“I never thought I’d get the part in the film, whatever it was,” says Tuppence Middleton, 33, the actress who stars alongside Gary Oldman in Mank, David Fincher’s ode to Orson Welles and the golden days of Hollywood. After originally auditioning for the role of Herman Mankiewicz’s secretary, which went to Lily Collins, Middleton stepped into the role of Sara—the protagonist’s aggrieved wife, who earns the nickname “Poor Sara.”

Written by Fincher’s late father, Jack Fincher, Mank charts the creative tug-of-war between screenwriter Mankiewicz and Welles. Of Fincher, Middleton explains, “He was one of those directors who’s on my top five of, you know, favorite directors of all time to work with. So it’s kind of like that ‘pinch me’ feeling where you think, I’m sure that won’t happen to me.”

Tuppence Middleton, as Sara Mankiewicz, with Gary Oldman, in Mank.

With no shortage of credits in her career to date, Middleton’s range veers from the fantastical to starched period dramas. She played Tolstoy’s seductress Hélène Kuragina in the sumptuous 2016 BBC adaptation of War and Peace; the tormented Riley Blue in the cult sci-fi series Sense8, created by the duo behind The Matrix; and a calculating Miss Havisham in the BBC reimagining Dickensian. She also had roles in the Oscar-nominated The Imitation Game, the Downton Abbey film, and more.

Middleton’s range veers from the fantastical to starched period dramas.

That said, she’s still reticent to shout about her success. “As many things that you are in, and as many yeses you might get, I think as an actor you probably get triple the amount of nos.”

Born Tuppence—after a nickname her grandmother had given her mother—and brought up in Somerset, in some ways she considers herself an accidental actress. Raised by a hairdresser and an investment manager, Middleton was a shy and introverted child. She’s spoken candidly about her struggles with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. But after participating in a few youth-theater programs and completing a degree at the University of Bristol, she set off for London and attended the ArtsEd drama school.

Having worked steadily since she graduated, in 2008, Middleton says that this year—as is the case with many individuals in the creative industries—has been one of reflection. “The thing that it’s taught me is that there are lots of things that you can do in this life,” she says. “And why limit yourself? I would absolutely love to write more, and I’d love to direct. So it made me really focus on those things and kind of push myself to actually do them instead of just daydreaming about them.”

Bridget Arsenault is the London Editor for AIR MAIL

Mank is streaming now on Netflix