Oona Chaplin was born into movie royalty, but she hopes it's her talent that gets her the parts. The star of The Longest Ride tells John Hiscock about her films, her family, and her first kiss
Oona Chaplin is lounging on a chair in the middle of a North Carolina field, her face turned to the sun and skirt hitched up to catch some rays on her legs. She flew into Charlotte the evening before with the 27kg of luggage allowed by airlines, which constitutes her entire wardrobe. "I live out of a bag," she says with a wide smile, "so this is everything I own, because I have either sold everything else or am in the process of selling or giving it away. Apart from my bank details, I'm off the grid."
Although born into a life of wealth, fame and privilege (that surname is the giveaway), the dark-haired, petite actress has rebelled against putting down roots and instead lives a nomadic life, constantly on the move for both work and pleasure.
"I lived in London for 10 years," she says, "but I don't live there any more, so I am just moving around and trying to figure out where I want to be and what I want to do.
"I think I feel pleasantly foreign no matter where I go. I feel I am not rooted anywhere and I am sort of floating from place to place. I don't know where my home will be next. Right now, it's wherever I am in North Carolina."
The 28-year-old actress openly admits that her background has allowed her the freedom to do pretty much what she wants. She is the daughter of the respected actress Geraldine O'Neill and the Chilean cinematographer Patricio Castilla; her grandfather was Charlie Chaplin; her greatgrandfather was the playwright Eugene O'Neill; and her great-greatgrandfather, James O'Neill, was the first actor to portray the Count of Monte Cristo on screen in 1913.
"Four generations," she says, laughing. "It's nuts!" She has no doubts that her heritage has helped in both her life and her career. "Definitely I have an advantage, and I'm very grateful for it," she says. "I have been blessed with an extraordinary and wonderful family. The Chaplin name certainly makes ears prick up. I don't know if it's got me any jobs, but it's certainly got me into rooms, and all I can do is work as hard as I can and try to be as good as I can. I hope that if I'm really bad they will stop giving me work."
She laughs again, then adds more seriously: "Oh, this whole business makes no sense. I wish I could explain to my friends who are insanely talented why I am working, because I don't know. I think maybe there might be something attractive about somebody who doesn't necessarily know why she's doing what she's doing!"
Although Chaplin likes to play down her acting abilities, she has worked hard and paid her dues. Born in Madrid, she spent her childhood in Spain, Switzerland and Cuba. She studied ballet and, besides English, speaks fluent Spanish, French and Italian.
When she was 15, she went to Gordonstoun on a drama scholarship, and while there appeared in several plays, touring the UK in an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet and playing Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream dressed as her grandfather's Little Tramp at the Edinburgh Fringe. After leaving Gordonstoun, she studied at Rada, graduating in 2007.
Chaplin appeared with her mother in three feature films and has had roles in several television series, including The Hour, Sherlock - in which she played John Watson's girlfriend - and Game of Thrones.
She also played Kitty Trevelyan, a lead character in the BBC drama The Crimson Field, which aired last year, and had a small role in the James Bond film Quantum of Solace.
We are talking in a field in North Carolina because this is one of the settings for The Longest Ride, a melodrama in which Chaplin co-stars with two other secondand third-generation Hollywood offspring - Scott Eastwood, son of Clint, and Jack Huston, son of Danny and grandson of John.
The Longest Ride is the 10th romantic novel by the prolific author Nicholas Sparks to be filmed (he wrote The Notebook, The Best of Me, Safe Haven and many more). It parallels the fates of two couples from different eras, and contains the usual Sparks ingredients of star-crossed lovers, class differences, tragic accidents and life-altering medical conditions.
"My character's an Austrian Jewess named Ruth whose family fled before the atrocities in Austria," she says, "and she landed in North Carolina - much to her disappointment, until she finds Ira Levinson, who is played by Jack Huston. He is a charming and quiet boy from the neighbourhood and they fall madly in love." Chaplin pauses for breath. "That's pretty much it."
There is, however, also a romance between a professional bull rider (Huston again) and a college girl (Britt Robertson). Alan Alda portrays Huston's character as an old man, who has the love letters he wrote to Chaplin's Ruth many years earlier read to him while he is in hospital after a near-fatal car accident.
Certainly, the topic of love is something that Chaplin seems to embrace joyfully. "I think love is something we're all trying to figure out, and it's a process I don't think you ever come to a conclusion about," she says. "What's my idea of love? That's a big question. I hope I never fully figure it out, because I'm having so much fun finding out what it is.
"I have been in love so many times, with so many different people. I fall in love almost every day, and I think a lot of people would deem that irresponsible. I am always in love."
It's difficult to know how serious she's being, but it's fun listening to her, particularly when she expounds on her teenage romances. "My first kiss was in school in Spain when I was about 14, and I dragged a boy by the hair until I got him in a corner, then I gave him a kiss and ran away. It was a short kiss, but I don't think I'll ever forget it, and I certainly don't think he will - I should think his head still hurts.
"My first love letter was when I had a romantic but totally platonic relationship when I was 15 with a boy in Switzerland. We wrote each other these incredibly passionate letters, but then, when we saw each other, we just couldn't even look each other in the eye. So it was a completely fantastical romance, but I still have the letters."
Despite her claims of having had many loves, she says: "Actually, I am pretty old-fashioned when it comes to romance, and I have been blessed with a family that is very united. My parents are together and they are very much in love. They come from a different generation. I don't understand why a lot of my friends break up with their respective partners, when it's so much better to just try and give it a go if you really care about someone."
The peripatetic actress recently finished filming the movie Havana's Heart and Beats in Cuba, and she has the Spanish science-fiction drama Project Lazarus awaiting release. She is not sure what lies ahead, but knows she wants to keep on acting.
"I am still trying to really figure out what I am doing," she says, "but for me it's about truth, and actually an exercise in enlightenment. Which may seem a really pretentious thing to say, but that's the truth."
The Longest Ride is on release now