Heads were duly scratched when, aged 17, Imogen Poots was plucked from relative obscurity to star in 28 Weeks Later, the sequel to Danny Boyle's boffo box-office smash 28 Days Later.
And then we saw her on screen. And everybody wondered how they could have made the film without her.
And then we saw her in person. And, like, wow. As soon as they unleashed Poots on to the usual corps of jaded film hacks including your correspondent – a bright, fun, terrifying articulate teen, who was so pretty you wondered how she didn’t cause car crashes and neck-craning injuries wherever she went – we all marvelled that anyone could make any movie without her.
How on earth did she get so media-savvy? On closer inspection, she is the daughter of two journalists. So she does have an inside track, right?
“You would think,” she says. “One thing I learned is that it’s a chance to have a really interesting conversation. There’s a lot of interviews now where nobody seems to talk about anything. Like it’s illegal. But it can be fun if you stay involved. Like most conversations.”
These days, at the grand old age of 24, Poots is an industry veteran who shared her first screen kiss with Michael Douglas (in the creepy-on-purpose Solitary Man), who has starred opposite Michael Fassbender, Colin Farrell, Matt Smith and Eva Green, and who waltzed off with the entire picture from under the noses of better-known thesps Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Christopher Walken in A Late Quartet.
"Just being around the troupe on A Late Quarter and seeing how closely they listen to each other was the greatest thing," she says. "I know you're thinking, Well, duh. But to actually watch it happening is extraordinary. These people are at the top of the game, working in a crazy industry. And yet they can have the greatest time even with the darkest of subject matters. I got a real kick out of it."
She has been hailed by Variety as one of "Hollywood's hottest young actresses". And even though she claims to look like a Moomin, type her name into Google and the top search is "Imogen Poots Hot".
“Gosh, that’s so exciting,” she mock-trills. “So much better than ‘Imogen Poots Kneecap’, don’t you think?”
We can go one better. James McAvoy, her co-star in the film adaptation of Irvine Welsh's Filth, recently called her "a god".
“That’s soooo nice! Such a lovely thing to say. He is such an amazing actor. I’m sure he was being held at gunpoint.”
In common with Keira Knightley, Poots has played the younger Natalie Portman (in V for Vendetta) and, despite extensive experience in corsetry (see Miss Austen Regrets and Jane Eyre), is in no imminent danger of being pigeonholed as an 'English Rose'. At any rate, Poots insists she likes whiskey too much to fit the bill. Last year, we watched her stumbling around as the coked-up daughter of porn baron Paul Raymond in The Look of Love, before tightening a belt with sexual intent around the neck of McAvoy's fallen detective-sergeant character in Filth. "I have been getting around," she says, wryly.
Quite so. Are family and friends welcome at all her films? Does she ever ask them to avert their eyes?
“Oh no,” says Poots. “I’m happy enough with anyone watching. If you want to get all pretentious about it, then art should be provocative and controversial. If you’re not comfortable with the results, don’t do it. That’s your choice.”
She, however, will avert her own eyes when it comes to a certain genre. Can it really be that the star of 28 Weeks Later and Fright Night can't watch horror?
"Fright Night I can just about deal with. Because the original is such an 1980s extravaganza. Which is a good thing. Obviously. But something like The Others or anything psychological: I'm no good with that. I don't like it when there's space for me to use my imagination. Or with horror films generally – such as The Conjuring – I think, Naw, I'm good. And spiders. I'm no good with spiders. Even films such as Eight Legged Freaks that are supposed to be fun. No. Spiders are never fun for me."
Born in Hammersmith, raised in Chiswick and educated in private schools, she speaks in pebble-smooth, spherically rounded vowels. She is, I suppose, kind of posh. But she's also nomadic and half-Irish. Her father is the Belfast-born TV producer, Trevor Poots; her mum, Fiona Goodall, hails from Bolton.
"My dad moved to London in his early 20s and didn't really go back," says Poots. "So the irony is I've spent lots and lots of time in Ireland, but not with my dad. I've shot films in Belfast, where he's from. And I've shot in Dún Laoghaire. Which is great. And I've shot in Dublin. In fact, we've just done the Jimi Hendrix film there. Because with the right art director, some parts of Dublin can double for New York really well. Which is really cool."
The Jimi Hendrix film is All By My Side, a biopic detailing the guitarist's crucial early London years and his relationship with Linda Keith (Poots, playing opposite André Benjamin), the woman who discovered him. It's just one of many keenly anticipated Poots projects set to light up our screens through 2014. Guardians of the many internet shrines devoted to Pootology can also look forward to Beautiful Ruins, a big-screen adaptation of the million-selling novel by Jess Walter, and Need for Speed, inspired by the popular sequence of Electronic Arts games, and co-starring Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad.
“It’s been a series of happy ‘whoops’,” insists Poots. “I don’t think I’ve ever sat down and thought, Well, I must do this. It’s only afterwards you think, Oh, that’s completely different for me, or Oh, I was really witching it up there.”
Her eclectic CV is matched by an eclectic series of postal codes, mostly dictated by work.
“It’s pretty back and forth,” she says. “The business is so international now you’ll be working on an American film and you’ll start chatting to someone and it’s like: ‘Oh, you’re English too’. Last year, I shot a lot of stuff in the US. And the year before that, I shot a lot of stuff in the UK. You can never really predict where you’re going to be. But I’m happy with that. I’m in New York right now. I have lots of friends here. I lived in Los Angeles for a while. But there’s no pile of bricks or address that I think of as home.”
Her current stomping ground provides a cosmopolitan backdrop for That Awkward Moment, a whip-smart rom-com that sees Poots reeling in Zac Efron. Miles Teller, Michael B Jordan, Mackenzie Davis and Jessica Lucas round off the likeable ensemble.
Ostensibly a bromance in which three best buds swear off serious entanglements, writer- director Tom Gormican's debut feature is as funny as it is profane. Ever wondered what the High School Musical alumni might look like lying prone across a lavatory to counteract the effects of Viagra? Then this is the movie for you.
“I read it and thought, Oh, this is interesting,” says Poots. “And then I met Tom and suddenly I really got it. What I loved about the finished product was that it never gets too dramatic or too sentimental. And I loved the character. She’s not just a love interest. She’s a fully fleshed-out creation with a life of her own. And in a film about three guys, that’s an amazing thing.”
Happily, the cast and crew still found time and space to bond while carousing around the streets of New York.
“If you’re shooting in the desert, you’ll be eating more melon,” says Poots, sensibly. “And if you’re in New York you’ll be drinking more whiskey. Because the director was young, too, it was all about pulling together and connecting. It would be strange in those circumstances to make a film in New York and not have a heap of fun.”
I’m so glad Poots has lost none of her charm since we first met. And I’m glad that the US hasn’t taken the sheen off her self-deprecating humour. Ask her about awards season, and she says: “I don’t feel as if the red carpet is something familiar. I think that’s because it isn’t.” Ask her about fashion, and she says: “It used to be daunting until I realised there are beautiful dresses with beautiful fabrics that can make you think, ‘Oh wow, my bum looks amazing in this’.”
Pundits and commentators are calling her the New Jennifer Lawrence and the Next Kate Winslet. But Poots, we suspect, is very much her own woman: "You're going to be judged whatever you do," she says. "So you might as well do things your way, right?"
That Awkward Moment opens next week