"I know a few older women who are with younger men and it's really great," says Jemima Rooper.

"It's working out really well for them."

It's a bright morning, and I'm in a little café in north London with the star of Lost in Austen, One Man, Two Guvnors, and hit new play [BLANK] - and we've been chatting about a topic that is sure to be much discussed when the BBC One drama Gold Digger airs this week.

Rooper may not be a household name but, at 38, she has been racking up stellar performances on both stage and screen since her teens, from a Bobbie brilliant enough to match Jenny Agutter's original in the 2000 TV remake of The Railway Children, to a highly acclaimed Ann Deever in an unforgettable production of All My Sons in 2010.


In Gold Digger, she plays Della, the lesbian daughter of newly divorced Julia (Julia Ormond), who, on her 60th birthday, begins a love affair with a man half her age (Ben Barnes), to the horror of Della and her brothers.

"I can understand how, if your son was the same age as your lover, they would think, 'What does that man want with my mother?' " Rooper says.

Julia's children assume he is the gold digger of the title, but "at the centre of the story," she notes, "is a woman who's going, 'My life is not over'."

Della, meanwhile, is fixated on a woman she used to be with, masochistically scrolling her ex's social media feed. It is a typically subtle, edgy performance from Rooper, who, thanks to her distinctive looks - raven hair, off-world angles - is often cast as an outsider.

This unconventional style might also explain why she is not better known. Many expected her TV career to take off after she played the lead in Lost in Austen - a 2008 ITV miniseries about a twentysomething who finds herself thrown into the plot of Pride and Prejudice - but, instead of breaking through on screen, she has been embraced by the theatre.

She's currently performing at London's Donmar Warehouse in Alice Birch's powerful, provocative play [BLANK].In its standout scene, a guest rages against the liberal feminists at a dinner party in their "bleeding heart bubble of hypocrisy", with their skin-deep political engagement and recreational drugs.

Harvey Weinstein arrives at New York Supreme Court in New York. Photo / AP
Harvey Weinstein arrives at New York Supreme Court in New York. Photo / AP

Has Rooper - who has a four-year-old son with her partner, writer and director Ben Ockrent - been to parties like that?"

Yes, probably a few," she says. "It was the hardest to rehearse because there's a lot of recognition, sort of, 'Ooh God, that's me."'


In 2013, she appeared in a Harvey Weinstein film - One Chance, the true story of Britain's Got Talent winner Paul Potts.

She met the producer, but was never alone in a room with him, and has a surprising insight from the shop floor.

"Controversially, there's this feeling, when someone who has the power to make careers doesn't really give you a second look... it's incredibly annoying. Not that I wanted that kind of attention."

On the first day of filming, she says, "his PA appeared with a whole load of new costumes and it was all massive high heels, short skirts, basically sexing up the character. I was supposed to be the weird, funny girlfriend... She was sent to do it, to make me feel comfortable about it. If Harvey himself had come along and said, 'I want you in a miniskirt and high heels', I'd have been, 'Excuse me?' Then you hear these awful stories of these girls and because it was probably a woman who said, 'Harvey really wants to meet with you,' those women were really sort of complicit in allowing that to happen."

The moment she found most embarrassing, she says, was when she was cast in Brian De Palma's 2006 adaptation of James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia, with Scarlett Johansson.

She played a pornographic actress and had three scenes. "I was 22 and when we did the porn element, there was a point when Brian was asking if my pants could come off, and I was like, 'Oh my God, what do I do?'

"When you're doing a small part, you don't feel like you can just go, 'Hang on, I need to call my agent.' You want to be amenable. Luckily, he saw I had two tattoos on my back and said they'd take too long to cover with make-up. I was so happy."