Lucy Boynton, a shy and introspective 28-year-old, bears little resemblance to the characters she has played. She’s calm, unlike the frenzied drug addict she portrayed in the 2017 series Gypsy, and friendly, unlike her Gucci-clad ice queen in The Politician, Ryan Murphy’s Technicolor show about high school.

“It’s my favorite part of the job—getting to step outside of yourself and authentically step into someone else’s shoes,” says Boynton from Los Angeles. “A major influence is the first costume fitting, because that forces you to move away from all the instincts you have … and how you want to present to the world. It’s always the first access point to extracting yourself from the equation.”

Boynton as Jean Courtney in Season One of The Ipcress File.

Her latest alter ego is Jean Courtney in The Ipcress File, a spy thriller set in 1963 London. The show, now streaming on ITV and AMC+, is an adaptation of Len Deighton’s 1962 novel about working-class spies during the Cold War.

Like the book, the series follows intelligence officers trying to find a kidnapped British scientist who’s been working on an atomic bomb. Boynton stars opposite Joe Cole, who plays Harry Palmer, a one-time black-marketeer in charge of finding the scientist. Tom Hollander plays Major Dalby, the spy chief overseeing the effort.

“I love how her relationship with Palmer disarms her and changes the way she sees her job,” says Boynton. “And I enjoyed finding all these different versions of who she really is versus what situation she’s in.”

Raised in south London by two journalists, Boynton can’t remember a time when she didn’t want to act. “I seemed pretty set on this from a very young age,” she says. “I think that it was partially from seeing movies.” My Girl, a 1991 coming-of-age comedy, was “a turning point.” The film stars Anna Chlumsky, who was just 10 years old at the time of shooting. “Seeing that sheer range of emotional capacity was fascinating to me, and kind of shocking.”

Boynton was also about 10 when her drama teacher noticed her talent and became her mentor. She began to audition, and, in 2006, at 12 years old, she made her screen debut in Miss Potter, a Hollywood biopic about the beloved children’s writer. She was cast as the young Beatrix Potter, while Renée Zellweger played Potter in her adulthood.

Growing up, Boynton sought to keep a low profile and separate her school life from her acting life. This was made harder when her mother published an op-ed in London’s Telegraph titled “My Lucy, the Film Star” the day after Miss Potter was released. Boynton has still never read the piece.

Boynton as Mary Austin, Freddie Mercury’s one-time fiancée, in Bohemian Rhapsody.

Now Boynton is a little more comfortable with the idea of being a star. Based in Los Angeles, she has worked steadily ever since that first film—including a major role in the 2018 Oscar-winning film Bohemian Rhapsody. (She’s dated her co-star Rami Malek ever since). And she’s taking stage roles, too. Boynton has range; she’s capable of delivering a razor-sharp retort and playing out a dramatic reveal.

Perhaps what’s most notable about her is the pragmatism with which she approaches her career. “I’ve been in this industry since I was a kid,” she says. “But I’ve always understood it’s a job rather than an identity.”

The Ipcress File is available for streaming on ITV and AMC+

Bridget Arsenault is the London Editor for AIR MAIL