MyAnna Buring on Prey, the role that changed her life, and why she doesn’t want to play the “sexy minx”

The Ripper Street actress tells Zoe Wiliams about her unusual experience as a Swede growing up in Oman, and why she doesn't see life as an end game

MyAnna Buring never looks the same twice, but she’s always the thing you remember when the programme ends. Razor sharp and morally complicated in Ripper Street [below], pleasingly vampiric in Twilight, poignantly courageous in Banished, she arrives this week on ITV in Prey, anxious and close-to-the-edge, an inmate in the middle of a breakout, a woman whose face begs you to trust it and doubt it at the same time.

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She has an impish look but, at the same time, is deeply serious; she’s extremely beautiful but never seems to consider it; she’s possessed of an awesome amount of nervous energy, while being calm enough to notice everything going on around her. A strange mix, perhaps stemming from being born in Sweden, spending her child – hood in Oman and going to a boarding school in the UK from the age of 16.

She is, in short, an unusual person, and has had an unusual career – she appeared in the memorably spooky film The Descent, in 2005, but never slid seamlessly into blockbusters. “After that, I ran a theatre company with friends for years. None of us had a feeling that the industry owed us anything. We wanted to be a part of it and it was up to us to figure out how to do that. That was one of the best training grounds I could have had. It was fundamental in forming the way I think about work, and the kind of work I’m interested in doing.”

And before you get to think about what interests you, as an actor, of course you have to think strategically about whether or not to do the work that bores you to death: “The female, serving the male hero… The very kind and understanding girlfriend, or the sexy minx.” All female actors, presumably, object to being arm-candy, but few say so: in a world where everyone is freelance, tact rules. Buring, 36, has an intelligent openness that feels refreshing, liberal and elegant, quintessentially Scandinavian: “I suppose I have a Swedish sensibility. It’s not one that actually reflects what’s going on in Sweden now, how a Swede would really feel. But obviously I grew up with Swedish parents.” 

Discussing life in Oman, too, she is reflective, evocative: “It’s a sort of blanket term when we talk about the Middle East. But it’s so vast, it’s comprised of so many incredibly different countries. Not to recognise that is quite dangerous; it means we’re not able to separate and we’re not able to really understand what’s going on. “A lot of the time, I get comments, like ‘white woman in the Middle East, trouble…’ It was the best place to grow up, as a woman.

It’s my Omany family who taught me the hugely important lessons in the world about what my worth was as a woman. “Of course, if you go into the interior, if there are guests around, women and men will still sit and eat separately. To a westerner who’s never been anywhere else, that might seem incredibly wrong. But culture is always in the subtleties, it’s not in the big black and whites.

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“To succeed in this global world, we have to take a bit of time to wrap our heads around other ways of thinking. We cannot walk around thinking our way is the only right way.” As much as Buring is interested in – and interesting on – her acting, she is also drawn, constantly, to larger canvases, whether it’s culture, gender or race. “With the media, I notice how skewed it all is. I find it quite tricky that every time there is a mass shooting, if it’s a Muslim involved, then it’s a Muslim terrorist. However, if it’s a Christian or an atheist, there’s no mention of their religion. We must take responsibility for the language we use.” (This interview took place before the attacks in Paris.)