The Politician’s Lucy Boynton talks power, corruption and “nasty women”

Having starred in Oscar-winner Bohemian Rhapsody, she’s coming to the small screen as Astrid, a ruthless candidate for student body president in The Politician.

Lucy Boynton is everything you want from a new-gen A-lister: conscientious, opinionated, playful. Her character Astrid is just as dynamic, but seemingly less of a positive force. Billed as the ‘nasty woman’ of Saint Sebastian High School, she runs a no holds barred campaign for student body president. The show is a microcosm of America, with hard-hitting issues of power, mental health and gun control wrapped in a package of comedy and drama. Stylist’s Chloe Gray went to find out why it’s the most important show of 2019…

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Cult shows such as Euphoria, Sex Education and now The Politician are dealing with serious themes via younger characters. Why is that?

I think is kind of a long time coming. Social media forces us to listen to young people, and their involvement with politics has been startling and loud. It’s no longer acceptable for it just to be the adults or older generation dictating and to know how things are received.

Why do you think the high school setting resonates with people so much?

There’s always common denominators that everyone can identify with. The politics of this high school feels like world politics, but it’s in a suspended place and the adult audience are out of that bubble.  It’s more digestible when it’s students rather than in the adult realm. Especially in the current, terrifying political climate.

There’s such an obsession with authenticity and being ‘real’, yet they all also perfectly construct their reality and identities. Why is there such a conflict between those two desires at the moment?

We all know social media isn’t anything like actual life, and yet seem OK following this fantasy that it is. I love the way the show addresses that: first we meet everyone’s facade and then you see their dark underbelly. 

Your character Astrid particularly struggled with being herself. Why do you think that is?

I think it’s the way that she was raised by her father. I love that relationship because I think it’s the relationship that you usually see between a father and son on these shows. He’s taught her how to own herself in her world and not be eaten up and spit out by the world around her. I think her default attitude is to not let people see the real you because then you’re vulnerable. And why would you? It’s quite poignant.

Do you think that idea of hiding your vulnerability is especially true for young women of today?

I think there’s always an element of having to present a facade involved in the experience of being a woman. I think that’s the same with men as well, how they have been taught they have to be manly. I think most people are told don’t be vulnerable. It’s just relentless and pointless.

The theme of power and corruption comes up a lot, which seems very timely. Was that important?

Yes. You have to talk about it. It’s a terrifying political landscape at this point. I really appreciate the way that the show addresses that. And I think it’s really it’s thoughtful and considerate to everyone involved because everyone is always in on the joke. Like with the characters paying their way into Harvard, which was written before all of that the news stories broke, which is shocking. It’s important because I think these the conversations that are happening in our society at the moment and to have them discuss in a way that isn’t on a soapbox, or preaching a specific opinion, but in a way that encourages conversation. 

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Your character wants to lead the first all-female student presidency - but I’m not sure I trust her motives. Is it important for you to work with women?

Astrid is jumping onto the zeitgeist and using that important thing as a manoeuvre. When she starts to revisit those moments and learn what she actually cares about, it’s quite a humiliating recognition. For me, it’s a bloody relief. There are scenes that are better because you are being directed by someone with a similar experience. And of course, human empathy enables a lot of people to get that too. It’s frustrating to be talking about it as though it’s difficult to find a space for women. It’s not; it is unwillingness.

Astrid embodies that ‘nasty woman’ in the show at a time where there’s a widespread demand for seeing more ‘unlikeable’ women on screen. How do you feel about that?

Astrid mocks the origin of the nasty woman’, which is a pathetic takedown of women. I love the way that that was turned on its head with the Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and I love the way that they’ve used it in the show and they don’t shy away from it. They’re not afraid to put that on the Billboard on Sunset Boulevard! But I don’t think unlikable is the word. It’s just that women aren’t as primly delivered as we’ve seen. The female experience is so nuanced and so intricate, there’s so many stories to tell. The fact that we have seen stories of men more frequently than anything else is absurd. As if there is a deficit of stories to tell of a woman’s life! Edging towards a more revealing version of [femininity], where you don’t have to see something neatly tied in a bow, is very necessary. 

All the characters struggle with belonging. Where do you belong?

In two suitcases. I used to be quite happy with this nomadic lifestyle. But the more I travel, the more I realise home is where my family is, which is London.

What are your favourite spots in the city?

I’m useless. I would happily take anyone to Pizza Express. I love the old theatres here. I went to Fleabag and met Phoebe Waller-Bridge. She’s so cool and smart.

Fashion, clothes and costumes are really important to you. Why is that?

I was always a bit intimidated by style and fashion. My oldest sister was my kind of only style icon. And then I met Leith Clark, my stylist, who just allowed it to be more fun. It’s a form of self-expression when you want it to be, or a form of stepping into someone else when you want it to be. It can kind of be anything that you want it to be, as long as it’s for you. You can’t really go wrong. 

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