William McGregor’s feature-length debut Gwen also marks an exciting milestone for its young star Eleanor Worthington-Cox, who makes her debut in a leading role as the titular star. It’s a terrific performance, one I called ‘simply revelatory’ in my review of the film. With roles in The Enfield Haunting, Maleficient and Britannia, Worthington-Cox is an experienced actor despite her age, and she continues to show maturity beyond her years in Gwen.
I sat down with the promising actor about her first ever leading role and what it was like to work alongside veteran-actor Maxine Peake.
So, I loved the film. From you, it’s such a stunning performance. You must be really proud of what you’ve achieved?
Do you know what, I have so much pride in the film itself, and for all the work that everybody put into it. It was such a team effort. For me, I don’t really focus on my own performance I would much rather just watch everything else that is on-screen. It’s those things that you don’t get to focus on when you’re filming. You get to appreciate every single department that you can’t quite appreciate as much. While I am very proud of [my performance] I’m more proud of the film as a whole.
So, of course, this isn’t the first film that you have worked on. But this is your first leading role as the titular star, seeing your face on all those posters must be both exciting and surreal.
It’s so weird for me (laughs). I watched the film for the first time in Toronto at the film festival and the first thought that came into my head, because the first shot is a massive close-up of my face, was ‘my face is the size of a double-decker bus!’ (laughs). I was like, ‘how big are my nostrils?’ I just have to take it all in my stride and laugh at it, because otherwise you do get to the point where you’re like ‘this is amazing’. I am never going to get to that point because I’m always going to be comparing the size of my nostrils.
But it’s so rewarding to be told that this is your film and that you are the lead. Originally, the title of the film was called ‘The Dark Outside’ and then it changed to ‘Gwen’.
‘That’s my name!’
(Laughs). Yeah, that’s when it was official. That’s hugely rewarding as an actor. But I’m never going to let myself get big headed. I’ve still got all my mates going ‘you’ve got a bit of dirt there’ or ‘your hair is looking a bit greasy there love’ and I’m just like ‘yeah, I know, I know.’ (Laughs).
You’re even the lead in the film where Maxine Peake is involved. To have someone as experienced her with you, that must have been so rewarding for you.
Gosh, yeah. Honestly, I don’t think I could have wished to work with anybody better than Maxine. She is one of the most incredible people that I have ever met. To have learned so much from her on-screen and off-screen, it’s just invaluable really. Her stoicism, her kindness, her bravery – what a woman. I’m so glad that I got so much one-on-one time with her because she is the kind of example that you need to be setting for young women. I’m quite passionate about that. She’s so involved with so many good causes.
So not only is she your mother in the film but she’s also your mother behind the scenes as well?
We just talked and talked and talked. You’ve got so much time on set together so when you do have a spare five minutes you band together in really serious conditions.
And in North Wales there’s plenty of those.
Oh, we had one full blizzard and the rest were just sleaty, freezing cold, minus-17 degree wind-chills. But that one blizzard was so fantastic that we had to go and film in it. “I know it’s freezing and you’re in your nightie but here’s a lantern”. And I was just stood there in the dark thinking, ‘I don’t care how cold it is, this is going to be the most epic shot I’ve ever done’.
We had locations that flooded twice. We did have some pretty unfortunate conditions but actually, I think we were so incredibly lucky to have that weather. It became a part of the film.
It’s a character in itself, isn’t it?
It is! We like to say that the landscape was the lead in Gwen. I shared the lead role with Wales. This whole project came about because of the landscape so we would be mad not to give it the credit it deserves.
As a Welshman, I’m interested in how you went about learning the accent? I have to say, it was spot on.
That is so good to hear, thank you! I stressed so much about that. When you’re working with the loveliest Welsh crew you could ever meet, you wonder ‘What if the accent is terrible but you’re not telling me?’. But I was really lucky because I have a lot of family from Wales, so it’s not like I’m completely isolated and don’t know the accent. I actually have a great, great, great Auntie called Gwen, insane isn’t it, and we have this ancient picture of her in the traditional Welsh dress and thought ‘what a coincidence!’
But going back to the crew, if I ever had a query I could always ask them. I’m so lucky that I had such a supportive crew.
That sounds like a lovely environment to be in.
I couldn’t have worked with a better crew, and I mean that honestly. The atmosphere on set could have been so much different because the material is so heavy, and because the film is such a dramatic piece it kind of brings people down. But working with such a positive, happy crew just brought everything to life. We were laughing between takes, making light of every situation. Our location flooded? Who cares! It’s Wales, what do you expect? (laughs).
With this and The Enfield Haunting, you seem to gravitate towards horror stories. What interests you so much about this genre?
It’s interesting because the only thing that draws me to a role depends on whether I can connect with the character and I can delve into what they are feeling. It is interesting that I have been involved in a horror series but with Gwen it’s not to do with the horror in the classical sense. In The Enfield Haunting you’ve got possession and truly terrifying poltergeist happenings, whereas with Gwen the horror is in the mundane. It’s losing your livestock, it’s not knowing what that noise outside is. I do love those elements, but equally, I saw it more on a human level than a horrific level. It’s not really a genre that I favour above others.
You seemed to have a really close relationship to Jodie Innes, how important was it for you to establish that sisterly relationship?
She is like family to me now. She’s the easiest, most lovely kid to work with. She was a ray of sunshine. Before we started filming Will [McGregor] wanted to do a bonding session so we really felt like sisters. Jodie said ‘I’d like to go rock climbing and to go baking’. I was like ‘I love this kid’. We had the funniest day and we bonded in minutes. I don’t have a sister, so to actually have her there and to protect her through the heavy material, I enjoyed having those responsibilities on my shoulders.
You certainly have an exciting career ahead of you, and I’m sure this won’t be the last time that we will see you. Have you anything planned just yet or are you looking forward to some time off?
Aw, thank you. This Autumn my series Britannia is coming back for series 2. I’m very excited! I can’t wait for the public to see it.
During my chat with Eleanor, I found myself completely immersed in the conversation; with her infectiously charismatic personality leading the way. We have a real actor on our hands here. Future Academy Award winner? I wouldn’t bet against it.