After working as an actress in your childhood you went on to study politics and economics – why?
As a child, I always looked very young, so in my teens I could not yet play adult roles, but already looked too old to be a child on screen. Also, I have always admired Oxbridge – I wanted to go to an establishment like that and wanted to say, “I did that”. My mum was the first person in her family to go to university and I became the first one to go to Cambridge – I graduated with a degree in Political Science.
There's definitely a class system in this country, which is different from, say, America, where it has to do with money and what you’ve achieved. In the UK, it has a lot to do with breeding, with titles. I was raised in Finsbury Park, belonged to a working-class family, a single-parent family; I grew up in a housing-association house. It was a shock coming face to face with people who were raised with money, studied at Eton, went on skiing holidays every winter – just culturally they were completely different to me. This difference was so distinct, it was like meeting someone from a completely different world and trying to find ways to interact with them and make friends. It would be dishonest to say that it wasn't challenging
How did you manage to carry on with your studies when the pressure to fit in was on?
I am very goal-oriented. My goal was to come away with a good degree, so I just focused on my studies. I did psychology and anthropology that have to do with what forms individuals, how individuals and groups behave – as an actor, these are the questions you constantly ask yourself.
You went to The Old Vic after university. How did you get the role in 28 Days After? Was it down to luck?
No, I don’t think it was chance as too many good things have happened to me. I believe that you make your own luck – I have always been very driven as a person, with no back-up plan. Things just had to work out! All the money that I’d earned as a child actress, I used for Cambridge, so when I wanted to go to drama school after, there was no money. And everyone said, “There's no money so you can't go”. I researched numerous lists of charities and sent out so many letters asking for help. My uncle gave me money for the first term and I remember arriving at drama school, not knowing where I would find the money to stay there. But then regularly there would be a cheque from a charity that would pay for another term. One of them was the Women’s Educational Trust, which I am a patron of now.
The roles you got after drama school in the films 28 Days Later, Ninja Assassins were very physical. Did you have to train hard?
Of course, the same happened before we started filming Skyfall. These roles are very physical and it's inevitable you get hurt but you are sort of high on adrenaline most of the time. But the hardest thing is that you always question yourself mentally – if you are good enough to be on the set, if you are the right person for this role. And that’s what I know now – it’s just a waste of time when you question other people’s decisions. If they chose you to be on set, it means you are right for it.
Do you like action scenes?
The action scenes aren't my favourite ones. I've never been someone physical, I've not exercised much –the muscly physique is genetic. It's terrible to say it – as a total pacifist in real life – but I found it really exhilarating to shoot guns on set.
What has been the most challenging role for you so far?
I did the role of Hortense in the BBC historical drama Small Island – that was one of my favourite roles, and one of the hardest. My character has a Jamaican accent; she wears white gloves and thinks she's above everyone else. We are so different! It was hard to understand her, but once I was there, once I was able to become her, feel her and lose myself in her character it was easy to forget about the cameras. I figured out that the closer the characters are to real me, the more difficult I find it to play them as I become self-conscious.
How was it being part of Pirates of the Caribbean?
It was great – a real adventure and a shared experience with my family – mum hosted a party for a screening and I had a chance to take members of my family to the premiere.
How hard was it not to speak about being chosen for the Bond film?
So hard! I wasn't allowed to say a word for about two months – it was killing me! I remember that the auditioning process was actually very quick – I did two auditions with the casting director, one in costume and make-up, and one with Sam Mendes. In the beginning I didn’t think there would be any chance, so I just went there and had fun. But when they started calling me back again and again, it began getting more nerve-wracking.
Do you like your character?
Yes, I like this new type of Bond girl – they are more independent. With each movie they are trying to get someone who is stronger and a better match for Agent 007. The most challenging thing is to make the Bond girl your own and not be in awe of all the things that are happening on set. I was really nervous to be in the same movie with actors I respect and admire like Daniel Craig and Judy Dench. It was hugely intimidating. They turned out to be lovely – I guess in order to become a good actor, you need to be able to let go of your ego.
Are you ready for fame, for being recognised in the street?
I doubt it will happen. I have one of those chameleon faces – no one seems to recognise me even if I sit next to my own poster on the tube.
Do you think the movie will open new doors for you? Would you like to do theatre or a musical in the West End?
It's becoming more common for movie actresses to try theatre. I’ve already done Frankenstein directed by Danny Boyle at the National Theatre. I prefer cinema – that's what I’ve been doing for years. To be honest, theatre is a lot harder and that’s where you truly hone your craft as an actor. There is no camera to hide behind – you can tell a good actor by how he plays on stage.
Would you do any nude scenes?
No, I always have a body double. I am an actress, not a porn star. It’s too much asking me to remove my clothes.
Do you follow any diet?
Not at the moment. But at some point I used to eat only raw food – it lasted for about six months and I felt great. It was Woody Harrelson who is got me into that – he is a raw foodie. But it had to stop – food is more than just fuel for the body, it is a way of sharing and communicating and I felt I was missing out on something because I could not eat with any of my friends and family.
You mum used to write scripts for TV series but now she is using her hands' bio-energy to heal and offering psychological help. Do you have the same abilities?
My mum told me that I have the ability to heal but I have never explored it. It is something that interests me and I will definitely try it later. My mum treats the whole family – my brother and sister – and I treat myself, tapping the body meridian points. This is the method mum uses. She enables people to solve problems in their lives and achieve success.
You are not married yet and don’t have children – is that on the cards?
If it happens – great. I don’t know how many children I want – the most important thing is to have a healthy and happy child. It's an honour and a privilege to have one.
What’s important in a man from your point of view?
I’d say kindness, generosity, and a sense of humour – he's got to be able to make you laugh.