After entering the acting world at 12 years old, Lucy had to overcome 13 years of rejection alongside a sprinkling of roles including the reboot of Murder on The Orient Express opposite the likes of Penelope Cruz and Judi Dench.
Lucy Boynton shot to fame last year in Bohemian Rhapsody, playing Freddie Mercury’s girlfriend. But that was no normal run-of-the-mill ‘girlfriend’ role. With Lucy’s arresting acting, she took up – and owned – the screen whenever she entered it. For many, the award’s season that followed marked the icing on top of an ‘overnight success’ cake, too. But the reality is very different.
Now, Lucy prepares for one of her biggest roles to date as the sass AF Astrid in Ryan Murphy’s new Netflix smash hit show, The Politician. In a tale of ambition, whereby Ben Platt’s Payton will do anything to become School President, Lucy serves layered bitch like no other. Prepare to become obsessed.
Here, Lucy opens up about what rejection has taught her, the obstacles she’s had to overcome to have self-confidence and how going to an all-girls school that was “cliquey as hell” affected her…
How do you think The Politician’s treatment of mental health would have helped you growing up?
I think just having those conversations, having that dialogue, in a commercial show like this! It approaches a very broad range of conversations and it brings levity where it is necessary, and it brings respect where it is necessary in such a beautiful and concise way that I think it’s helpful to have in your consciousness and have as that catalyst for that conversation. Once that becomes more of a frequent conversation, the easier it is, and it isn’t such a taboo to talk about these things and I think that is the most dangerous element when you feel you can’t talk about any of this.
The Politician covers so many important issues from gun control to sexuality. What kinds of conversation do you want for it to start?
I think the more personal side of politics and what is political, especially in terms of some of the policies we discuss in the show such as gun control. The way it is displayed in a very personal experience to the characters right from episode one is so important. It frames the conversation in a very different way. I think politics can be very theoretical. The thing that we are talking about can be quite abstract and so something like this brings that right down to the personal. It’s a good thing to encourage people to consider.
There’s a big discussion around mental health, too. What kind of relationship have you had with your own mental health?
Oh boy! I think it is an interesting thing that has only started to be a conversation later on in my life. I don’t really remember at high school it being much of a topic of conversation. I know that we could go to the school nurses and discuss anything if we wanted to, but it wasn’t a thing that was done. Now, with social media, it’s become much more common to share openly, now it’s easier and it’s much less daunting. And you suddenly realise that everyone has been experiencing the same anxieties and world pressures you’ve been bottling up.
What do you do to check in on yourself?
Stay away from social media! That one is an absolute killer. I know everyone says it and then it hits you and it’s like, ‘oh that’s why everyone says it!’ I read a lot and that’s very grounding as it removes you from the world for a little bit which I find very therapeutic. Social media has so many pros and cons, but it can start to feel negative. It’s a hard thing to put away for loads of people because it’s part of their community as well but you need balance.
There is so much pressure to have a platform today, especially as an actress, too…
Yes! And it’s kind of counterproductive for what we do. My whole job is to encourage you to suspend your disbelief that it’s me, so if I’m shoving myself on your social media all the time then all you’ll ever be watching is Lucy doing something which would get so boring. It’s a weird balance but you do have this reach, you have people looking at you and listening, so I guess in this political climate as well, you have to use that responsibility. It’s about finding that balance.
When it comes to you having a platform, how nerve-wracking do you find it to have one?
I’m in denial about it. When I got Instagram, it was just my best friend Elle who commented on everything, so I still feel like it’s that. So, to say anything with a bigger message is still something very self-conscious for me. I try and use it where necessary and then walk away from it.
What’s your personal journey been with finding your voice?
I find it easy to lean into being shy and apologetic for myself and that’s where Astrid came in very handy because she’s so unapologetic and so happy for her opinion to be heard and take up space. I would walk away from playing her for a week and I would be a bit louder and take up more space. It made me realise how much I’d not been doing that in my own time. It’s learning that it’s ok to be wrong, that you can have an opinion on a Tuesday that changes on a Thursday, too.
What was it like going back to your school years to play Astrid?
It made the job more interesting and somewhat easier because if you’re trying to say something about the period you’re currently in, it’s harder to have any perspective. Whereas being on the outside of that, it was really interesting to go in with a bigger insight. You get to walk away at the end of the day and not be in high school anymore, too – that’s a real relief!
What was high school like for you?
It was fine, it was good. I was really lucky to go to the school that I did. But it was an all -girls school so cliquey as hell. That’s given me a thicker skin I think so that’s good.
What was your relationship with popularity like growing up?
It’s such a stressful thing as long as you put weight on it. You’re always aware of a hierarchy so I always remember being aware of who the popular girls were and then being ok with being outside of that. My job helped a lot with that because I always had another world to go to. School was never everything for me, that was how I survived it.
What has been the up and down you’ve learnt the most from?
When I was 14, I’d been working somewhat steadily for a few years but then I had to take a break to do my GCSE’s. I didn’t really mind at the time because I was excited to go back to school and not miss out on all my friends’ birthdays and then I thought I could pick up where I left off, but I couldn’t. I was in a very different casting bracket when I went back at 17. I got to have my awkward phase off camera though which is great, though. Those braces did not suit me! But I learnt a lot because it forced me to question why I needed it and if I needed it. I had to work for it and that was worth it. It took a few years of a hell of a lot of rejection several times a week for a few years and powering through that.
Rejection teaches you so much, too. What has it taught you?
That it’s OK and it’s not always a reflection of you. The things I was so devastated at the time to not get, I’m now so grateful because it always leads to something better and it gives you a sense of perspective. If everything falls into your lap, you don’t learn how to work hard or any kind of work ethic.
You said recently that you felt you were, ‘taught to have male bosses,’ at school. What has grappling with that been like for you?
I didn’t start thinking about it until later. At the time I was at school, that conversation wasn’t happening about empowering young girls rather than continuing the tradition of what businesses were looking like at the time. I’m trying to make sense of it but it’s that thing you instil in women at a young age of not wearing a short skirt because it’s uncomfortable for male teachers rather than how do you want to feel, how do you want to present yourself as human being and as a woman. I was really lucky that my sister has been a very outspoken person for her whole life and a very strong sense of self as a feminist and so she grilled me from a young age and forced me to question those things and be much more aware of it and the things I was perpetuating.
What kind of anti-feminist conversations are you still shocked by?
The fact we still have to have this conversation. I was on a panel with Brit Marling at Venice Film Festival recently which was so cool, I’m her biggest fan. She said as a person who is now a creator and a writer, she has been in the room where they discuss representation and the need to get more women in the room and she was saying it’s ridiculous. It’s spoken about like it’s so difficult to get more women in the room. It’s not that hard, there is space, just do it. The fact it’s this whole political conversation of how we can possibly get more women to do this, they’re there and they have stories.
Do you feel more empowered than ever before?
Sure, yeah, I guess so. I must, right? Especially promoting a show like this where you don’t have to bullsh*t. You can so authentically stand behind that message. While we were filming this, I was doing promotion for Bohemian Rhapsody and we were talking so consistently about lessons that Freddie would talk about in terms of identity and what he hoped to inspire in people. Then I’d go to work on this and realise that was happening. The things we were representing in this show were the things that he was unable to at the time, so it was really great to preach it in the day and practice it in the night.
What do you think is the most pressing issue for you, sitting here today?
Authentic representation in politics which seems to have been muddied. The show addresses the facade of people and especially people representing in politics right now. You look at politics historically and you can identify politicians and now it’s muddied. It’s celebrities as politicians and I don’t understand the crossing over of that world. Also, in terms of this step back from inclusivity as well. That was all under the surface and it’s embarrassing that it wasn’t acknowledged. It’s frightening what’s come to light and to the surface with Brexit and in America with the messages attached to that. It’s not just a political conversation, it becomes hijacked by very fervent opinions and sometimes quite unfriendly opinion.
What advice would you give to someone struggling with confidence?
Surround yourself by intellectually stimulating people, by people who make you feel good and who you make feel good. The most liberating thing about leaving school is that you don’t have to hang out with people you don’t like. It’s such a waste of time to conform and be a sheep. I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time trying to identify by other people’s standards and conform to that.
What standard were you trying to fit into?
What was cool and the speed at which people were growing up. I was always very young and some of the girls were growing up much faster. At a younger age, being different isn’t good. It worries you and you only realise when it’s too late that it was such a great thing and it fuels you to get where you’re going. The earlier you can embrace that, the better. I don’t know how you step away from it but step away from it. Be that cool person without social media, too.