Youngest Ever Olivier Recipient Eleanor Worthington-Cox on Being GWEN

Actress Eleanor Worthington-Cox may not be a household name in the US yet, but she’s well on her way. She made her feature film debut in Maleficent when she was eight. From there she went on to star in the West End production of the stage hit Matilda, for which at age ten she became of the youngest recipient in history of a Laurence Olivier award. She has since been nominated for a BAFTA for her performance in the British miniseries The Enfield Haunting, in which she co-starred with Timothy Spall. Currently the eighteen year old is starring in the feature film Gwen, opposite noted actress Maxine Peake and Mark Lewis Jones. Her subtle, nuanced yet electrifying performance in the challenging title role makes one thing exceptionally clear: Eleanor Worthington-Cox is an absolutely superb actress with the potential to be the Vanessa Redgrave of her generation. 

Jim Dixon: How did you first get involved in Gwen?

Eleanor Worthington-Cox: So, I first got involved when my agent sent the script to me and I think I read it without breathing or blinking. I just fell in love with it immediately, and I think that it really spoke to me, and so from my first meeting I was just so involved in the script that by the time I got to my second meeting where I was meeting our producers as well as meeting the writer/director, William McGregor, I couldn’t have been more humbled and happy and grateful to have actually gotten the part.

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Eleanor Worthington-Cox as Gwen in the thriller, “GWEN,” an RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of RLJE Films.

A Hard Story About Hard People in Hard Times

Gwen is a hard story about hard people in hard times.  Was it emotionally taxing for you? 

Eleanor Worthington-Cox: I mean there were days where you get into bed at the end of the day and just touch the pillow and sleep for as long as you could. Honestly, I think it wasn’t really the subject matter that got to me, it was the physicality and that we even had to trek through mud that was up to our kneecaps.  It was some pretty intense conditions, but you know it is very hard and dark subject matter. I was very lucky though, that in between takes I had a crew full of people who were supportive, positive and bright – who actually made the atmosphere into something unbelievably fun and rewarding so that we never felt dragged down by the end of the day.  We felt completely lucky to have been doing what we were doing, and it never got to the point that I got dragged down by the subject matter.

Gwen is not a story that hands the audience a lot of pat explanations on a silver platter.

Eleanor Worthington-Cox: Yes.

Layers of Ambiguity

As I was watching the movie the question I kept having is – Is there something supernatural going on here, or are these women just breaking down in the face of unsurmountable adversity?  How did you approach it on the set?

Eleanor Worthington-Cox: I think that the ambiguity was one of the things that drew me to the project in the first place and to be able to explore that with Will, to really have faith that this young woman understands whether it was something that she was almost imagining, or whether it was the cruelty of man or the cruelty of nature.  That was always something really interesting and with each scene…it was always something that we came across and we talked about and we explored. There was never any set way of doing it. Every scene we came to we would change, develop and work with the minute we got onto set. For every scene there’s another layer of ambiguity and that’s quite rare and special in a film, so I’m proud to actually be a part of that.

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Eleanor Worthington-Cox as Gwen in the thriller, “GWEN,” an RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of RLJE Films.

Primal Scream

You have an extraordinary moment in the film where you run out of the farm house and just let out an incredibly feral scream. It’s both electrifying to watch and very chilling. 

Eleanor Worthington-Cox: [Laughs]. Oh thank you.

How do you work up to an explosion of emotion like that?

If you come across any frustration, whether in life or just on set, because you are literally up to your knees in mud, and you’re trying to make sure that everybody gets home at the end of the day warm and safe and happy, and you know that you’ve got to get a bunch of scenes done by the end of the day, it’s kind of rewarding to be able to go out into a field and scream your head off. [Laughs] I mean honestly it’s obviously something that you have to take into consideration – it’s not fun and games – it’s something quite important and raw and it wasn’t actually written into the script.  In that scene originally I was just supposed to throw my locket into the field and just let it lie, but I spoke about the scene with Will, and we both thought that seemed like a more appropriate response to finding out that your whole life has been a lie, essentially…and so it was this kind of pivotal moment where we’ve gone through all this frustration building in this young woman’s life to get to that moment, to have that one moment of just pure feral fury. That was really important to her character development.

If nothing else, that moment alone shows you’re ready to play in the big leagues.

Eleanor Worthington-Cox: Oh, thank you so much.

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Maxine Peak as Elen, Eleanor Worthington-Cox as Gwen and Jodie Innes as Mari in the thriller, “GWEN,” an RLJE Films release. Photo courtesy of RLJE Films.

Yes, Shooting In Snowdonia is as Cold As It Looks

Thank you for an extraordinary performance. You’ve mentioned the landscape where Gwen was shot in a couple of times.  This was in Wales?

Eleanor Worthington-Cox: Yeah, we were shooting in Snowdonia the area we based the film on, and to actually be in the area that this young woman would have grown up in, and to feel a part of the community that was so strongly rooted at that time, but to feel so isolated on this beautiful hill that we were filming on and everything was on location.  We didn’t use any studio time, you know, there was no special effects really. If you saw a blizzard, it was a real blizzard. If you saw 70 mile per hour winds – there’s no machine, that is literally 70 mile per hour wind blowing into our faces. To feel connected to a story in that way through something as simple and outstanding as a landscape, that adds another layer to the film that I don’t think we had particularly even thought we were going to be lucky enough to receive, but it just adds this special quality to the atmosphere that we really appreciated.

That anticipates my next question. The movie looks chilly, windy and rocky, and that seems to me to be very important to the movie.  Was it as cold as it looked?

Eleanor Worthington-Cox: Oh gosh, yeah, it was [laughs] plenty cold enough.  I think on the average day it was about negative seventeen, and that was with wind chill.  It was a warm day if we were at zero degrees. We were lucky if there was no snow. Really that was the main point for us.  And you know what, it made me feel so much luckier to be doing what I was doing because I could go home to a warm room, with access to call family and friends and talk about my day whereas this young woman that I was portraying didn’t have that.  She was isolated on the side of the hill with nobody to talk to except her young sister who she was trying her hardest to shelter and to look after, and obviously with this complex mother/daughter relationship that I dealt with, it wasn’t as if Gwen could speak to her mother. It was very much a stifled and uncommunicative relationship between the two of them, which just adds to this lonely, bleak darkness that the film kind of took on.

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Eleanor Worthington-Cox

Youngest Recipient of an Olivier Award – EVER

You’ve also done stage in England and you are the youngest recipient ever of an Olivier Award, and you have a BAFTA nomination to your credit.  This really isn’t bad for 18, in case you were worried. Is there chance that we are going to see you on Broadway in the States?

You know, I’ve always said that for me a project is about the character I connect with, so wherever I have to go to be that person, and experience that project, you know, I would happily go.  I’ve been so lucky to travel with this incredible job that I love so much. I’ve done a job in South Africa, I’ve been to Prague, I’ve been to all of these beautiful places where I have been able to experience an entirely different community and to immerse myself in culture that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to experience otherwise.  So to be able to do something like a Broadway, or even doing a film in the States, I’ve always been open to it because I am so lucky to be doing my job anyway – if I get to travel that’s just yet another bonus to add to something that I already love to do.

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Eleanor Worthington-Cox in BRITTANIA. Photo courtesy Sky Atlantic.

What’s next up for you?

Eleanor Worthington-Cox: Gosh – next, I’ve got a series called Brittania that’s coming on it’s second series now on Sky Atlantic, and I’m so excited for the public to see this.  It’s the original punk rock’n roll TV. [laughs].

Thank you so much for your time, and best of the luck with the movie, and with what I’m sure will be a very bright future.

Eleanor Worthington-Cox: Thank you so much. It’s been a lovely talk.

RLJE Films, in partnership with Shudder, AMC Networks’ streaming service for horror, thriller and the supernatural, will release Gwen in theaters, and on Video on Demand and Digital HD on August 16, 2019 prior to its release on the premium streaming platform.

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