Emily Lloyd: Golden girl interrupted

At 16 she was a star, but by 24 Emily Lloyd was in therapy at the Priory Clinic and her career was in freefall. She tells Charlotte Cripps how taking on the role of Ophelia is her ideal route to recovery
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The Independent Online

Even with a history of mental illness and a stymied career, Emily Lloyd greets me with the same exuberance she displayed as the 16-year-old star of the film Wish You Were Here back in 1986. These days, she lives in a modest flat in Dalston, east London, 10 minutes from her mother's house, where we meet.

Dressed in a very short flesh-coloured Dolce & Gabbana dress with a black mesh overlay, she sits down, suddenly looking blank and lost. She gazes off into the distance. And then, "Sorry, sometimes I go off to Planet Lloyd," she laughs. "Oh God, don't put that in - I'll never get a date."

Lloyd, who has worked alongside Brad Pitt, Robert Redford and Bruce Willis, has been battling for years with anxiety and depression. Now 32, she is playing Ophelia in Hamlet in the Holland Park Shakespeare Festival. She hopes that the season, which opens tonight, will relaunch her career.

She also wants to relaunch her life. Lloyd says her childhood was happy, despite the fact that her father, the actor Roger Lloyd Pack (Trigger in Only Fools and Horses) left her mother, the theatrical agent Sheila Ball, when Emily was only two years old. But she has clearly known unhappiness in recent years. She has seen numerous psychiatrists and been diagnosed with every kind of disorder - obsessive compulsive, attention deficit, depression and anxiety, low self esteem - all of which have often made her feel disconnected from reality. "I think the psychiatrists I saw wanted to get me back on track and working again - so that I could pay my psychiatry bills," she says.

But she is keen to avoid wallowing in self-pity. "I'm not into angst - that's why I don't keep harping on," she says. She says that she is not playing Ophelia as a victim, as many actresses do. Perhaps that refusal to play the victim applies in her real life, too? "Thank you for noticing that," she replies. "There is always someone worse off than you. It's about getting up and doing it. Not being afraid of falling flat on your face. All I want is some respect. That would be nice.

"I am hoping that work will help me to define who I am again. I enjoy what I do. There is a creative journey that it allows. But it's harder now. That I had so much, so young, is an advantage and a disadvantage in so many ways. People know me from then. I'll be walking through Dalston to the gym and someone will say, "You're the girl who said "Up yer bum" [in Wish You Were Here]. You have this kind of history that everyone knows, and it's easy to get pigeonholed." She is very much enjoying working opposite Robert Williamson, who is playing the title role in Hamlet and who is about the same age as her. "I'm not up on who the hot actors are any more," she says. "So to get back to the theatre world and find out what's going on is like entering a new arena, really."

Lloyd was fresh fromItalia Conti Stage School when she shot to fame in Wish You Were Here and became an icon of the Eighties. She starred as the boisterous, outspoken, unconventional Lynda, tearing along the seafront on her bicycle, talking dirty and experimenting sexually. At 18, the actress went to Hollywood, where she drove other actors mad. Peter Falk, the actor best known for his starring role in Columbo, was so frustrated with her that he reportedly slapped her while they were making the comedy Cookie in 1989. Bruce Willis - her co-star in the forgotten movie In Country - largely ignored her, and Woody Allen sacked her from his film Husbands and Wives. She even turned Brad Pitt down when she was 18. "I was at a big Hollywood party - it was George Michael's. There was a huge marquee. But at the time the name Brad just sounded so naff that I didn't hang about." She did, however, hang out with Sean Penn and Jack Nicholson in her Hollywood wild days. But at 24 she returned to the UK and checked into the Priory Clinic.

"I've got to tread very carefully here," she says, "but I was a little bit hurt by people in the business. Having a malaise and being stigmatised by it is pretty hurtful, because I think it's a malaise that doesn't stop me functioning as an actress. Most people were scared by it, because they didn't know what it was. But I did manage to work. I worked with the disorder - and my performances didn't let me down."

Her breakdown occurred when she returned from a trip in India in1997. She was on her way to meet the Dalai Lama and was bitten by one of his temple dogs. Combined with the effects of the anti-malarial drug Larium, the incident pushed her over the edge. "I have had my dark moments. There were times when I thought that I would never come out the other end. It is scary, but hopefully it has strengthened me," she says.

She is happier talking about Ophelia. "The role is not as easy as you'd think," says Lloyd. "During the first half she acts as a mirror to Hamlet. She doesn't really do a lot. It's not about her. But the mad scene is where I can get really lost in that wonderful, beautiful, almost ephemeral picture. She is trying to explain her feelings. What I love about it is that in life we are all under so much pressure to communicate in a precise way. So to have the luxury of being emotional and getting carried away and being able to let someone know how you feel is great. In a way it's polite, she's very gentle with her madness.

"I mean - what is madness, anyway? I think Ophelia is trying to describe that pain she is going through. She is obviously in a lot of pain."

Lloyd's dad has promised to offer her some tips, she says - "I'm still not really up on my projection." Her mum leans out of the top-floor window just as I am asking Lloyd what else she has lined up. "Postage Due," she relays down. "It's a feature film - Faye Dunaway wants to do it. It should start filming in January, depending on money." There is also the possibility of a role in Sex and the City. "But that's in negotiations," says Lloyd. "There's nothing wrong with a little dose of superficiality."

'Hamlet' is at Holland Park, London W8, tonight, Wednesday and Sunday (0845 230 9769)