There are a few lucky women who always look incredible. Lucy Boynton is one of them. On a boiling-hot day in London, she appears in the restaurant of the Rosewood hotel wearing a sheer black shirt dress (her mother’s DKNY from the ’90s) and clumpy black creeper lace-ups, with a Chanel J12 watch weighted on one wrist. “I always wear it like this,” she says, waving her arm jokingly, “Does anyone need the time?” Her blue eyes are fringed with Jean Shrimpton-style faux lashes. Her platinum-blonde hair is tied with a black grosgrain ribbon. She resembles a ’60s waif David Bailey would have killed to photograph.
The 25-year-old is currently playing Hollywood’s breakthrough star to perfection. With a global hit to her name (last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody) and an Oscar-winning actor for a beau (her Bohemian Rhapsody co-star Rami Malek), she’s now landed a major role in The Politician, the latest genre-bending Netflix show from Ryan Murphy, creator of Glee and American Horror Story.
In person, she’s a curious mix: arch and self-aware and full of opinions and observations, switching easily from fashion (“I’m obsessed with anything lunar-related,” she says, playing with her celestial-themed Andrea Fohrman gold necklaces) to how #MeToo has transformed life on-set for female actors. On the topic of Malek, however, she is less talkative, although she can’t help but pepper our conversation with references to “my boyfriend”. As it happens, he’s unwell up in their hotel room at this very moment, so straight after this interview, she is popping to a store to fetch him some medicine. Of her, Malek has said, “She keeps me grounded.”
“I’m a bit SHY [when it comes to filming sex scenes]. I do get to KEEP my T-shirt and tracksuit on – but I was QUITE embarrassed.”
Boynton is also the mistress of the sideways eyeroll. “I think I’m hilarious – until a camera turns on,” she says. “Then I don’t remember the timing…” Write that off as modesty, because in The Politician she is very funny. Set in a Santa Barbara high school, the comedy-drama stars Pitch Perfect’s Ben Platt as a wealthy young wannabe politician. Boynton plays his bitchy nemesis, Astrid, who has her own political awakening. “It was the first time I’d played someone that cruel,” says Boynton, “but Ryan Murphy balances the light and dark, so she has a very endearing side, too.”
Typically for Murphy, the cast of The Politician includes Gwyneth Paltrow, who stars as Boynton’s on-screen mother, alongside Jessica Lange, Martina Navratilova and January Jones. “There were people I didn’t want to make eye contact with,” says Boynton of feeling starstruck, but she “bloody loved” working with Jones, whom she calls a “so cool, no-bulls*** woman”, even though she didn’t always relish appearing alongside her. “We have a scene where we both look in the mirror, and our director said to me, ‘Just imagine that you’re looking at her, and she’s so beautiful, and you feel “less than”.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t have to [actually imagine that] and I’m trying not to cry!’”
Boynton’s most awkward moment on The Politician was during her first-ever sex scene. “I hated it so much,” she cringes at the memory, “but I had [Oscar-winning actor-turned-director] Helen Hunt directing me. I said, ‘I’m a bit shy,’ and she just looked at me. I do get to keep my T-shirt and tracksuit on – but I was quite embarrassed.”
“[My mother] was VERY protective about the scripts I COULD read. When I FOUND out, later, I was furious”
Although Boynton may be enjoying the acclaim of a “newcomer”, she’s been working in the business for 13 years. “Whenever they say you’re the new thing, it’s only for five minutes,” she says. Born in New York to British journalist parents, she broke into acting after a move back to London. She appeared in her first feature film – Miss Potter, alongside Renée Zellwegger and Ewan McGregor – at the age of 12, after a casting director spotted her at an audition at James Allen’s Girls’ School in south London. Boynton soon had an agent. Several movie projects followed, including Ballet Shoes, alongside Emma Watson. There might have been more, but Boynton’s mother (her chaperone) vetoed roles regarded as unsuitable. “She was very protective about the scripts I could read. She didn’t want me to do St Trinian’s or The Lovely Bones. She didn’t want to bring that subject matter into my world. When I found out, later, I was furious. I thought she was holding me back. Her 12-year-old daughter!” she snorts. “I was so obnoxious.”
Her parents were “really worried” when she decided not to go to university and to pursue screen acting instead – but she did go on to land a series of roles, mostly in horror or period genres. It was the role of Mary Austin, the common-law wife of Freddie Mercury, that really raised her profile. The experience of making Bohemian Rhapsody – “with all the things that went awry”, she says darkly – has left its mark. Both the leading actor and the director were changed during production. “Because of the slight rockiness that we had during filming, we had to be more involved in the process, in its entirety. Watching Rami do that – he always knows what lens we’re shooting on, which set, what the set-ups are, what the shot list is. He sees the full tapestry.”
“I want to be INVOLVED in the evolution of a SCRIPT coming together, the CREATIVE forces”
In January, Boynton and 38-year-old Malek publicly confirmed their romantic relationship. She is admiring of his approach to acting. “I’d never really seen that in a lead actor before, being involved in every corner,” she says, “I’ve tried to do that, being more aware. I think I’ve become more opinionated and I’ve got a better vocabulary, in terms of understanding a project, and my own tastes.” She says this now extends to buying up the film rights to new women’s fiction: “I want to be involved in the evolution of a script coming together, the creative forces,” she says.
Another thing she picked up from Malek – who got his first lead role in Mr. Robot just four years ago, at the age of 34 – is not to rush her career. “[He’s] been doing it longer. And I think the main thing is to take your time. I want to do this for the rest of my life, and it’s easy to think that you have to keep the momentum going, a phrase you hear a lot. It’s tempting once you’ve done one thing to quickly sign on to something else, so you have something to talk about. I’ve learnt that’s not the case, and that you can take your time to do really good-quality pieces rather than just doing everything.”
She and Malek, who’s originally from LA, spend time together in New York and London whenever their publicity tour and filming schedules allow. Boynton admits that she chafes at the selfie requests that crowd around Malek in public: “It’s lovely to see people who are excited about his work – if they’ve seen Mr. Robot or Freddie – but it’s just that thing of people grabbing him. I mean, you’d never grab a complete stranger in the street. And I think there’s a sense of ownership. It’s OK to just come up to someone, with your camera already out, and disregard whoever they’re with. It happened when we were with my mother, and we were just shoved out of the way. It’s quite shocking.”
The smartphone-thrusting clamor, which she says is worse in New York than in “more sheepish” London, might also be behind her aversion to Instagram (despite which she has over 800k followers). “More and more, I’m looking away from it,” she says. It’s now a slideshow of her fashion adventures, which deserve a Netflix series all of their own: since getting together with the British stylist Leith Clark (who also dresses Keira Knightley and Felicity Jones), Boynton’s natural affinity for vintage has been given a dazzling new energy. Couture florals, vivid mini dresses, girlish flats (“Leith and I bonded over the Mary Janes that Annie wears in the old movie”) have come to define the Boynton style.
At the Met Gala, Boynton camped it up in pastel pink Prada, her hair blue and garlanded with flowers and crystals as if Titania had flown to Coachella: “The blue hair stuck around for slightly longer than intended.” Malek also flirts with fashion, perhaps under her influence; their matchy-matchy powder-blue outfits for the Critics’ Choice Awards didn’t go unnoticed, even if the twinning was unintentional.
“I was supposed to wear a different Gucci dress,” she says now, “but it needed tailoring, so I had to swap. And I always leave earlier than him. I get ready with my team, then see him at the event. So it was only when we were sitting down that we did that look across, and it was like, Ha! But really, I don’t think we want to be that couple, the coordinated duo!” she laughs. “Being ‘thing one’ and ‘thing two’ is not the trajectory we’re aiming for.”
The Politician is available on Netflix from September 27
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