The Untold Truth Of Fallout's Ella Purnell

Ella Purnell has been building an impressive acting resume, thanks to roles in movies like Netflix's "Army of the Dead," and in TV shows like "Sweetbitter" and "Yellowjackets." But it's Purnell's performance in Amazon Prime Video's "Fallout," based on the video game series of the same name, that's brought her talent to an entirely new audience. While Ella looks stunning without makeup, her transformation into Lucy MacLean, the lead character in "Fallout," has made her instantly recognizable around the globe.

During an interview with Collider, Purnell discussed her exciting acting career, and what she had been striving for. "Of course I want to be successful, but successful to me isn't being rich or famous or having awards, it's doing work that I feel proud of and doing work that challenges me," she told the publication. "If I can find a way to do that and balance it with having a family and friends and richness in my life that isn't just my work, that's contentment."

From her earliest acting roles to the lessons she's learned along the way, this is the untold truth of "Fallout" star Ella Purnell.

Ella started modeling when she was just 4 years old

TV shows like "Fallout" and "Yellowjackets" may have brought Ella Purnell to international acclaim, but she actually started building her career as a child. During an interview with The Independent, Purnell opened up about some of her earliest roles, which included working for high-end fashion brands before she'd even started school. "I did a Dior campaign — when I was four!" she told the publication. 

Purnell also referenced the television commercial she starred in for candy brand Toffifee, telling Crash, "I got my first advert when I was 9. Before that I was doing auditions and baby modeling things. It was always something I did with my mum for fun and I met all my friends that way." Basically, Purnell was already making a name for herself within the entertainment industry while most of us were blissfully unaware of the world of work.

After building a fairly successful modeling portfolio as a child, Purnell decided to try her hand at acting, securing a role in the musical "Oliver!" in London's West End. Discussing her experience in the production, Purnell told The Independent, "I loved it but realized that I was relatively shy and didn't have the presence or the confidence to do musical theatre." While Purnell decided against pursuing a stage career as a young adult, her experience performing in "Oliver!" likely informed her decision to move into TV and film acting. 

Her first kiss took place on screen

Many celebrities have their first kisses onscreen. Having started out as a child model, much of Ella Purnell's early life took place within the entertainment industry. Born on September 17, 1996, Purnell transitioned to acting in movies in 2010 with "Never Let Me Go" and "Ways to Live Forever." While her acting talent was immediately obvious, not everything about Purnell's burgeoning career was easy, especially when it came to filming romantic scenes. During an interview with Collider, Purnell revealed, "My first kiss was on screen in a movie. That took me a couple of years to reckon with, and then to actually be able to be like, 'No, I think I need to take a break.'" 

Luckily, the people Purnell was working with were incredibly supportive, and helped the young star navigate the trickier aspects of being an actor. Discussing the moment she first decided to stand up for herself, Purnell told the publication, "It was probably when I was a little younger, maybe around 15, 16. I have an incredible team. ... But realizing, 'You know, I don't wanna do nudity,' or, 'I don't want to do a love story' ... and actually, being a little bit embarrassed the first time you ask those things." However, that embarrassment didn't last for very long, as everyone around Purnell supported her decisions and made her realize she was perfectly within her rights to refuse to do certain things onscreen.

She got cast in a Tim Burton at a low moment in her life

After making her feature film debut in 2010, Ella Purnell continued to book roles in a number of popular movies. In 2011, she starred alongside Clive Owen in the horror film "Intruders," and in 2013, she appeared as Dolce in "Kick-Ass 2." In 2014, Purnell's career continued to grow when she appeared alongside Angelina Jolie in Disney's "Maleficent," and in 2016, she was cast opposite Margot Robbie in "The Legend of Tarzan." However, scoring an important role in 2016's "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children," directed by Helena Bonham Carter's ex Tim Burton, was undoubtedly Purnell's big break.

During an interview with British Vogue, Purnell recalled discovering she'd won a part in Burton's movie, with the news arriving at a particularly low moment in her life. "I was just recovering from a break up and had actually bunked school," she told the outlet. "I was lying in bed with a tub of ice cream and I heard my mum and agent crawling up the stairs." She continued, "And then she went 'Surprise! You've got the Tim Burton job.' I was bawling my eyes out, but look at that —doesn't the universe work in such amazing ways?" Luckily, working with the legendary director was everything Purnell could have hoped for, with Burton making the young star feel like a crucial part of the project. "I really learnt to believe in myself and trust in my own instincts," she told the publication.

She feels most at home in London

Ella Purnell often plays American characters, but she was actually born and raised in London, England. Before developing her successful acting career, Purnell attended a number of schools in the capital city, including Bethnal Green Montessori School and City of London School for Girls, before training as a performer at the Young Actors Theatre Islington. Having spent most of her young life in London, Purnell considers the city to be her home, despite needing to travel the world for work. 

When asked where her favorite place in the world is, Purnell told Condé Nast Traveler in 2018, "London, although I'm biased because I was born and raised here. My dad lives in Chelsea and my mum is east. It's my home. I have so many memories of growing up in this town." Although Purnell clearly loved spending her youth in London, there were some elements of the city she didn't thrive at. "I suck at using buses, but I'm really good with trains," she told the publication. As for what some of her favorite things about the city are, she dished, "I love Londoners, and that's what I miss when I've been away. I come home and go to the pub and just listen to everybody talking." Although she probably doesn't spend as much time in the city following the success of "Yellowjackets" and "Fallout," it's clear that London holds a special place in Purnell's heart.

Yellowjackets helped her embrace being unlikable

After playing the lead role in 2018 TV series "Sweetbitter," and taking on a role in 2021 Netflix movie "Army of the Dead," Ella Purnell demonstrated her incredible range. But it was the actor's performance as Jackie in TV series "Yellowjackets," which first aired in 2021, that really brought the star to a wider audience, while also allowing her to redefine her craft. 

During her interview with Collider, Purnell revealed she'd been wrestling with the idea of being liked as an actor, saying, "It's not your job to make stuff people like. It's your job to make stuff." She continued, "'Yellowjackets,' in a way, helped with that because it was my first time playing a character that I honestly thought wasn't likable and people wouldn't like. I had a real fear, is anyone gonna care when Jackie dies, because she's such a piece of work sometimes?" However, Purnell's performance as Jackie garnered her a lot of fans, which was a buoying experience for the "Arcane" star. And because such a complicated, and often grating, character was beloved by fans, Purnell realized that her future as an actor was filled with interesting prospects. "Now I want to play a villain," she told the publication. "I want to play someone really evil. I want to go there."

She worked with a voice coach to perfect her American accent

Having been born and raised in London, England, Ella Purnell has an English accent, but viewers might not have realized that thanks to her convincing American accent. During a 2024 interview with fellow actor Chloë Grace Moretz for Interview magazine, Purnell opened up about the work she'd put in to trying to perfect her American accent. "I have quite a low, gravelly voice, and I wanted it to be clean and pristine and very chipper," she told the publication. "What I was doing was sounding really nasal. I had to figure out the muscles that I was using, and how to make the sound from my solar plexus, and not my nasal passage, or my throat."

During the same interview, Purnell sang the praises of her dialect coach Kohli Calhoun, whom she credited with the accent she delivered in 2018 TV series "Sweetbitter." However, it seems there are downsides to performing with such a realistic American accent. Speaking to ScreenRant, the actor discussed voicing a character in Netflix animated series "Arcane," saying, "I struggle with improv when I'm not in my natural accent, just because sometimes I say like British terms in American accents and people look at me like I'm crazy. So I just generally avoid it." While improvising may be off the table, it's clear that Purnell is extremely talented when it comes to learning accents.

She quit smoking to perform her own Fallout stunts

Based on the video game of the same name, Prime Video's 2024 series "Fallout" takes place in a dystopian future in which a nuclear detonation has destroyed Los Angeles. Ella Purnell stars as Lucy MacLean, a young woman who is forced to leave the formerly safe life she lived in an underground bunker to venture above ground to rescue a family member. As the show features a plethora of action and fight sequences, Purnell faced a new challenge in her leading role. Rather than shying away from the physicality of her new role, Purnell dove headfirst into portraying a popular video game character on TV. 

Speaking to Collider, Purnell explained, "I am proud of my stunt work because I am a clumsy, uncoordinated, not-fit person. Or I was." While it wasn't necessarily easy to embrace such a physical role, Purnell made some concessions to make sure she could give a great performance onscreen. "I did break a few props, but I didn't hurt anyone and I didn't hurt myself [laughs], and I stretched and I warmed up and I got fit, and I quit smoking," she explained. "That's not something I ever thought I could do, so I'm proud." It would seem that Purnell's hard work paid off, as "Fallout" debuted to extremely positive reviews.

Ella has faced challenges as a young woman in Hollywood

Having been working in the entertainment industry since she was a child, Ella Purnell has experienced both the positives and the negatives of becoming a famous actor. Unfortunately, Purnell discovered that sexism persisted behind-the-scenes of some of the projects she worked on. As a young woman, the "Wildlike" star learned firsthand that she had many obstacles to overcome on her road to stardom. "As a woman in this industry, you are constantly trying to find the right balance," she told The Independent. "You can't be too strong, you can't swear, you can't wear short skirts. You can't be too sexy because they won't respect you, but you can't not be beautiful because then they think you don't have value." 

After struggling with these dualities for much of her career, Purnell found a change of pace when she scored a role on TV series "Yellowjackets," which follows a group of teenage girls who enter survival mode after their plane crashes in the middle of nowhere. "It's still very new to see a woman be violent in a way that isn't fetishized or used for the gore tactic," she told the publication. "In 'Yellowjackets,' we're not these half-naked sexy cannibals. We're just surviving, and you don't see that often, so it's interesting when you do." Moving forward, Purnell will hopefully find even more inclusive roles that celebrate what it means to be a woman.

The Brad Pitt dating rumors made her 'terrified' and 'embarrassed'

In 2017, Ella Purnell found herself under intense scrutiny when it was reported she'd started dating Brad Pitt after his relationship with Angelina Jolie went wrong. The allegations suggested the pair met while Purnell was working on Tim Burton's "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children." And when it came to casting TV series "Sweetbitter," producer Pitt apparently fought for Purnell to win the lead role. While these rumors were quickly dispelled by Pitt's team, who proclaimed the tabloid reports as fabricated while speaking to Insider, Purnell faced immense backlash from the general public.

Discussing the impact the false allegations had on her, Purnell told The Independent, "I was terrified and really upset. I felt like I couldn't leave the house, I was so embarrassed." Purnell also found herself drawn into comments posted about her on social media, all of which were overwhelmingly negative. As she explained to the publication, "I read all the comments saying, 'She's a little s***. She's a gold-digger. She wants to get famous. She's a homewrecker.' Not one person was saying, 'Shame on Brad for dating practically a child.'" At the time the rumors initially circulated, Purnell was 21 years old, while Pitt was 53. 

The "Fallout" star especially took issue with the notion she was only cast in Starz series "Sweetbitter" because of her alleged romance with Pitt. However, one slightly funny reaction did come out of the gossip, as Purnell told Vulture, "My grandma texted me, saying, 'Congratulations!'"

She faced intense hate mail for her 'Army of the Dead' character

After facing major backlash due to false dating rumors involving Brad Pitt, Ella Purnell was unfortunately all too prepared for receiving online hate from viewers. In 2021, Purnell starred in Zack Snyder's "Army of the Dead," a Las Vegas heist film set in a world infested with zombies. The actor played Kate Ward, the daughter of Dave Bautista's character, who joins her dad on the heist. Sadly, the response to Purnell's character was largely negative, with one Redditor writing, "Kate from 'Army of the Dead' is probably one of the worst characters I've ever seen in a movie."

Purnell was not immune to the widespread hatred, telling The Independent, "It got to the point where I couldn't post a picture without people commenting, 'You should kill yourself,' 'You're a terrible actress.'" As a result, Purnell needed to change the way she used social media, so as to limit the damage insults, hate mail, and threats could do to her life. Discussing her new approach to sharing her life online, Purnell explained to Crash, "For a long time, mean comments got me down. I felt like I had to put up with it because I was asking for it. In actual fact, I'm a human being like anybody else so I just started blocking negative people who insult or objectify me."

She went through an emo/goth stage

While not all celebrities have practiced witchcraft, many will have gone through an emo or goth stage at some point in their lives. In an interview with Harper's Bazaar U.K., Ella Purnell opened up about the ways in which her style changed as she got older, and the process most definitely included wearing a lot of black clothing. "I used to be quite tomboyish and not really care," she explained. "I think I probably dressed better then because I wore what I wanted. Then I went through my emo/goth phase, and then after I got through my teenage years I started to get more interested in designers and big fashion houses." 

Purnell's emo and goth phase is likely relatable to many people, as is the actor's decision to experiment with her style in the years afterwards. During the same interview, Purnell revealed that she developed a penchant for vintage clothing following her goth stage, which led to her finding a more serious interest in fashion. Since then, she has become a regular at fashion shows, and taken on a role as a brand ambassador for Chanel. "I like learning new things, and going to shows, it's completely changed my mind about it," she explained. "I used to think fashion was silly, and now I think it can be one of the purest expressions of art."

She has a serious stomach condition

While remaining busy as an in-demand actor, Ella Purnell also has to manage a health condition affecting what she can eat. Being cast in 2018 TV series "Sweetbitter" was particularly challenging for the star, as the food-based show required actors to eat a plethora of unusual dishes. During an interview with Decider, Purnell revealed, "I have a stomach condition where I can't eat certain foods, which is really convenient when you get cast as a lead in a food show." She continued, "There was one oyster scene that was the most important scene in the whole season. They're like, 'You have to eat an oyster.' I was like 'If I eat an oyster, I'm taking two weeks off work because I will be so sick.'"

Despite working on the series, which was set in a New York restaurant, for two seasons, Purnell didn't acquire any cooking knowledge whatsoever. "I am actually a mediocre chef," she told Parade. Luckily, Purnell is a great actor, and convinced viewers that she was much more knowledgeable about food than she was in real life.