Alexandra Roach

“Nobody puts Roach in the corner,” jokes Welsh actress Alexandra Roach, after admitting that whenever she spends a lazy Sunday at home, she likes to throw on her pajamas and watch Dirty Dancing (1987). Not that she’s had much downtime lately, having spent a good bit of 2011 sporting a coiffed wig and a leather clutch for Mamma Mia! director Phyllida Lloyd’s new film, The Iron Lady, a biopic about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The story shifts between Thatcher’s time as a politician and her life preceding it, with Meryl Streep embodying Thatcher during her years as leader of the Conservative party and 24-year-old Roach handling her as a younger woman. “I didn’t focus on Thatcher’s life after 33,” Roach explains. “I just played her as someone ambitious. That’s what fueled her, so I had to find something that fuels me that much.” For the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art grad, that was acting, and she studied Streep, a two-time Oscar winner, assiduously. “Meryl comes onto set and just nails it,” she says. “And if we go again, she does it completely different, just to give the director something to play with in the edit. She’s just fearless.” Fear was the reason Roach pursued drama in the first place. “I went to stage school with a neighbor to build confidence because I was quite shy,” she says. “That’s the sob story!” But her tale turns rosy: The Carmarthenshire-raised actress scored a role on the long-running Welsh-language soap Pobol y Cwm during her first week at the academy. Roach is currently filming Joe Wright’s new adaptation of Anna Karenina—in which she plays shallow society girl Countess Nordston, alongside Keira Knightley, Jude Law, and Aaron Johnson—and she recently moved into her own apartment in Muswell Hill, north London. A photo of Marilyn Monroe reading Michael Chekhov’s To the Actor hangs above her bed. “Actresses are mental on the whole,” Roach says. “But I think I’m pretty normal.” Her other prized possessions include two DVDs of Grease (1978) (“in case one breaks”) and her favorite bag. “I’ve got my Cambridge Satchel—a red leather one that I’ve had since Christmas—and take it everywhere,” Roach says. “I can’t wait until I’m able to afford really posh bags. I’d love a Mulberry!”