Interestingly, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is not someone who I knew about growing up, but she’s had a profound influence on my life in the last five years. What’s so reassuring is that even when you get to your mid-thirties, you can still be inspired by people. She changed so much of my thinking. She didn’t try to be like other people. Politics is full of back- stabbing and disappointingly fuelled by corruption, and she was someone who went against all of that and was very true to her path.
The first time I met Ruth was in preparation to play her in the biopic On the Basis of Sex. I remember waiting with our director and producers, and we all were like schoolchildren shaking with nerves. I was so intimidated. She has an enormous power over people, and that came from her quietness – she chose her words very carefully. She was also very funny; she was so charismatic on stage. She did a Q and A and she had the audience in fits of laughter.
There was also something very moving about her I wasn’t expecting. It comes back to this feeling of somebody standing by their beliefs and having such strong integrity. She taught me not to be scared of speaking the truth. And that you definitely shouldn’t underestimate women under five foot five.
I first encountered the work of Virginia Woolf when I was studying English at Oxford. I spent many, many terms reading male writers – almost hundreds and hundreds of male writers. So coming across Virginia Woolf and getting to know her work intimately was a breath of fresh air. I immediately identified with her; she writes in a stream of consciousness and she was so good at conveying one’s inner thoughts and, often, the contradiction between a person’s internal life and outward experience. Growing up, I was quite shy, so reading her work I empathised with her very strong interior monologue.
Whenever I go back to her books now, it reminds me of being a student at university. It was such a free time – it was the freedom of not having to schedule or be a grown-up. And somehow, Virginia Woolf is at the heart of that period for me. I greatly admire her as someone who went against the grain, trying to live in a way that didn’t conform to what everyone around her wanted her to be.
Samantha Morton was the actress I watched when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I remember when I first saw her work, I thought: “That is what I want to do.” I thought Morvern Callar  was the coolest film in the world. It was watching those kinds of films and performances – ones that epitomise British independence – that made me want to become an actress.
Samantha had gone to a youth drama group called the Central Junior Television Workshop in Nottingham and I had gone to the same group in Birmingham. It gave me this hope that you could make that leap from doing youth drama to cinema. While I never met her, I felt that we were kindred spirits and that we were coming into acting from similar roots. I always wanted to emulate her and I was very inspired by her because she didn’t try so hard. There was such a confidence to her performances; she let the character come to her. She didn’t oversell it or overdo it or have the anxiety of needing the attention. I watch her now and am still blown away.
The Last Letter from Your Lover is streaming on Netflix now.