Harry—never Harriet—Wootliff is tall, soft-spoken, and hesitant with her every word. Once an errant student from the North of England, Wootliff dropped out of school at 14 and was politely asked not to return. It wasn’t for lack of discipline: Wootliff was soon accepted to the Elmhurst Ballet School in Surrey before earning a place at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School to study acting. In her mid-20s, when the acting work was more trickle than flood, Wootliff started to write. She bought a book called Film Directing Shot by Shot and, like that, decided to make a film.
“When I got onto the set of Nits, I had found the place I felt happiest,” says Wootliff of her debut short. “I enjoyed acting because I wanted to tell stories; I wanted to create a world, but I realized I didn’t want to be in that world.” Written and directed by Wootliff, Nits, nominated for a BAFTA award, was one of 10 films selected from the thousands submitted for the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight. “Suddenly I was going into meetings not as an actor, but as me,” she says. “It’s really refreshing when someone is interested in what’s going on in your brain.”
Only You, Wootliff’s debut feature, premiering in the U.S. on December 3, received five-star reviews in nearly every national British newspaper and glossy when it was released earlier this year in the U.K., hailed for its acutely observed details and the moving performances by stars Laia Costa and Josh O’Connor. (O’Connor will soon play Prince Charles in Season 3 of The Crown.) The scripts are now pouring in, but Wootliff is taking her time. After directing two episodes of Deep Water, a sexually charged ITV drama starring Anna Friel that premiered over the summer in the U.K., Wootliff is now gearing up to direct Ruth Wilson in True Things About Me, which Jude Law has signed on to produce. Speaking of her recent success, Wootliff says, “There are going to be different pressures as I go on, but I think the main thing is that now the doors are open.”
Bridget Arsenault is the London Editor for Air Mail