Ella Hunt is elated. The rising actor has just moved up to London after quarantining with her family in Devon (“I’ve been used to days where I see more sheep than people”) and the night before our interview she had embarked on her first trip to the pub since the lockdown ban was lifted. “The pub was the thing that I’d missed the most. How English,” she says happily.
Hunt is promoting Kat and the Band, a plucky British teen movie about a fast-talking high schooler who dreams of becoming a big league band manager. Since finishing the film (which co-stars McFly bassist Dougie Poynter), her career has skyrocketed stateside thanks to a role in Apple TV+’s punk period series Dickinson. Hunt stars opposite Hailee Steinfeld in the wonderfully unconventional show, which spotlights the romantic relationship between Emily Dickinson (Steinfeld) and her best friend Sue Gilbert (Hunt) that many had speculated upon but was never confirmed in reality. It’s a name-making role for Hunt no doubt, but the actress has been building a steady foundation for stardom for the best part of a decade – with many discovering her in ITV’s 2016 revival of Cold Feet, where she plays the twin sister of Normal People’s Daisy Edgar-Jones.
Speaking with NME from Islington, London, the 22-year-old recalls playing her first gig earlier this year, shares her love of Lana Del Rey, and praises Dickinson’s ability to make her grow a pair.
What made you want to be in ‘Kat and the Band’?
“She felt very much like a kindred spirit to me, because I can remember being 17 and wanting to be an adult already. I just wanted to get going with my life… The script intrigued me because I’m a singer songwriter. It was fun to play someone on the other side of the music industry who wants to represent talent. My godfather was a music manager who discovered Sinéad O’Connor, and from what my parents have told me about him, a large part of the job is about having a real belief in your art. Kat’s got that ambition; it’s only her age that holds her back.”
Where did your passion for songwriting come from?
“I started when I was 10, as a way of processing what was going on around me. I’d always wanted to be an actress and a singer, but people in the industry told me that I couldn’t be both, that it would be confusing when launching my acting career. When I moved to New York to start filming Dickinson, I basically grew a pair of balls and decided that I was going to make music and act because that’s what makes me happy.”
You played your first gig this year, what was that experience like?
“I performed just before lockdown in this wonderful venue owned by my friend called The Owl in Brooklyn. It was really special and slightly terrifying. I have a song called ‘Who Are You?’ which is about my relationship with myself, and how in my late teens there were some mornings when I’d wake up and just not like myself. It felt so weird to stand up and sing it in a room that was mostly made up of my friends.”
Who are you listening to at the moment?
“I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz recently, records like ‘Everybody Digs Bill Evans’, which I find very soothing. I’ve spent the last few days riding around London listening to this band called Lambchop. Then I’m always returning to Lana Del Rey, I go back to ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’ time and time again.”
‘Dickinson’ was your first big American project – what was your first day on set like?
“It was a totally crazy day. There are lots of moments in the show where we dive into Emily’s fantasy world, and on my first day we filmed a scene where we went into her brain. David Gordon Green [Pineapple Express, Halloween] directed this episode, and he sent us into a white box with these wind machines blowing on us, surrounded by men’s clothes. A prop guy handed me a pillow and told me that I should rip it open. I was totally freaking out; I thought I’d signed onto something where my character was very naturalistic; instead here I was walking sassily towards the camera with this pillow. When I ripped it open a million feathers went everywhere; Hailee and I were picking them out of our hair, noses and feet for ages afterwards.”
You worked with some incredible directors on the show – including Lynn Shelton who passed away in May…
“I was devastated when I heard the news; Lynn created the most beautiful atmosphere on set. I’m not just saying this – everyone around her when they were working with her was happy. We were shooting a scene in which [my character] Sue is on a ship with Emily, and I had a rain machine and what felt like a 100 mph wind machine blowing on me. It was so strong that I couldn’t open my eyes. After Lynn called cut she bundled me into this big hug because I was so freezing and excited, and we just hugged and jumped up and down for a few minutes.”
What can we expect from Sue in the second season?
“There’s not too much I’m able to say, but Sue has a lot of fun in the second season. Good. She takes quite a sharp right hand turn from where she’s at in season one; she starts a new life, and this new life is fantastic and crazy.”
You were cast in the ‘Cold Feet’ revival as Daisy Edgar-Jones’ twin. What was it like to join a show that was already so beloved in Britain?
“Daisy and I were talking about this yesterday; for both of us, it was the best way of going to acting school without actually going to acting school. It was a luxury to watch Jimmy Nesbitt and Hermione Norris doing these fantastic full-on dialogue scenes… Daisy and I have been best friends since the day we met. I’ve been asked a lot recently who inspires me and more and more I find it’s my close friends like Daisy. It’s very inspiring to watch my girls attacking the industry.”
‘Kat and the Band’ is available now online