Zawe Ashton: ‘We don’t fuel the fire of genuine enthusiasm in the UK’

Zawe Ashton covers the October issue of Tatler to promote Mr Malcolm’s List, which is a period romantic-comedy in the vein of Jane Austen or Bridgerton, I guess. Freida Pinto is the lead, but Zawe has a significant role. Zawe is also engaged to Tom Hiddleston and pregnant with their first child. She speaks of that and she speaks around it with Tatler – she has clear lines she doesn’t really want to cross, but she does mention Tom and she’s clearly very pregnant. I’ve always sort of thought that Zawe’s energy is very calm, focused and driven, but I never realized (before now) that she’s actually kind of similar to Hiddles – she’s chatty, upbeat, a bit dorky and “keen.” You can feel her bristling against the hurdles and roadblocks set in her path since birth but she doesn’t come right and say “god, Britain is a terrible place to be a Black woman.” Some highlights from Tatler:

Whether she gets a lot of villain roles: ‘I think that’s probably a phase I’ve always been in – certainly the outsider phase. I’ve always played outliers, and that’s great. I think it’s where you can move the needle the most.’

Summers in Uganda. ‘There’s a lot of strength in having a duality. We’re finally seeing that more and more now as something to be celebrated. When I was younger, that wasn’t the case.’

Bullied in school & at drama school: ‘It was rough. They break you down.’ Why? ‘I think they saw my keenness, my enthusiasm… I don’t know why, but sometimes they really want to wash you out.’

She pitched a show like ‘Girls’ which was in development hell: ‘There was just this weird resistance. And bullying. Bullying, demeaning, gaslighting… I was yelled at by one producer because I was questioning something about my own work.’ I venture cautiously that, to some, Ashton might just have been too much of a multi-hyphenate. ‘Yep. We didn’t do that kind of thing here until the success of things like I May Destroy You or Fleabag.’

She supports other artists: ‘We don’t fuel the fire of genuine enthusiasm in the UK. It’s like, “Don’t get ideas above; stay calm; it’s not that good.” I appreciate that, because I’m London through and through – I love that acerbic quality and I love that edge. But it can be really damaging.’

Working with Tom Hiddleston on ‘Betrayal’: ‘Tom and I had done a reading together of the central scene, at a gala for Harold Pinter’s birthday’.

Pregnant with Tom’s baby: ‘Thanks, it’s wonderful.’ I’d read somewhere that she’d always wanted children. ‘I know… I used to talk about it all the time in interviews – it was really unsuitable.’ Has she learnt the art of discretion now? ‘I’ve got to learn it.’

Pregnant at 38: ‘You’re told, “Don’t get pregnant” but also “Don’t leave it too long” because then you’re going to be an old maid. I’ve been prehistoric in this industry since I was 25. The mixed messaging is rough and has to be addressed.’ She hadn’t felt stressed by her biological clock ticking: ‘It was just suddenly this self-permission comes over you that goes against all that messaging.’

Announcing the pregnancy by showing up with her bump: ‘I don’t want to talk about my personal life. I didn’t feel like I had to do anything… it felt like [the pregnancy news] happened in the right way. [It is a] really, really, vital moment where we’re talking about women and their autonomy when it comes to their bodies.’ The Roe v Wade reversal had been announced just days before, and she had no desire to ‘be cute’ about it. ‘I’m not into “announcements” or “reveals”. I’m into trying to carry the narrative as much as possible myself, rather than anyone else feeling like they have an exclusive on my body.’

Doors are opening for young actors of color: ‘I can see that opportunities for so many under-represented students are suddenly there. I don’t worry about them the way I worried for myself – and that’s really lovely. Systemic racism isn’t going anywhere fast. But they can imagine themselves in huge franchises, in the new Netflix show, in the lead in West End theatres.’

She loves Jane Austen’s books but not P&P: ‘I’m not really a Pride and Prejudice girl’, she frowns. Not into Darcy? ‘No, too austere. People love that. I know friends who are like, “I love how emotionally unavailable you are.” I’m like, “Oh gawd!”’

[From Tatler]

“We don’t fuel the fire of genuine enthusiasm in the UK. It’s like, ‘Don’t get ideas above; stay calm; it’s not that good’.” As in, don’t get ideas above your station, Britain is still racist and classist and enthusiasm is always suspicious. Tatler has a thing about mentioning the Duchess of Sussex in random interviews but they didn’t in this one. Perhaps because it was too “on the nose.” Because the whole piece felt like one big subweet of Meghan’s experience and culture shock.

And yes, the fact that she’s not into Mr. Darcy makes so much sense. Hiddles isn’t brooding or austere, he’s a big, energetic puppy. Of course, her favorite Austen books are Persuasion and Emma.

Cover & IG courtesy of Tatler.

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23 Responses to “Zawe Ashton: ‘We don’t fuel the fire of genuine enthusiasm in the UK’”

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  1. Sinead says:

    I wonder why they chose that photo for the cover? The 2nd and especially the 3rd pic’s are much better imo.

    • Concern Fae says:

      Magazines don’t sell without that big face staring out at you.

      Great interview. So happy for her (them).

  2. Luisa says:

    She is beautiful. And seems very nice, relatable, not snobbish. I like her. Wish her all the best and a healthy baby.

  3. Jane says:

    I can’t remember ever seeing Zawe in anything although I’m aware of her involvement in the Women’s Prize stuff, but I’ve really enjoyed all the interviews she’s been giving recently. She has a lot to say that’s more interesting to hear than a lot of other actresses. It’s just a bit of a shame that it took having a baby with Tom Hiddleston to get the mainstream media to give her a platform to say it.

    • LP says:

      My sister said she was excellent in Velvet Buzzsaw on Netflix! And lots of mostly English people loved her in Fresh Meat, I gather. I’m glad she’s getting a bigger platform but I think it would’ve happened without Hiddles!

  4. Eowyn says:

    The hair styling looks like Supremes wigs, and they could have selected something more flattering to her face. The shellacked look with bangs doesn’t flatter her cheekbones and eyebrows.

  5. HandforthParish says:

    I know her from Fresh Meat, a very British comedy about deadbeat students sharing a house in Manchester.
    It’s very true to life (albeit in a crazy way, but ex students will definitely recognise the grotty shared houses and mad housemates) and she stole the show as Vod.

    • Miss Owlsyn says:

      She was definitely referencing Vod when talking about her ‘outsiders’ phase. That was such a great character.

  6. Miss Owlsyn says:

    I think it was Emma Thompson, years ago, who said that ambition was looked at very negatively in Britain. As a performer, you weren’t supposed to be ambitious or enthusiastic.

  7. Nanny to the Rescue says:

    Britain (or England at least) is racist, but above that it’s classist. “Know your place and shut up” should be on their flag.

  8. tamsin says:

    Enjoyed reading the excerpts here. Feels like Zawe was really able to express herself, and the article is free from Tatler’s usual bitchiness.

  9. L4Frimaire says:

    She was very good in saying what she had to say and make her points in a very subtle way. What stuck out to me was her deciding to give herself permission to get pregnant at 38. I remember not deciding to start a family until I was laid off from a corporate job. Before I felt there wasn’t time, needed to advance in career, no way I could take the time out, so totally relate to that. I’ve seen her in Velvet Buzzsaw ( campy) and Handmaid’s Tale but this movie looks fun and l like a good costume period film.

  10. Well Wisher says:

    It is the tall poppy syndrome. She is astute, mature with a certain amount of privacy.
    She values her relationship, privacy and success.
    I root for her continued success in all areas.
    Run from the labels eg. “Half of a power couple”.

  11. Debbie says:

    “Meet one half of Hollywood’s new British power couple”? Huh? Hey, Tatler, I’m having major whiplash from the cognitive dissonance of that headline.

  12. Kes says:

    It’s funny because I saw her and Tom in Betrayal, which was about the most amazing piece of theater I’ve seen—it was truly great art—and in person she was so impossibly elegant, tall and dramatic-looking. Her vibe after the show was austere at that moment in time but it may have been because she was still in character a bit or tired after an intense performance. She’s stunning in person.

  13. jferber says:

    The cover pic in no way did her justice. Do better, Tatler. You already have an incredibly beautiful woman. Just get THAT right. She’s right there before you. Don’t dim her shine with a mediocre picture like that.

  14. Nadal23 says:

    They don’t celebrate ambition in the UK because it disrupts the lazy upper class. They can’t afford to have tying hard, working hard lead to success because it means what they have is attainable and isn’t magic or birth right.

    • Emma says:

      I would say your comment is spot on about what it’s like here, especially growing up. Schools do stuff on choosing a career but all they want to do is make workers

    • IForget says:

      Slowlyyy learning this myself 🙁 As a very openly ambitious Canadian who now lives in London, I have had nothing but consternation and outright denigration thrown my way from Brits. It’s exhausting. I’m a bit confused by her saying ‘ I appreciate that, because I’m London through and through – I love that acerbic quality and I love that edge.’ She then says it can be damaging, which is what we’re taking away from it, but I don’t know why she loves it? Maybe I’m misunderstanding, because I love everything she’s said and done!

  15. Christine says:

    “We don’t fuel the fire of genuine enthusiasm in the UK. It’s like, ‘Don’t get ideas above; stay calm; it’s not that good’.”

    I’m ashamed to say I wouldn’t have read this, other than a Sunday, because I know nothing about her but the Tom Hiddleston part. What has to happen for a black woman and white man to be in love, without the scorn of a “commonwealth”?

    When is Salty Isle going to pick another path? This is embarrassing, and I’m just white on another continent.

  16. Bisynaptic says:

    They’ve lightened her skin.