"There's a disco going on over here," says actress Ruth Wilson with a smile, seated in a West Hollywood restaurant that affords a view of a particularly shimmery hotel-pool scene. It's not quite her taste, on screen or off. The 30-year-old London-based actress's body of work thus far reflects a certain seriousness, evident in heady performances like the title role in the 2006 BBC production of Jane Eyre, for which she received a Golden Globe nomination, and the noir-tinged psychopath astrophysicist Alice Morgan on the BBC crime drama Luther. "I love complex characters—strong females who are vulnerable but have a life and soul," she says. "That's what I'm drawn to and what I enjoy most." Wilson has already won two Olivier Awards, for theater performances as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire and the title role in Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie opposite Jude Law. Her good taste already has a fan in Anna Wintour, who offered to help dress Wilson to accept her second Olivier, even calling in Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen. All of this isn't to say that Wilson is terminally staid, or that she would never entertain a role that draws from the shimmery hotel-pool lifestyle. In fact, she began her career rather unseriously: Her first professional credit was in the camp British sitcom Suburban Shootout, as a garishly costumed, oversexed teenager. And then there is next year's The Lone Ranger, co-starring Johnny Depp, and Wilson's first summer blockbuster, in which she plays the female lead, at one point shackled to a moving train by her ankles. But first up will be a return to literary form in November's experimental take on Anna Karenina from director Joe Wright, with co-stars Keira Knightley and Law (again). Wilson plays social queen bee Princess Betsy, with peroxide-blonde hair, brows dyed to match, and geisha-inspired costumes created using McQueen references that the actress herself pulled from runway shots. "Joe has taken quite a wild stance," she explains, citing the adaptation's unusual shoot in a run-down theater that transforms into multiple locations, from a skating rink to a racetrack. "He's blown the whole period-drama thing apart." It could be that Wilson's knack for high drama is genetic. Her grandfather, Alexander Wilson, worked for MI6 and wrote more than 20 spy novels. He also had four wives, a fact Wilson discovered only after reading her grandmother's memoir. Will the actress ever turn director to bring this theatrical family saga to life? "I'm thinking about it," Wilson says.
PHOTO: RUTH WILSON IN LOS ANGELES, JUNE 2012. ALL CLOTHING: DONNA KARAN. RINGS: WILSON'S OWN. COSMETICS: ELIZABETH ARDEN, INCLUDING EXCEPTIONAL LIPSTICK IN SIMPLY RED AND DOUBLE DENSITY MAXIMUM VOLUME MASCARA IN BLACK. STYLING: DAVID THOMAS/OPUS BEAUTY. HAIR: FRANKIE PAYNE USING NUMBER 4 HAIR PRODUCTS/OPUS BEAUTY. MAKEUP: KATHY JEUNG/THE MAGNET AGENCY. SPECIAL THANKS: THE MONDRIAN HOTEL, L.A.