Vanessa Kirby talks to BAZ BAMIGBOYE about her emotional first lead role


Vanessa Kirby pulls out all the stops when she prepares for a role.

To portray Princess Margaret in The Crown, the actress papered her home with photographs of the Queen’s sister to ‘imbue’ herself with her style and spirit.

And for the smouldering, scheming White Widow in the Tom Cruise film Mission: Impossible — Fallout, she studied screen legend Lauren Bacall.

The actress — along with screen husband Shia LaBeouf (above) and director Kornel Mundruczo — wanted the birth scenes early on in the film to be as authentic as possible

In Pieces Of A Woman (her first lead role), one of two pictures starring Kirby that will screen at the Venice Film Festival over the weekend, the 32-year-old South Londoner plays Martha, a Boston woman who loses her baby during a traumatic home birth.

Kirby will dominate the red carpet in Venice over the weekend. Tomorrow, she will make an appearance for Pieces Of A Woman. She is pictured above on the red carpet for the Tom Cruise film Mission: Impossible ¿ Fallout where she plays the scheming White Widow

Kirby will dominate the red carpet in Venice over the weekend. Tomorrow, she will make an appearance for Pieces Of A Woman. She is pictured above on the red carpet for the Tom Cruise film Mission: Impossible — Fallout where she plays the scheming White Widow

‘I couldn’t have acted that, because I’ve never given birth myself,’ she told me.

So instead, she spent a lot of time with a midwife and a paediatrician at the Whittington Hospital in North London.

‘Just by pure chance an amazing woman allowed me to watch her give birth,’ Kirby said, explaining that the health experts she was shadowing arranged for her to be a witness. 

‘I didn’t know her but she was so generous and allowed me to be there when her boy was born.’

The actress — along with screen husband Shia LaBeouf and director Kornel Mundruczo — wanted the birth scenes early on in the film to be as authentic as possible. ‘There’s a 26-minute continuous shot of me, as Martha, giving birth, so I’d better know about contractions and everything else,’ she said.

The child, a girl, does not survive and Martha embarks on an ‘odyssey of grief’, from the crumbling of her marriage to a harrowing court case.

Kirby spoke to several women about how they coped after losing their baby. She noted that there’s often, totally unfairly, a stigma attached to the mothers in such cases; and the film is as much about that as it is about a couple’s relationship imploding.

She observed that a friend of hers had been through several miscarriages and ‘she said she received more support when her dog was put down by the vet’.

Another key theme is Martha’s estrangement from her forceful mother, played by Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn.

Kirby said she and LaBeouf went over some scenes at Burstyn’s New York apartment. ‘In the room with all her awards!’ 

Kirby marvelled, as we discussed Burstyn’s movies, including Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, which Martin Scorsese directed in 1974. Scorsese is an executive producer on Pieces Of A Woman (‘Ellen’s really happy to be reunited with him’).

Kirby will dominate the red carpet in Venice over the weekend. Tomorrow, she will make an appearance for Pieces Of A Woman. 

And on Sunday it’s the turn of The World To Come, a film set in the Wild West, in which she and Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts) play two women who aren’t happy being home on the range.

For the smouldering, scheming White Widow in the Tom Cruise film Mission: Impossible ¿ Fallout, she studied screen legend Lauren Bacall

For the smouldering, scheming White Widow in the Tom Cruise film Mission: Impossible — Fallout, she studied screen legend Lauren Bacall

‘I couldn’t believe the extent to which the women were owned,’ Kirby said. 

‘These women were the property of their husbands. They didn’t have a choice to do what they wanted to do, let alone love who they wanted to.’

Kirby’s trip to Italy (she was flying out yesterday) is the first time she has been out of London this year. She spent lockdown in the house she shares with her sister and some friends.

‘Venice is like the first coming together of the film industry since lockdown,’ Kirby said. ‘It’s going to be a morale-booster.’

Jury head Cate Blanchett will be in attendance, as will Tilda Swinton. 

There will be a socially distanced red carpet, masks (perfectly suited to Venice) and health and safety protocols.

To portray Princess Margaret in The Crown, the actress papered her home with photographs of the Queen¿s sister to ¿imbue¿ herself with her style and spirit

To portray Princess Margaret in The Crown, the actress papered her home with photographs of the Queen’s sister to ‘imbue’ herself with her style and spirit

Once she returns from Venice, Kirby will prepare to resume her part as the White Widow for Mission: Impossible 7. Tom Cruise will be heading to Norway soon to shoot action sequences, but she won’t join the party until producers work out where to film next. 

She told me she’s looking forward to playing the ‘enigmatic’ femme fatale again. ‘She’s disarming, fun and strange,’ she said.

Kirby admitted she ‘misses’ Princess Margaret and would have ‘enjoyed carrying on playing her’. 

But she said she was ‘beyond proud’ that first Helena Bonham Carter and now Lesley Manville (who will portray Margaret in the final two seasons of The Crown, which begin shooting next year) are building on her groundwork.

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