The actress, 34, on learning to love her body, Bafta frocks and short skirts
Interview by Daisy Garnett
Sunday June 10, 2007
I know what I'm going to wear every day before I open my wardrobe. It takes me about a second to think it all out. A normal day for me is spending time with my kids (Ripley, six, and Nico, two), which means sitting down on the floor. A lot. So it's jeans. Tight jeans or boy-cut jeans with a top - maybe a bit of a chemise, maybe by Marni. And I love a cardigan, though my husband Ol groans whenever I wear one. He thinks they are unsexy, but I can't do without them. You can make your neckline plunge with a cardie, or you can prim it up. Either way it's always jeans, even though part of me hates jeans. Everyone wears jeans and I have a thing about that. It's because it took me a long time to get my identity together - it wasn't easy growing up a mixed-race kid in Cornwall- and when I think back, I can chart that process by the way I dressed myself. I have come to love looking a little different.
I look at my daughters - because dressing children is complicated in itself - it shows how you want to see them and how you want them to be seen. Ripley doesn't give a toss what she wears - she'll only say if something is itchy or uncomfortable. So I get to dress her like I'm her stylist. I love it. So because of that I've been thinking more about dressing. Because there is this idea that women get dressed for other women, but I think we actually get dressed to see ourselves.
I pride myself on having good taste now, but it was terrible growing up. I dressed like a 40-year-old woman when I was a teenager. I wore long skirts, tights, big sweaters and lots of make-up. My next phase was shapeless clothes from Ghost. I was desperately insecure about my body. Why? Women are. I was so unhappy during my adolescence that I wanted to hide myself all the time. That hit its pitch at university. I was so covered up then I looked like Obi-Wan Kenobi.
I began changing when I met my husband and fell in love. I was 23 and we met on the set of a BBC film he wrote called In Your Dreams. Ol is such a pure, open, absorbing, unthreatening person, and he allowed me to receive and love myself back through him: he would never need me to be a trophy girlfriend. It wasn't as simple as him saying, 'Oh babe, you look good in a short skirt'. It's been a long burn. In fact it's only in the last year that I've been comfortable wearing a short skirt.
Now I love dressing up. I'd been hearing about Giles Deacon through friends for ages, and so at the end of last year I asked him if I could borrow something to wear for Vogue's 90th birthday party. This strapless black dress arrived 20 minutes before I was due to leave for the party, but I put it on and I was like, oh my God. I returned it the next day, and rang him and said, 'Baftas? Will you dress me?' He dressed Helen Mirren and me. Could you get two more different-looking women?
Last year I wore this stunning, big Eliza Doolittle sort of gown by Lacroix. I was quite firm about not wanting to wear a gown again, and I explained to Giles that I wanted something rocking, but quite back-of-the stage-looking. But as soon as I saw a sketch of a dress from his new collection, I knew it was right, even though it contradicted everything I had said, but dressing is about trusting your gut.
I had the same feeling meeting Giles as I did when I met the Queen. Twittery. It doesn't matter how supercool you are, when you are invited to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen - I went to a cocktail party given for British achievers - you cannot help getting excited. Thankfully I was in LA when I heard about it, so I was with my stylist who dresses me for things like press junkets, and she said, you have to wear Chanel. I got the outfit so right, you wouldn't believe it. It was a beautiful black Chanel dress with a sensible neckline and layers, like petals, of chiffon. It was perfect. Heaven. I was basking. The Queen was nice. We didn't talk for long, but afterwards, I thought, you're amazing. Imagine giving your life over to these things. She looked immaculate in a peachy pink suit with sequins. Not sequins like Elton; hers were more a speckled shimmer. Talk about getting dressed.
I imagine Queen Elizabeth must have people helping her dress every day, like you do on a movie. I hate that. The dressers are always lovely but I don't let them come near me. For me, costume is huge. When I go for the costume fitting, it's the first time I see myself in the mirror as the character I am playing. Because however much you think and read and do research, you don't do it in front of a mirror. For The Pursuit of Happyness, for example, I was given five dry cleaning outfits to try on and I knew exactly which one my character Linda - who worked in a dry cleaners - would wear. I put it on and I thought, OK, I've got it. In the script Linda was described as the bitch that leaves, but I saw her as a woman basically committing suicide. Every time I walked on the set, that's who I was. It was hard. There wasn't a lot of Thandie around.
I had a screening for the film not long ago - just for friends. I dressed for joy for that screening and I wore a Marni dress, black tights, a cardie and Marni high heels. Dressing up for dinner with friends or a low-key party is much more fun than doing it for the red carpet. No one is judging you when you dress up for friends and you just feel delicious.