Fans of Downton Abbey know Jessica Brown Findlay as the passionate, impulsive Lady Sybil Crawley, but as her movie resume indicates, there’s more to her than meets the eye. Two years ago, in her big-screen debut — as a teen who has an affair with an older man in the British film Albatross — the 23-year-old actress quite literally revealed another side of herself when she went topless on camera.
Speaking about the scene in a new interview with British magazine Radio Times, Findlay says she just simply didn’t know any better. “To be honest, Albatross was naivete and not knowing that I could say no,” she explains. “I had no idea what was going to happen and thought I was going to be shot from behind.”
In contrast, she did know what she was getting into when she stripped down for her role in the upcoming movie Labyrinth. Which is not to say she was comfortable with it. “In Labyrinth, it is a very fleeting moment that we shot in one take, but I did find it very odd being naked in front of lots of people,” she admits. “I think it’s awful that women get so criticized about their bodies.”
The actress goes on to note that she didn’t do anything special to prepare, at least in terms of diet and exercise. “If you’re going to do a nude scene, be honest and natural,” she says. “I was drinking pints and eating burgers.”
“But actually,” she continues, “it’s not something I would do again.”
That said, Findlay has no regrets or qualms about taking risks — perhaps the biggest of which was deciding to leave Downton Abbey in the middle of season three, at the absolute peak of the show’s international popularity. “I didn’t want to fall into my comfort zone too much,” she explains. “My contract was ending, and I was unsure about signing away another year. Leaving terrified me, and that’s what made me want to do it.”
“Being afraid and going into the unknown excites me, and what scared me more was to keep going and then one day discover it was all I could do and wish I had pushed myself more,” she tells Radio Times, noting that “acting in Downton was quite restrictive.” “I’d prefer to fail and fall flat on my face.”
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