Bel Powley’s Teen Dream

The young actress discusses growing up in the spotlight.

Photography by Kenneth Willardt Styled by Samantha Traina

At the Sundance Film Festival in January, the British actress Bel Powley, 23, caused a huge sensation with The Diary of a Teenage Girl, in which she plays an American 15-year-old who has an affair with her mother’s boyfriend. “It was insane,” Powley said, calling from the set of Detour, in South Africa. “When I saw the sex scene on a massive screen, I thought, Whoa, girl—that was brave!” she said, laughing. “But I’ve been acting since I was very young, so I don’t shock easily.” When Powley was 13, she was cast as a child spy on the British series M.I. High and has been working nonstop ever since. At 18, she left her family in London (her father is an actor; her mother is a casting agent) and moved solo to New York to star in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, on Broadway. “That was the turning point,” Powley recalled. “Until then, I considered acting a temporary diversion. Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”