Ellie Bamber

Ellie Bamber Is a Princess — and a Potty Mouth

Dropping f-bombs in London with Willow’s magic maiden.

By design, Disney princesses have guts, grit, and no clue that four-letter words beyond “love” exist. By nature, Ellie Bamber doesn’t give a shit. The 25-year-old actress is the newest member of the Disney+ royal family, playing Princess Elora in the reboot of Willow. The fantasy series, which ended its eight-episode run last week (with rumors of a second season already swirling, of course), follows a band of merry magicians fighting evil, and Bamber — a classically trained actress who built her early career on Henrik Ibsen and Cole Porter — had just one reaction when offered the role: “Fuck yes, I want to be Princess fucking Elora!” 

And so it was.

To be honest, Bamber’s f-bombs are only funny because the U.K. native is otherwise super-composed. She speaks with an erudite enthusiasm about Willow’s meticulous production team (“They’re working at the highest levels in their field, and every episode is essentially scaling a cinematic Everest.”) and her various fashion partnerships (“It’s such an honor for designers to trust me to wear their vision and their art, and represent them to the world.”). Her Instagram is a purposeful stream of poised poses and behind-the-scenes hijinks. And her next six (!!!) movies include challenging fare about political dissidents (the upcoming biopic Anna), brutalized captives (the psych thriller Seven Sorrows of Mary), and long-buried war crimes (the dark family drama The Sniper’s Daughter). Even her upcoming rom-com, Red White & Royal Blue, is something of a groundbreaker — it’s a gay love story, and Bamber’s (still secret-ish) character is a foil, not a crush.

“I just say yes to what’s really interesting,” she says when asked about her current career strategy. “That’s basically the only rule.”

Here's how Ellie spent her time on the Willow set, what a press junket is really like for up-and-coming actresses, and what it’s like to go to Magic School.

Ellie Bamber in Willow

Disney +

You come from the worlds of theater and independent cinema. Why do a fantasy epic like Willow?

For me, it was two big reasons. The first was simply the script. It was excellent. It was a great story; I couldn’t wait to know what happened next! And I loved the way they framed [Elora], and her friendships and her conviction. Everyone is such an active participant in their own story, and their own destiny. And I love that the heart of Elora’s story is her friendship with Ruby, another female character. To me, that’s such a special thing to value, and we don’t always get to see it portrayed on screen. 

And number two?

The second reason was the team. Like, oh my god. Kathleen Kennedy?! Michelle [Rejwan]. These women have produced some of the biggest movies of our time, and then the rest of the cast and crew — they are all at the top of their game. Working on a fantasy epic that’s going to stream on Disney+, you know you’re going to witness the most impeccable craft, skill, and attention to detail. It truly does feel like magic when you’re there. It did to me!

True or false: You had to go to magic school for your role?

Well, first we had Willow boot camp — fight training, horse training, all kinds of things ...  But before that, when I got the role, Ron Howard said to me, “Ellie, you really need to research magic and take your magic seriously.” And I was like, “Yes! I must take magic seriously!” 

So, I’m traipsing around London, locating all of these different magic shops. I’m reading a ton of books, and meeting with experts and guides. And then on the first day of Willow boot camp, I get to set, and I realize that literally everything I’ve read was probably not relevant at all, because this was a fantasy world. We weren't talking about the witches practicing in the world today ... eventually, the producers called me in, and said, “OK, right, Ellie, you're going to go into magic training.”

And they sent you to Hogwarts.

Right?! I’m like, ‘What is going on?’ But I arrived, and I was like, “Well, apparently, I have no idea what I’m doing.” And so they taught me to spar, but we couldn’t find any magic wands, so we’re running around the set grabbing these wooden forks from the dining table. And then we’re running around sparring with these wooden forks and at first, it was ridiculous and silly. And then, the more we got into it with movement training, the more it became absolutely amazing at the same time!

You’ve been on hardcore red carpet duty for Willow. How do you plan that many looks? 

I wish I could tell you. The reality is, I have no effing idea. [Laughing.] I have an incredible team, and of course the Disney team is at the very top of their game, and they work together to tell me where I need to be. I’m also so, so lucky to have an amazing stylist, Aimée Croysdill, who really gets me, and pulls together the most incredible looks.

What’s a look you’ve been really proud of in 2023?

Do you know about Standing Ground? They sent us the most incredible dress for the Willow premiere, and I felt so strong, so modern — it was exactly how I wanted to look in my dreams, and I think it represented the essence of Elora so well, too. I could have worn it for like three days straight. 

What’s a style goal you have for 2023?

More streetwear! I’m serious. My brother Lucas, he’s gotten me into all of it ... I’m pretty obsessed with Depop. I just bought this pair of Supreme sweatpants that look like they have paint splattered all over them, and then I’ve also found these Wales Bonner x Adidas trainers. They’re fucking brilliant, oh my god.

Small Talk

What’s a book you could read over and over again?

Tender is the Night by [F. Scott] Fitzgerald. It’s just so beautifully written. The way he writes, it’s like he’s painting the most gorgeous picture that you've ever seen in the world, and he’s doing it with words.

What’s your favorite dish to cook?

I love to cook. My favorite thing to make right now is from the River Cafe Cookbook, which is a bit of an establishment in London. It’s a pasta dish, and I made it once for my brother and his friends — it was only supposed to be five people, but then it turned into 10, then 15. Eventually, there was so much pasta that I felt like I was cooking it for 50 years! But it’s kind of fail-proof, that recipe!

Do you have a Hollywood mentor or fairy godperson?

Yes. Her name is Oorlagh George. She directed this film that should be coming out fairly soon called The Sniper’s Daughter. Not only is she a very good person, but she’s incredibly talented. She won an Oscar for a short film she produced, The Shore. And she is just so wonderful; I always go to her for advice. We always bounce films and stuff that we like off each other, and have creative brainstorms. She's amazing.

What’s the last thing you do before bed?

In a perfect world, I read a little bit of a book. But I suppose, often, the last thing I do is check my phone! I really try to read, though, I swear.

Lead photo: Elias Tahan

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