HER role in the BBC’s War And Peace was so raunchy that Tuppence Middleton was called “the naughtiest woman on TV”.
The British actress played a promiscuous Russian aristocrat who had an incestuous affair with her brother, romped on a dining table and entertained legions of men.
But viewers will see Tuppence in a more wholesome, though no less fun, role when the hotly anticipated Downton Abbey film is released later this month.
She stars as Lady Bagshaw’s maid, Lucy Smith, who is helping to prepare the Yorkshire country home for a visit from the Royal Family — and there is romance on the cards with estate manager Tom Branson.
But there won’t be any stripping off for Tuppence in this period drama, not that she would have shied away from more nudity.
In one interview the 32-year-old said: “I don’t have a problem with doing intimate or nude scenes, it’s part of our everyday life, so it seems weird not to show it.
“But it’s really up to the individuals how they want to do that.
“Weirdly, in your twenties, you have the body that you never appreciate, but I feel so much more comfortable and confident in my body now.
“Maybe I’m not the most toned person, or I don’t go to the gym or whatever, but I feel much more willing to show my body.
“I’m more comfortable with people seeing my body as I am now, because I think that, as an actor, it’s really important to represent lots of different types of people — and real people.”
It is this new-found confidence that drives Tuppence to avoid plastic surgery, saying she would rather age naturally.
She explains: “It’s sad that so many people feel they need to alter their image. There is something really beautiful about ageing naturally.
“That way, you’re representative of whatever age you are at the time and you have that voice as an actor.
“That’s something as a woman you’re much more aware of — maybe you get a few more wrinkles, maybe your body changes, maybe you have kids, and that’s something that people are really scrutinised for.
“It’s a choice if people want to have surgery, but I would feel really uncomfortable not being able to use my face and make expressions.”
It wasn’t an easy road to being this self-assured.
Tuppence battled anxiety while growing up in Bristol with her dad Nigel, an investment manager, and mum Tina, a hairdresser.
She recalls: “I struggled with various things when I was younger. The first thing that I noticed was issues with OCD.
“It started, as it typically does, with cleanliness and hand washing and very strict routines — obsessing about turning off the light switch, turning off the oven, making sure the gas is not on and all that kind of stuff.
“Then, as I got older, it developed into a more generalised anxiety and I didn’t feel like I had much of a voice when I was younger.
“I didn’t know that it was unusual, I didn’t know it was something I was struggling with, because I think a lot of people don’t know the signs or who to talk to.
“They don’t know what to do about it.”
Tuppence found a distraction in acting and a natural talent saw her go on to study at the ArtsEd drama school in Chiswick, West London.
She recalls: “I was very, very shy in public and school and quite loud and brash at home.
“So it was a nice outlet for me to be able to be confident. I acted as a hobby when I was a child but wasn’t initially very good at it.
“I always thought, ‘Well, I like doing this, but good luck making a career out of it’. But the more I did it, the more I loved acting.
“I’m still a bit amazed that I’ve managed to make this my career. As an actor, when you finish a job, you think, ‘That’s it, I’ve had a good innings’.
“Now, if I speak to people who want to act, I say, ‘Don’t give yourself a back-up’. If I had gone to university, I wouldn’t be doing this job now.
“Having that pressure and no other option just made me work that much harder for it, because you have no other choice.”
Tuppence is best known for playing temptress Helene Kuragina in the 2016 adaptation of War And Peace.
But she was already familiar with on-screen nudity, having stripped off for several scenes in Iain Softley’s 2013 thriller film Trap For Cinderella.
Roles followed in blockbuster Jupiter Ascending with Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis and Netflix’s sci-fi drama Sense8 — where she had to dye her hair platinum blonde.
But before finding fame, it was her name that got her the most attention.
In some parts of Britain, Tuppence is old slang for a woman’s private parts, but this has never fazed the actress, who jokes that it makes her more “memorable”.
She says: “Tuppence was what my grandmother nicknamed my mother, so she gave it to me.
“I became aware of (its other meaning) when I went to drama school.
“A guy I lived with from up North told me. When I told my mum, she said, ‘Oh, sorry, darling. I had no idea!’ I still love it as a name.
“It’s always an advantage to have a memorable one. I haven’t met anyone else with my name. I think they are out there, but I’ve yet to meet one.
“There are a lot of cats, apparently. People always send me messages on Twitter about cats called Tuppence.”
Downton Abbey hits cinemas on September 13, nine years after the Bafta-winning series was first seen on TV.
The drama has been a huge success in the US, too, with the film selling more advance tickets on the first day than any other drama there this year.
Yet despite her starring role alongside established actors such as Hugh Bonneville, Dame Maggie Smith and Joanne Froggatt, Tuppence is determined to stay grounded.
She says: “I always wanted this to be a long-term career.
“I didn’t want to be in a film and straight away be famous.
“Where do you go from there when you are 21 with all this success? A lot of people are equipped for that, but I wasn’t ready at 21.
“I needed to get to know myself, get to know my tastes, and figure out what I want to do with my career. I’m in no rush to be in Hollywood or famous.
“I just want to do jobs I love and see where it takes me.
“I was always really scared of leaving drama school and immediately going into a huge film because you really put yourself out there, and people can be so judgmental.
“Especially as a woman in the industry, you learn to stand up for yourself and how to say what you want and what you need without feeling like you’re being tricky or difficult.
“You do just eventually find your space and try to own it.
“I would love to work into my eighties. I don’t want to be someone who only does a couple of big films and is famous for 15 minutes.
“It’s important as an actor to not just work when you’re young but when you’re older too, because there is so much to explore.”
Something tells me Tuppence will get her wish.
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