Paloma Faith on Breaking the Mold, Empowering Women and Her New Series Pennyworth
Paloma Faith, the multi-talented British singer, songwriter and actor sashayed into our New York shoot on a blazing hot summer day with an infectious smile and energy that lit up the entire room. It’s no wonder that for the past decade, she has been mesmerizing audiences around the globe with her hit music and stellar performances ever since she first broke onto the scene at the age of 27. Her rise to stardom is a tale of hard work and synchronicity but she insists that she wasn’t born a natural performer, rather, she admits she was quite shy while growing up and had to get a gentle nudge to participate in school plays.
Born in Hackney, Paloma was raised by her mother who believed that she could do anything she set her mind to do and that she did and then some. Upon completing her A levels, she attended college at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds then received a Masters in Set Design and Theater Direction at the esteemed Central Saint Martins in London. After graduating, she held various jobs including a retail job at Agent Provocateur’s flagship store in London, where she connected with a frequent customer who worked in PR. This woman would go on to eventually introduce her to prominent people in the music industry and would lead to her signing her first record deal with Epic Records. While she has an innate talent for singing, a deeply soulful sound that is unique to her, she says that singing happened by accident—a happy one at that—and it wasn’t until after she went on her first tour and completely lost her voice that she took singing lessons to prevent that from happening again. Since her debut, she has amassed many accolades, including four albums that have gone platinum, in addition to a slew of awards including The Brit Award for British Female Solo Artist; she has also served as a judge on The Voice UK. Her latest album, The Architect: Zeitgeist Edition, debuted at number one in England and explores timely topics on the environment, kindness and empathy.
Her latest project to hit the small screen is Pennyworth, the ten-part series that airs on Epix, which tells the story of Alfred Pennyworth (played by Jack Bannon), who works for Bruce Wayne’s billionaire father, Thomas Wayne (played by Ben Aldridge). For those who aren’t as well-versed in superhero speak, Bruce Wayne is the one and only black-caped hero, Batman. Paloma stars as Bet Sykes, a villain in the DC Comics series, who delivers a performance that is intimidating and at times downright frightening. When asked how she prepped for the darker role she explains, “Bet is very far removed from who I am and I enjoyed the challenge. I lived in Leeds for four years when I was younger so I was able to input all of my observations from that time into this character.” The series, set in London in the1960s, combines both mesmerizing cinematography and period fashion and was shot on location in East London and in the Warner Brother’s Studio.
She says that despite her uber-successful singing career, it didn’t automatically open the doors for acting, in fact, it was the exact opposite. She found herself having to break the mold of her previous music work to demonstrate to the industry another facet to her many talents. “Initially it was very difficult to get cast as an actress, especially in the UK, because people had a preconceived idea based on my pop persona. It's for that reason that my new role in Pennyworth was cast by an American production company. I feel like when people see it they will realize that I'm capable of being somebody else.” She muses how the US-based directors weren’t keyed into the fact that she was a mega-star until after the fact. After her decade long career, she has learned the valuable lesson of using her voice to speak up and break free of a need to please others by saying yes all of the time. “I think I built my career on saying yes, but as soon as you have proximity to success it becomes more complicated. The hardest lesson I learned was how to say no. I still struggle with it!”
With a new focus on acting, Paloma said that she isn’t prioritizing her acting career over her singing and songwriting or vice versa, rather, she says she prefers being busy and intends on concentrating on both careers, which includes working on a new album. Her mission also goes beyond spreading positivity on stage, she is a champion of other women and has spoken on the topic of women’s empowerment at the Oxford Union. “I was raised by a feminist and I've never felt that my gender was or should be restricted. It's strange that the zeitgeist is all about female empowerment because that is something I've lived with my whole life. I don't think twice about being in all men board meetings or saying no to things I don't feel comfortable with. It's not a question of gender for me. I just wish more women would feel that way.” It’s no doubt that Paloma got to where she is today through perseverance and by being unapologetically herself, a refreshing point of view and something that she is proud of especially in this day and age that can seem to thrive on conformity. “Individuality is what sets you apart from everyone else. People find truth refreshing. It’s often disarming for people and a relief because no one is perfect!”
Interview by Alison Engstrom