AGE: 19. HOMETOWN: East London, “Near Canary Wharf, a neighborhood called Isle of Dogs.” UP NEXT: Tim Burton’s adaptation of Ransom Riggs’s novel Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children; Access All Areas; The Journey Is the Destination.
JOHN ORTVED: How did you get discovered?
ELLA PURNELL: I did a bit of baby modeling. I loved it. At 9, I started taking classes at Sylvia Young Theatre School. One day they asked if I wanted to join their agency. You get in if you’re cute, I guess. When I was 11, I did Oliver! in the West End. I’m desperate to get back into theater; that’s my true passion. Cheesy musicals.
ORTVED: What’s it like working with Tim Burton?
PURNELL: We had a discussion before my audition. He asked questions: “What do you see Emma doing and saying and feeling?” It felt like a collaboration. In all the big scenes, he’d ask, “What do you think?” The kids love him. He’s like the Pied Piper.
ORTVED: Do you see yourself moving toward theater and musicals?
PURNELL: I hope. What I’m trying to do now is learn and improve and grow as a person. What I use when I’m acting comes from what I learn about myself. I didn’t go to drama school. I need to become a better actor before I go onstage. It’s harder to fake it onstage than onscreen.
ORTVED: What’s your peculiarity?
PURNELL: I can’t fly. I’m not full of beans. I can make an awesome duck noise. I do great animal impressions. [imitates a duck quack]
ORTVED: What are you reading?
PURNELL: The Girl Who Played With Fire. I think it’s really hard for filmmakers to adapt books. For Miss Peregrine, my character is different; she even has a different peculiarity than in the book. When people realized, I put out a statement: “Just trust me on this one.”
ORTVED: You grew up with siblings?
PURNELL: I have three younger brothers. Try doing puberty when you have three little brothers telling you how spotty and gross and disgusting you are.