Meet 21-Year-Old 'Sweetbitter' Star Ella Purnell

Meet 21-Year-Old 'Sweetbitter' Star Ella Purnell

The London transplant talks making it in New York.

The London transplant talks making it in New York.

Text: SAMUEL ANDERSON

Moving to New York is all about faking it till you make it, and London-born actress Ella Purnell may know this better than most; as the lead in the new Starz adaptation of the hit novel Sweetbitter, Purnell plays Tess, a striving but inexperienced server at one of New York’s best restaurants (loosely based on Danny Meyer’s Union Square Cafe). And like her character, 21-year-old Purnell moved to the city with limited knowledge of foodie culture—or New York in general. “The food is very different here. It’s very weather-dependent whereas in England we just have a lot of carbs—pies and roasts and things,” says Purnell. “[Food] not something I really thought about until I came here and read the book.”

Once in New York, Purnell wasted no time sampling the fruits of its culinary scene—all in the name of research, of course. “The best research is eating. It’s incredible,” she says. “It was hugely a part of the researching process. I’d never been to proper like Michelin star restaurants. I just didn’t understand.”

The series, divided into bite-sized 30-minute episodes, follows Tess navigating the restaurant’s complex back-of-house dynamics. As she learns fine dining 101, from how to pour water to the nuances of wine varietals, Tess also forges relationships with the more seasoned wait staff, friend-crushing on the steely Simone (Caitlin FitzGerald) or obsessing over the brooding bartender Jake (Tom Sturridge).

While Purnell, who previously starred in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, says the real-life transition to set life in New York wasn’t always smooth, she adds that, thankfully, her relationships with her IRL colleagues weren’t as fraught as they were onscreen. “Caitlin gave me loads of advice,” Purnell says. “Many times when I was freaking out she was there to soothe me.”

While she may have tasted New York’s fine dining culture onscreen and off, Purnell admits she’s not quite done faking it. “I’ve been teaching my friends how to wine taste,” she laughs, “and I actually have no idea.”

Credits: IMAGES VIA STARZ

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