Entering the presence of Hayley Atwell is like taking a soothing lay down in an incubator of empowerment. Radiating levels of warmth akin to her new co-star, Winnie The Pooh, Hayley isn’t short of comforting advice for a boy who is a former shadow of himself, the Monday morning after Wilderness Festival and is inevitably questioning life. Hayley, on the other hand, has just returned from the Dominican Republic where she has been watching Love Island in secret, “it’s my low brow escapism,” she tells me proudly. I knew she was a little bit of all of us.
However as the remnants of glitter on my face compliment the striped sequin pencil skirt Hayley has elegantly slipped into, it is all too clear that one of us is ‘winning at life’ more than the other. Aptly, Christopher Robin – where everyone’s favourite childhood bear returns to save the relationship between a grown-up Robin (played by Ewan McGregor) and his wife, Evelyn (Atwell) – deals with the trials and tribulations of that much discussed term, adulting.
As she sits before me animatedly dropping empowering intellect as if it’s her first language, Hayley assures me she hasn’t always had adulting down. “When I got my first flat at twenty-three, I just thought, ‘sh*t!’ You get to that point when you are younger when you just want to be an adult – I wanted to be really sophisticated with champagne and d’oeuvres! But the reality sunk in and I hated it – I was sh*t at it!”
Hayley quickly becomes the older sister I have never had and unbeknown to me before this interview, I was about to get the best reassurance for my own quarter-life crisis. Leaning in with a confessional tone Atwell says, “look, we are sh*t at adulting for a good ten years. I was always losing a phone. Always leaving a wallet somewhere. Everything was a bit chaotic no matter how hard I tried. Sometimes I would sit in front of the TV and think, ‘life is so hard. I can’t do basic things’”
However, the turning point came, for the mistress of a cracking period drama (Howard’s End, The Duchess and Brideshead Revisited spring to mind) when she side-lined the well-honed art of procrastination. “You go through years where the cost of procrastination becomes too sad and too pathetic. Then you realise you only have yourself to blame. Overcoming that is such a sexy feeling. Twenty-year-old me would look at me now like a god! When all things start coming together I just think, ‘yes I love myself!’ Ticking things off a list is just so good!” Get me a Filo-Fax and let’s call it a day already because on Atwell, organisation, has never looked so damn good.
Outside the comforting heritage of Claridge’s where we find ourselves, questions such as, ‘is this what life is actually about? Is this it?’ have been swirling around my mind for a while. At this point in the interview, it feels as if Hayley has taken up residence inside my brain, as she continues, “it’s not healthy to think you are not enough. You get to a point in your twenties if you have had that pressure of having that quarter-life crisis and thinking, ‘oh my god is this going to be my life now? I am never going to learn Spanish, play the piano or be an astronaut?” Don’t worry, Tim Peak, if you are reading this, I shan’t be jetting off to space for your job any time soon.
Hayley GOES IN: “facing the reality of your life is hard. Betty White said, ‘aging isn’t for p*ssies,’ and it really isn’t. Life is real, sh*t gets real and it gets realer. But when life is at higher stakes you discover things about your character. When you have to face yourself the most exciting part of your life begins. You have to practice standing on your own two feet even if it’s just within yourself emotionally. That growing up phase is f**king epic!”
The irony is that morning, at a 9am screening of Christopher Robin, I cried for a solid twenty minutes over my lost childhood watching Pooh mourn Robin skipping off to bording school. So, keen to be at one with growing-up IRL, I ask how thirty-six-year-old Hayley feels about herself right now. “I have just hit a sweet spot where all the things I was working for in terms of having good emotional health and mental health practices clicked. I have been able to say no and I have been more discerning about how I work, who I work with and what I will and will not put up with. Being able to spot behaviours and calling things out for what they are as opposed to going, ‘oh that person treated me that way because clearly, I am not good enough,’ has been life-changing.” Repeat after Hayley: just say NO already.
How did Hayley become so schooled in empowerment I wonder? The answer is quite simply – or not so simple for many – trusting her instincts. “People have their own answers to most things inside them anyway. It’s not so much about finding the people to tell you what the answer is but being brave enough to trust yourself and your own instincts about certain situations. Acting on those instincts is what creates empowerment.” Can we get some finger clicking inserted in here?
Then comes the moment when I realise that Hayley Atwell is the Oprah of British acting. Get ready to ‘gram this statement, “in order to build self-esteem we have to do estimable things. Even if that is the small things like getting one little piece of sh*t done like making your bed or fixing your breakfast.” Perhaps my Mum was onto something during my childhood when she kept banging on about making my bed after all – damn it!
It is highly evident Hayley is beyond comfortable in her own skin, so it’s fitting that the true meaning of Christopher Robin, as we mutually proclaim is, “that Pooh wants to hang out with you just as you are.” That is exactly what she would love to tell the young audience watching the film, too, “I would want to tell them they are enough as they are. The focus for boys and girls in this modern-day world is to constantly better themselves and it’s getting out of hand. It’s creating such incredible insecurity in our sense of self. We celebrate success, money, productivity and we then promote the best versions of ourselves on Instagram. We don’t see the work that goes behind that. So, I think it’s very easy for us – myself included sometimes – to not feel enough.” Queen.
Badassary seems to be Hayley’s new personality of choice, evident in how she landed her role in Christopher Robin. “I was on holiday when I got a call from the director, Mark Forster. I had really erratic signal on my phone on a boat in the Aegean Sea. The captain told me where a good signal spot was on the horizon. So I got on the back of a jet ski by myself. I was about to Skype with the director of Quantum of Solace, Monsters Ball and I just went, ‘Hey! Welcome to my office, this is how I do business. So, tell me about the movie!’ He was just like, ‘who are you?’ And there I was thinking, ‘I don’t even know any more Mark, this is how I roll!’”
Hayley has recently swapped her brunette locks for a divine shade of blonde, and it seems an apt personification of her ‘Sass-well’ character. Is this the secret to becoming a changed person? Flicking her lid around, Hayley exclaims, “people who change sh*t up have more fun! If you do something that’s different you suddenly feel that you are awake in a different way. That is how I feel about blonde hair – I just love new things!”
BRB I am now off to dye my hair blonde and be more Atwell. Meanwhile, Hayley is off to nail another monumental point in her career, “I have just been invited onto My Dad Wrote A Porno – my life is made!” You and me both, babe.