Lucy Boynton is a bit of an onscreen chameleon. She manages to get lost in the characters she plays, and her performances display her ability to embody roles with thoughtful depth and calculated physicality. With leading parts in the critically acclaimed Sing Street, Bohemian Rhapsody, Ryan Murphy’s The Politician and upcoming films Pale Blue Eye and Chevalier—which premiered in September at the Toronto International Film Festival—the American-born, British-raised actor revels in the research and work it takes to bring her characters to life. “I think it’s often quite an instinctive feeling,” says Boynton of being drawn to certain roles. “It [comes down to] whether I have an emotional response to the character and whether I feel there’s something to be said. My job is industrialized empathy, so I’m constantly looking at situations and the way people behave and analyzing them rather than just reacting to them.”

Boynton, who was raised in London, started acting at just 12 years of age as a young Beatrix Potter in 2006’s Miss Potter, so she has had plenty of time to figure out how to draw a line between her job and the rest of her identity. “Growing up in the U.K. [as an actor] is different from growing up in America, in my experience,” she says. “In the U.K., it was a job that I kept very separate from my world, whereas here [in the U.S.], I think it feels more like a part of your identity, so I am grateful that acting has been just a career from day one.”

Despite the entertainment industry being just one part of Boynton’s life, the actor is acutely aware of its demands, including being away from home and family for months on end. “I love my job so much, and if I didn’t, it would be incredibly difficult,” she says of her often hectic schedule. (After her appearance at TIFF, she flew to L.A., where she’s filming upcoming dramedy The Greatest Hits with Justin H. Min.) “I grew up with two journalists for parents who were constantly travelling for work. Family holidays were [us] following them wherever they had to go, so I got to travel quite a lot. That contributed to me being drawn to this job and now helps me make sense of it. Travel plucks you out of your comfort zone and puts you in a place that makes you aware of what a small cog in an enormous machine you are.”

Dress, Blouse, Boots and Earrings (Moschino)

With each performance, Boynton hopes to help broaden our perspectives with her portrayals of people like Mary Austin—Freddie Mercury’s compassionate and strong partner—whom she played opposite her real-life love, Rami Malek, in Bohemian Rhapsody, and, more recently, a scared and fickle Marie Antoinette in the poignant Chevalier (out in early 2023). The latter is a biopic based on the life of 18th-century Creole composer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (brilliantly played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.), the illegitimate son of a French plantation owner and an African slave. Bologne climbed the ranks of French society as a composer and became a close companion to Marie Antoinette before his participation in a contest to become the next director of the Paris Opera—as well as his love affair with a married woman (Nine Perfect Stranger’s Samara Weaving)—revealed the racist society he lived in and the true nature of his limitations.

“I was drawn to the opportunity to play Marie Antoinette and push that as far as I could,” says Boynton. “She’s such a mouthpiece for the rhetoric that we are hearing a lot these days, of people feeling really afraid of change and—in an incredibly detrimental way—becoming increasingly myopic in their views. They think change is a direct threat to them and don’t realize that change is progress for the bigger picture and for the broader population.”

Directed by Stephen Williams (Watchmen, Lost), the visually stunning Chevalier is ultimately about love, defiance and the struggle for racial equality. Boynton, whose Marie Antoinette is both friend and foe to Bologne, wanted to play up the uglier sides of her character: the convenient allyship and self-protection, her lack of empathy and her refusal to see the broader picture. “It’s not that she can’t; it’s that she won’t,” says Boynton. “This is an opportunity to use this character to portray that message. And that’s why [I’m] grateful for a fictional examination of this era and these people because it gives us more leeway to deliver a more powerful message.”

Dress (Coach), Shoes (Gucci)

Boynton is extremely proud of this film and the meaning it conveys, and she largely credits the performance of the film’s star, Harrison Jr., with making it so impactful. “He’s such an adventurous actor—he makes really bold decisions, and he loves to play and explore,” she says. “When that tone is set, it’s such a creatively inspiring environment. We were able to really play together and have that kind of push-and-pull game with our characters.”

Seeing the movie premiere at TIFF was a big moment for Boynton—it was a chance to finally absorb the scale of the production on the big screen as well as be reunited with her cast and crew mates. “It becomes a more impactful experience when you get to see the whole canvas and not just the piece of tapestry you see when you’re up close making it,” she says.

But Chevalier isn’t the only big release Boynton has on the horizon. She’s also starring in Netflix’s The Pale Blue Eye, a Gothic crime thriller about a series of murders that take place on a military camp in West Point, N.Y., in 1930 and involves a local detective (Christian Bale) and a young cadet who also happens to be Edgar Allan Poe (Harry Melling). The film—which is set to have a December 23 theatrical release followed by January 6 Netflix one—packs some serious star power that includes Gillian Anderson, Robert Duvall and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Based on the novel by Louis Bayard and directed by Scott Cooper—who also adapted the story for the screen—Pale Blue Eye was a project Cooper began working on after finishing his first film, 2009’s Oscar-winning Crazy Heart, and notes that he wanted to create a whodunit, a father-son love story and most importantly, a Poe origin story.

Dress (Pertegaz)

In it Boynton plays the beautiful, smart and spirited Lea Marquis, a young woman who suffers from epileptic seizures and forms a unique bond with Poe, who understands the complexity of her condition and situation. “I love those moments that exemplify what it’s like to be a young woman in society at that time,” explains Boynton. “Lea is very aware of the facade she’s supposed to put on for people, and the role that she’s supposed to fill. But when she’s alone, you get the truer sense of her inner life, and the deep grief that she’s experiencing. She’s just desperate to live. In those moments of hopelessness, the kind of darker, sadder, uglier sides of what it feels like to be her, overtake her beautiful soul.”

Once production wraps on her current project, The Greatest Hits, Boynton will start shooting an indie movie—which she would love to talk about, but mum’s the word for now—in the new year, so it seems there’s no shortage of roles for this talented actor to morph into. “If the writing is intriguing, I can’t help but be drawn in and start to play with how I see the role and how I can bring it to life,” she says. “But it’s also about the creatives on the project—especially the director—because if you’re all moving in the same direction, from the same point of reference and with the same intentions, that collaborative process is just magic.”

ELLE Canada November 2022 Digital Cover

ELLE Canada November 2022 Digital CoverVest, Top, Shorts and Cuffs (Chanel)