About 20 minutes into my conversation with model and actress Devon Ross, I notice that the name ‘Keith’ is tattooed on one of her fingers. “Yes,” says the 22-year-old, waving his cigarette nonchalantly. “I got it when I was too young to get a tattoo.”
It’s a reference to Keith Richards. The Rolling Stones maverick is apparently Ross’s idol, and it runs in the family. “My dad loves Keith,” she says. “Keith has always been our guy, he’s a guitarist. He’s our man.”
An odd decision, perhaps, but it’s one that captures Ross’ appeal. With her distinctive looks, passion for sixties music and a vintage aesthetic, this bright young thing is a new kind of London bohemian – and her star is on the rise.
In 2021, Vogue published an article calling her “possibly the coolest model in fashion right now”, and this week marks her breakout role on TV, in the series Irma Vep opposite Alicia Vikander which started on Sky Atlantic.
Ross is not a native Londoner, but the capital is her adopted home. The daughter of Craig David Ross, Lenny Kravitz’s lead guitarist, and Nineties model Anna Bauer, she spent an unconventional childhood at an ever-changing list of elementary schools.
“I was going to hippie schools, which were very relaxing when I had time off. Calling teachers by their first names, no homework. That’s how I grew up.” Interspersed with this were long periods on the road, accompanying his father’s band on tour.
“My sister and I just wanted to be backstage and entertain ourselves,” she says. “We were the only children. It was fun – we found little jobs to do: in the dressing room we pretended to sew things. Or we would buy roller skates or skateboards and skate around backstage.”
This sense of independence has stood Ross in good stead when it comes to launching and navigating her soaring career. She has already walked for major fashion brands including Gucci, Simone Rocha and Valentino, bee, and she has now moved to prestige TV with Irma Vep.
Modeling has always had a slightly shady side, especially in recent years with revelations about bullying and abuse of young women. But after getting into it in a big way around 2020, Ross seems to have avoided the grittier side of the business.
“I mean, it’s a great experience, if you can do it and you can handle it. But it’s a lot,” she says. “You have to have a good head on your shoulders; to be confident in yourself. Because if you don’t if it is, it really gets worse. You have to be super strong to pull it off, which I learned.
“There’s a lot of competition with other girls and rejection, which some people handled really well, [but] it’s a terrible thing sometimes. I was just lucky to be able to do it for a few years.”
When she made the leap into acting, she took no lessons, instead sending off a demo tape and auditioning via a few Zoom calls with Irma Veps director Olivier Assayas, who has adapted her 1996 film of the same name for the small screen. . It doesn’t seem to have bothered her.
“A lot of modeling is like acting,” she says. “I mean, for me it was: being in front of the camera, being on fixed loads and having people watching me. When I went into film, the only difference was having to talk.”
In Irma Vep, Ross plays Regina, the sardonic assistant to Vikander’s movie star protagonist Mira Harberg, an American actress who has come to Paris to star in a television version of a silent film series, Les Vampires. The couple spent a lot of time together on set – Ross describes Vikander as “sweet” – while the rest of the cast and crew supported her without giving her a baby, she says. This first acting experience was a great introduction to a whole new world, walking La Croisette in Cannes with Tom Sturridge and allowing her to pursue acting as a full-time career.
Despite her growing fame, Ross seems unfazed by the whole concept of celebrity. She has a relaxed relationship with social media – despite having more than 100,000 Instagram followers, “I don’t let it get to me,” she says, making it sound very easy – and the early years on the road has prepared her for life in the spotlight, as well as the negative effects of celebrity.
“I grew up watching that stuff,” she says. “Not in a bad way at all. I wasn’t exposed to anything horrible, but I was exposed to real life, which was good. Because I knew what not to do.”
Having just moved to London’s Portobello Road, it seems like she’s lived here all her life. If nothing else, it’s the perfect home for a woman who has been obsessed with vintage music since she was a child.
Together with her boyfriend, actor Earl Cave (son of Nick), the couple spend their days tracking down vinyl records and making music at home – Ross is a skilled guitarist and wants to form his own band, which can also be traced back to his father’s influence.
“The first song that was played when I was born was Neil Young or something,” she says. “Literally from the second I was out of the womb, I didn’t really have a choice: he just wanted to play it. And so that was all I knew.”
Even today, she says she hardly listens to music that isn’t from the sixties – and her own aesthetic is distinctly vintage, sourced mainly from the many charity shops along Portobello Road, augmented with designer items; she is a model after all.
The fact that many of her heroes hail from the UK is not lost on her either. In addition to Richards, Beatles stalwart George Harrison is also an inspiration – while living in London is the fulfillment of a long-held dream.
“Growing up, I feel like maybe it’s the same way people feel about going to America: like, ‘Hey, I gotta go there!'”
She waves her hands, “London is the shit. I always wanted to live in London. And when I first got here, I thought, ‘Everything looks like The Beatles!’ Every day I still feel that way. Abbey Road is so close to our house.”
With a life so steeped in rock’n’roll, does she envision this bleeding into her acting roles? “I’d love to play Patti Smith,” she says.
However, there is a problem: the lack of diversity. “I feel like there are so many biographies coming out, like the Stones thing, the Sex Pistols thing, that are about guys. Male actors get to play rock stars all the time. And I think, why don’t we get to play rock stars? I want to be the rock star. I don’t want to be the girlfriend.” Her dream role is a bit of a surprise then, although maybe it shouldn’t be. “I mean, I’d love to play Keith Richards one day.”
Ross does not blink at the suggestion that she has done more in her life than most people her age or, indeed, any age. “I just always want to do more,” she says. “For me, it doesn’t feel like I’ve done enough. I want to make an album, I want to do film, I want to do more TV – I just want to do more.”
Irma Vep is now streaming on Sky