role call

Miffy Englefield Answers Every Question We Have About The Holiday 

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

In 2006, our lord and savior Nancy Meyers did the impossible: She made a flawless modern-day Christmas rom-com. The Holiday has everything: Kate Winslet sporting a series of sensible Eileen Fisher tops; Cameron Diaz drunkenly singing the Killers alone in a quaint cabin; Jude Law’s volatile wintertime English tan; Jude Law with a napkin on his head. The best part is, 13 years later, it absolutely holds up; I’ve seen this movie at least 20 times, and my boyfriend has recently informed me that every time I see it, I say, “Wow, this absolutely holds up!”

The premise of The Holiday is both extremely simple and blisteringly complicated. Amanda (Diaz) is a sex-negative, Los Angeles–dwelling editor of movie trailers who hasn’t cried since she was 15. Iris (Winslet) is a melancholy British newspaper columnist who cannot fall out of love with her shitty ex. A week before Christmas, both spontaneously decide to log on to a home-exchange website and swap houses for two weeks, with Amanda headed to the isolated Surrey countryside and Iris moving into Amanda’s sprawling L.A. mansion, packed to the gills with impossibly neutral furnishings. Both women want to get away from the men in their lives, so naturally, both fall in love with new men: Amanda with Iris’s dashing (and, again, suspiciously tan) book-editor brother Graham (Law); Iris with Amanda’s ex-boyfriend’s composer friend Miles (Jack Black, which is still a weird choice, Nancy, but it’s fine).

The movie is incredibly long for a Christmas rom-com, clocking in at a staggering two hours and 18 minutes. But the minutes fly by, thanks to a series of impeccable scenes that fixate on, in no particular order: the curative power of fettuccine alfredo, the VHS archives at Blockbuster, grocery shopping abroad, geriatric aquatic therapy, the profound ecstasy of blackout shades, and whether or not to respond to a piece of mail. My favorite scene, though, takes place roughly halfway through the film: Amanda shows up unannounced at Graham’s huge house after a series of drunken sexual interludes, having decided she’s DTF again even though they ultimately live on opposite sides of the world. When she arrives, she realizes Graham has withheld a significant life detail from her: He’s not actually a slutty single pubgoer, but rather, a widower with two young children. Rather than storm out, she spends the evening hanging out with Graham and his two insanely adorable kids, Sophie (Miffy Englefield) and Olivia (Emma Pritchard). The kids are obsessed with Amanda — “You look like my Barbie” — and are thusly determined to impress her. During a hot-chocolate break, Sophie and Olivia demand that Graham “do Mr. Napkin Head.” Graham, humiliated, eventually agrees to put a napkin over his face and pretend to smoke a spoon.

The erotic energy of Mr. Napkin Head proves so powerful that Amanda and Graham end up together, concluding the film by awkwardly dancing around his living room with Iris and Miles (who have apparently flown 14 hours for the occasion) and Sophie and Olivia. During my annual rewatch of the film this year, it struck me that the person who likely has the most interesting perspective on this entire film is Miffy herself, playing Jude Law’s 7-year-old daughter in a movie concerned primarily with Jude Law’s magnetic sexuality. Just before The Holiday’s 13-year-anniversary, I FaceTimed with Miffy, who generously expounded upon Mr. Napkin Head, how the movie helped pull her family out of debt, and the last time she heard from Jude.

Photo: YouTube

How’d you first hear about the role? Do you remember how you got the audition?
The audition process has stuck with me for a very, very long time because it was the first audition process that I ever did, which is insane. I’d only been with the agency I was with for about a year at the time. I’d done a little advert, and we got this email about this audition. Obviously in the early audition process they don’t really specify too much about what the film is. I don’t think it listed a director or anything like that. It was just, “Feature film, looking for a girl.” We started going along to these auditions and I think it was at that point we realized that it was quite a big thing going on. There were so many girls in these auditions. I think there were about 2,500. We started off with the usual sort of stuff that you do as a child actor — getting to know your personality a little bit. Then as the auditions went on, I think there were five in total, you sort of got a bit more serious and they introduce lines and you find out a little bit more about who the director is.

What made you want to start acting so young?
I did a couple of adverts before it, because that was our original aim when I started acting — it was more to do with the fact that I come from a very working-class background. We were homeless. We didn’t have much. Being a very, very loudmouth kid, my dad thought, Well, maybe this would be beneficial for her to start earning her own money. Maybe she could pay for acting classes. So we were only expecting adverts, maybe a little bit stage, very basic work. And then a year after being on the books with the agency we got through this huge thing — so it was sudden, very sudden.

You were homeless at the time that you were auditioning?
We’d just been housed; I think it was about a month or so after we were put into permanent housing. We were still getting out of a lot of the issues of homelessness, things like debts and such. So yes, it was a very unusual time for us going to the auditions with these very eloquent characters, and then we’d come home to these sorts of things.

What was that cognitive dissonance like for you as a kid?
It was very surreal because, I mean, all I’d ever known growing up — my dad had me very young with a very young mother, and they split up and it made things very, very, difficult. So all I’d ever known was living in poverty. We’d moved around the country, from B&Bs to shelters and things like that for a good two years. And then, suddenly, I started doing these auditions and I got The Holiday and it was just another world, for both me and my dad. We’d never experienced anything of the sort. It was very crazy.

Wow. So how long after the audition did you start filming?
I think it was about six months of doing the auditions, because being so young, they can’t really drill through it as much as they can as you get older. So they had to sort of whittle it down and they did auditions all around the country. But when we found that we got the job, it all happened very quickly. There was a lot of paperwork to sort out. It was only a few months after that, that we were flown out to America for wardrobe fittings.

Did Jude or Cameron or Nancy come to the auditions? Or did you meet them first on set?
For the first four it was just casting directors and such. And then the last audition, when there was only about six girls there, we walked in and it was all a little bit more hush, and we went into the room and Nancy Meyers was just sat there, ready for the audition. Obviously at that time I had no idea who she was, I was 6.

For the last audition, she was there and she was so incredibly hands-on with everything. Just amazing, just fantastic. She asked you very specific things and she was so friendly with us, it was more a sit-down chat with these children. She was always like that, very hands-on and lovely.

What do you remember about your first day on set?
The film was filmed back to front. So our first day on set properly, we did the wardrobe things and stuff, and then we filmed the last scene in the film, the New Year’s party.

Where everyone is awkwardly dancing.
[Laughs.] Yes, that’s the one scene in the film that all of the main characters are together. So it was a really, really nice starting point for us to be able to get to know each other. But it was crazy. I mean, at the time I didn’t really have any proper idea who Jude Law and Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet were. My dad was really good at showing me their work and more underground things that they’d done. He wanted me to realize they were humans and not just these actors. So I knew who they were, but the only person that I really understood like, “Oh, this person’s famous,” was Jack Black. So I walked onto set and he just stood there. I think at that point it was when it hit me like, “Oh goodness, this is like a thing. This is real, this is real life.”

It was such a nice first day because we were all dressed up. We’re all raring to go and doing this little party, and we had these canapes, and music playing. It was the loveliest first day I’ve ever had on set.

How did Jude and Cameron and Kate and Jack treat you guys? Were they parental towards you?
Honestly, they were incredible. To have these two, you know, 6-year-olds, running around and being overly excited and asking loads of questions — they showed no stress at all. They had all the time for us in the world. Jude used to pop his head round the door when we were doing our schooling and things like that. He used to sit and chat with my dad. We did act like a family a little bit, and I think that shows in our relationship onscreen. We were all so close and that wasn’t just for when the cameras were rolling. We were always just chatting, making jokes, and having a really good time. I don’t know how they put up with us, to be honest.

What was Nancy like as a director? What sort of tips and direction did she give you?
Nancy’s very, very clear. Her brain’s fantastic, honestly. The way that her mind works. But she almost lets you run with it, because she realizes you’re playing a child, so you’re going to be in that mind-set better than anyone else. She’d give a rough idea, but a lot of the things that she asked us to do, she would just ask us to improv them. So there’s a few lines and stuff in the film, like this bit in the Mr. Napkin Head scene, which everyone loves. There’s a bit when he’s getting the napkin on, and me and Cameron are just having a little chitchat. It was just complete improv — she wanted it to come across as natural as it could be. The direction she mostly gave us was, “What would you do in this situation?”

So did you have many scripted lines or was most of it meant to be improvised?
Everything was scripted, but a lot of the directions and stuff changed as we went along. When you’re working with kids as young as me and Emma were — things change. They always took our ideas onboard, like, “Let’s actually ask the two girls if this is how they’d react in real life,” which I think makes the film look a little more natural.

Do you remember any specific scenes or lines you improvised?
With Mr. Napkin Head, when I say, “It’s so funny. You’ll fall off your chair it’s so funny.” That was completely improv, that was a onetime thing I said. Never could reenact it, couldn’t remember what I said at the time, and they actually used it. [Laughs.] My dad loves it because he loves to point out the fact that I make a really stupid face during that line. He’s held that against me for 14 years now, which is great, wonderful.

And there’s a scene where me and Emma are asleep next to Jude in a bed, and he’s on the phone, and they just let us actually go to sleep — they left us in there for ten minutes, waited until we’d gone asleep and then started rolling.

Did you have that same feeling that your character has toward Cameron, where you sort of were in awe of her and idolized her? Were you intimidated at all?
We used to sit in hair and makeup with her, from really early in the morning, so I think we had quite a different relationship. We used to see every side of Cameron, every side of Kate, every side of everyone, because there was no separation really between any of us. It wasn’t, you know, These are the adults, and this is where they sit. We had hair and makeup at five in the morning and so did Cameron. We’d sit in there and annoy her. She was so down-to-earth, and so bubbly and fantastic, and intelligent and great. She always had something to say to us. She never seemed annoyed with us. So we never really saw her like that. We always just sort of saw her as, “Oh, it’s Cammie.” I think we used to call her Cammie quite a lot. We’d ask her advice, and she’d always give us little tips and things about the way we were handling ourselves.

In the tent scene you guys have all this adorable dialogue with her where you’re obsessing over her makeup and ask her to sleep over. Was that improvised or scripted?
That was scripted, but we had to change quite a lot of things around that because it just didn’t flow the way kids would really talk. I remember that we spoke to Nancy about timing and things like that, and making sure it felt authentic. But the tent scene was so special. They wanted us to feel really involved, so the stars and stuff that were on the ceiling, they let us help out during our schooling hours to get these little stars cut out. They showed us how the tent was constructed and got us to move things around in there and make it feel homey. It was all very hands-on for us. It kept us very interested. I think in a lot of other productions that I’ve heard of young kids being in, it’s a little bit less, you know, enthusiastic and relaxed.

What do you remember about filming the Mr. Napkin Head scene? As you said, that’s the one everyone remembers.
It’s the one that my friends like to do most in bars. Awful, absolutely awful.

To this day?
Oh yes. Any chance. My partner at the moment finds any excuse. Like he’s introducing me, he’ll be like, “Oh, this is my girlfriend, her name’s Miffy. She was in The Holiday.” Just all the time. All the time, it’s awful. So I know that scene has always stuck with people, which is insane to me. Because at the time, we just thought it’d be some cute little throwaway.

How was the hot chocolate with five marshmallows?
The hot chocolate that we had in the mugs was completely fake. They weren’t going to trust young kids with mugs of liquid while they’re running around. And while Jude’s got the napkin on and he’s doing the talking, that was complete improv, him just chatting away — when he says, “Smoking’s really bad for you,” and all that sort of stuff. And there’s a little chat that he has with Emma as well when she’s asking about Cameron’s accent, her American accent, that was complete improv as well. Quite a lot of the little moments in that scene were just seeing how we acted together onscreen. We just did whatever came naturally, and I think that’s probably the loveliest part behind it.

Did you observe anything fun about the on-set dynamics between the main cast? Were there any sort of fun crushes going on?
I think everyone got on because everyone sort of knew each other from past projects. But I think one of the main things that’s stuck with me is the amount of time these couples — onscreen couples— spend together. And we got to hear about scenes we weren’t in. There was a scene where we were with Jude and Cameron, and they were both just in absolute hysterics about something that happened the day before. We were oblivious, we had no idea, but I think we had to stop filming for a good five, ten minutes because they just couldn’t control themselves.

What was your relationship like with your onscreen sister?
Me and Emma got on really, really well. It looks like there’s quite a big age gap, but I think there’s only about 15 weeks between our birthdays. For the last two auditions they paired us up with different girls to make sure that we got along as people. I think they really considered the fact that 6-year-olds like to kick off sometimes, if they don’t like people, they’re probably going to have a fight with them. So they made sure that we got along really, really well and that we had chemistry and things like that.

We had all of our schooling together, we stayed in the same apartment block together, we went out on trips together. I remember going to the cinema with her on a couple of occasions, while I think my dad went to the Cheesecake Factory.

When was the last time you spoke to her?
We didn’t really speak after the film. I think her family life took a little bit of a different turn. So after the film, I carried on doing acting, but it was never a career path for Emma. It was originally her sister that was auditioning, and then Emma sort of turned the eye of the casting director and that was it. We both just took very different paths and we never really spoke after that. I just hope she’s doing really, really well.

She’s hard to find!
Yes, I think her and her family have taken a bit of a backseat on social media and stuff because they didn’t really want the spotlight. I can’t find her anywhere.

What was it like to wrap the film? Were you emotional?
Everyone was on set for the last day, for the wrap day. And we had to fly back to England so we couldn’t go to the wrap party. It was a really big emotional day for me and my dad — we’d gone from living this wonderful, amazing life in L.A., and even when we were filming in England, still treated like absolute royalty, spoiled. We felt fantastic and it was great, and we were about to fly home and just lose all of this, upbeat, wonderful, taken-care-of vibe that we had, to return to our horrible, horrible council house in Hampshire. So we were not doing okay that day. I think my dad was in tears, I was in tears, and we were really upset about wrapping. We’d made all these lovely friends that we weren’t really going to see ever again.

What do you remember about your last interaction with the cast?
Jude and Cameron made the ridiculous, lovely effort of getting me an Emma personalized denim jackets made with inscriptions of our names and “The Holiday” and “Hollywood 2006,” and they came over personally and they gave it to us. That has always really stuck with me, because these busy, important people have that little thought of, “I want something to stick with these young girls about this thing that they did.” It’s just the most thoughtful thing in the world. It really shows what kind of people they are off-camera. I’ve still got the jacket as well.

When was the last time you spoke to Jude or any of the others?
The last time that we saw them was at the premiere in England. We were all glammed up, and we had makeup artists, and my brother and sister were there, and all my family. I think my dad especially had a good night. He made the most out of the free Champagne. [Laughs.] Fantastic night for him. We had this white carpet down Leicester Square, and it was fantastic. I would love to talk to them, especially Jude. I’d love to have a chat with him and see what’s going on. I know a few years ago that he mentioned that he would like to know what we’re doing. Obviously, I don’t think it’s very possible for me just to give them a call and be like, “Oh, you all right, mate?” But apart from that, I’ve never really spoken to the cast. I did speak to Nancy Meyers though, for quite a few years after the film.

What’d you speak about?
I’ve actually spoken to her on Instagram about two, three weeks ago. When I left the film, I gave her my email address, she wanted to swap, and we exchanged photos and emails for about four or five years afterwards, regularly. Obviously as I’ve grown up, things changed for me, and Nancy’s obviously an incredibly busy lady. God knows why she even replied! But yes, I reached out to her. I think I tagged her in something on Instagram the other day and she replied and just said, “It’s really nice to see how you’re doing.” And it was only a couple of weeks ago. She’s always been so involved in everything that I did. She’s a lovely lady.

What is it like for you to have people approach you to this day about this movie? Is it frustrating? Or is it fun for you?
Oh, I love it. Over the years, I’ve kept quite a big social media presence, so I do get a lot of people reaching out. Sometimes it’s quite young people that are like, “Oh, are you that girl from that film?” That can get slightly annoying, because I’ve stated it quite a few times, yes. But I’ve also met just the loveliest people that have said that they follow me because of the film. I met a lady through Instagram who based her wedding around The Holiday. Insane. I love still being able to talk about it. And I love the fact that people can look at the way that I am now, and look at the fact that I’m so different, and take some sort of inspiration from the fact that you don’t just have to look one way to do some stuff with your life.

How do you think you inspire people?
It’s very common for young actors to come from wealthy backgrounds. You need quite a lot of money for things like head shots and agency books, and getting to auditions, and traveling, and acting classes. At the time, my dad wanted to keep my background hush-hush, the poverty that we lived in. So it’s just really nice to be able to get that heard, and to be able to speak about the fact that I wasn’t just this girl in this film. I’ve come from a pretty rough place.

It also makes me happy to know that people can look at the way that I dress now, the way that I talk, and they can see that they can do it, too.

How would you describe it, the way you dress and talk?
I like heavy studs, I like stupid piercings and ridiculous haircuts. I got into the punk scene about the age of 12, and it’s the absolute love of my life, alongside acting. The fact that I did a film affected me quite a lot with bullying growing up. If you live in a council house and you’ve been in this huge film, a lot of kids and a lot of parents look down their nose at you. So getting involved in the punk scene was just incredible. People don’t care about where you’re from or what you’re doing. It gave me a real sense of worth again, and all of this expression that I had inside of me, wanting to do this or that to my body, or dress a certain way — it was all completely accepted. There was no rules. It was just “Do you, be happy, and forget what anyone else thinks.”

So your relationship to the movie wasn’t always positive?
I used to hate it. Between the ages of about 12 to 15, I was angsty — “Oh, I don’t want to talk about it, I was so young.” During that stage, I couldn’t watch it, would have a go at anyone who brought it up. Now, obviously I’m in my 20s, and I can realize, “Oh my God, that was actually quite a cool thing I did.” I was a weird-looking, slightly cute kid. That’s fine.

Did you have trouble finding jobs at that level afterwards, and did that have something to do with those feelings?
Yes. The Holiday helped quite a lot with being able to keep up with doing acting and things like that. But my dad is a single parent, he’s got another two kids, my brother and sister. So if you have another two children that need you, you can’t be putting all your time into one kid. So as soon as I got to the age of 11, and my brother and sister were 10 and 9, they’d started to realize what was going on, and it became apparent to me and my dad that we couldn’t do this. It was causing a lot of arguments and fights. And the stress of coming from where we came from, living in the place we were coming from, it just didn’t make sense for us at the time to continue.

What are you up to right now?
I do a lot of music stuff, at the moment. I play a lot of gigs. My partner’s in a band as well, that gets to tour around America and things like that. So I get to go to a lot of his shows. In my spare time I still read monologues, I still write a lot and watch a lot of films.

Miffy Englefield Answers Every Question About The Holiday