A British schoolgirl who has never acted on the big screen before has become the toast of the Cannes Film Festival as Sophie in Steven Spielberg's blockbuster The BFG.

Ruby Barnhill, 11, stars with Mark Rylance and Kiwi actor Jemaine Clement in Roald Dahl's fantasy story as the feisty youngster who is plucked from her orphanage bed to enter a world of dreams.

Ruby was "amazed" to find herself the centre of attention at the festival after spending a few years doing drama classes at home in Cheshire.

Ruby Barnhill portraying Sophie appears in a scene with the Big Friendly Giant, voiced by Mark Rylance. Photo / AP
Ruby Barnhill portraying Sophie appears in a scene with the Big Friendly Giant, voiced by Mark Rylance. Photo / AP

It's a far cry from her original casting session, where she was left physically shaking on meeting Oscar-winning director Spielberg before finding her feet with the help of Rylance.


Ruby walked the red carpet with the A-listers after being let off her schoolwork to go to Cannes with her family.

Appearing before the press with her co-stars, she said: "The only thing that I have ever done before doing this incredible film was going to a drama class for a very long time.

"And I did a children's TV show. It feels really magical and amazing to think I'm here now ... It's a dream come true."

She has already been compared to Drew Barrymore, who was also spotted by Spielberg at primary school age for his film E.T.

Ruby, whose only previously professional role was in the BBC children's drama 4 O'Clock Club, is accompanied in Cannes by her parents, Paul and Sarah, and sister Darcey.

Her father, an actor who has previously performed at the Sadler's Wells Theatre in London, with the RSC and in a host of television soaps, will also make a small appearance in the film as a footman.

Spielberg has said he "hit the jackpot" when he found Ruby, picking her after her first audition when she asked clever questions and came up with ideas to develop her character.

Sophie, the tale's heroine, is taken by Rylance's giant after accidentally spotting him at work in London, blowing dreams into the windows of children's bedrooms.

The film sees her character as even feistier than in the original 1982 novel, convincing the BFG to find his courage and eventually hatching a plan to save the children of the world from flesh-eating giants by enlisting the help of the Queen (played by Downton Abbey's Penelope Wilton).

One scene sees the monarch, her staff and the most senior military generals in the land afflicted by what Dahl called "whizzpoppers"; a noisy and colourful passing of wind after drinking a fizzy drink.

When asked about the scene and whether they had been concerned about showing the Queen in a less-than-dignified state, Spielberg said: "We certainly had licence. We just added a little more plot to the movie version, which we did in compliance and complete co-operation with the entire Dahl estate."

Wilton said the humour came from placing the Queen in "situations that we don't always imagine she'd be in".

"It's a bit like laughing in church, I think," she said.

Other changes in the film include a plot strand about another little boy befriended by the BFG, extra scenes from the child-eating giants, and the creation of a Prime Minister named Boris.