Interview - Eleanor Tomlinson: Eleanor in a wonderland of dream roles on the screen

Last week Eleanor Tomlinson was walking down the red carpet being introduced to Johnny Depp and wearing a designer dress before watching herself in the movie of the year, Alice in Wonderland.

This week she is back down to earth at home in Beverley with her mum Judith, dad Malcolm and brother Ross.

"It was the most incredible experience," says the 17-year-old who is living every girl's dream. "To walk down the red carpet and actually see Johnny Depp was amazing."

Although Depp stars as the Mad Hatter in the star-studded Tim Burton 3D part-animated fantasy, Eleanor didn't actually get to meet him until Thursday night's premiere in Leicester Square.

"When he walked past me, my mouth just fell open"

It is this type of innocent, almost gauche comment which makes Eleanor so endearing and unspoiled despite her speedy rise to fame. That she took her younger brother as escort to the premiere, because she knew he would love meeting the cast, shows the generosity of her spirit.

"It was incredible to be involved in something like Alice in Wonderland," says Eleanor, who plays Fiona Chataway in the film, which goes on general release tomorrow.

"It is the tiniest part, but it was fantastic just to be involved in such an amazing project."

However, Eleanor says she felt she'd flunked the audition.

"I really didn't think it went well at all and I really didn't hold out any hope. But then I got a recall and then another recall and met Tim Burton. We got on really well and he offered me the part." Lewis Carroll would have surely approved of her casting, as it is said he got his inspiration for the White Rabbit from a visit to St Mary's Church, Beverley.

It may not be the largest of parts, but Eleanor knows that working alongside the likes of Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter and Anne Hathaway can open doors and give her career a huge boost.

"Unfortunately, in this industry it is very much who you know," she says with wisdom beyond her years.

There was no drama school or pushy parents for Eleanor.

"My mum and dad are both actors but at the age of seven

I had the usual dreams of being a vet.

"Then one day I was ill and went on set with my dad who was filming an episode of The Bill. I sat on the knee of one of the Nolan sisters who asked me if I wanted to be an actress when I grew up. I had never really thought about it before.

"I looked around and saw my dad having a great time and how much fun he could have experimenting with his character and everything that went into it. I just fell in love with it."

With parents in the business, a determined Eleanor didn't badger them for acting lessons – she went straight to her dad's agent and badgered her to take her on.

Although she didn't take on children, she eventually agreed sign up the lanky 12-year-old and Eleanor has never looked back. She now has the same London agent as her dad, Malcolm, and younger brother, Ross, 16.

Her first film role came as the young Jessica Biel in the Oscar- nominated The Illusionist, although her big break came in the teen comedy Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging with Bend It Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha. She has since starred in the children's Doctor Who spin off The Sarah Jane Adventures.

"I didn't have pushy parents. They didn't try to dissuade me either, they were just very realistic about the pitfalls of the business which has been extremely helpful," says Eleanor, who adds she is no stranger to the disappointment and rejection that can come if you pursue a career in acting.

"You don't get every audition you go to and you just have to try to put it behind you and get on with it.

"Of course, there are certain parts that you are disappointed not to get, but you can't take it personally."

Eleanor suffered a great disappointment last year when the film Heaven and Earth, with Pierce Brosnan as her father, was cancelled due to lack of funding.

"It was a great shame it didn't come off. It was such a beautiful film. I hope in a couple of years it will come off. They have tried to make it three times, but in this current climate everyone is struggling for funds."

The film was shot in South Africa and, ironically, Eleanor is heading back there later this week when she starts filming her latest film, Lost Future. However, this time she won't have her mum Judith as chaperone. Since turning 16 Eleanor no longer has to be chaperoned while filming.

Despite the jet-setting lifestyle, Eleanor remains remarkably grounded and mature.

Her parents say she is naturally pretty level-headed, but Judith and Malcolm's attitude to their daughter's growing fame has clearly helped.

"I told her to remember to thank the driver who took her to the Baftas. You must never treat anybody as if they are lower than you, because you have been so terribly fortunate. It is important not to take yourself too seriously," says Judith.

Although immensely proud of her daughter, Judith is also more than aware of the potential life ahead of her daughter in the media spotlight.

"She is pretty sensible, but we realise that we have to be extra careful. She cannot really do what other 17-year-olds do. If she was photographed getting drunk then that could be bad for her. But she is very sensible."

Eleanor says she loves all the glamour that comes with the red carpet events; dress designers were apparently fighting over her to wear their designs at the Baftas and last week's Alice premiere, but she says she realises it is important to stay grounded.

"It has been a mad few weeks, and I love nothing more than coming home and having a normal life with my family

and friends."

Eleanor has a close circle of friends, although she took the difficult decision to drop out of sixth form last year.

"I was just getting so behind because I was missing so much school and I hated it. I can always do my A-levels another time if I need to."

She says it wasn't always easy balancing her studies and school work. "You soon realise who your real friends are when you go into this business. There were some people who just couldn't deal with it, but I have some really good friends which is

very important.

"I know that I have been incredibly lucky. All I want for the future is to be able to do some really classic work which I really enjoy doing and have a lot of fun. You never know what's round the next corner."