the way Chloe was shooting, I was like, 'Wait, are we shooting a thriller?'"

The realisation struck when Dynevor looked down and found herself trembling. “Every time I put the camera on her,” says Domont, “there was something in her performance that just popped off the screen in a way that can only be described as fireworks.” For Dynevor it was like shooting a student movie, there was no big pay cheque to pull her in, she was in it for the storytelling and brought a “let’s f***ing go for it” attitude to set.

Her character weaves her way through sexual office politics, placating her co-workers, minimising herself and trying to progress her career all at once. “It felt like my story, and it felt like every woman I know’s story,” says Dynevor. “Whether it’s working in a very male-dominated environment or having a relationship with someone who’s threatened by you, all of those things that women deal with all the time. Did I draw from personal experience? Of course. Am I willing to go into them? Not really, but I drew on experiences I’ve had in the past.”

Fair Play felt like my story, and it felt like every woman I know’s story.

“Every woman can relate to Emily because of the humanity and complexity Phoebe brought to the role,” Domont tells me. “Her fear of losing her partner because of her promotion is so palpable and devastating. There’s also an electricity to her performance which is something that you can’t learn, can’t teach, can’t direct. It’s something actors either have or they don’t.”

The film received high praise with Domont delivering a feature independent enough to enamour the industry yet commercial enough to start a bidding war, from which Netflix emerged triumphant. But it wasn’t always a Netflix film, says Dynevor, keen to stress its indie roots. “It seems like it was a Netflix movie now. But at the time it was completely independent. You know, they had no money to shoot the film. I think people look at the movie now and go, ‘Oh it’s a Netflix movie’. But what Chloe was able to do on so little money with that film is just amazing.”

The New York we see in Fair Play is in fact Belgrade – it was shot in sub-zero Serbia during winter with the slick corporate corner offices built locally. “I remember stepping on set for the first time and feeling like I was in New York. The attention to detail was kind of crazy, from the plug sockets in the walls to the air conditioning unit on the window.”

The set design may have been impeccable but the filming schedule was gruelling – she was spending six days a week on set shooting emotionally “heavy” material during 15-hour days that led to the 28-year-old actress experiencing an out-of-character bout of insomnia.

Phoebe Dynevor in Fair Play (Slobodan Pikula / Courtesy of Netflix)
Phoebe Dynevor in Fair Play (Slobodan Pikula / Courtesy of Netflix)

“It was really intense, and I didn’t get much sleep because you’re having to keep up with that kind of intensity. It meant that I’d get home and I just couldn’t sleep… it really took me a lot of time to come down,” she recalls.

Taking on the part in Fair Play was a canny move. Following her breakout role as Daphne Bridgerton in the schmaltzy smash hit, apsychological indie flick such as this is the perfect foil, adding a required range to her repertoire at a crucial juncture in Dyenvor’s career.

It is a decision that has already paid off, earning her an EE Bafta Rising Star award nomination, the only Bafta award voted for by the public. “No one would go into this job for the recognition,” she says, “but it really means the world.”

She admits to being completely unprepared for how successful her career has become. Although she left Bridgerton in seasontwo and has since reluctantly exited the Bridgerton siblings WhatsApp group, she is still close to her co-stars, particularly Jonathan Bailey. Would she make a return? “The show is unique in that everyone has their season. If there was a good reason for me to go back, then maybe,” she says.

The success of Bridgerton was surreal for Dynevor because it was made and premiered in the depths of lockdown. Her life was transformed via a virtual world: she was presenting industry awards to empty rooms, holding junkets on Zoom, and shooting magazine cover stories at home. “My dad shot my first cover story for Glamour on his iPhone, in my family bathtub,” she laughs.

She was also at home when she first read the Fair Play script. Reading a script at the family dinner table was not unsual at the Dyenvors’. Her grandfather was a theatre director, her grandmother on her dad’s side was an actress and her mother, actress Sally Dynevor, is a British national treasure having played Sally Webster in Coronation Street for almost 40 years.

 (Sheryl Nields / Netflix)
(Sheryl Nields / Netflix)

"I was always so inspired by my mum’s story,” she says. “The biggest blessing in my life has been made to feel that acting is possible because I think it’s incredible when young actors come from a family where no one is in the business, and no one has any connections. Mostly because how do you then imagine yourself? That’s the biggest thing. I couldn’t get a job from my mum being in Corrie, but I could see that it was possible.”

After struggling to fit in at school and “finding her people” at open auditions, she would spend her school commute with her headphones on, dreaming about the kind of actress she would be. “And now I’m in this funny place where it feels real, things feel like a possibility and that’s so exciting.”

A Miramax thriller called Inheritance is next up, the actress playing the heavily tattooed lead, her red hair dyed black. She has also wrapped filming for Anniversary, another thriller, this time following a very close-knit family that is torn apart as new movement known as The Change sweeps the US.

Busy she may be but satisfied she is not. “I have read some great scripts recently. And yeah, I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but there is still, like, not that many parts going. There is such a space for male actors… there are so many of them. And they’re all great. They’re all very talented young men, and they do not stop working, and good for them.

"But you know, when I think about the girls my age… there’s way more room for them and there is still not enough room for us. It’s a really good time for older women which is amazing and there’s a lot for these young men, but not a lot for the actresses that I know in my age bracket.”

Dynevor has plans to start redressing the balance. “I eventually want to produce. I would like to create the material that I feel is missing. I don’t know when that will be, but it’s a dream of mine.”

Voting for the EE Rising Star Award is now open at ee.co.uk/BAFTA until 12pm on Friday, February 16. The winner will be announced on Sunday, February 18