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Hannah John-Kamen’s movie career is a bit like that old saying about London busses: you wait and wait for your one big break, and then three come at once.
At the moment, few outside Britain know her name, but that’s about to change. And fast. With supporting roles in Tomb Raider (being released Friday), Ready Player One (March 31) and Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 6), the 28-year-old British actress is set to be thrust into the limelight.
Which isn’t to say John-Kamen has been idle and biding her time. Her short but impressive career was already marked by an enviable upward trajectory. The Yorkshire-born daughter of a Nigerian forensic psychologist and a Norwegian ex-model, John-Kamen burst straight out of the drama school gates to land roles in two major — and award-winning — British TV series: The Hour, alongside Dominic West and Ben Whishaw, and Sally Wainwright’s gritty Happy Valley, which amassed a legion of U.S. fans when it was picked up by Netflix.
Netflix viewers got another eyeful of her in “Fifteen Million Merits,” the second episode of Black Mirror, where she appeared alongside a pre-Get Out Daniel Kaluuya. John-Kamen returned to Charlie Brooker’s Emmy-winning dark anthology series for a chunkier part in season three’s twisted video game horror “Playlist.”
Since then, Syfy’s Killjoys has given the actress her first lead role and steady work in the Toronto-shot action-adventure series (she plays Dutch, one of three interplanetary bounty hunters), but she’s found the time to hop back over the Atlantic for Game of Thrones (as Ornela, a close confident of Daenerys Targaryen in season 6) and her big screen debut in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as a stern-looking First Order office who informs General Hux his deadly super weapon is ready.
Such walk-on roles look to be a thing of past. With each new film, John-Kamen’s screen time keeps climbing. As Ghost in Ant-Man and the Wasp, she’ll get top billing as the film’s main baddie. Echoing a rising trend in Hollywood, the character has switched genders from its comic book iteration.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter from Toronto, where she’s been busy filming the fourth and penultimate season of Killjoys, John-Kamen talks about her big year, singing Sinatra with Spielberg on the set of Ready Player One and why she was born to be a star.
Three major studio films in the space of just a few months: did you expect this year to pan out like this?
It’s extremely exciting. Honestly, in terms of when you shoot movies it’s quite rare that three in a row that you’ve just done will come out. But it’s so exciting.
Was there a pinch-yourself moment when you making any of the three?
With Spielberg, definitely. To have had the privilege and honor of working with the legend that is Steven Spielberg — I think that was definitely the pinch-myself moment of my career so far. And I’m such a fan of the [Ready Player One] book as well before joining the cast … so it was a double-whammy of excitement.
Was working with Spielberg everything you hoped it would be?
To be honest, when I first met Steven in L.A. it was actually the most calming moment of the whole process. He’s so calm and he’s such an open man. It was great to sit and talk and chat and get to know him and talk about the character. It was actually really calming. On set we had such a great rapport. We’d be singing show tunes — a bit of Frank Sinatra, Singing in the Rain, which was awesome.
It must be such a relief to have seen Ready Player One get so many good reviews so far.
I know. I had no doubt. It’s such an incredible story. It’s directed by such an incredible man and with the amount of ’80s themes, what better person to do it than Steven. 100 percent I had no doubt that it was going to be an incredible success.
Your character isn’t actually in the book, right?
No. F’Nale Zandor: she’s been written for the film. She’s a a very fun character. She works in the IOI (Innovative Online Industries, the film’s evil corporation) on the other side from the good guys. She’s very loyal. That’s one word I would use to describe her.
Was it fun to see yourself in virtual reality?
My character is only in the real world! But it was really fun, because there were days I’d come to the studio and see the motion capture and everyone else in their costumes. It was really fun to watch and see the process. It’s just fascinating.
And in Ant-Man as Ghost, you’ve got a much bigger role.
Yeah, she’s the antagonist of the movie! That’s very fun. And it was so much fun to film, especially with Peyton Reed the director. But yeah, my character is certainly bigger.
Just how villainous is she?
Ha! Every villain has a reason, I’d say!
Is it true that in the comic books, Ghost was a man?
Yes. Ghost is originally a male character in the comics, but I always say until you take the character out of a comic book and make it your own it’s still a character in a comic book. So it’s up to you to bring it to life.
What was the casting process like?
It was a big. I flew out to L.A. and did a camera test and I think that from then it was kind of 100 percent moving forward. I had so much fun auditioning for this role. I came away saying I hadn’t had that much fun auditioning in such a long time. It was just so great to explore the character and the scenes and come away and go ‘wow, there’s so much more to this character than I ever thought.’
How and when did you find out you’d got it?
My agents all did a big group call and whenever they do that it’s usually good news! It wasn’t too long after the camera test.
You’re going to be a main antagonist in a major Marvel film. Are you prepared for the sudden surge in interest?
I’m ready as ever! My mum and dad say, “Always keep grounded no matter what happens in life.” And I always go back to them. It’s not a problem to be taken away and swept up with it all and be away with the fairies, with interest and fame. But I’m the sort of person who is always remembering who I am and my life. It’s all about the roles and the enjoyment I have playing these roles.
Were your parents in the film industry at all?
No, it’s completely separate! My father is a forensic psychologist and my mum was a model from Norway. And my sister is a doctor and my brother is in music. I was the only person in my family to have gone down this route.
Where do you think the acting bug came from?
I don’t know! My mum loved to sing and is quite the performer herself. But I can’t even remember the moment I wanted to act. All I can remember is being born and constantly performing to my parents as a toddler. As a kid, if I had friends round for tea I’d write scripts and then we’d charge the parents who were picking them up £1.50 for a ticket to our extravaganza. I think it’s just constantly been there. I was born with the bug!
Do you have any of those scripts still around?
I actually just found an old ticket with glitter all over it saying “welcome to Hannah John-Kamen’s extravaganza.”
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