When Ruth Wilson was a child, growing up in Surrey, she was a Brownie. Her three older brothers, meanwhile, were Boy Scouts. One summer, all the Wilson children went to camp and, when they returned home, she was struck by her brothers' stories: anecdotes of adventure and making fires in the woods. Her experience, though, involved making beds and peeling potatoes.
'It was boring, and I remember thinking, "Why am I doing this when they get to have fun?"' she says by phone. Wilson refused to go to Brownies again.
These days, she's just as passionate, candid and committed to pointing out injustice, and, as an actor quickly ascending Hollywood's upper ranks, she's seen her share of sexism.
'As you get older, you realise you're treated differently or don't get the same opportunities because you're a woman.'
Though she's spoken out in the past about being offered 'offensively two-dimensional' parts, the actor has taken on a slew of nuanced characters since her breakout role as a fiery Jane Eyre in the BBC's 2006 adaptation. In Luther, she played a charming serial killer; she won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Alison in The Affair; and last year played a modern, vitriolic incarnation of the 1891 title role in Hedda Gabler at the National Theatre.
'I've always been very vocal,' says Wilson of her career, 'but there have been moments where I've found it difficult to negotiate things that are about gender. Whether it's things like sex scenes – we're in an industry that sells sex – or equal pay – which is hard because it's based on value, and how do you measure value? Is it the number of awards you've won or how many people went to see your movies? There are a lot more roles for men than there are for women. So men get their fee up by sheer quantity of material.'
For her latest film, Wilson is confronting the issue by surrounding herself with female film-makers. Dark River boasts a triumvirate of female powerhouses: director Clio Barnard, producer Tracy O'Riordan, and Wilson in the lead role. In it, she plays a farmer who, after her father's death, returns to her village for the first time in 15 years to dispute the tenancy of the farm with her estranged brother (Mark Stanley). It's an uncomfortable watch, but a striking portrait of sibling tension and the hardships of rural post-Brexit-vote England.
For all the uncertainty facing women in a changing world, Wilson is hopeful. 'It feels like there's a community of women for the first time,' she says. 'I was doing Hedda during the Women's March, and knowing that women were out there marching [while] we were putting on this show – you could sense in the room that everyone was hyper-alert to what it is to be a woman. It was an act of communion, and it felt powerful.'
Dark River is out on 23 February