Dafne Keen is moving on from playing a feral, orphaned, daddy-issue girl”

Call Sheet: the teenage star of His Dark Materials talks abusive onscreen parents and entering the Star Wars universe with The Acolyte.

Meet the young actor tasked with playing a little kid with the two worst parents in the fucking history of parents.”

James McAvoy says that, and he should know: in His Dark Materials, the Scotsman plays one of those woeful parents. In the BBC/​HBO adaptation of author Philip Pullman’s beloved fantasy series, the BAFTA-winning star is Lord Asriel, father of poor little Lyra Belacqua.

Mommie dearest, meanwhile, is Mrs Coulter, portrayed by Ruth Wilson. At the start of the third and final series of the drama – set in an alternative-reality Britain where a sinister religious order holds sway over the multiverse – Mrs Coulter’s maternal instinct manifests in, er, drugging Lyra so she can’t run away.

Going toe-to-toe with two of Britain’s most esteemed actors; being abused (onscreen) by said actors, constantly having to perform alongside a CGI demon (voiced by Heartbreakers Kit O’Connor), saving the world: a tough gig, then, for a teen actor.

Handily, Dafne Keen is no ordinary teen actor. The preternaturally cool 17-year-old wasn’t even into her teens when she was cast opposite Hugh Jackman in 2017’s soulful superhero epic Logan, playing Wolverine’s clone daughter. She was 13 when she began filming His Dark Materials in Cardiff, her first scene on her first day with McAvoy the one where Asriel pins me down onto a table. So it was an intense first scene!”

And now, still a few weeks shy of her 18th birthday, Keen is already moving into the adult” portion of her career.

She’s Zooming in from what looks like a chintzy suburban hotel room, taking time off from filming The Acolyte. In production at Shinfield Studios in Berkshire, it’s the latest Star Wars spin-off series and stars FACE fave Amandla Stenberg in (we think) the title role. Beyond revealing that she’s filming until April, that is, of course, all Keen can tell us about the project.

Luckily, the actor – daughter of Spanish actress mum and English actor dad (he’s in HDM, too, playing a kind of boot-boy ultra-vicar) – can tell us a whole lot more about the nuts and bolts of a career that’s already occupied almost half her life. The His Dark Materials role came along when she was filming Logan in the US. Well, it didn’t quite just come along”, she explains.

Basically I did a bunch of auditions, didn’t get contacted for a year, thought someone else had got it, turns out someone else hadn’t got it, they just had some production stuff going on,” Keen says, rattling through the memories.

Then came the call-back, as she was winding down after the Logan shoot with two days off in the middle of nowhere in Puerto Rico. They were like: We need a self-tape now.’ So I gathered all of these little lamps from different hotel rooms because the lighting was really bad. And the wifi was really bad. Then, beforehand, I decided to go for a dip in the ocean, and I got really badly stung in the face by a jellyfish.

Also, I was told I had to do it in a Cockney accent. So I was doing a Cockney accent, no wifi, terrible lighting and a jellyfish sting across my face. And somehow I got it. So,” she concludes, beaming widely, I must have done something right!”

Clearly she must have, because Keen’s career had lift-off, even as she’s still weighing up whether to push through with her Spanish A‑levels this academic year. Which means that, even though she only graduated to adult hours” while filming HDMs new/​last series (“one day I was doing five hours on camera, a few 15 minute breaks, a really long lunch break. The next day, 12-hour day, 20-minute lunch and it was just, like, really weird”), Dafne Keen already has plenty of Call Sheet-friendly memories…

The film or TV show or actor that made me want to get into acting was…

I always forget his name and it’s really bad. The man that sings Make Em Laugh in Singin’ in the Rain

Donald O’Connor?

Yes, him! I remember watching that and it was the first scene in my life where I was watching and I went: Oh shit, that’s an actor, that’s not actually happening. This isn’t a documentary. That’s someone who’s learned to dance.” I was six and, even though my parents were actors, when I watched a film, I was so invested in it, I wasn’t thinking that they were actors. And that was the first time I clocked an actor. Also Jack Lemmon. He’s just a G, man.

One thing I wish I’d known about being an actor is…

I’ll tell you two. Number one: if you really love acting, you’re getting paid for waiting around, not for the actual acting. Because you will do the acting for free. It’s the waiting around that you’re like, oh my god, please kill me now. Not kill me now, because there’s lovely people on set you can hang out with.

Number two: learn your lines so well for auditions that nothing can throw you off and you can just play around and be yourself and not be shy. Because that’s what’s gonna get you roles. Casting directors look for you making an acting decision, making a choice, that’s original and different and makes sense.

The best piece of advice I got in the industry was…

One of them was definitely from Hugh Jackman: always get along with the crew, make sure that they’re OK and take care of them. Basically be a team with them. Because you’re going to be spending months and months of your entire life with them. They’re the people that make your job possible. They’re usually really lovely people and you have a lot to learn from them because they’re brilliant at their craft.

My most embarrassing audition moment was…

I went to an audition and I didn’t know the director was in the room. And I asked: Oh, who is the director?”. And he was a really, really important Hollywood director – I won’t say the name because it’s just too embarrassing. And he was like: Ah, I’m directing it…”

Another time, somehow the information hadn’t gotten to me that it was a singing audition. And it was a Mariah Carey song. I had to try to improvise it and I had a cold. It didn’t go well and I didn’t get the job. The Mariah song? All I Want For Christmas Is You. Yeah, not good.

The one thing I can’t go without on set or in my trailer is…

I always like to have a candle in my trailer with a nice scent, so that it doesn’t smell like a trailer and it smells like my home. Something that reminds me of a holy space. Because trailers have a very trailer-like, Febreze smell. Also: always have a blanket in your trailer so you can sleep when you can, because you don’t get much sleep in this industry.

The one thing that people get wrong about Hollywood is…

When Logan came out, people were like: Oh my God, was it super glamorous?” And realistically we spent a quarter of it in a desert, in sandstorms, all wearing broken, dirty desert clothes. My job consisted of getting into makeup every morning for no makeup – they just oiled my hair so it looked dirty. So people usually give it much more glamour than it actually has. The glamour is usually a few nights of events a year. The rest of it is let’s put dirt on your face, make your hair oily, now go on set and run through puddles.”

The worst lie I’ve ever told to get apart is…

I lied about reading the books for His Dark Materials. I read them afterwards, but I hadn’t read them first and I was like: Oh my God, I loved that bit, so good…” I’ve lied about skills for sure. I once said I could play guitar. I’ve said that I can horseback ride when I’ve done it twice in my life. As an actor, those are the classic lies that we say.

When I’m not acting I…

I love hanging out with my friends and my loved ones. I’m usually taking photographs of them. And lots of my friends are musicians so I love going to the studio and just watching them recording, being extremely jealous of their musical lives. I love watching films. And I’m usually creating something. I’ve always got a little project in my hands.

My dream role is…

Look, man, I won’t be picky. I’ve been playing a feral, orphaned daddy-issue girl for the last, like, fucking nine years of my life. So I’m ready to play women. I’d love to play a villain. I just really want to do in my career as many different things as possible. I never want to play the same role twice.

His Dark Materials launches on BBC and iPlayer on 18th December.

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