“I love those badass women from times of yore,” says Alice Eve over the phone from her home in Los Angeles. “I like the ones battling the elements. I think that’s pretty cool.”
With this in mind, it’s not surprising that the English actress enjoyed her most recent role in The Stolen, a Western adventure about a women’s thrilling journey to find her kidnapped son.
Eve plays Charlotte Lockton, the wife of a wealthy landowner in 1860s New Zealand, whose happy life is shattered when an intruder murders her husband and makes off with their one-year-old baby. Unhappy with the efforts of local police, Lockton takes it upon herself to track down her child, meeting prostitutes, ex-convicts and Maori warriors along the way. Directed by Niall Johnson, The Stolen also stars Jack Davenport of Kingsman: The Secret Service fame and Graham McTavish from The Hobbit.“It really appealed to me as a story,” says Eve, the 35-year-old star of Star Trek: Into the Darkness. “The simple idea that a woman goes to a new world and not only has her husband taken, but loses her child too. I thought that was a really extreme thing for someone to go through.”
Needless to say, her character, who has to cross the plains of New Zealand alone in the film, lived up to Eve’s feminist expectations. And one of the locations was the Antipodes Islands, a cluster of volcanic rocks five hundred miles south of New Zealand, so there were plenty of chances to battle against the elements. The area is so remote that the islands have no indigenous mammals, only birds.
Eve regales stories of “daily disasters” as a result of filming in the wilderness in winter. “I found it hard with a crew so I can only imagine what it would have been like 170 years ago.” That didn’t stop her from getting stuck in, however, which included doing her own stunts. After successfully filming a scene on a rearing horse, she pleaded with the director to let her do the final take in which her character gallops down a beach into the distance. It was not to be: “They wanted a stunt girl to do it and I was just so devastated that I had a little cry,” she admits with a laugh. “Anyway, they were right in the end because when I practised the horse got out from under me.”As the daughter of the actors Trevor Eve and Sharon Maughan, Alice Eve grew up between England and the US, briefly attending the same school as Paris Hilton in LA. She returned to the UK when she was 12 and was sent to Bedales boarding-school where she had her first taste of acting as Olivia in Twelfth Night.
After that came Oxford at the insistence of her father who wanted her to go to university before running back to LA for auditions. She read English at St Catherine’s (her dissertation was on Wordsworth) before bagging a part in Richard Eyre’s film Stage Beauty in 2004. Since then, her myriad of roles have included Sex and the City 2, Black Mirror and the third Men in Black movie.
While acting has taken her all over the world, this was her first time in New Zealand and she was beguiled by both the magical landscape and the country’s attitudes towards women.
Citing the recent appointment of Jacinda Ardern, the country’s new female Labour Prime Minister, Eve explains that while there people gave her a certain “look in the eye” that made her feel like “what I brought to the table mattered, not my gender”.
“It was one of the first countries to give all women the vote in 1893 and I found there to be very little gender divide in terms of attitudes and their approach to daily life. There don’t seem to be the same problems there that we encounter in Europe and the West.”One of her theories for this is that, unlike the predominately married and pregnant women who travelled to America on the Mayflower, the women who immigrated to New Zealand were nearly exclusively single. “I think that made a big difference to the founding of the country. These single women had to fight their own fight.”
This is a particularly poignant observation in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein and Westminster sexual harassment scandals that have dominated the news in recent weeks. Has she had any experience of sexism in her line of work?
“No, I was not subjected to anything like that, but I think it’s reprehensible for what [Harvey Weinstein] has done and horrible and disgusting to read about.”
However, she thinks that the swell of anger from women around the world is down to “centuries of repression” and, crucially, the gender pay gap. “It’s not great that we’re not paid the same, is it? Pay inequality seems to be across the board… which is really demoralising for the collective.”
While Eve doesn’t want to get bogged down in “boring” discussions about pay within the film industry but she does think that things are changing. Casting directors are more willing to talk about it. She also has a “badass” female manager (is there a theme here?) who went to Harvard Law and fights her corner.
Maybe this shift is why Eve ultimately feels optimistic. “I can’t change anything personally but we should remain hopeful, open and honest, like you should about everything life.”
The Stolen is in selected cinemas now