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Jessica Brown Findlay: Albatross

Directed by Niall MacCormick, the actress stars in this coming-of-age drama about an aspiring writer working extra as a cleaner in a hotel

Albatross, directed by Niall MacCormick, is a coming-of-age drama centred around the mutinous exploits of aspiring writer Emelia Conan Doyle (Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay). Working as a cleaner at a small south-coastal hotel, the gutsy and beautiful 17-year-old charms both the owner Jonathan (Sebastian Koch), a one-hit-wonder author suffering from writer’s block, and his daughter Beth (Felicity Jones), a bookish Oxford applicant desperate to escape her dysfunctional family.

In the chaotic attempt to sustain a budding relationship with Beth, alongside a secret, more intimate one with the married Jonathan, Emelia finds herself deeply entangled in a self-spun web of deceit and potential destruction. In this, her film debut, Brown Findlay pulls off the teenage rebel act with a well-measured balance of shrewd and daring wit and naive recklessness. Here Dazed Digital talks to the actress about her filming experience and her own teenage years…

Dazed Digital: This was your first experience of making a film, how did it match up to your expectations?
Jessica Brown Findlay:
Oh, it bypassed them hugely. What was fun was that I wasn’t suddenly flung onto a set where there were green screens and stunt-doubles and things like that. It was intimate and felt close – a safe place to try stuff and to just go for it – and being on Isle of Man for those 6 weeks meant I could indulge in being allowed to focus on one thing. It was just so exciting. I mean I was terrified of doing it, but I couldn’t not. I’ve completely caught the bug.

DD: What was your biggest act of teenage rebellion?
Jessica Brown Findlay:
You see this is when I really question why I even got this part. (Sighs) It’s just pathetic really. I mean I did the normal things like getting caught at school snogging boys. Sort of nothing more promiscuous than that but I was always caught out – there were all these girls with boyfriends and I was always the one getting caught and told off. I think my teachers thought I was really naughty and I wasn’t really: just wrong place, wrong time.

DD: So you didn’t expect to be cast in the role?
Jessica Brown Findlay:
No, I basically thought there was no chance I would be but I think it’s because it was in the realm of impossibility that I was able to let go enough. If anyone had said, “There’s a good chance you’ll get this,” it would have ruined it. It’s like with exams at school, it’s always the questions that you thought you were fine on where you tumble and fall because you’ve gone into your comfort zone and not pushed yourself as far as you should have.

DD: Tamzin Rafn, who wrote the screen-play, has mentioned being influenced by coming-of-age classics like The Squid and the Whale and 80s’ film Wish You Were Here – are there any that inspired you in the portrayal of your character?
Jessica Brown Findlay:
I’d seen My Summer of Love 2 or 3 years beforehand and that was something that really resonated with me. Emily Blunt’s character is so manipulative but so desperate and she too takes that extreme – sort of concocting a life and a story. And at the end of it she’s so lonely. She goes into someone’s life and really screws it up in a way and that struck a chord with me with Emelia. But I don’t think Emelia realises how damaging what she’s doing will be until it’s too late.

DD: What are your plans for the future?
Jessica Brown Findlay:
I’m open. I mean it’s such a typical answer but it is always about the writing and about the company that you’re keeping. It’s about being brave, trusting your instinct and going with what you really want to do. For me, if something seems scary and almost impossible to pull off – that’s absolutely when I take the job.

Text by Daisy Woodward

Albatross is in cinemas from October 14