Appearing opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in The Man in the Iron Mask, Laura Fraser was billed simply as "bedroom beauty", and it seemed a fair assessment of her seductive charms and of the extent of the role. She managed to reinvent herself however as a plookey teenager in Kevin and Perry Go Large. And while she might have seemed a natural for the princess-type in the Hollywood medieval romp A Knight’s Tale, she ended up as the blacksmith.
The 26-year-old actress from Hillhead even learned to shoe a horse, despite a phobia for the beasts. "It’s dangerous to be on the horse and all that," she concedes. "But it’s more dangerous to be underneath... standing at a horse’s bum and getting its leg between your legs, and you had to hammer it and everything, and it’s really scary. It could get in a wee mood or something and ‘Whack!’."
A Knight’s Tale recreates the Middle Ages for an MTV generation, with Australian heartthrob Heath Ledger as the commoner with ambitions to become a star of the jousting circuit and a soundtrack by Bowie and Queen. A $40 million budget paid for the construction of a medieval village in the Czech Republic and Fraser admits to being awed by the scale of the film.
"They were huge shots, that involved so much co-ordination and stuff, and I would just f*** it all up by just running out of shot. And Brian (Helgeland), the director, was like, ‘Laura, could you please try and stay in shot.’" She rose to the challenge, while the princess-type just stood around looking pretty.
There seems little danger of Laura Fraser ever being typecast, on screen or in real life. The green-eyed bedroom beauty was something of a wild child in her teenage years. Liberal parents encouraged her artistic ambitions, but there was also some serious underage drinking. "One night I came home with tyre marks on my legs," she told one interviewer. "I couldn’t figure out what had happened."
She dropped out of drama school after making her film debut six years ago in Small Faces, the acclaimed drama about Glasgow gangs in the Sixties. She moved to London, shared a flat with Anna Friel and established a reputation for in-your-face honesty in interviews, volunteering details of how she lost her virginity and criticising films in which she appeared.
Fraser is more cautious these days, following a threat of legal action from one company that pointed out she had a legal obligation to promote their film, not rubbish it. She has been in a steady relationship for about a year and a half now with Paul Bettany, the star of Gangster No 1, who appears as the sharp-witted Geoff Chaucer in A Knight’s Tale, but she plays a strange little game, refusing to confirm her boyfriend’s identity, though it has been reported in the press. She worries that if she talks about him in interviews, then they split up, she will continue to be asked about him afterwards.
She does confirm her boyfriend is an actor, though she insists he is not famous - which could in itself be deemed grounds for separation. Fraser and Bettany play two parts of the entourage Heath Ledger acquires along with the mantle of medieval sporting superstar. Fraser admits she was nervous about meeting Ledger, who made a big impact as Mel Gibson’s son in The Patriot.
"We had heard all this buzz about him, which kind puts a little bit of a barrier between you and someone at first... He had Vanity Fair coming over to do a big shoot on him and he brought an assistant with him... We thought ‘Oh God, he’s got an entourage.’ But then we discovered that Sony (Columbia Pictures’ parent company) were paying for him to have an assistant and the assistant turned out to be his best mate, who just comes along and makes an occasional phone call.
"He was one of the lads, he really was... dead young, and really kind of excited about life." Ledger is four years younger than Fraser.
Fraser and Bettany seem determined not to become a celebrity couple, eschewing the London party scene. They do not go to premieres, she says. "We just watch videos." It seems the girl who used to come home with tyre marks on her legs has settled down and wants nothing more than to become a mum. Although Fraser is reluctant to talk about the relationship, her conversation continually works its way back to children.
What else has she done recently? A BBC drama Station Jim, in which she plays a young teacher in a Victorian orphanage, which she did because it gave her the chance to work with children. It receives/received (25 Aug) its world premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival. What are her ambitions now? "To have kids."
While A Knight’s Tale is an ultra-modern, revisionist take on the Middle Ages, Station Jim seems to have been left behind by some previous generation. An orphanage is threatened with closure by a wicked businessman and coincidentally Queen Victoria is threatened with assassination by republicans, but the villains have not reckoned with the ingenuity of the little dog known as Station Jim. I kid you not.
Fraser has not seen it, but fears the worst. "It’s for TV, it’s not like film film, it’s a bit worrying," she says. "I wanted to do it because I was feeling really clucky and desperate to have a baby. And I thought if I worked with kids then I’d maybe overdose myself and I’d want to put off having a baby for a few years, but it just made me want kids even more."
Although she has now graduated to big Hollywood movies, there is still an element about Fraser reminiscent of a small child let loose in a sweetie shop - coupled with a good Scottish appreciation of the value of money, learned at her mother’s side.
She is wearing a green tee-shirt bearing the word "Slamey" in yellow letters. She has no idea who or what Slamey is. She was walking round New York one day and feeling sweaty, so she went into a second-hand shop and bought the shirt. "When I was younger I used to get carted round all the second-hand shops. I used to be really embarrassed, in case I met anybody from school."
The shirt might be deemed second-hand chic, but she admits that when Columbia put her up in the expensive Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, she went to the reception desk at the end of her stay and asked for the balance of her expense allowance in cigarettes. "They were like really snooty about it," she says. "I was using every last penny. I think I got about 400."
And although she could easily stay with her parents in Glasgow, before our interview, she cannot resist the temptation of a night at One Devonshire Gardens. "I thought, Columbia’s got lots of money, so why not just take advantage and stay in a nice hotel... I wouldn’t pay the money for that myself... That seems like a bit of a waste to me."
The money she made on A Knight’s Tale meant Fraser did not need to work again for a year. She is due a break: her Internet Movie Database entry lists 17 films and major TV productions since Small Faces, including the Irish thriller Divorcing Jack, Shakespeare’s bloodfest Titus and various titles, like teen comedy Virtual Sexuality and Scottish football comedy The Match, which will mean nothing to anyone other than the most dedicated of cinema-goers. "I wasn’t too choosy," she says. And, no, she will not say which she would prefer not to have made.
"At the same time as wanting to be selective with work, I really want a baby," she says, returning to her theme of the afternoon. "So I really need money because I want to be able to bring them up in London and it’s going to be really expensive." And as I reach to switch off my tape-recorder, she asks: "So, is Station Jim really bad?"
Review of A Knight's Tale by The Wolf