Britain's Beecham joins A-list with Cannes best actress win, Banderas is best actor

Antonio Banderas, Best Actor award winner for his role in the film Pain and Glory (Dolor y Gloria), poses with Emily Beecham, Best Actress award winner for her role in the film Little Joe. PHOTO: REUTERS

CANNES (AFP) - Britain's Emily Beecham has been catapulted into the movie big time by winning best actress at the Cannes film festival for playing an enigmatic scientist in Little Joe.

Beecham, who has spent most of her career in supporting roles, was a surprise choice for the award for her performance as a scientist working on a flower that gives off a scent so ambrosial it makes people euphoric just to sniff it.

Indeed she admitted that she was so shocked that "I forgot to pack my toothbrush" when she received the call to return to Cannes to pick up the prize.

But while Beecham's rise has hardly been meteoric, the 35-year-old has been marked out as a talent to watch for a decade, winning best actress awards at both the Edinburgh and London Independent film festivals for one of her first films, The Calling, in 2009.

Her big break came two years ago playing what Variety called "one of the more unpleasant characters in recent memory", a misanthropic young woman who witnesses a stabbing in Peter Mackie Burns' arthouse gem, Daphne.

That helped consolidate the reputation the Manchester-born actress had won for a stream of British television roles including in the award-winning series The Unforgiven, and the even more acclaimed The Village, where she played opposite Maxine Peake and John Simm in the gritty historical rural drama.

Martial arts queen

Doors really began to open up for her in the United States, her mother's homeland, after she landed a small part in the Coen brothers 2016 sword and sandals send-up, Hail, Caesar! By then she had landed the role of The Widow in the US martial arts action series, Into the Badland.

Although her father is a pilot, she caught the acting bug at her school, the elite school Hurtwood House in Surrey, which bills itself as "the most exciting school in England".

It is also the alma mater of the Mary Poppins star Emily Blunt and Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan.

Beecham told AFP that she jumped at the chance to work with the highly-rated Little Joe director Jessica Hausner.

"She's one of the only female directors I've worked with so far. She's extraordinary," Beecham said of the Austrian, who was vying for Cannes top prize, the Palme d'Or.

"But I'm noticing more scripts and things come through with female directors attached. It's brilliant."

Smart women

The actress, who played opposite fellow Briton and Mary Poppins star Ben Whishaw and Kerry Fox in the movie, said she was "profoundly inspired" by the French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier and the naturalist Jane Goodall as she researched her role.

"One thing they both talked about - Jane Goodall discussed it specifically - is that her relationship with her family interfered with her research. She kind of had to put (her family) on the back burner and put the chimpanzees in the forefront." Beecham said that she tried to work the pain of that into her character, a senior botanist in a biotech firm in the UK of the near future.

For Hausner's she said she wanted to explore how "crazy" becomes a label used to keep women down.

"I was always fascinated by the films about crazy women. I felt that male perspective and I thought 'Yeah, but what's so crazy about them?'" she said.

"The 'craziness' of women is actually the very interesting point about them because I think it's also about being sensitive and intelligent."

Banderas best actor

Spanish star Antonio Banderas won best actor at the festival for playing his friend Pedro Almodovar in the director's new movie, Pain & Glory.

"Almodovar is my mentor. We have been friends for 40 years... I saw things in the script that I didn't know about him. He was very sincerely confronting himself in front of an audience in the film," the actor said.

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