Lily Loveless talks to Glass about her most recent project – Set the Thames on Fire

HACKNEY-born actor Lily Loveless started her acting career as Naomi Campbell (no, not that one) in the second season of Channel 4’s award-winning drama Skins and since then she hasn’t stopped working, appearing in a wide range of TV dramas and films. Loveless was also awarded Best Newcomer at the Monaco International Film festival for her role as Alexia in the 2013 film Fear of Water. The 26 year old has recently appeared as Emily in Set the Thames on Fire – a British science fiction comedy-drama.

Glass caught up with her in London.

Lily LovelessLily Loveless. Photograph: Justin van Vliet

What inspired you at first to act?
What I actually wanted to do as a kid was direct live TV – Top of the Pops or Blue Peter preferably. I thought it would be the most fun job in the world. What made me want to act, what made me see how awesome film is, was a Film 4 trailer – a montage of different films, cut together with some fast, pumping track over the top. Film suddenly looked so crazy and exciting and I wanted to be a part of it. Those two minutes made a huge impact on me. Maybe I’m meant to be an editor!

Did your character from Skins, Naomi Campbell, typecast you? How has this shaped your career? And what types of roles do you aspire to?
I’m not sure if Naomi typecast me. I know I wouldn’t have had particular roles offered to me if I hadn’t done Skins, so I didn’t accept those ones. I wanted to wait and hold out for ones that were different. But to be fair, being a teenage girl/young woman gets you typecast. There are a few good roles here and there, but mostly they just want a moody teenager with an attitude, or an airhead.

Just because someone writes a girl as being “strong” or “feisty” doesn’t mean she’s strong as a character. A strong character is one that seems real – one that has been well written, thought out, has a personality. Naomi was both. I aspire to roles that are complex, and interesting. There should be as much variety in female characters as there are in male. I aspire to play roles that make that a reality.


Lily LovelessLily Loveless. Photograph: Justin van Vliet


Which actors do you look up to most and why?
I think Vicky Mclure is an astounding actress. So superior to many much more famous actors. I also find Phoebe Waller-Bridge so impressive, as a writer as well as a performer. I think she’s super clever, and brave, and very talented. Daniel Kaluuya, on stage and on screen and Joe Dempsie. You know who I love? Benicio Del Toro. He’s magnetic. Ralph Fiennes is a master at both drama and comedy. I’ll watch anything with Viggo Mortenson.

Your most recent feature, Set the Thames on Fire, is like nothing else you’ve worked on in the past. What challenges did you face making the film?
The fact that Set The Thames on Fire is nothing like anything else I’ve done was so exiting. I’ve never played a character like Emily, or been in a film like that, or on a set like that! Challenges? Maybe that actors like Sally Phillips and Noel Fielding, who can come up with these amazing comedic characters, were alongside me. I will never be satisfied with the job I’ve done.  I’m still learning.

Front Cover. Lily Loveless Lily Loveless. Photograph: Justin van Vliet

What advice would you give yourself when you were just starting out?
I’d tell myself to try as hard as I could at every take on every scene. Never be lazy. To try, hard as it might be, to concentrate on the acting, and not worry about your appearance. I’d tell myself to listen to some, ignore many. You’ll know who. To be grateful. To not take “no” personally. To always be yourself, corny as that sounds. There’s a lot of pressure to look and act like everyone else. Your music taste is fine. You don’t have to like indie to be cool. You can stop pretending. You don’t have to be posh to fit in. You’ll find your space, and like-minded people.

What other projects can we expect in 2016 and ‘17?
I’ve just finished my first play, which was an incredible experience, so I’m hoping to return to the stage soon. We’ll see. It’s a new adventure for me.

by Justin van Vliet

All photographs: Justin van Vliet

Lily can next be seen in Set the Thames on Fire which is now available on demand and on DVDYou can follow Lily on Twitter.

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