Growing up in North London, Lydia West trained as a dancer. But she was always a daydreamer, too.
"I had a very overactive imagination. I would create situations and scenarios and overthink things and almost create a little world in my own head."
It's a habit she's brought to her working life as an actress, and it's served her well: unlike some actors, she loves auditioning, because the process allows her to daydream.
When she reads a script, she says, "I'm creating that little world and I'm thinking, 'Would I watch this? Would I enjoy it?' If it's engaging and enjoyable, then I want to be part of it."
Those flights of fancy have taken her a long way in a short time. After an injury ended her dance career, she went to college to study business ("I can do a profit-and-loss and a balance sheet; I can structure a mean email") and then enrolled at London's Identity School of Acting, whose alumni include John Boyega and Letitia Wright.
Nine months later she was cast in Russell T. Davies's Years and Years on HBO, and then she appeared in an episode of Netflix's Dracula.
Now she's reuniting with Davies — known for creating Queer as Folk and then resurrecting Doctor Who — in HBO Max's just-released It's a Sin. Set in London during the 1980s AIDS epidemic, the five-episode series follows a group of friends as they navigate a time of shocking loss but also great love.
"Britain was so different then to how it is now," she says, speaking via Zoom from London. "It's hard to believe that gay people were treated in that way — the stigma that came with the disease. But on the other side of things, there was so much fun at that time, with the music and the parties and the fashion. Making the show I remember wishing that I'd been around during that time to enjoy that experience."
West's next series will be Apple TV+'s kidnap thriller Suspicion alongside Uma Thurman. After that, she'll work on a Sony film called Text for You with Quantico's Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Outlander's Sam Heughan.
I've had an amazing start to my career," she says. "Two Russell T. Davies jobs in the space of 18 months. He's such an amazing writer — I couldn't ask for anything more." But what if she could ask for more? Which real-life figure would West most like to play? "Well, how about Meghan Markle in season whatever-it-will-be of The Crown? That would be fun."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 1, 2021