Clashing with Titans and playing the love interest to a rebel Jedi, Matt Mueller chills out with Nathalie Cox
The first time I see Nathalie Cox on screen, she makes a great first impression. As the character Blonde in the clever lo-fi indie flick Exam, about eight job candidates locked in one room for the final phase in a fiendish application process, she exudes an enigmatic, implacable quality that skilfully conceals her character’s motives while leaving you desperate to know more. The first time I see Nathalie Cox in person, she also makes a great first impression. Waltzing into the west London studio at the tail end of Wonderland’s photo shoot, I spot her immediately – her blonde tresses teased, makeup being touched up, and wearing nothing but Ugg boots, a baggy blue shirt and a big, goofy grin.
“I don’t want you to think that I always walk around like this,” she says, mock-aghast that I’ve caught her bare-legged. “And please don’t make me look goofy!” Goofy by laugh, goofy by nature. Cox conveys an instant warmth and fun-loving allure, not to mention being striking in the flesh. They say you can spot a model from a hundred paces, and the way Cox strikes poses for the camera is a dead giveaway. Like a zillion svelte young girls before her, she was spotted as a teenage girl out shopping in London. “Yes, it’s true,” she sighs, rolling her eyes at the cliché. “I was at Top Shop with my friend and her mum, 15 years old and up for the day from Hampshire, and this woman came up and said: ‘Are you a model?’”
Cox’s striking Scandinavian-esque looks ferried her to Tokyo, Paris, New York and the Caribbean, landing her in the hallowed pages of American Vogue and several commercials – which morphed into a nascent acting career when Ridley Scott, struggling to find the right stunner to play Orlando Bloom’s wife in Kingdom of Heaven, met Cox at the behest of her modelling agent. When I confess I don’t recall her in the film, Cox turns beet-red and hoots with laughter. “I’m just a dead body in it!” she snorts. “They cut the bit where I was alive… I went to the premiere with my friend and the film opens and it’s just me lying there, and I was like [covers her face and sinks into her seat]: ‘Oh God... can we go now?’ But it was my first job, and it’s Ridley Scott so beat that…”
After Cox has finished facial swaggering for our photographer, we retire to a vacant – and unheated – studio, where Cox, sipping a Coke, is entirely comfy in the Arctic conditions while I huddle in my puffer, gripping a latte for warmth. When my ice-cold fingers drop a printout of Cox’s IMDB page, she grabs it and blurts out in horror when she learns her appearance in Midsomer Murders isn’t listed yet. “I’m really annoyed!” says Cox, with the greenhorn charm of someone who can’t quite believe she has her own IMDB page. “I’m dying for it to come out. And I don’t even die in it! I’ve got very good at dying on screen.”
Raised in a small village near Winchester by a father who worked for the ambulance service and an accountant mother, Cox credits the safe, stable upbringing with keeping her grounded in her modelling days (her older sister’s a doctor, rounding out the cosy middle-class picture). “It can be very easy to get carried away with that world,” she muses. “You’re flying everywhere and you’re getting invited to all these parties, and it’s all lovely and wonderful and gorgeous ten thousand pound dresses. But it can be empty if you don’t have a home to go back to. Friends and family count more than champagne and caviar at somebody’s party. You need to keep your head on your shoulders. Most of my friends I’ve had since school.”
Growing up, Cox did school plays, a drama A-level, and attended Hampshire Youth Theatre before modelling took over her life (although she recently managed to get an English literature degree by correspondence). “My parents always said: ‘Nathalie’s going to be on stage.’ My mum has this photo album and it’s like: ‘Here’s Nathalie dressed up as a clown, here’s Nathalie dressed as a cat, here’s Nathalie pretending to sing into a microphone that’s actually a stick of bread.’ I was one of those precocious children that you hate.”
Feeling fortunate she’s never had to do the “waiting on tables thing”, Cox capitalised on her early acting break, and is doggedly determined to give her fledgling career every chance of succeeding. Prior to Exam, Cox’s roles were pint-sized and we both chuckle as I run down her credits: Pin-up in La Vie en Rose; English Beauty in teen sci-fi film Jumper; and Bar Beauty in How To Lose Friends and Alienate People. “They sensed that I’m extremely comfortable in bars,” she chuckles.
Her roles are expanding, too. The actress is about to crop up in the mythological epic Clash of the Titans, as a goddess. “I play Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, and I get a huge bow and arrow,” she enthuses. “Us goddesses are in toga-esque dresses; the male gods are in full body armour, and we all sit in massive marble thrones around the map of the world, doing this and that to the humans.”
Despite never attending acting school, she insists the best lessons come from watching big names ply their trade, such as Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes as squabbling deities Zeus and Hades in Titans. “I remember watching them do one scene, they must have done it 20 times, and every single time I was completely mesmerised,” she coos. “It’s all a learning curve for me and to work with people like that at the top of their game is fantastic. I would hate myself if I wasn’t myself!”