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Among the nominees at last year’s British Independent Film Awards, an event that has often served as a well trusted indicator of upcoming names to watch out for, was Lily Newmark.
Then 23 (she’s now 24), the London-born actress was in the running for most promising newcomer for her film debut — and lead role — in the British indie Pin Cushion, a colorfully chintzy yet disturbing and tragic tale of bullying and mental illness from first-time director Deborah Hayward.
Newmark may not have taken home the award (which went to Naomie Ackie for Lady Macbeth), but just more than six months on and she’s been cast in arguably more projects than most others in the room, let alone her category, to the extent that “newcomer” might no longer be a suitable term.
Alongside Pin Cushion, which bowed in Venice last year and is set for its U.S. release this Friday (it came out in the U.K. on July 13 to largely positive reviews), there’s a supporting role in the Judd Apatow-produced comedy Juliet, Naked, alongside Ethan Hawke, Rose Byrne and Chris O’Dowd (and out next month with Roadside Attraction), and the BBC’s upcoming big-budget Les Miserables TV adaptation. That’s not forgetting a major part in satirical comedy How to Sell a War from Rudolph Herzog (son of Werner), for which Newmark will soon be filming extra pickup scenes, plus the biopic Born a King, U.S. horror Welcome to Mercy and U.K. indie Reprobate.
And, of course, earlier in 2018 came one not-exactly-insignificant credit: Solo: A Star Wars Story.
“It’s been kind of non-stop for the last two and a half years,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Two and half years ago, Newmark was actually still a student at the U.K.’s highly respected East 15 Acting School, where she trained in theater. But even before graduation she managed to earn a role on NBC’s Emerald City. The series, a dark reimagining of L. Frank Baum’s world of Oz, may have only lasted for one season before being cancelled, but for an aspiring actress at the start of her career, it was the perfect way to kick things off.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t do as well as everyone had hoped, but for me it was an amazing first job, the dream job really,” she says. “It was such a great team, the set was incredible, the costumes were amazing and it was filmed in Budapest, which is beautiful. It was fantastic.”
And it was Emerald City that Newmark credits with helping spark the influx of roles that would line up in quick succession.
“I think they were impressed that someone who hadn’t even graduated from drama school was capable of stepping up to a role in an NBC series,” she says. “I think that made people interested, and they wanted to meet me, because obviously there was nothing else to show them. It made them intrigued, and I think that’s what got me in the door with a lot of casting directors.”
Pin Cushion will now be able to showcase Newmark’s lead role capabilities and will likely be opening many more casting directors’ doors.
The film, already compared to the early works of Yorgos Lanthimos, sees her star as Iona, a sweet yet disconnected and painfully naive teenager whose life has largely remained shuttered from the outside world due to an unhealthily close relationship with her mentally slow and hunchbacked mother, Lyn (Joanna Scanlan). Things come apart for the two on relocating to a new town, with neither able to fit into their respective communities and both exploited by their peers. Several scenes make for uncomfortable viewing.
“Deborah and I were pretty shocked… there’s been a great response across the board… because it can be very bleak at times,” says Newmark. “I feel like you have to be a real movie lover to appreciate it. It’s not really something anyone can walk in and see.”
Despite the dark storyline, Pin Cushion serves up a rather colorful palette, with Iona and Lyn’s fairy tale-like lives smothered in bright knitwear, porcelain dolls and other eccentricities, factors that only elevate the moments of despair.
“In terms of costumes and sets, it’s definitely in another world … apart from Star Wars,” she says.
Star Wars, as it happens, turned out not to quite be the role that it could have been. Newmark’s character Lexi was originally described as the “Artful Dodger of the White Worm World” on Han Solo’s home planet of Corellia, where Solo: A Star Wars Story kicks off. But the switch between directors (Newmark only worked with Ron Howard) saw it cut down considerably.
“Basically, you blink and you miss me,” says Newmark. “But that’s fine, I’m not disheartened by the size of my part. For me, it wasn’t a project to show off my acting and performance, it was more of fulfilling a childhood dream, in the same way that much more successful and famous actors ask for cameos.”
Despite the — eventually — minor part, joining the Star Wars universe meant that Newmark got caught up in the wild online gossip and speculation that inevitably preludes any addition to the sci-fi franchise.
“I had fan pages put up about me playing characters that I wasn’t playing — it got a bit out of control,” she laughs. “Some of the fans were actually pretty livid and sent me messages as if I’d started the rumor myself!”
Her next major title, Juliet, Naked, however, sees her in a considerably chunkier role, and is one Newmark is far happier to wax lyrical about.
“It was my first comedy and such a fantastic team,” she says. “I definitely felt as though I learned a lot. [Director) Jesse Peretz is one of my favorite people to work with, such a lovely guy with such a great sense of humor.”
Newmark says that she tends to get cast as more “tragic characters,” but comedy — like Juliet, Naked — is where she’s “always found comfort” and is where she feels “happiest and strongest.”
Across a career that is just two years old, however, comedy is just one of an already wide and eclectic range of genres on her resume.
“I never really had an arc in mind, I just said yes to pretty much anything!” she says. “I’m at the beginning of a career and just didn’t think there was any point in passing up anything that I could gain experience from.”
And this approach is something she’s happy to keep going. “I think do want to keep mixing it up and keep on learning and trying new things. I think I’ve definitely grown over the past two years but there’s still a very long way to go,” she says.
“I’d just like to try as many different stories and characters, because there are so many amazing roles written for women, especially since last year and the whole MeToo movement. There are so many more opportunities to play with gender and power play in film, and I just want to keep pushing the boundaries.”
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