Emily Browning is the first to admit she’s played a lot of mentally unstable people.
She appeared opposite Dan Stevens and Dominic Cooper as a gifted but troubled young painter in Summer In February, and as a young loner in the erotic Sleeping Beauty. In upcoming indie movies Shangri-La Suite and God Help The Girl, she plays characters in rehabilitation centres.
“It’s not really intentional, but I tend to be drawn to characters that don’t quite fit into regular society. I find them more interesting,” explains the actress, who says she never picks a project based on the genre.
“I just read a script and if I love it, I want to be a part of it.”
For her latest role, however, she’s gone mainstream.
It’s Paul W. S. Anderson’s Pompeii, in which she stars as Cassia, the educated daughter of a powerful family who falls in love with slave Milo – played by Game Of Thrones hunk Kit Harington – just days before the ancient city is frozen in time by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
“It’s an epic action-romance-disaster film, with lots of explosions and gladiators and swords and boys with their shirts off, so it’s lots of fun,” says Browning.
With her petite figure, cherubic face and pre-Raphaelite complexion, she makes a captivating leading lady.
But the strong-minded 25-year-old admits she would not have signed up to the film if she’d simply been playing a damsel in distress, no matter how much fun.
“I’ve always wanted to do a film like this,” she confesses. “But the female characters are usually a bit boring. Cassia, however, is clever and tough. She even saves Milo’s life a couple of times. She thinks for herself and she’s not interested in the men around her, so she can be a little bit closed off.”
The Australian actress was just 10 when she landed her first role in a TV movie, after she was spotted in a school play. In 2002, she made her big screen debut in the horror movie Ghost Ship, before appearing opposite Heath Ledger and Orlando Bloom in 2003’s Ned Kelly, and Jim Carrey and Jude Law in the 2004 big screen adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events.
But unlike many other former child stars her age, Browning has never crumbled under the pressure.
She credits her down-to-earth upbringing for keeping her grounded.
“I came to LA when I was about 14. I took a year off from regular schooling and was working with a tutor – I hated it!”
Pompeii is released in cinemas on Friday.