"My best friend refers to me as a rainbow," says Zawe Ashton, laughing. "So maybe that's how you describe me."
Zawe Ashton is one of Britain's most cherished actresses. She is perhaps best known for her memorable turn in Channel 4's Fresh Meat, and for scene-stealing roles in The Handmaid's Tale and Velvet Buzzsaw. Yet it is perhaps the stage where Ashton has left her most indelible mark. The extremely accomplished theatre actress has had incredible turns in innumerable productions, from Othello to Harold Pinter's Betrayal, where she met her fiancé Tom Hiddleston.
Her latest project is the gorgeously fun period drama, Mr Malcom's List. "It's a Regency rom com revenge romp, with really right nice people," she laughs. "I was just trying to use as many 'r's as I could. I don't know if you could tell..."
Anyone who has met Ashton will attest to her boundless wit and humour. She's the kind of person you can imagine dancing in the street which, she tells us, is actually exactly what she did when one of her favourite songs, Madonna's Get in to the Groove, started playing at Pride in New York earlier this year. In fact, she literally jumped out of a cab to "dance with a fabulous group of strangers." "I did pay though," she reassures us.
She has come to realise that it's the smaller moments, like this, which make her happy. "Spending time with my godchildren," she says. "Or a moment you see between two people on the tube that they think you haven't seen but you have. Lots of things make me happy, but they are all very fleeting which is kind of the beauty of it really."
But before you think Ashton is a bubble of everyday joy, she rolls her eyes when asked what makes her angry. "Oh where do I start?" she grimaces. "The fact that autonomy over your body, as childbearing person is even a conversation. The anger and the fear and the frustration around that conversation is extremely real."
When she isn't raging about the latest Roe v Wade news, she is – almost certainly – eating pasta. "The pleasure I get from eating pasta is unparalleled," she explains. "Me and pasta are in a relationship and it's a good one." In fact, her beloved features in her dreams of a superpower: "I mean, I could make [my superpower] anything, couldn't I? I could make it so pasta appears everything I scratch my nose."
Her career has been varied and impressive, with her comedic and dramatic roles garnering much deserved praise. "The things that you struggle with as a person are oftentimes going to be the things you struggle with as an actor," she says of the best career advice she has ever received. "I think there's a separation that can happen between who you are and who the 'actor' part of you is – and I think the longer I've been doing it that there's only a very thin membrane between those two things." She also quotes the famous Baz Luhrmann song, Always Wear Sunscreen, and repeats the part that has always held special resonance for her: "The race is long and, in the end it's only with yourself."
If she wasn't acting, she would be the next Gwyneth. "I would love to have my own lifestyle brand. I'm just putting it out into the universe. I don't necessarily know what that means, but I know I really love Goop," she says, before pausing: "Or, and I'm really genuine about this, I would like to be the person who makes up the names of paint colours, or nail varnish colours, or lipstick colours. One person sees yellow, another sees Buttercup Revolution."
If she were to start her own Goop, it would probably get a lot of traction for its upfront simplicity. "Self care to me means checking in," she says. "That can mean having an ice cream or reading a book. Self care for me is always reading."
If it all gets too much, Ashton can rely on her party trick, which is her ability to sleep whenever and wherever she is, including, once, on top of a speaker at a party. "Its probably why I don't have very good hearing actually..." Not sleeping on a pulsating loudspeaker is not, however, the advice she would give her younger self. "Just get after it," she would say. "Do. It. All."
Watch our exclusive video interview with Ashton above. Mr Malcolm's List is available to stream now on Amazon Prime.
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