Is the Bohemian Rhapsody star Hollywood’s queen in the making?
Words by ROB HASKELL
Photography by VICTOR DEMARCHELIER
Creative & Fashion Direction by ALISON EDMOND
Two days after the Academy Awards, Lucy Boynton emerges from 72 hours of parties that followed 72 relentless days of press for Bohemian Rhapsody as a full-fledged star. With her unfailingly blond bob (Boynton has been dying her hair for so long she scarcely remembers its original light golden brown color) and a red carpet success rate that saw her rock floor-length Celine at the Golden Globes, ruched and ruffled Christian Dior at the BAFTAs and an embroidered Gucci gown at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, hers might be the defining style of the red carpet season.
And 25-year-old Boynton and her 37-year-old beau, actor Rami Malek, are certainly the season’s defining couple. For aficionados of a Hollywood romance, Malek’s Best Actor Oscar win for his role as Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody offered a breathtaking display: It wasn’t merely the succession of long kisses that Malek planted on her lips or the couple’s visible reluctance to unclasp their hands. At the end of his speech, Malek addressed Boynton directly, and the camera cut to her face, with its large, startled eyes. When he told her, before an audience of millions, that she had captured his heart, her mouth resolved into a trembling half-smile, just barely beating back rivers of feeling. It was, as they say, a moment.
“I find myself funny day to day, but turn a camera on me and it’s terrifying to make an audience laugh”
“It was insane,” Boynton says in a British accent, today’s big grin decidedly more relaxed. “I’m usually watching the Oscars on the sofa at 3 in the morning at my mom’s in London. So for Rami to say that Mary Austin, or that I, was the heart of the film — it’s a weird thing to talk about or to know what to say to strangers about because it felt like such an intimate moment. I’m still processing that whole evening, but I’ll just say that I was really moved by what he said. And surprised! I don’t know. My heart is just full.”
Boynton wears a vintage flower-print babydoll dress, a comfy old standby in which to wave away the glamour wars of February, from which she emerged victorious. Her custom Rodarte Oscars gown in violet satin nodded to Old Hollywood while honoring the contemporary design scene in Los Angeles (where Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte also live and produce all their clothing).
“People get quite nervous about red carpet stuff,” Boynton says. “But I realized early on that as long as I’m dressing for me, I can just have fun with it. Leith Clark, my stylist, always tells me, ‘If you don’t feel good, take it off immediately.’ I love her for that. You don’t want to walk out the door thinking, oh God, I hope I’ve got this right, I hope people like it. It should be, I feel fucking great. The nice thing about Bohemian is that it sort of granted you permission to go outside your comfort zone, to go slightly further with all the looks.”
The truth is that Boynton knew next to nothing about Queen and had never heard of Mary Austin, Mercury’s longtime partner and closest friend, when she was sent the script for Bohemian Rhapsody in 2017. She maintains an instinctive skepticism about biopics. “I worry that they can be somewhat intrusive or exposing, but what struck me about Bohemian was that it was written as an ode,” she explains. “Some people wish it had been darker and dirtier, but that wasn’t really the story I wanted to be a part of telling. Freddie kept some of himself to himself. The point wasn’t to share everything, and that version would have excluded so many people, especially kids, when the message of the film is absolute inclusivity.” For some fans of Freddie Mercury, Austin has been a bugbear, standing instead for the phase of the singer’s life when he was closeted. Here was an opportunity to correct the record. “She was always the person who said, ‘Be your absolute ultimate self, and we’ll work through anything,’” Boynton says of Austin. “That she was such an integral part of his life doesn’t take away from the fact that he is a gay icon.”
Boynton was born in New York, where her English parents, both journalists, relocated for what was supposed to be a year but turned into 10. (“I’ve got the passport,” she says. “Which is a golden ticket in this industry.”) She was brought up in London, where she became “painfully British,” and was 12 when a casting director came to observe a drama lesson at her school, which ultimately led to the role of a young Beatrix Potter in the 2006 film Miss Potter (Renée Zellweger played the adult version of the titular character). “I knew I wanted to be an actress as soon as I realized it wasn’t a job you had to wait to be a grown-up to do,” Boynton says. “But it’s incredibly competitive and difficult and unreliable, and still I wonder how people get into it. I was in the right place at the right time.”
She had a few other child roles before breaking through in 2016, when she co-starred in the coming-of-age musical Sing Street. She then played Countess Andrenyi in Kenneth Branagh’s reboot of Murder on the Orient Express. There were lean years as well — too old for child roles, not mature enough to play the leading lady. And while Boynton might easily be mistaken for an overnight sensation, she is grateful for the hardships along the way. “I’ve had years of auditioning and not getting any work, which I think is an incredibly grounding thing,” she explains. “It forces you to question how much you really want it, and if you do, then OK, this is how hard you’ll have to work for it. You become quite resilient to endless rejection, and it’s good to have that so that you don’t fall into the trap of seeing it all in a rose-tinted way. The work itself, obviously, is the most sacred and exciting moment, and although the celebration of it is lovely, it’s just the frilly edges.”
The real Mary Austin wanted no part in the making of Bohemian Rhapsody; she guards her privacy closely, which Boynton was determined to honor. Boynton’s character is the film’s moral core, a beacon of unconditional love. “As big and loud and colorful as this film was going to be, every time our characters came together it was the eye of the storm,” she recalls. “Those are the scenes where Freddie doesn’t need to be ‘the guy,’ the leader onstage. He can kind of curl back up into himself.”
The actor has often been pressed to explain the scene in which Mercury confides in Austin that he is bisexual, to which she replies, “No, Freddie, you’re gay.” She imagined that for Austin, nudging him toward what she understood to be his true sexual orientation was an act of love. “But then I heard from a lot of people who felt that this was her in fact failing to understand him,” Boynton explains. “That being bisexual is not a limbo period or an in-between, that you don’t have to define your sexuality. That was an important lesson for me, to stop and listen.”
In December, Boynton wrapped The Politician, a Ryan Murphy satirical series premiering on Netflix in the fall. The show stars Ben Platt as well as Jessica Lange and Gwyneth Paltrow, though Boynton did not share any scenes with those venerable leading ladies. She is not allowed to reveal much about the series, but she concedes that comedy was a stretch. “Day one on set, Ryan was like, ‘OK, cool, so I want this thing to be very funny,’” she recalls. “And my heart just dropped. I find myself funny day to day, but turn a camera on me and it’s terrifying to try to make an audience laugh, to find that freshness every time.”
The show filmed in Los Angeles, where Boynton and Malek spent the second half of 2018, living mainly out of suitcases. “You can always breathe here,” she says. “We’ve been staying in West Hollywood, where you have this incredible view of the canyons. Things are low, and there’s a sense of grounding. When you wake up in New York there’s this pressure to go go go, and it’s quite relentless. Instead there’s a peace to Los Angeles that I really cherish.”
“There’s a sense of power that comes from playing the villain”
For the moment, Boynton has nothing on the docket, which suits her just fine. Bohemian Rhapsody has so completely seeped into the crevices of the last two years that she looks forward to some time to digest it all. “But come back to me in a month,” she says and laughs. “And I might be having the usual actor panic.” She’d like to take on other period pieces, maybe the 1920s or the 1940s, and lately it’s the darker scripts that grab her. “There’s a sense of power that comes from playing the villain. You’re not forced to stand for anything if your character is just bad. That’s freeing as an actor, especially now that so many people are turning to actors to be the spokesperson for some idea or some moment, which is a lot.” After Bohemian and the sense of moral responsibility that accompanied it, it’s easy to see the appeal. “No quietly seething women,” Boynton says. “I like the idea of not having to be polite.”
Feature image: GIVENCHY dress, $3,730, KATKIM ear pin, $1,620, ZOË CHICCO ring (left), $875, ERINESS ring, $750.
Hair by JENNY CHO at Starworks Artists using Suave Professionals.
Makeup by JO BAKER at Forward Artists using Dior Beauty.
Manicure by EMI KUDO at Opus Beauty using Chanel Le Vernis.
This story originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of C magazine.