At first I hardly recognise the elegant little Venus in jeans, with opulent Scarlett Johansson lips. It’s abundantly obvious that Anna Popplewell has done a lot of growing up since she made her name as bossy schoolgirl Susan, one of the four Pevensie children who discover the magic kingdom of Narnia in the Disney film adaptation of C S Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. As Anna puts it, â€˜I was 13 when I had my first audition for Susan; 15 when I made the first movie; 16 at the end of the shoot; 17 when it was released; 18 when I filmed the sequel, Prince Caspian, and now I’m 19.’
The comparisons with 18-year-old Emma Watson, who plays Hermione in the Harry Potter films, are irresistible. Both are bright and talented, and both have had to live their adolescence in the glare of the spotlight as the iconic screen heroines of two of the most famous children’s fantasy adventures in the world. Anna’s second Narnian outing, in Prince Caspian, gives Susan a startling change of image as a warlike queen in titanium chain mail and a leather corset. â€˜I have a lot more action going on in this movie, which is great,’ she says, delighted to find herself armed with a quiver of arrows, the only female on the battlefield as she helps the disinherited Prince Caspian to regain his Narnian throne. â€˜I was quite worried about not being able to keep up with the boys,’ she admits, â€˜so, on the quiet, I had twice as many riding lessons as anyone else before we went out to film in Prague. When the battle scene was being choreographed, we started a body count of all the people we had “slain” and I was doing very well,’ she adds with a grin.
As an actress, you can’t hope for a more high-profile film role than an action heroine. And despite having to fit A-level revision into breaks between takes, during 12-hour days in the 40C heat of a Czech summer, Anna enjoyed every perspiring minute of the adrenalin rush. â€˜At least I didn’t have to run up and down hills wearing a suit of armour, like the boys,’ she points out. â€˜There were 500 people on the battlefield one day and it was so hot and crazy that there were some injuries â€“ but nothing too bad.’
The filming proved to be a particularly poignant time for Anna, because Prince Caspian will mark her swan song as Susan; as all devotees of C S Lewis’s seven chronicles of Narnia know, Susan only appears in two of the novels. Another book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, is currently in preproduction, but the two eldest children, Peter and Susan, won’t appear in it, for at the end of Prince Caspian they are told by the lion Aslan that they won’t be coming back to the magic kingdom of Narnia because they are too old. And although Peter makes an appearance in the final Narnia book, The Last Battle, by then Susan is no longer a friend of Narnia because â€˜she’s interested in nothing except nylons and lipstick and invitations’.
Mention of the line that left readers in no doubt what Lewis thought of frivolous girls provokes a giggle from this blue-eyed, brown-haired teenager in her hoop earrings and black, high-heeled boots. â€˜I’m not totally “nylons and lipstick” orientated like Susan,’ she protests playfully. We’ve met in London’s Soho at her first grown-up fashion shoot, to celebrate her transition from child star to full-time student, and in fact she couldn’t look more contented and happy with what seems to me like a new-found freedom. Her departure from the Narnia series was a genuine case of life imitating art â€“ since Anna, like the fictional Susan, was developing other interests anyway and felt ready for a change (she went to Oxford University to study English two months after finishing the filming). But she admits she will â€˜miss the people and the buzz of being on a massive film’, adding, â€˜It was quite a bitter-sweet thing to film Susan and Peter’s departure because it was quite true to life. I think it’s sad, but it’s also realistic for Susan at that stage in her life to go back into the real world and forget about Narnia,’ she says.