After making the bold decision to leave school at the age of 17, Ella-Rae Smith worked to establish herself in the elusive world of acting. Through a tireless dedication to perfecting her craft, Smith quickly catapulted towards stints in film and TV, including her breakout role in Netflix’s wildly-received eight-part mystery thriller, The Stranger. And now, following on from a whirlwind start to her career, Smith has landed her most masterful role yet, as Sweetheart’s Isla, the care-free caravan park lifeguard ready to steal your hearts.
Starring alongside fellow rising star, Nell Barlow, who plays her love interest AJ, the quirky pair navigate the confusing rite of passage to adulthood and understanding their sexuality in the upcoming indie film. Standing as a timeless coming-of-age story with a much-needed modern twist on the heterosexual love story, the film’s critically-acclaimed reception at the BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival and Glasgow Film Festival is more than deserved.
Ahead of the release of Sweetheart Peter Pan-based movie The Lost Girls, Ella-Rae sat down with Wonderland for a frank conversation on her already-seasoned acting career, the joys of tackling hard-hitting topics through the medium of film, and the art of persevering in the face of adversity.
Hi Ella-Rae, how have you been?
I’ve been really well, thank you. The past year has had its fair share of ups and downs for everyone, but it feels like the madness is coming to an end.
Talk us through your pandemic experience. Has it impacted your creativity?
It took a while for me to settle into being so still, and not knowing when things would start up again was incredibly stressful. I’d love to say that I spent any of the lockdowns learning monologues or perfecting an accent, but, instead, I binged the entirety of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
Where did your love for acting come from?
I think a love of storytelling and performance has been a constant throughout my life; my grandma would take me to ballets and the theatre as a child, and my mum is a massive film buff. I was twelve, playing Olivia in our school’s production of Twelfth Night when I realised I could act, and I got hooked on the pure adrenaline of it. Before then, I had been painfully shy but acting unlocked something inside of me and I became obsessed, totally clear-sighted that it was what I wanted to do in my life.
Congratulations on the upcoming release of Sweetheart! How are you feeling about the public seeing the project?
I’ve been excited about Sweetheart since I first read the script. The filming experience was a total joy, four weeks on the Jurassic coast with a tiny cast and crew.
All of us involved care deeply for and love the story, so now knowing that the public will get to see it and fall in love with it too is so exciting. The film touches on the forever-relevant coming-of-age themes of sexuality and finding yourself.
How did you navigate taking on such important topics? Is it weird that I kind of love taking on these topics?
Maybe it’s because I’m twenty-three, so I’m still newly out of my own teen-hood. Sweetheart is so similar to the British coming-of-age films that I grew up watching, but this time the romance happens to be between two girls. If I’d watched Sweetheart when I was younger, I think it would have made me more comfortable in who I am, and knowing that this film has the potential to do that for young people is a massive gift. It’s a responsibility, but one I’m more than happy to carry if it means having a positive impact on people’s lives.