When Emilia Fox walks into a casting call - with an acting career spanning more than two decades, lead roles in award-winning BBC dramas, acclaimed theatrical performances under her belt - you’d think she would be pretty confident about her chances. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I am not someone who coasts through life, I have huge expectations of myself and am my own worst enemy and self critic,” says the 43-year-old Londoner. “I’ve seen real highs and lows in my career and my rose-tinted spectacles are definitely off.”
Fox manages her mental wellbeing by employing positive thinking tactics, taught by her therapist (she has had three therapists in her lifetime) to calm her nerves and tame her natural tendency to worry - about everything.
Fox decided to start seeing a therapist over a decade ago when she was going through some “big life changes” in her thirties - she has previously spoken about the profound affects of a miscarriage and the subsequent divorce from her husband and fellow actor Jared Harris had on her.
“I needed help in seeing how my life was changing,” she says. “When you are on my own you let your mind run away with the terror of things in life.” Instead, going to see a therapist, someone she still visits today, she learned a tool for positive thinking that helps her to harness that nervous energy on a daily basis.
Nowadays when faced with a fear she recognises the pattern in her brain - “my mind starts jumping from thought to thought” - and tricks herself into flipping that thought into a positive. She calls it her “worrier to warrior” mentality.
My great fear, both professionally and personally, is the fear of the unknown.”
Positive thinking and a ‘warrior’ mentality might sound sensible enough, but does it really work? She laughs: “I’m in no way advocating that life is one big unicorn with rainbows over it, I don’t live in a fairytale world like that.”
But it has had very real-world consequences for her. Confronting fear head on, rather than running away, allowed Fox to star in her first theatre performance in 2014 (Rapture Blister Burn at Hampstead theatre), something she had been putting off for more than 10 years.
“My nerves held me back for so long, I concocted all sorts of reasons - it had to be the perfect director, the perfect play, the perfect cast, the perfect venue - and one day I ran out of reasons,” she says.
“You can either look back and say why didn’t I do that, or look back and say I can make changes and look at my future in a different way,” she says. “I’ve found when you convert a negative thought - which we often let dominate our minds - into a positive, nothing can stop you.”
In a world in which pressure comes from all angles - personal, professional, and almost constant news of terror and war, Fox argues that is important to not to let your mental health move towards crisis, noting “There are enormous pressures in the world we live in and sometimes that can be very lonely.”
“I know my job isn’t saving lives, but you do have to build up a thick skin and I don’t have a thick skin at all, even after all these years,” she says. “I want to do well, and I think anyone who wants to succeed in life will share that feeling.”
The pressure to succeed is something she has felt more keenly since the birth of her daughter Rose Gilley, 7.
“My great fear, both professionally and personally, is the fear of the unknown. I like to know that I can provide security and look after my family but I chose a very precarious job - it is a gambler’s approach to life.”
She also says that growing older has given her the double pressure of raising her child as well as caring for her parents, who are getting older. “No longer do you have the invincibility of youth, life is no longer just about what you want to do. Suddenly you’re holding the most precious people in your life.”
Years passing has also let her to think much more about her own mortality (something which becomes less sinister when you think about the number of post mortem exams she performs on set everyday). “I was there thinking: is this is what life is all about? You end up on a mortuary slab. We might as well make the most of what while we are here with the people we love,” she says.
Emilia Fox is currently the face of AXA PPP ‘Own Your Fears’ campaign.