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Star rising: Freya Allan on ‘Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes’ and her career so far

Currently starring in Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, Freya Allan broke through playing a princess in TV series The Witcher. But this 22-year-old has her feet firmly on the ground as she sets her sights on the future

By Anna Smith

Freya Allan (Picture:Jordan Owen)

As a teenager, Freya Allan set a firm goal for her early twenties – “I wanted to be in a film that was in the cinema.” Lo and behold, this is happening —like everything she sets out to do, it seems. The determined 22-year-old actress is starring in the new blockbuster Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, as a human in a world dominated by apes. This, off the back of roles in films Baghead and Gunpowder Milkshake, the TV series The Third Day and, of course, her portrayal of princess Ciri in the hit TV series The Witcher.  

If Allan is on the cusp of even bigger things, she comes across as self-aware, sensible and cautious about letting it go to her head. “They’re just getting swept up in it all and not realising that their ego is flying through the roof,” she says of actors who get distracted by the fame game. “That’s my worst nightmare.” Her friends and family keep her grounded, she says, when we dig into her life story over a hot chocolate in Soho. It’s March 2024, and she remarks that this is one of her first in-person interviews, rather than an online one. It strikes me that most of her adult acting life has coincided with either a pandemic or the actors’ strikes. I’m curious to know what came before that.  

“I did a lot in my childhood,” she tells me, choosing her words carefully. “I was born in London, then moved to Oxford, then I went and lived in Australia for a year with my mum. Then I lived in the Pyrenees in the middle of nowhere and went to a French school,” she says, before pointing out the lack of glamour in the latter scenario. “It was tiny. The toilets were outside. It was freezing and snowing, and you go to these wooden cubicles. It was very French. I was very stubborn by that point. I wanted to go home, so I just refused to learn French.” It seems the ploy worked. “Finally, we went home, and I went to school in Oxford.” 

Her parents separated when she was one, “But they did a really good job of making it feel like I have a really good relationship with both of them,” she says. Nonetheless, the split played a part in shaping her character. “You build a kind of emotional maturity when you’re quite young because you have to be a bit of a mediator at times, without meaning to be.”  

She was an only child until she was 11. “I was always just imagining things and make-believing on my own in the garden. But then when my mum got pregnant with my little brother, I was so excited. All I wanted was a sibling my whole childhood. And now me and my brother, we’re like best friends.” Through her father, she also has a six-year-old half-sister who she enjoys babysitting. 

As for Allan, she was on stage before she was six, albeit at primary school. “They were casting the Nativity, and they were reading through the cast sheet. They said that I was playing one of the bad wolves that eats the sheep. And I instantly put my hand up and I said, ‘I don’t want to be a baddie.’ And so, they made me a vegetarian wolf. And then I had this line which said I was a vegetarian wolf. I got lots of laughs.” 

The acting seed was sown, and she went on to appear in a ballet version of Rapunzel. “Every town they went to, they would get kids to be in it, and it would just run for a week. I hadn’t actually done dance, but I was very performative in the audition so I somehow managed to stand out. I bawled my eyes out when it was done.”  

A drama scholarship at secondary school followed. “I did the plays, and every break-time at school, every after-school was spent making routines for my friends, singing musicals: I was obsessed. I found my iPad the other day, and it has tons of videos of me trying to figure out moves to musicals. I was obsessed with Matilda the Musical. I wanted to be in it. I was that little bit too tall at that point. I just got in there a bit too late. It shattered me that I couldn’t be in it because I was obsessed at the time.” 

(Picture:Jordan Owen)

Undeterred, she took it upon herself to get an agent — at the age of 14. “I clocked that, ‘Oh, there’s young people in TV and film. How do they do that?’ I researched and I was like, ‘I want to do that.’ I basically emailed agents and told my parents, ‘I’ve got a meeting with an agent’ and they were like, ‘What?!’ My agent kept telling me, ‘Once you reach 16, you’re going to be able to get roles because of the licensing.’” 

Sure enough, at 16, she was cast in Netflix’s fantasy drama The Witcher, alongside Henry Cavill and later Liam Hemsworth. Initially, she was seen for a small role rather than Ciri, princess of Cintra. “When I auditioned for Ciri, I was told I couldn’t play it because they were going for a different appearance. I was so upset because in the books she sounds like she looks exactly how I was. I just felt such a connection to the character, and I felt like the audition went so well. It felt natural and right.” 

She found out that they were reconsidering her for the role when her mother showed up at her secondary school. “When I saw her, I had a feeling that they changed their minds. I was just so excited.” 

Next up is Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. The next trilogy in the hit franchise is set several generations in the future, after Caesar’s reign, in a world where apes are the dominant species, and humans — including Allan’s character —are living in the shadows. It’s quite different in tone from the previous movies, she says. “It has a coming-of-age feeling. Visually, it feels a lot brighter and more adventurous. It feels very lush and has a twinkle.” 

The film co-stars Owen Teague, William H Macy, Kevin Durand, Dichen Lachman and Peter Macon and is directed by Wes Ball (The Maze Runner), whom Allan speaks very highly of. “He was one of the few directors I’ve been able to trust fully. He would surprise you with ideas you hadn’t even necessarily considered. And that’s what I think a good director should do. You’re building a backstory, and you’ve come to know the character, and so it’s nice when someone can actually challenge you on that. He’s a very smart man. He is made to be a director of sci-fi films — he clearly has such a passion for it.” 

(Picture:Jordan Owen)

On her acting style, she’s more fluid and prefers to work in the moment. “I’m going to see how I change over the years, but I’m not instantly a rehearsal kind of actor,” she says. “So, some directors will say that I never really show much of what’s going to happen pre-shoot. But then, action goes, and suddenly they get it. I describe it as jumping out of the plane.” 

When it comes to auditions, Allan has on more than one occasion jumped on a plane at short notice for a casting. She nods when I suggest that it must be advantageous to be a spontaneous person in this business — and how the lifestyle is a challenge for those around her. “My family have got used to it, but I think with romantic relationships, it’s a bit tough.”  

She adds, “I was in a two-year relationship, but I’m single now. Which I’m loving. I really value my friends and my work, and I feel like it’s such an exciting time. It’s an amazing thing when you get to a point where you are fully happy single. I feel like prior, I’ve been wanting to have that, but I feel content on my own path now. I’m 22 — there’s plenty of time to be in a committed relationship.” 

In person, the actress comes across as mature for her young age, while also being acutely aware of the fact that she is still very much changing. “You never stop learning. Every project, I wish I could go back and redo it because I feel like I learned so much,” she muses. Even in terms of her personal style, she believes she is still discovering her identity, and indeed did all her own styling, hair and makeup for her Rolling Stone UK shoot. “It was really fun to be able to have full creative control, especially since I think I’ve now figured out what my style is and what clothes I’m drawn to and really love it as another creative outlet.  

“The last few years I’ve really gotten into vintage and second-hand shopping, so most of the clothes in the shoot are vintage pieces I found around New York, where we shot. I really wanted there to be a timelessness to the shoot and for it to feel like me, and Jordan the photographer really supported that with the way he shot.”  

Her music taste is evolving, too. “Matilda’s gone now. That had its day,” she laments. If she’s singing around the house, she might go for Hamilton, or an emotional ballad. “It’s probably some actor thing. We like to feel emotion,” adding that it helps to be empathetic in her profession. “You have to be willing to see other people. Sometimes, playing characters you don’t even really like, you have to get to a point where you do. When people are saying things against them, you just want to defend them.”  

While she is “very proud” to be in a big studio film like Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, she’s keen to diversify her roles. “I also want to do grounded things away from VFX. That’s my next aim. I want to be doing some really great writing, and really gritty films.”  

(Picture:Jordan Owen)

Gendered roles in film have been on her mind, too. “I was just talking about this with a couple of my cast mates last night. We were saying we feel like a lot of the really great roles at the moment are for men, and I feel like it’s having a bit of another decline in good female roles,” she says. “I notice that sometimes when people ask me, who’s my favourite actor or actress, my mind automatically goes to a man, and I hate that, but it’s because my brain goes to something with a great story, and it’s often been a man. There needs to be work done there. There are so many amazing stories where there can be women at the centre or about women who have existed.”  

Those double standards equally apply to older actors, she adds. “What I really struggle with and find really frustrating — not that this is what it is about — is that men are able to still be sexy in their 50s and women less so.” That said, Allan goes on to note that the parts for women generally become more interesting as they get older. “A lot of the best roles are in your 30s or later. I feel like there’s a lot of stuff in your 20s that’s coming of age, which is great. But once you get to a certain age where they can believe that you’ve lived a longer life, there can be a lot more interesting roles,” says Allan as we wrap. “I’m actually excited for the future.”