Glass speaks to British-American actor Lucy Boynton

Glass speaks to up-and-coming British-American actor Lucy Boynton co-star of the recently released film Bohemian Rhapsody

GLASS met actor Lucy Boynton in a sumptuous corner booth at Rose Bar at the Plaza Hotel, where she was staying during a whirlwind work trip to New York City. The next week would be the North American debut of her new film, Bohemian Rhapsody, starring Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of the rock band Queen, and the one-time partner and long-term close friend of Boynton’s character Mary Austin. Small, lithe and blonde, the American-born, London-raised 25-year-old Boynton’s girlish presence reveals itself as a façade for a mature, thoughtful professional, someone whose dedication to her characters has projected her career into the blockbuster territory she today inhabits. Glass spoke with her about this craft and process, about her past, present, and upcoming projects, and how her interests and upbringing have affected her professional engagement with the wondrous medium of film.


Lucy Boynton. Photograph: Doug Inglish

Something I heard you say about your role in The Murder on the Orient Express is that there is a sacredness to the character because of Agatha Christie’s portrayal of her which you had as your base text. In Bohemian Rhapsody, however, you’re playing a real life person rather than a fictional one, so I’m assuming there’s a sacredness there too. Could you speak a little about what that means and also something about the process of inhabiting that character, because I heard you were also unable to meet her [Mary Austin].
Yes, it’s interesting because with characters that are like the Murder on the Orient Express character, it’s so exciting and thrilling because, as I said, there is this sacredness, but also you can build them in your own way as well – you can very much take ownership of that character. So as much as you owe it to Agatha Christie to stay true to what she wrote, there’s a real thrill in that because you can also steer it in your own way and make your performance very different from previous performances.

With Bohemian Rhapsody especially, there was just more pressure; it was more daunting. I’ve spoken about it before. I was very aware of how private Mary Austin is and how sensitive some of the subjects of the scenes were – which were more personal – and how intimate they were in nature. So there’s a different kind of sacredness to that, and it’s none of our business in a way. The reason I signed on to this film is because I think the story of Freddie Mercury is so important to tell. Especially right now, I feel like we need more of that inspiration in that direction, and I really believe in telling that story. But there was some level of discomfort in trying to figure out how to do it as respectfully as possible.

So are you speaking about the story of him as a gay man or as a musical?
Kind of in every sense, because of how unapologetically himself he [Freddie Mercury] was and in a time where it was even more difficult, from my point of view, than it is now. But still there seems to be this relentless pressure to conform and be a certain way. It feels that way especially in America right now, and across the world in current politics, and to just be reminded of this brilliant, brilliant human being – this iconic human being – if he can be so wildly himself and so wildly against the norm, then we can take some kind of inspiration from that.

For your character specifically what was your process like to figure out how she supported him in this way?
It was mostly from watching her interviews, obviously how she viewed everything with hindsight of course.


Lucy Boynton. Photograph: Doug Inglish

Because these were interviews from the 1980s? Or were they more current?
No, they were more current, like the early 2000s and late nineties – there wasn’t very much in the time that I was playing her. So there is that interesting element that she was speaking with the weight of hindsight. I also watched interviews of Freddie talking about her, which was so beautiful.

Brian May was my main source of information. He introduced Freddie and Mary, so I got to see the genesis of their relationship and how it clearly and directly impacted them, and Brian’s wife Anita [Dobson] spent a lot of time with Mary as well. So I was able to pick up on her idiosyncrasies and her manner and that was very helpful. I didn’t want to do a close impression of her in any way. It was to just get the essence of her, and her impact and presence in that world. I was trying to recreate that and represent that.

That’s such a privilege to see someone so close to her – it feels like you are drawn to characters who have this kind of cultural heritage. So I feel like that’s intentional, something about these speak to you?
Yes, it’s weird because I don’t have a plotted-out trajectory for my career, or paths that I want to take. It’s just roles that I gravitate towards when I read the script; it’s been just more instinct based. When I read the script and read the character, there is just this magnetic thing. There is something here that I already understand, or want to understand. It’s already just embedded in me, even if the character is completely different from me, I want to get in there, but yes, I haven’t really planned it that way.

So that’s interesting because if anyone is speculating, “Oh, she might take these roles,” that’s not what’s going to be in the future.
No, that’s not what’s happening, I have no idea.

One of the things I wanted to touch on is what I perceived as the relationship to music I think you might have, because Sing Street was extraordinarily musical, and Queen of course, and I know you have contact with Ryan Murphy. So could you speak a little about whether you do have a relationship with music?
I guess only through film really because I don’t have a musical bone in my body, unfortunately – as much as I wished I did. Yes, I think usually it’s because I’m drawn to it in film, I mean music is the backbone of both Sing Street and this, [it’s very much just embedded in the fabric of the story, and I love in both of those films as crucial as the music is, it still forces you to feel a certain way, Emily can you open out this part as I am not sure what she was getting at here] which I find very fascinating, of how music can tweak your emotions in a way, kind of without your consent, even without your awareness something starts to transform you, with the impact of music.


Lucy Boynton. Photograph: Doug Inglish

So it’s embedded in the script and characters but the musicality isn’t necessarily something you have to pursue?
It makes it more impactful. With Queen you have this brilliant soundtrack to back these emotions to push the story forward, both in the creation of songs and the telling of them as well, which makes it more impactful.

I’m not sure why I feel like I always want to ask actors this, but are you a big film watcher? Were you a cinephile before you started acting?
Yes, I guess I do wish I watched a broader spectrum of films, which is something I do plan to do. It’s for work that I watch as much film as I can. But I was always fascinated by film in the way that watching it was just never enough. You could never just sit back and enjoy it. I watch a film that I love and want to be part of it in some way or want to get more from it – some kind of involvement.

So in terms of these different forms of art, is dance and movement a part of the way you act or are they circumstantial?
I really enjoy roles with ballet. So movement is one of the most exciting things to alter, so with that the impact of the influence of ballet was just so much fun to throw around. It’s  how she holds herself very differently; how she holds herself and her walk, even things like her voice, how she regards people. So I find it so fascinating and another layer to add to it. Especially with Ballet Shoes, it was just such a joy watching those girls dance. There’s something so very romantic, but also something secretive about ballet. There’s something unfolding in that as well about expression without words, there’s a sort of secrecy to it that I really love.

That’s such a good way to talk about ballet – I feel like I’m going to plagiarise that word from you somewhere after this, but I love that, there’s something so unexpected.
… and the discipline it takes to get there, I think is so fascinating.

Lucy Boynton. Photograph: Doug Inglish

I read as well that your parents worked in travel editorial and were travel writers. There’s a worldliness to that job that I can only assume was a part of how you grew up, which I guess was creative. If and how did that affect your creative trajectory in the sense that you’ve kind of followed in a creative direction and you’re now also globe-trotting?
Yes, I guess because they’re both journalists and, so I guess, writers. I’d always been surrounded by the unconventional element of the job; the unconventional hours and travelling and everything set me up in preparation for this. But I guess because they travelled so much when we were younger, I was always used to that. I’ve always lived in the same place in London. I’ve always had this very strong sense of a centre point, which meant I really enjoyed travelling. I’m such a homebody but I let jobs take me wherever they take me. I have become more adventurous because I’ve always had this sense of home to come back to. I think that was very much encouraged by their travelling. When you’re very young and you learn that people go away and they always come back, there is a sense of a return to normalcy.

So it was more a foundation for your lifestyle the practice and such?
Yes, and it can be weird at the moment living in LA, where I have been for the past five months. It feels somewhat untethered and out of context when you live somewhere else for an extended period but you know it’s only temporary. So I’m really grateful for being set up for that. My parents lived out of hotels so frequently, you learn to set up your home wherever you are, but yes there’s a longing to return.

Do you know how much longer you’re going to be here?
We wrap in November.

So for the holidays?
Yes exactly.

Okay, so clearly I’ve been doing a bit of stalking, so on your Instagram and everything you’re very open. You’re obviously interested in history and stories; would you consider yourself an activist, regardless of responses of other people?
It can be a very daunting thing, especially the more attention you get on there, but I think in the last couple of years with the changing political climate, to put it politely, there just became no excuse not to be outspoken in a way. I don’t think I have a very big following or a very loud voice. I think whatever small conversation it starts is very impactful, and I very much appreciate it. So I didn’t want to sit back, I had to put something out there as well. I’m still trying to find my feet with how vocal I want to be. As much as I value my privacy, it’s more like I post something when I can’t not, when something is too important not to.

So the reaction is a responsibility you feel.
Yes and I really feel that I appreciate seeing other people do it and I know I am affected by that so if I have that reaction, why wouldn’t I put it out there as well – even if it affects just one person?

Lucy Boynton. Photograph: Doug Inglish

But if you could take me through your feminism a bit more and do you use that word feminist?
Yes I do. I just think it’s mad that it’s a statement to identify as a feminist; it just shouldn’t be such a trigger word. I think it’s so strange because it’s something we used to learn about in politics and history class, the idea of feminism which was something that was in the past. This is strange in itself anyway. And now there has been this resurgence of having to reuse it and having to wake people up to something that should be so obvious. It’s a necessity to talk about and when I read what’s happening in the news, and when I found that book Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (and Other Lies). This is when you feel so depleted and shocked by having to justify this validation. To find that book was just such a relief and realisation that these people get it and inhale these lessons from these brilliant women, men and people. Yes, it’s been about trying to align myself and find my footing.

I saw that quote the other day about how we shouldn’t identify as feminist.
Oh yes that Maisie Williams quote about how we shouldn’t identify as feminist and just call people who aren’t feminist sexist.

Yes I love that.
Yes, I’m always relieved when I see stuff like that because it’s setting an example.

My last question is just what’s coming up for you and I was curious where you’re headed. It sounds like you’re going to finish this stuff in LA and head back to the UK? Do you have any other projects happening?
There are a few scripts that I’ve read of some indie films I’d love to do but I’m kind of getting off the ground now and I don’t really know. The Politician is so different from anything else I’ve done before and I always want to go off in a direction that’s very different from someone I’ve played before, and done before. I always find myself going back to darker material. I find that a very interesting world to explore. That’s what I love about this job. You have such a variety and such an eclectic collection of material, and sometimes you read something that really sits with you and strikes you and it’s all encompassing. It’s so thrilling not knowing what’s next, and it’s one of the best parts of it.

So you’re attracted to quite dark characters like the Countess and also Rafina?
Yes there’s so much history and so much outside the brackets of the film that the audience is just dropping in one bracket at a time, and I just find those characters so interesting.

By Emily Rae Pellerin

Bohemian Rhapsody is on release now

From the Glass Archive – Issue 36 – Wonder

Photographer: Doug Inglish
Styling: Olga Yanul
Make Up Molly R Stern At Starworks Artists
Hair: Jenny Cho At Starworks Artists
Photography Assistants: Maxfield Hegedus, Michael Clifford


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Hat Dior
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