"I know you, I walked with you once upon a dream. I know you, that look in your eyes is so familiar a gleam." Out today, Maleficent is Disney’s alternative take on Sleeping Beauty that sees 17 year old Ella Purnell play a teen version of Angelina Jolie’s tall, dark, malicious fairy.
Living between East London with her mum and West London with her Dad, 17-year old Ella Purnell moans about her little brothers, tries not to think about her pending exam results and wishes her cat and dog (who live at separate houses) could meet. She might sound like a typical teenager but there’s something special about Ella. Sure, she’s beautiful. But not straight up, boring teen model beautiful – more like, warm light shining from within her giving her star quality beautiful. According to Roald Dahl, if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely. Ella must always have very good thoughts indeed.
Currently midway through her A-levels, the fledgling actress is studying Philosophy, English, Drama and Music at school in Essex. “I’m not gonna lie” she tells me, “for these exams I just crammed the night before.” On finishing, Ella plans to take a gap year, earn some money and explore the world. “Then I’ll probably study… maybe English or Film… or I might go to drama school. I’ll just see where the wind blows me!”
Having started out life with big plans of becoming an astronaut, she took up drama classes at the Sylvia Young theatre school one evening a week and ended up in the chorus of Oliver in the West End. With a few auditions for adverts and kids TV under her belt, she aced her first film tryout aged just 12 and bagged the role of Keira Knightly’s younger self in 2010’s brilliant Never Let Me Go. Since then she’s led several indie films, played Clive Owen’s sometimes-possessed daughter in disturbing horror Intruders and was the popular kid who vommed all over Hit Girl in Kick Ass 2. (Don’t worry, her and Chloe Moretz are friends now!) This is all very impressive, but what excites us most of all is Ella’s upcoming role in Disney’s Maleficent. Again playing a younger version of one of Hollywood’s most beautiful women, she will portray teen Maleficent – Angelina Jolie’s highly anticipated character. Ahead of today’s release, we invited Ella over for a post-exam, pre-premiere day of fun to chat film, famous friends, boys and emojis…
How did Maleficent come about?
Basically, they filmed the whole thing and then they went back and filmed some extra scenes. I had originally auditioned for Elle Fanning’s part – the role of Sleeping Beauty and didn’t get it, obviously. Then when they went to shoot these extra parts, they needed someone to play a young Maleficent and went through all the old audition tapes and found me, which was unexpected. I’d literally just come out of hospital with appendicitis, so I was in bed all stitched up when I got told I had the part and they’d be making my fly around.
You get to fly?
Yeah! With wings and horns. The horns were really heavy and magnetic. So they put a helmet on me, then a wig, then they attached the horns through the wig. It was all so heavy but so much fun – definitely worth it.
What was filming like?
So I had just come out of hospital and I was terrified that my stitches were gonna pop open, but they wrapped me up loads put me in this harness and attached me to a massive fork lift thing at Pinewood Studios. There was this guy at the back lifting it up, and I did like four days of practice flying because you have to get the balance right and learn how to not flip over. By the end of filming I had a full on six-pack because it was really intense… but then Christmas happened.
What do your friends think about your acting?
They’re kind of used to it. In the beginning, every time I had auditions they’d get so excited and want to read lines with me but now it’s just like ‘oh, cool’. They don’t really care anymore, which is better in a way because we can all just get on with our lives.
Have you made any famous friends?
I have! I’m friends with Chloe Moretz. I think it’s because we’re so close in age and we have a really similar sense of humour. We’re still in touch but it’s so hard to meet up when you’re across the world from each other.
Which young actresses do you look up to?
Jennifer Lawrence because she’s managed to stay so grounded, and Chloe because she has an amazing work ethic – she just works and works and works. I would be so exhausted!
What do you do in your spare time?
I read a lot. I write things. I play piano.
What do you write?
Short films and plays. I don’t really do anything with them though… I just write them and keep them and then delete them when I’ve had enough of them. It’s just for fun really. Mostly about personal journeys.
Do you have a boyfriend?
Yes. We’ve been together four months.
What’s he like?
He’s French and is fluent in English. It’s annoying when we go out with his friends though because they just speak French and I don’t understand what’s going on. We actually first met at a party three years ago but I ended up deleting him off facebook because he was really annoying me. He started messaging me again last year and we just met up and I decided he wasn’t so bad afterall!
Later this year you’ll be turning 18. Do you have any plans?
Oh, I have big plans! I just want to have a party and get really drunk. I haven’t looked into it too much yet but I’d quite like a masquerade ball – I’ve never done that before.
Finally, what’s your favourite emoji?
I like the praying hands and the one with the girl with the hand gesture and nails like ‘Uh, don’t talk to me bitch’. So cool. Every time I make a sassy comment I use her. Or the whale! Me and my friends call it the sassy whale because it’s tail is like ‘SASSSS!’