Sheila Atim speaks to Tatler Singapore about her career, being a Black woman in the industry and how down to earth Julia Roberts is, straight from the 75th Cannes Film Festival
Since its inception in 2001, the Trophée Chopard has celebrated generations of international cinema by recognising two promising actors and the beginnings of their film careers. This year, the prestigious award, went to up-and-coming actors Sheila Atim and Jack Lowden.
The awards were presented at an official Trophée Chopard dinner which took place during the ongoing 75th Cannes Film Festival on May 19. On hand to present the awards was Julia Roberts, who was appointed godmother of the Trophée Chopard for her significant contributions to the film industry as well as her longtime collaboration with the established brand.
Both Lowden and Atim are accomplished budding actors with Lowden taking on challenging roles such as the on-screen depiction of real-life historical figures such as Scottish rugby player Eric Liddell, The Smiths’ late lead singer Morrissey, professional golfer Tom Morris Jr and most recently, Lord Darnley in Josie Rourke’s Mary Queen of Scots.
Atim, on the other hand, started her career in theatre at the iconic Shakespeare’s Globe in 2013. Since then, she has grown by leaps and bounds and she broke into television and film with productions such as the Bafta-winning limited series The Underground Railroad, Marvel’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Netflix’s true-crime series, The Irregulars.
She is also gearing up to star in Robert Zemeckis’ live-action version of Pinocchio as well as the historical epic, The Woman King alongside Viola Davis and Lashana Lynch.
Recently, Tatler Singapore gained the opportunity to speak to Atim fresh off her win at Cannes. We found out more about how she felt after the victory and what the award meant for the future of her acting career. Here’s what she told us.
Congratulations on winning the prestigious Trophée Chopard. How are you feeling about the win?
Sheila Atim (SA): I’m feeling so happy of course. It’s been such a wonderful honour and it’s been so great meeting Jack and everyone. Plus it’s such a great way to celebrate new artists in the film industry. I’m very honoured.
The Trophée Chopard is unique because it honours international actors and the work they do. Why do you think it is important for international cinema to see more of these prestigious awards?
SA: Well I think it’s important because creating art and film is for everyone around the world. Everyone is included and awards like these recognise that which in turn allows us to learn about each other and meet people in our industry from around the world. It encourages young actors internationally and that is very important.
You now join the leagues of some very famous actors. What do you think the award means for your acting career?
SA: It’s obviously a very positive thing and I really hope it continues to have a favourable effect on my career. Already the people I have gotten to meet and work with as a result of this award have been fantastic. Like Julia Roberts for example. She looked after Jack and I so well and encouraged us throughout the process.
So tell me about Julia Roberts. What is she like in real life?
SA: She’s so cool honestly. She’s funny, she’s witty and okay I know this is so cheesy to say but it’s like she has sunshine coming out of her eyes and that just lights you up as well.
She’s just so hospitable and grounded you know? She’s like a real person and when you are surrounded by so much luxury, it can be hard to stay grounded. But she does. She leads by example.
What do you look for when you pick projects to work on? What is it that draws you to a project?
SA: I like roles where I can explore and play out unique or special stories. For me, it doesn’t matter if I’m on stage for an hour or a minute or even if I don’t speak at all during my part. I’ve actually done many of those by the way. I just want to tell bold stories and stories that are uncommon.
You’ve worked heavily in theatre, television and movies. How have all your experiences come together to shape your roles in the different films and plays you have been in?
SA: So my roots are in theatre right and so I’m very used to performing in front of an audience and needing to perform all the way through without cuts or retakes. And you need to be very prepared in order to do that.
I’ve taken that to my career in film and I guess it helps me to be prepared and to perform with little notice and with as much accuracy as I can manage.
Can you tell me more about why you made the move from theatre to film and how you strike a balance between projects from these different mediums?
SA: It’s not so much about me striking a balance. It’s more about which auditions are coming in. So when I started doing more screen work, I got more screen auditions and that was when I realised that I should probably refocus to work on television and films. I wanted to learn new skills as an actor and branch out.
Now there is a lot more versatility and the fact is, I still want to continue to do all three mediums for the rest of my career if I am given the opportunity to do so. But at the end of the day, it largely depends on what auditions are coming in.
You have talked a lot about the resistance you sometimes feel as a Black woman in this industry. Do you think the tide is changing? How so?
SA: I do. The tide is certainly changing but change is never unidirectional. There is always some type of pushback but these days people are doing things very differently. For example, we just wrapped filming on The Woman King and of course, Viola Davis produced it. It’s just a perfect example of having a story to tell and telling it. It’s about pushing through and believing in the story you need to tell and telling it.
Why is it important to you personally to be able to get these opportunities and to win these awards as a Black woman?
SA: Well I always try to remember the feeling I got when I saw someone who looked like me or sounded like me or who had a story similar to my own. It was very impactful and so I want to be able to show people that more minority voices can make it in the industry.
You’ve spoken a lot about your mother inspiring you to reach for the stars. Now that you’re career is beginning to take off, what advice does she give you?
SA: She tells me to enjoy it. My mum pushes me because she wants to be happy. She wants me to be successful and so she encourages me. She believes that success is achieved if you are happy where you are. So now, she tells me to revel in it and to keep going.
Plus, she is also enjoying it. She loves going to award ceremonies and all these events. It’s all very fun for her so that’s great.