SHE’S living the dream in the only job she’s ever wanted, but Rosie Day’s feet are on the ground – thanks to her new friend Sarah Jessica Parker
ROSIE Day is talking about filming on location in Italy, playing the troubled teen daughter to Sarah Jessica Parker’s uptight New York mother in All Roads Lead To Rome. Day’s character, Summer, has liberated an Alfa Romeo Spider and is heading at high speed through Tuscany to the Italian capital, with veteran Italian actor Claudia Cardinale urging her on in the passenger seat.
As if driving in a sports car around cypress-lined hairpin bends isn’t enough, 20-year-old Day reveals that she didn’t really have a great deal of driving experience when she landed the role.
“My mum took me up to the Tesco car park to teach me, and then got annoyed because I was naturally really good at it,” she says.
So did she pass her test first time?
“Oh, I haven’t passed my test,” she says, airily. “When I got to Rome for filming they asked if I could drive and I said, ‘Not really’. So they gave me some more lessons and then when we were filming, the roads were blocked off so there was no other traffic. It was a manual car and I constantly stalled it, but once it was started, I was fine.”
So that’s all right then. How did her 77-year-old co-star feel about it?
“She was really nervous,” says Day, and laughs. “No, not really: she was up for everything. But I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to kill Claudia Cardinale, a living legend.’”
Not that Day knew a lot about the Italian Brigitte Bardot, one of Italy’s most famous film stars, when she was cast in the romcom.
“At first I didn’t know who she was so I didn’t have any preconceptions,” she says. “But then my grandad told me all about her because he’s a massive fan. He said he’d seen her once in the street in London and she was so incredibly beautiful.”
Day was, however, in awe of her other co-star, Sarah Jessica Parker, from the beginning.
“It’s my first time working with somebody of her league, with her global fame, if you like. The first time I met her I was like a rabbit in the headlights, terrified and completely overwhelmed. But we spent a lot of time together when we were in Italy because we were the only two native English-speaking people, and I was playing her daughter so we had a lot of scenes together. I have the best memories of being with her. She’s a really funny person, so every day was different fun. Also it was a great script with incredible locations.”
Also, despite the age difference, it turned out that Day and 50-year-old Parker had a lot in common, with the elder actor making her Broadway debut at 11, before going on to star in the title role of the Broadway musical Annie, while Day began her career at five in the BBC series Hope And Glory.
“She’d been acting since she was a child too,” says Day, “and we worked in very similar ways, completely instinctive, so we bounced off each other.
“She [Sarah Jessica Parker] knows everything about acting and is a kick-ass businesswoman too. Nothing gets past her. Having her as someone to message for advice is really cool and I’ve learnt a lot.”
Day will be catching up with her mentor when she visits New York for her 21st birthday in March. “SJP is a mate of mine now, and her assistant Alyssa is a good mate too so I’ll see them then. We have a lot of fun together and they are just lovely people to know.”
One of the most important things Day feels she has learnt from the Sex And The City star is how to behave, both on set and off.
“She’s the most wonderful, normal human being. We went out to dinner and she got stopped 15 times and was as nice with the last one as with the first. She’s the consummate professional. And there’s nothing she doesn’t know about her job. It was incredible to work with her and learn from her. To have her as a friend now is amazing. The first night we went out for dinner I was, ‘Oh, you’re really normal and not fazed by anything’.
“There are people that are not as famous as her who don’t behave as well. There is no reason not to be like that, no excuses, because she literally can’t go out of her front door without being recognised. She’s down to earth because the people around her are, her three children and family.”
She adds: “Actors shouldn’t be sucked into thinking they’re wonderful. Come on, mate, you’re an actor, not a nurse or firefighter. In terms of what you’re giving the world, it’s nothing imperative.”
However, Day admits to getting very star-struck when she met Taylor Swift at a party in LA when she was 18. “I’ve always loved Taylor Swift… posters all over my bedroom walls. My friend made me go up and talk to her and she stood and talked for 20 minutes. When she left I just burst into tears. I had waited for that moment for years. But you’re an actor, you can’t get star struck.”
So Day has a healthy attitude for her chosen profession, instilled no doubt by a dad who works in the financial sector and a mum “who’s had tons of different jobs,” including police officer, interior designer and now works in financial services.
She says: “They wouldn’t let me get carried away for a single second. I still live at home with my mum and dad and even if I ask for a glass of water, they say get it yourself.”
Day hasn’t yet seen All Roads Lead To Rome, admitting to finding watching herself “cringey and weird”, but her parents and relations have seen her playing the eye-rolling wild child Summer. “My mum said, ‘It wasn’t hard for you to act that part, was it?’”
In reality Day hasn’t given her parents too much of a hard time growing up in Winchester, describing herself as “annoyingly well behaved” apart from a hedonistic summer when she was 16 and performing in a play at the Royal Court.
“I used to go to the bar with other people, using my elder sister’s passport. Then the Royal Court manager emailed round the bar to say, ‘Please remember, don’t serve Rosie Day, even if she has a passport, because she’s under 18’. So that stopped that.
“My parents were quite liberal and didn’t have many rules. They just expected me not to do anything stupid, so I didn’t, really. That’s why Summer was amazing to play. I have always wanted pink hair – I was a massive Avril Lavigne fan – and in this film I got to live out my child fantasies of being sassy and slutty. But as the film goes on you see more of the normal girl behind that.
“The message of it is to go your own way, be you. Go after what you want and you will discover some things along the way.”
As Day talks it becomes apparent that acting is all she has ever known. She’s never had a hankering to do anything other than what she does now and can’t see herself ever wanting to do anything different. This isn’t surprising since she literally cannot remember a time when she wasn’t an actor.
Her first job in BBC’S Hope And Glory, a series set in a comprehensive school starring Lenny Henry and Amanda Redman in 1999, came about when her big sister was cast in the show. Rosie went along with her and when they needed a younger sister, she was the obvious choice.
“I got into acting accidentally. I didn’t have any interest in it, because five-year-olds don’t, but my big sister did it and I went along too. I have very few memories apart from that I liked missing school, the food bus and doing a scene where I had to look sad. I owe it all to my sister because without her I would never have found acting. I was shy and didn’t know anything about acting, but it became my life.
“The turning point came when I was asked to play a bitchy character in an ITV children’s show called Bernard’s Watch. It was the first time I played someone who was not me and I thought, ‘This is what I want to do with my life’. And the producer said to my mum, ‘If she wants to do this she can’. So my parents said, ‘Oh, she’s all right at that then’.”
“I have learnt on the job, as I went along from other actors. I’m just doing it as I go along and hoping it turns out for the best.”
After Hope And Glory Day did three National Theatre shows over three years, becoming one of the youngest people ever to work at the National and went on to appear in many TV series, including the Bafta-winning comedy sci-fi Misfits, BBC police drama Cuffs and ITV’s Homefront.
Film work includes Warner Brothers’ Ironclad: Battle For Blood, urban thriller Sixteen, which premiered at the 2013 London Film Festival and Heart Of Lightness with Sam Heughan, of Outlander fame. Day joins Outlander herself in the second series of the Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated show when it returns next month, as Mary Hawkins, a young Englishwoman engaged to a much older French nobleman.
“The past ten months of my life have been doing that and it’s been really fun. It’s all period costumes and set in the 17th century. I start off at 15 engaged to an old man and it’s awful, then you see me fall in love, grow up and come into my own,” she says.
Day has also developed a taste for the horror genre and has so far made three chillers with Paul Hyett, the director known for his special effects, winning praise for The Seasoning House alongside Sean Pertwee.
“I only make horror films with Paul Hyett,” she says. “The Seasoning House, then Howl and now Heretics. We just keep making films together. He’s my best friend and it’s really fun going to work with your best friend. I was never into horror, it’s not a genre I wanted to spend my career in, but it’s fun to do. We like it.”
As for the future, Day is hoping for variety in the roles she is offered and is keen to hone her versatility.
“I admire people like Kate Winslet, Helena Bonham Carter, Julie Walters, Emma Thompson, Romola Garai – smart, funny women and people that play a completely different person each time. Playing myself wouldn’t interest me. But I’m a bit worried about playing adults. What’s it going to be like playing someone over 18?”
After Outlander wraps Day doesn’t know what she will be doing next workwise, but has learnt to cope in an industry that is notoriously fickle.
“I don’t know what I’ll do. Get another job? Fingers crossed someone will hire me. I do worry about working; any actor that says they don’t is lying. But you can’t think about where the next job is coming from.
“This industry is so temporary. And I’ve never wished for it to be different. You never really know what’s going on, which is fun. It’s what I really like about my life. I love anything to do with acting and getting to do that as a job, well I’m very lucky.
“There’s nothing I want to be but an actor.”
• All Roads Lead To Rome is available on Blu-ray and DVD from tomorrow courtesy of Signature Entertainment