Freya Allan | The Standard Might Be Guilded, But It’s Touchable

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Written by

Joshen Mantai

Photographed by

Lee Malone

Styled by

Anastasia Busch

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Achievement is a funny thing to quantify. We think of it as hard-won success and overcoming adversity in the form of a blue ribbon, an A+, a shiny statue, but what is the true mark of success in a creative endeavor? For English actor Freya Allan, a sense of achievement is easily observed in the dynamic complexity of her performances, analyzed among humming audiences or in the trenches of Reddit threads.

Acting seemed to always be in the cards for Allan, who played make-believe in the woods for hours on end as a kid, incessantly creating stories and performing in school plays. Allan booked her breakout role when she was a teenager on the popular fantasy Netflix series The Witcher as Princess Ciri, after originally being cast for a minor role in the show. Now at 22, she seems to catch lightning in a bottle, starring in horror feature film Baghead, the female-dominated crime action film Gunpowder Milkshake, and the HBO limited series The Third Day alongside Jude Law and Naomie Harris, to name a few.

“I remember getting my first job which was a short film and I wasn’t getting paid or anything,” she recounts. “I thought I’d made it by just getting that. And of course, when I got my first television role it was the biggest deal ever.” Allan’s latest role is the human role of Mae in the recently released blockbuster, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.

Wes Ball’s Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is more than just a dystopian tale—it touches upon humanity in an unprecedented way with Allan’s character Mae at the center. Set several centuries after Caesar, the leader of the Apes’, death, Mae serves as a mysterious figure throughout the film, the audience never knowing quite where she stands. As the story unfolds, Mae and brave ape Noa (Owen Teague) dually open their eyes to the sensitivity of each of their respective species, evolving together as two vulnerable creatures. “The two central characters are in many ways just starting their journey in life,” she reflects. “Things are changing very rapidly for both of them. It’s a different feeling when there are two young characters at the center, and it’s very much like a coming-of-age [story] where they have their whole futures ahead. This film feels a lot more vibrant than the darkness of the last trilogy.”

When first auditioning for the role, Allan explains that the original description of her character ended up straying pretty far from what Mae embodied on screen. “They first made it out like she was an unintelligent human rather than an intelligent human that’s pretending at the start of the film,” she remarks of the audition process. “I’m acting a bit like an alien in my tape with dirt all over my face. I really predicted that one,” she laughs. After the self-tape, Allan conducted a chemistry read with Teague over Zoom, initially feeling uneasy that the other actors reading for the role were able to do so in person. These fears melted away as Teague and Allan connected seamlessly through the script, forgetting that the screen was a barrier between them.

Flying out to Australia to complete a final screen test, Allan adamantly convinced herself that she wouldn’t get the role in order to fully immerse herself in the audition process. This is puzzling at first: why not be as confident as you can going into the final stage of an audition for such a big role? And then it dawns she explains, “It wasn’t that I thought I couldn’t get it. But I needed to convince myself that I didn’t have it so I could enjoy it. If I was worried too much about the battle between me and another actress, I was going to get lost up there. It took the pressure off which meant that I could actually do a better performance.” It turns out pressure doesn’t always make diamonds—and the weight of the journey can be crushing if you let it in those pivotal moments.

To entrench herself in the apes’ universe, Allan first did her research by watching the original 1968 Planet of the Apes flick per her mom’s recommendation, as well reading the 1963 novel, on which the film series was based. Allan became inspired, and she began crafting a detailed backstory for her character, constantly going to the producers and director with questions about Mae. All of this preparation culminated in a morally ambiguous character who is multidimensional, forced to reckon with defending herself while also growing empathy for the ape species.

Thrown into the chaos, Allan had to test the limits of holding her breath on the very first day of filming, held upside down and dunked in a water tank to prep her for a future drowning sequence. Allan luckily didn’t have to delve into the challenges of ape school (she left that to her costars), but filming scenes alone became the new normal for her. “Because the actors are obviously not the right size of the apes, they used a backdrop to put them in,” she says. “So, I had to imagine being dragged when the apes were dragging me, or pretend that I’d been pushed.”

Allan truly realized how layered the film was for audiences after observing her family at a screening for the first time. Ablaze with conversation, each of them had different interpretations of Mae and what the future held for each character. It was then that Allan discovered the film was impactful—it sparked conversation and analysis, making audiences feel something. “There’s so many things in there to analyze if your mind is open to seeing it,” she emphasizes. “The audience is made to come up with some stuff themselves.”  

When I subtly mention the future of her character’s arc, Allan hints to me that the newest ape franchise might lend itself to a sequel, the film answering some questions but leaving a lot open-ended for stories to come. “I love the idea of being able to carry the same two characters through more movies because characters change.”

Entertainment and tech media hub The Verge called the film “a gorgeous echo of the franchise’s past” and “a worthy successor,” but for Allan, getting even close to discerning the impact the franchise holds is something out of touch for her. She often feels within reach at massive events on a global stage, like premieres or festivals, but then she returns to her hotel, forgetting the dose of kismet she had just experienced. “It doesn’t really compute for me,” she marvels. “That’s the only way I can describe it. It doesn’t really feel like a real thing. I feel so lucky.”

Allan shares similar sentiments regarding the popularity of fan-favorite The Witcher and its multi-season run. For what we can expect for the much anticipated fourth season, Allan reveals that Ciri goes to “quite a dark place within herself... She’s trying to pretend to be someone else and is becoming that,” she explains. “It’s a darker place for her but there’s many moments of joy and freedom in many ways that she hasn’t had. So it’s this double-edged sword.” To not succumb the story to the fantastical elements and magical powers Ciri has, Allan strives to still make Ciri relatable and as humane as possible. “I’m always fighting to prioritize and keep the story and character building to try to make it as real as possible. Because otherwise, it would just be soul-sucking.”

Allan heavily relies on the books in which The Witcher is based for the upcoming season, more than in years past. “It’s been exciting because I’ve been able to have creative input [about] things I like in the book, and I’ll ask to put those elements from the book in the show,” she smiles. She sees her journey with Ciri as one that both mirrors and seeps into her own life in its own strange way. “What I go through as Freya in some ways is what she’s going through,” she says. “We have kind of become those characters and the line has crossed over a bit. She was never particularly dissimilar to me. She’s formed quite a lot of me.”

Allan’s next lead role in the horror film Triton, recently finished filming in Greece under the direction of filmmaker Janell Shirtcliff. Details of the plot are largely under wraps, but we know that the film follows three young women on a vacation who run into difficulties with a trio of charismatic young men who prove to be more than meets the eye. When discussing what lies ahead in Allan’s future, she slyly mentions wanting to do a musical or A24 film—something very stripped back but with a compelling script.

To stay grounded amidst the constant, high-octane state of being a rising actor, Allan is relieved to live in England—away from the Hollywood glitz and glamor of it all. “When I’m in London, I’m with all my home friends who are doing their things and killing it and I think that helps as well,” she underscores. “I still get to go to their uni parties and do all the normal things while working.”

Each project or self-tape, small or large in scope, presents an opportunity for growth for Allan, as it does for most actors who strive to make themselves a noticeable force on screen. “I think I’ve just grown in confidence,” she shares. “In every job I do I feel like I’m better. I’m looking for things in each self-tape I do and it’s practice for me. I’ve taken little pieces from all these actors I’ve worked with on a particular job. There’s this freedom and excitement at trying new things and messing up and potentially looking like an idiot and that being okay.” 

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes is now in cinemas.

Photographed by Lee Malone

Styled by Anastasia Busch 

Written by Joshen Mantai

Hair: Patrick Wilson at The Wall Group

Makeup: Sara Hill at The Wall Group

Flaunt Film: Rodney Rico

Location: Plantroom Hackney Wick

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Flaunt Magazine, Issue 193, The Gold Standard, Freya Allan, Joshen Mantai, Lee Malone, Anastasia Busch, Moncler, Moncler Collection, Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes