Joséphine de La Baume on playing Delphine, ‘Top Boy’’s new girl next door

Josephine de La Baume | Soho House

Everyone’s favourite gritty crime drama returns to Netflix this Friday. Here, we talk to its newest star about season two, fame, and confronting cliches

Tuesday 15 March 2022    By Rosalind Jana    Photography by Alice Rosati    Styling by Elvis Osawe    Makeup by Andreea Ali    Hair styling by Ciara Constenoble

Joséphine de La Baume is currently trying to find the right words. Sat in 180 House with a view of the Australian Embassy and its statues of crowned gods and rearing horses, she pauses for a second and thinks. The dilemma is this: we’re here, in part, to discuss her upcoming appearance in the second series of the smash hit Netflix series, Top Boy. However, such is the fervour around the show that I haven’t been allowed to pre-watch any episodes, and she’s not allowed to give much away. 

Technically, it’s the show’s fourth series, the gripping account of the rivalries, loyalties and consequences of the drugs trade in a fictional Summerhouse estate in Hackney, first taking to the screen over a decade ago in 2011. However, Channel 4 cancelled it after two series. With the unexpected help of Drake, who came on board as a producer, it was revived in 2017 on Netflix. Revolving around an uneasy alliance between Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Sully (Kane ‘Kano’ Robinson), and their relationship with a younger generation of drug dealers trying to usurp their place at the top of the hierarchy, it’s a chilling examination of power and violence that places human connection and consequences at the heart of its storytelling. 

This, de La Baume can tell me. She plays Delphine: a new neighbour of Sully’s. ‘She’s someone who’s faced real challenges. In order to make sense of them, she tries to help other people who have gone through similar stuff – which in her case is grief,’ she explains carefully. ‘Through that, she accidentally bonds with certain people in the show.’ That’s about as much as de La Baume is allowed to reveal. 

Josephine de La Baume | Soho House

Top: shirt, Daily Paper; sunglasses, Filling Pieces

Josephine de La Baume | Soho House

Above: jacket and top, both Filling Pieces 

What she can say with certainty, though, is that she was a fan of Top Boy beforehand. ‘I thought it was extremely well written and the cast was incredible,’ she adds. ‘It’s not trying to romanticise anything. It’s trying to depict something real.’ Top Boy has also been praised for its unflinching approach to depicting a gritty London life: deftly pulling apart the many layers and tensions that make up the capital. ‘It’s such an English show. I live in London, and to be able to work in the city that I live in, in the country that I love so much – well, there are things I love about this country, others not so much – but in the country that has adopted me, or maybe I have adopted it… It’s super exciting.’ 

The French actor, musician and former model has been a familiar face for some time. She has appeared in movies ranging from The Hitman’s Bodyguard and Rush to One Day and Listen Up Philip, as well as a number of French films including Confession Of A Child Of The Century and Madame Claude. Previously working with her brother under the name Singtank, she now produces music with her five-piece band, Film Noir. She is also known more ambiently for her personal style and striking appearance. First entering the public eye during the late 2000s when a new wave of ‘French Girl’ fever was in full swing, it’s hard to find an interview with de La Baume that doesn’t focus on her Gallic charm or particularly Parisian form of sex appeal: all black eyeliner and unfussy, glam-rock clothes. Now, though, she’s happy to be moving beyond the archetype. 

Josephine de La Baume | Soho House

‘In Top Boy, my character is French – but it doesn’t really matter that she is. She just happens to be.’ It’s a contrast with a number of previous roles she’s taken on. ‘In a lot of projects that were in English, there was a tendency to cast me as “The French Girl”. I played that girl. I know her inside and out. Every time, I tried to do a different version to make her a bit more exciting, but it’s nice this time that it’s just not really a factor.’ She stops, then drolly adds, ‘I had to smoke like a million packs of cigarettes on set.’ 

She’s not entirely unswayed by the power of the image. ‘I think some cliches are cliches, and some cliches, you know, maybe there’s no smoke without fire.’ It’s something she feels aware of when returning to her own country. ‘Even myself, when I go back to Paris, I’m so seduced and can’t believe how lucky I was to grow up in a city like that. It’s so f**king romantic. I understand why people fantasise about it.’ 

De La Baume has a thoughtful, looping way of speaking, circling around a particular idea until she feels she’s fully explained it – especially given that she’s talking in her second language. This observation is followed by a brief history of French New Wave cinema and the various actors and directors along the way who helped to crystallise the image of the ‘French Girl’ as it now stands (she holds special regard for Agnès Varda, who moved beyond convention: ‘her women characters are very strong, very reckless’). Now though, she thinks it’s outdated. ‘This idea of fantasy, I think it’s broken… It’s getting a little more progressive.’