Jessica Brown Findlay — better known as Lady Sybil in Downton Abbey — put on quite a show to get a film called Albatross around her neck.
The former ballet-turned-art-school student wanted the prize lead role in the movie, directed by Niall MacCormick: that of Emelia, a rebellious but smart 17-year-old living in an English seaside town who needs to let people into her life before she destroys herself.
‘When I read that script, I was yet to get a job and I thought: “If anyone else plays this, I’m going to hate them for ever!” I went in with guns blazing to the audition, and until I got the part, the director thought I was just like Emelia,’ Jessica, 21, told me.
It’s hard to believe that a newcomer, as Jessica was at the time Albatross went into production, was able to turn in a performance of such vitality.
Jessica makes Emelia effortlessly carefree, but she’s also able to suggest the sadness that is at the character’s core. For her last audition, Jessica wanted to give herself a slug of Dutch courage. ‘I had a shot of vodka before I went in,’ she confided.
In the film, Emelia befriends another teen, Beth — played by Felicity Jones. Beth’s parents are played by Julia Ormond and Sebastian Koch, and Emelia gets to know them well.
‘Emelia comes in like a whirlwind and after a while bits start to be pieced together, and you start to understand her,’ Jessica observed.
When asked by a young chap in a shop to provide proof of ID, she pulls her T-shirt up and gives the lad a bra-less flash of what’s underneath. ‘I wish I’d thought of that myself when I was younger,’ Jessica joked.
It wasn’t till I was halfway through watching the film that I realised Emelia was being played by the actress who would go on to portray Lady Sybil: the youngest, Suffragette-supporting daughter of the house in ITV’s big hit Downton Abbey. She’s currently filming series two of Downton, which will broadcast in the autumn.
Meanwhile, Albatross will have its world premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival on June 19.