“She was who I wanted; there was no one else,” says actress Emma Greenwell, speaking about her choice to work with stylist Danielle Nachmani. That tells me two things: 1) She has excellent taste (the in-demand stylist is beloved by It girls like Laura Harrier and Julia Garner), and 2) she really cares about fashion. Truthfully, I already knew this about the Brit, having featured her on Who What Wear a few years back, and I’ve been avid follower of her Instagram (a treasure trove of summer style inspiration) ever since, but it’s refreshing all the same.
I’m chatting with Greenwell via phone early in the morning (she’s in London; I’m in L.A.), and we’re meant to be talking about her new Starz series, The Rook. The supernatural spy thriller based on the book of the same name centers on Greenwell’s character, Myfanwy Thomas, who wakes up in an unsettling situation with no recollection of who she is. After finding out that she’s part of the Checquy, a British secret service for people with special powers, Thomas sets out to rediscover her identity and find out who has wiped her memory. I was given three episodes to watch before our interview and can attest to the show’s ability to leave you hooked as well as the greatness of Greenwell’s character’s simple-yet-effective wardrobe.
Not long after our conversation begins, we shift to the topic of fashion, spending a good five minutes gushing over her marigold Prada dress from The Rook’s Cannes TV Festival premiere—a look courtesy of Nachmani, of course. Also on the list of things we discuss: where she finds those dresses we see all over her IG feed, the investment-worthy pants she swears by, and the seriousness of her thrifting habits. (“Some call it a problem; I call it a hobby,” she says.) Like I said, the woman cares about fashion. Keep scrolling to see my full conversation with the actress and shop her summer staples.
You have a quick elevator ride to explain The Rook; what’s your pitch?
It’s a supernatural spy thriller about a woman who wakes up without her memory, and she has to find out who did that to her while keeping her cool. That was a really quick elevator ride.
What excites you about Myfanwy Thomas as a character?
I was really excited by the fact that she’s a character who was going to be discovered along the way and that she has nothing to work with, so she was very instinctive and reacting in the moment with no past memories to build into it. That’s sort of a gift for an actor, to not to have anything to play off of a part from what’s happening right in that moment. The real enough of it was exploring different ways in which you react to something if you didn’t have a past to fall back on and influence your decision.
I do think it’s fantastic to see a female at the center of spy thriller. It’s not often you see that.
Yes. I’ve always felt with this role, because gender has come up a lot—that Myfanwy could have been a man. I don’t think that would have changed much of the storyline, you know what I mean? I think it’s kind of interesting that yes, it is a woman, but it could have quite easily been a man. The gender doesn’t really come into it. The thing is universal regardless of your gender. If you wake up without your memory, what are the traces that you have, what opportunities do you give yourself, and who are you? It’s all relevant.
If you could have a supernatural power, what would it be, and why?
To fly (laughs), because I hate flying. I think if I could fly myself, I’d be a lot more comfortable with it.
Who are some of the women in the industry who inspire you?
Oh gosh, so many. Taking it back to The Rook, Kari Skogland, who directed the first two episodes—I think she’s a phenomenal director, and I love the way she approaches the work. I really was inspired by her, because in this industry, woman are coming up and offering us more opportunities. Kari’s the sort of woman where gender is irrelevant. You walk onto that set and it’s very clear who the director was, who’s in charge. And she has this amazing ability to orchestrate everything. She was very calm and very compassionate, but also very direct. She was an amazing presence to be around. And I’ve worked with some amazing actresses. Joely Richardson is phenomenal—the career she’s had. Gosh, there are so many; I just don’t know.
Okay, let’s talk fashion. What are the five holy-grail items you own?
A good white T-shirt. At the moment, I’m between a very simple Acne T-shirt—it’s a very nice cut—and this company called Arket. I don’t believe they’ve come to the States yet. They do a really good basic white tee. A pair of Levi’s 501s are a staple. And recently I was very inspired by my stylist, who was wearing an amazing pair of black pants by The Row. To me, that was a big investment, but I literally haven’t take them off. They go with everything, and they are really easy and make you look like you made an effort when you haven’t. I love my Acne leather jacket that I’ve had for years. And recently I’ve been wearing these adorable polka-dot Miu Miu flats. Those are great and are going to be a new staple for sure.
What’s the British-girl staple you can’t live without?
A winter coat. A long overcoat like a peacoat, but maybe longer. Or a trench—something a bit warmer. Something you can throw over jeans or a dress, and it takes you through from October to (sadly for us, because it still feels like winter) May. I wear it year-round.
You’re working with Danielle Nachmani. How has your style changed since you started working with her?
Danielle is incredibly good at simplifying everything. She has an amazing eye, has her fingers in everything, knows all the designers… We’ve been doing a lot of sessions where I’m in London and she’s in New York, and she’s able to pick a look just by looking at it and knowing how it will fit on my body, which is amazing. She’s so great at tailoring and accessories. And also hair and makeup: She’ll tell me what to do and I listen. She has an amazing aesthetic and I’m so happy to be working with her, it’s kind of a dream. She was who I wanted, there was no one else. I was like desperate to work with her. I had seen what she had done with Laura Harrier and Julia Garner and I was like wow, these girls look great.
While stalking your Instagram, I noticed you are often in either a really great dress or a great bathing suit, two staples for summer. Where are your favorite places to shop dresses and swimsuits?
So for summer dresses I’ve always thought vintage is the best way to go. I love flea markets and vintage shopping. I also am obsessed with Etsy and eBay and charity shops as well. I’m always early for things, so if I get somewhere early I Google Map where the nearest thrift store is and have a little look. Some might call it a problem. I call it a hobby. And then for swimsuits, I really like Hunza G, which is a UK brand and actually a friend of mine who started that. It’s really easy and good materials. I just think the shapes are really cool. I’ve been finding some ‘90s deadstock bikinis, but sadly I don’t get to wear them very much.
Okay, before I let you go, I would love to get your read on a few 2019 summer trends.
Yeah, I would wear tie-dye. I do wear tie-dye.
That doesn’t work, no. It looks great, but I can’t pull it off. I’ve tried desperately, but it doesn’t work, so I’m going to have to say no. They look so chic, so hats off to anyone who can pull it off.
Yes, I love yellow. My childhood bedroom was painted yellow, it’s a happy color.
I would, I think. I have broad shoulders, so I don’t know if it would help me out. Yeah, I think I would try a puffed sleeve, why not?