Speaking on the phone from Los Angeles, Anna Brewster is talking corsets. Not the duchesse-satin kind a bride might wear on her wedding night, but the excruciatingly tight, custom-made sort that she’s sewn into to play Madame de Montespan in BBC 2’s hit period drama, Versailles. “Wearing a corset is both torture and a great way to get into character,” she says. Initially a hellish experience, Brewster “eventually got used to wearing one and learned to work with it.” By the end of shooting the show’s first season, she’d figured out a way to eat lunch and take a nap with her waist constricted.
The television show’s raunchy plot, eye-watering £24 million pound budget, and beguiling cast made headlines when it first aired in 2016, propelling Brewster, who turned 32 in January, to a new height of stardom. Yet the recent role is just one of many in a long list of dazzling accomplishments. In the early 2000s, she made her teen screen debut in British comedy-drama, Anita and Me. Three years later, she cut her teeth alongside Dame Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins in Mrs Henderson Presents. Around 2007, she landed a modeling contract and started appearing in glossy magazines like Vogue Italia and Dazed & Confused. Hollywood came calling in 2015 with the part of Bazine Natel, a spy in the first installment of the latest Star Wars trilogy.
Today, Brewster lives in Paris and switches back and forth between the two career pursuits. Thankfully, she says, the industry hangup that used to exist about models becoming actresses and vice versa is no longer an issue. “If you have what it takes to act, you will be successful,” she says simply. The key to successfully straddling two careers “comes down to how good you are at excelling in both disciplines.” Like fellow It-Brit talents Cara Delevingne and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Brewster appears to have nailed the formula effortlessly.
Operating out of Paris comes with its perks. For one, it’s brought Anna closer to the lavish splendor of the actual Palace of Versailles and countless other opulent chateaus that serve as the backdrop to the namesake television series. Life in the French capital has also allowed her to develop special relationships with certain fashion houses, Chanel in particular. The iconic couturier gave the actress carte blanche to raid the rails of its Rue Cambon boutique ahead of its Spring 2018 runway show at the Grand Palais last autumn. Brewster playfully describes herself as “neo-parisian” and her style is what you might expect of a Chanel-affiliated beauty. Read: classic with a crystal glint and the flutter of a red lip.
The future excites Anna. Buoyed by the success of Versailles, she’d like to land another TV series should the right script come her way soon. Working alongside the same actors day-in-day-out “you become incredibly close and develop these wonderful relationships with the cast and crew,” she reflects on the experience. Another ambition: search out more independent movies and one-off ventures, like this week’s Semaine short with Bahraini filmmaker, Hala Matar. The opportunity to pick projects with people who have “real vision,” says Brewster, is wonderful and inspiring. “With Hala, you enter into another world and start to see things from her perspective,” she enthuses.
The short film, titled L’Ariel, explores the struggles of a young actress desperate to make it in the movie industry. Brewster’s co-star, Karl Glusman (of Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals and Gaspar Noe’s Love fame), embodies a volatile director on the brink of a crisis. Unlike the two characters, Anna has her own methods for safe-guarding her sanity against the common pitfalls of show business: “I pinch myself everyday when I look back at the things I’ve done,” she says before hanging up the phone. “I’ve been so lucky, I don’t take anything for granted."
By Elsa de Berker for Semaine.