Scribbled in blue ink across the hand of English actress Ruth Wilson is my name, phone number, and the address of our meeting place.
“It’s like, you carry around your iPhone and your laptop and whatever, and for some reason my iPhone doesn’t get emails. I haven’t worked it out. I’m useless with technology. So I said, ‘fuck it, I’ll just write it on my hand.’”
Thus, our interview relaxes from the vaguely tense dynamic that opened it when, panicked, I arrived late.
A coolly put together woman in low slung navy trousers and a stylish bob that curls right below her ears, Wilson’s relaxed when she talks about her career. We chat about her recent role as the will-they-won’t-they love interest in Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer’s mammoth of a film, The Lone Ranger (a Western Pirates of the Caribbean complete with Johnny Depp as the Native American Tonto with long, knotted hair).It becomes clear that, though the role is a far cry from her earlier work—her first major break was playing Jane Eyre in the 2006 BBC production of the Charlotte Brontë novel—there was an obvious reason for her to take it: She got to ride wagons, jump on steam trains, and become a pistol-wielding frontierswoman.
“What I love about the West and the history of the West—and people don’t make Westerns much anymore because there’s the idea that they don’t work—is that [they show] the start of modern America. It’s when the attitudes developed,” she enthuses about her role in the film. “I’m really proud of it, because it’s nice to be a part of something that has a moral journey and a moral code. It’s actually something that did happen in the history of America, and it’s important not to forget. Of course, it’s a Disney movie with the sort of stock characters: the baddie, the goodie, the girl. But it’s also in this really interesting period of history.”
She’s just finished shooting another Disney film, Saving Mr. Banks, based on the life of P.L. Travers, the writer of the beloved book series-turned-wildly successful film, Mary Poppins. She appears in flashbacks as Margaret Goff, P.L. Travers’ mother, alongside a star-crammed cast of Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell, and Paul Giamatti.
“I was in the Four Seasons in L.A., and I was in the lift, and this girl was in the lift with me, and she started talking to me and said, ‘I love you in Luther,’—she was English—and I was like, ‘What do you do?’ And she goes, ‘I’m a writer.’ I said, ‘Alright, I’m getting a drink down at the bar if you want to join me.’ So we had a few drinks, and she’s like, ‘You know, you’d be brilliant in this script I’ve got.’ And it was Saving Mr. Banks.”
I’m incredulous, but Wilson takes it part and parcel, living in the ground zero of the film world.
“I mean, you get lots of people in L.A. saying [things like] that, so you’re like, ‘Mm…’” She raises her eyebrows. “And then she’s like, ‘We’ve got Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson…’ And then I’m like, ‘Mm! Okay, well yeah. Sure, sure.’ She gave me the script, and I read it, and it was the best script I’d read all year! So I hang out in that lift all the time now.”
As we get deeper into conversation, patterns emerge. Wilson is a romantic in the most intellectual sense of the word. The parts she chases are the ones for which she gets to live in a different era, don a different dress, speak in a different tone. I ask her if she ever gets bored playing the same role every night on stage. (She starred in the critically acclaimed stage revival of Anna Christie opposite Jude Law.)
“People say that, and I don’t know how you can get bored. You have a live audience every night, and every time it’s different because the audience gives you a different energy, and the actors opposite you will have a different energy every night. I think I’m very sensitive to energy, so for me it’s really exciting.”
As we wind down our chat, before she has to run off to her next appointment, we talk about what she might be doing if she hadn’t started acting during university. She runs through a few ideas: running a wine, coffee, and cheese shop (her favorite things), having a vineyard, becoming a social worker.
“The other day I thought I’d quite like to be an archeologist. I don’t know why… scrabbling around in dust all day. I don’t even like the heat, so I don’t even know what I’m going on about, but did you read about how they found the skeleton of Richard III under a car park in Birmingham? I thought, ‘how amazing to find that skeleton with his spine going like this.’” She curves her shoulders forward like a hunchback and thinks about Richard III’s scoliosis.
Stylist: Masayo Kishi
Hair: Jenny Cho
Makeup: Georgie Eisdell
Photographed at the Residences at W New York, Downtown
Beauty Notes: Le Blanc de Chanel Sheer Illuminating Base, Les Tissages de Chanel Blush in Tweed Brun Rosé, Les 4 Ombres Quadra Eye Shadow in Prélude, and Rouge Allure Luminous Intense Lip Colour in Palpitante by Chanel. PhytoSpecific Moisturizing Styling Cream and Phytovolume Actif Volumizing Hair Spray by Phyto.