Sienna rides into fantasy world

EMMA LEE Norfolk actress Sienna Guillory returns to the big screen this week in the Christmas fantasy blockbuster Eragon. EMMA LEE met her.

EMMA LEE

I'm not good at the red carpet thing, I don't enjoy it,” says actress Sienna Guillory. She's sitting in a suite at the swanky Dorchester hotel in Park Lane - and it's just hours before she's due to appear at the premiere of her new film, the special effects-laden fantasy Eragon, at Leicester Square - with the world's media in attendance.

While the 30-year-old from north Norfolk has carved out a successful career for herself on stage and screen, and is clearly passionate about her work, she admits she doesn't enjoy the “showbiz” trappings of the industry so much.

“If it was a film and I was portraying someone doing it and loving it, or hating it, it would be fine, but it's me, and it's not my thing,” she muses.

“I suppose what it is, is there's a certain pressure where being a girlie you're expected to wear a certain kind of thing - and I'm not going to - I'm going to wear something I love. I've got a really beautiful dress, but it's not the kind of thing I'm expected to wear,” she says.

So, in her own words, you're not going to see her wearing a revealing number with her “boobs out and my arse out”, like some of her contemporaries - in fact the prim and proper chocolate-coloured silk number, buttoned up to the neck, was rather a statement in itself.

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“Ultimately it makes me feel confident to wear it, so I'm thinking I'll be alright. I'll get down there. I'll get past the firing squad,” she laughs.

She may only be 30, but Sienna, who is chatty and charming, is already almost an industry veteran. She won her first major role in a TV adaptation of Jilly Cooper's Riders, when she was just 16 and studying for A levels in French and theatre studies at Gresham's school at Holt. She had moved to Norfolk when she was 11.

“I never thought that I would be allowed to be an actor,” she says. “They cast me because I could ride a horse and I went up for it because a friend of my mum's, who's an agent, put me up for it. And then I thought it would be just this one thing and I would have to go back to school.”

But she didn't. As well as acting roles, she worked as a model, being picked as the Milk Tray girl and the face of Boss perfume. Her breakthrough appearance was in an adaptation of Take a Girl Like You, by Kingsley Amis, and she was also in Love Actually, The Time Machine opposite Guy Pearce, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, and played the lead role in the mini-series Helen of Troy.

She describes Helen Mirren, a close friend of the family, as one of her inspirations.

“I think more than anyone else the things that I respect and admire most about watching her work is: one, you never know it's Helen, and two, it doesn't look like she's working. She's extraordinary. But I don't think I'd have to guts to say 'Helen how do you do it'?”

Eragon is based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Christopher Paolini.

The first edition of the novel was self-published by Paolini's family, and when it was re-printed it spent 87 consecutive weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. It's sold 2.5m copies in hardcover and paperback in North America alone and has been published in 38 countries.

The first in a trilogy aimed at young people, Paolini wrote it when he was still in his teens. Sienna has signed up to play the elf warrior Arya in all three films, which could lead to wider recognition for her.

But she's not anticipating getting stopped by fans on the street - something which, given her views on the red carpet, she sees as a plus.

“I don't really think that I look particularly like I do on camera in the flesh, which is a good thing. I would like to, but every cloud has a silver lining,” she says.

Set in a fictional land and following a Star Wars-esque story arc, farm boy Eragon is pre-destined to become the last Dragon Rider. The Dragon Riders had brought peace and prosperity to the land of Alagaesia (said to be inspired by Paolini's home in Montana's Beartooth Mountains), until one of their own, Galbatorix (John Malkovich), decided to take all the power for himself.

Eragon discovers his true path when he discovers an egg which hatches into a dragon he names Saphira (voiced by Rachel Weisz), and with the help of his mentor, Brom (Jeremy Irons), sets out to restore peace to the land. But Galbatorix won't be easily overthrown, enlisting evil sorcerer Durza (Robert Carlyle) to dispose of his young challenger.

The film is special effects supremo Stefan Fangmeier's (Twister, Saving Private Ryan) directorial debut, and, following in the tradition of Lord of the Rings, the fantastic creatures are sure to fire up youngsters' imaginations.

And its leading man might send a few teenage pulses racing too. Eighteen-year-old Ed Speleers from Chichester won the part - his first professional role - over thousands of other hopefuls when Twentieth Century Fox launched a Harry Potter-style worldwide casting search.

Sienna plays the film's only female lead. And although she jokes that her character spends quite a lot of screen time “comatose - an ill elf”, she did have to get into training for the role.

“I have always ridden horses, I'm so passionate - I get drunk and talk horse which is really boring,” she laughs. “But I had never done sword fighting before and you're never quite sure to what extent you're going to be required to do these things.

“The whole thing about the elves is they are supposed to be elegant, graceful and fluid, which I'm not.”

Part of the training involved catching and throwing weighted balls while sat on a balance ball.

“Your balance improves so much that you develop better posture and you move more gracefully without realising it, which is extraordinary,” she says. “I can't run, I look like an idiot when I run, and my brother laughs at me, but somehow it looks alright (on screen). I think it's just because of all this training.”

Sienna had a stunt double on set, but she got to do some sword-fighting and trained with the man who designed battle sequences for Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven.

“You do have doubles but you're never sure when they're being used. You're never quite sure whether it's you (on screen) or not, even though you're like 'yeah I did it all on my own'. There's a very scary moment where the horse I'm on right at the beginning of the film has to do a fall and my stunt double, Melissa, who's also the stunt co-ordinator and trained me for all the fights, actually got trapped during a rehearsal under the horse and nearly broke her pelvis, so things do go horribly wrong. There were no broken bones, but I got a few bruises,” she says.

And there were a few embarrassing moments, like when she was caught short for the loo when she was filming a scene on a mountain top and had been sewn into her costume.

“The helicopter ride down wasn't much fun,” she laughs.

The film was shot on location in Slovakia and Hungary - and Sienna admits that because of her career her lifestyle is somewhat nomadic. She and her husband, Enzo, also an actor, have a home in Battersea and she gets back to Norfolk as often as possible - but she does spend quite a lot of time living in a trailer on a movie set.

“You develop a nomadic lifestyle and my appreciation for London - and Norfolk - grows immensely as a result of spending time in LA. And my appreciation of LA grows as a result of being over here,” she says.

And there's no let up in sight - she's currently shooting the film Inkheart, which is directed by Iain Softley, starring alongside Brendan Fraser (“just the loveliest person,” she says), Andy Serkis, Paul Bettany and Jim Broadbent.

“I've been very fortunate - I've been working constantly,” she says.

But although this Christmas will be spent with her husband's family (“His mum's Italian and a great cook,” she says) she hopes that she won't be away from Norfolk for too long.

“I was last there about six weeks ago. I love the marshes - galloping on Holkham beach is my favourite thing in the world. I love it there, it's beautiful.

“Say hello to Norfolk for me,” she says.

Eragon is released on Friday, December 15.

COMPETITION

To celebrate the release of the fantasy adventure Eragon, which is in cinemas from Friday, the EDP has teamed up with Twentieth Century Fox to give you the chance to win some fabulous goodie bags.

Based on the novel of the same name by Christopher Paolini, the blockbuster fantasy looks like being one of Christmas's biggest box office hits.

The first prize winner will receive a watch, polo shirt, a magnetic calendar, a pack of temporary tattoos, a mobile phone lanyard and a book light.

Two runners up will get a polo shirt, magnetic calendar, a pack of temporary tattoos, a mobile phone lanyard and a book light.

To be in with a chance of winning, just answer this simple question:

t Who wrote the novel Eragon?

Send your answer, together with your name and address, on a postcard or stuck down envelope to:

Eragon competition, c/o Emma Lee, EDP Features, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE. Entries must reach us by noon on Wednesday December 20. Normal Archant competition rules apply.

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