Starting a shoot a little behind schedule is something of the norm, so when I show up to a mews studio in Haggerston to interview Amber Anderson, I am not surprised. With a particular liking to attending an overrunning shoot, it allows me time to watch before myself and Amber sit down to chat.
With a rail of brightly coloured pieces selected, it is time to see Amber in action. After all, she has been a model since she was 17. Arriving mid-shot as Amber is jumping in the air, I watch from afar and although there is a team and a lighting set up amongst the chaos of the set, she acknowledges my presence with a soft smile. She lifts a pearl bag up with her hands together sweetly, gazing straight into the camera. “Love this shot,” our Creative Director Jay Best calls out as she watches from the monitor. With each shot looking better than the last, I realise that Amber means business.
Now with new work under her belt, Amber has rightfully built herself a career that has allowed her to live in different parts of the world, model and act alongside star-studded cast members and find the perfect balance of being known to the public and being somewhat anonymous.
Between the rattling of trains going over the top of the studio and the shoot team packing up Amber asks, “Is Dishoom any good?” behind the changing room wall, as the team insists it is in fact good. She emerges again with her knitted jumper and jeans back on, her makeup however, still bold from the shoot. With a lunch date to Dishoom scheduled after our interview, I know I have to chat quickly about the 27-year-old’s exciting upcoming schedule.
“Emma comes out and then I have a film called White Lie which comes out. I am also in the Souvenir Part 2. It’s all improvised basically. I don’t really have an ideal role, it changes depending on my mood and how I feel. I know I would definitely love to do comedy and now that I have done Emma, I think that I am definitely into using my piano skills a lot more as well.”
Previously filming in Toronto, Amber travels a lot between the States and her home in London where she has been living in her flat for eight years. “London is very much my base, but I get to work all over the world.”
Anderson found herself filming Jane Austen’s Emma last summer, playing Emma’s only envy, Jane Fairfax. As the big screen continues to entertain its love affair for classic book remakes, Amber revels in the thought of her role. “It was the first time I have played a character and actually missed them. It was the first time I had had an experience like it. When we wrapped I remember saying ‘I miss Jane.’
A lot of what is going on for her is internal. If you know the story of Emma you know she is keeping what is essentially a really huge secret; she is engaged to Frank. So she is kind of the object of a lot of people’s attention, but she herself is trying to keep the secret. She remains poised, even though she is having this internal panic attack. So I quite envied that strength about her. I don’t know if it seems like it from the outside, but I myself often feel quite chaotic and in a way quite anxious, so it was really fun to play someone who so had it together on a physical level. I definitely admired her strength and worldliness. I really miss that.”
Opening up to me about how she came from a diverse background growing up with poor parents but very wealthy grandparents, she explains that she experienced a mix of living in houses that “weren’t that nice” but would regularly visit her grandparents house where, “They lived in a rather large house. It has meant that I feel comfortable almost anywhere.”
“I think I am attracted to more roles because I had a very weird childhood that was a real mixture of lots of different places geographically, as well as different types of cultures and communities. I think sometimes you can read a script and a character can seem so unrelatable that it is almost difficult to access it. I always think because of my childhood, I am attracted to more roles because I feel I can see myself in more characters.”
Assuring me that she is glad to not yet be typecast, Amber reveals she does relate more to characters in conflict. She tells me, “I think it is a really positive thing, but I seem to be attracting roles where my character is dealing with some kind of internal crisis. That’s not to say that I am always dealing with a crisis, I had a lot that I needed to work through from my childhood, but I think that there is a part of me that seems to really attract that kind of person. It’s nice because you can identify with it, but it is also a curse because it is so emotionally exhausting.”
Discussing whether playing troubled characters acts as a therapy session, Amber tells me, “Accessing your emotions through a person can almost be too close to reality, so much so that you have to separate them. You have to know who the character is and who you are.”
Working hard to approach a character in the most objective way possible, Amber opens up about the continued pressure of focusing on a role. She plays with her Pippa Small necklace and continues, “I’ve done roles like that where I have destroyed myself over them. It’s fine at the time, but in the long term it damages you. So at the moment I am trying out a new thing where I just try and focus on the character in an objective way rather than putting too much of my own grief into it.”
She says, “There is a really important conversation to be had about self-care when acting and taking care of yourself emotionally. It is not necessarily necessary to lay yourself bare all the time. If you are doing the work, I think it is possible to also identify with the role and not have to be destroying yourself everyday.”
“That probably sounds incredibly heavy,” she says smiling at me. Continuing to reassure me with her answers, she moves closer to me and says, “I have always managed to stay at a comfortable cusp of the whole public eye thing in a sense that usually I have total anonymity. I don’t experience what some people I know go through. Not being able to go for breakfast without someone asking for a picture. I don’t have that, so I feel like I am actually quite protective over it and in a way, I feel like I want to hold on to my anonymity for as long as possible. It’s really important that you’re able to fuck up and be hungover and be a mess sometimes.”
She adds, “I think it creates a really interesting situation in terms of emotional growth too. You become super grown up in some aspects in this industry, but then you are still quite immature emotionally. It is only until quite later when you are settled and in your late twenties that you actually have the space and the time to be introspective and figure out who you are as a person.”
With her role in Strike, a popular TV adaptation of J.K Rowling’s chronicles earning her more media attention, Amber reveals that a role in a mainstream show has brought an exciting swathe of opportunities. She elaborates: “After that came out I had a lot more momentum in terms of auditions and the types of roles I was getting.”
“I auditioned for Emma and I was actually filming something else at the time. I was in Belgium doing a thriller about a schizophrenic and I had fake cuts all over my face and I did a very badly put together audition tape for the role of Jane. As my character is a pianist and I am also a pianist, I performed some videos of me playing and singing tapes.”
She recalls, “Then they asked me if I would go to LA to meet the director. So I flew out to LA for 24 hours. It was just mental. I had just done two films in a row and then I had a day and I was in LA. I wasn’t even in my body anymore. I was just completely out of it and I was just auditioning and then got to meet Autumn for a coffee. The coffee turned into a four hour long hangout and ended with her taking me to her favourite crystal shop and us buying crystals together. It was very LA, it was brilliant.”
Discussing our mutual interest in crystals, Amber excitedly answers, “Me too, I have got a whole shelf of crystals above my bed. They all mean different things and I am so drawn to them.”
She continues, “After meeting Autumn in LA, they called me to tell me I had the role two days later. We filmed over the summer and it was incredible because it was the first time I was able to use all of my skills in one role.”
Learning to play a Fortepiano rather than a standard piano, Amber was challenged whilst on set. She adds, “All of the piano stuff in the film is live and I spent two months before we even started filming learning all the different pieces. I brought in my piano teacher so she sat with me. It felt as comfortable as possible on set, although it was still pretty intense. Doing stuff live really heightens the filming experience, because when you get to the end of a 12 hour day and they say ‘Let’s do the piano now’ you’re tired and cold. It was definitely challenging, but after I felt braver. I thought, well if I’ve been able to do that, then I am able to do other things that are less scary.”
Speaking candidly about what Amber has coming up, she tells me she has projects that are finally ready for the viewing public. Explaining the detriment of only seeing one side with social media, she reveals, “People are lying all the time about how busy they are, especially on social media. You constantly go to auditions and you say ‘I’ve just done this film’ and actually you did it at least a year ago. It’s good to be honest about those kinds of things though. Someone else could see you and think ‘Oh my God she is so busy’ and actually it is not always the case.”
Amber prides herself in actively stopping to smell the roses, so acknowledging her accomplishments comes easily. She says thoughtfully, “I think the moment where you get to do fantastic things like I have with acting and modelling, it feels like a lot of hard work has led to that point and so it does feel like an achievement.”
She reaffirms, “I do think that everyone has their moment, it’s just about waiting and having patience until that time. There’s a really weird period in your acting career where it is not about whether you are good enough anymore. But you get to a stage where, which for me felt like it lasted forever, where you would get down to the last two and then you just wouldn’t get it because you weren’t famous enough. That was a really frustrating place to be in. There’s not much advice anyone can give you other than just wait, because at some point you will eventually get the job. You are good enough.”
Lisa Potter Dixon
Kris Barnes using Fudge Hair