It’s always a challenge to accurately portray a particular character. The actor must appease the expectations of the director, the writer and the producers. Yes, he or she must also gain the approval of the audience, but that’s after the fact. In the case of a period piece, the actor must think beyond the filmmakers and consider the approval of any administrations involved, having the character resonate with unfamiliar foreign audiences and, most importantly, having an in depth knowledge of who this figure really was in every facet.
The Young Victoria stars Emily Blunt as the princess who ascends the throne at just 18 years old. Looked upon as young and easily influenced, an assortment of royals, even her own mother (Miranda Richardson), pressures her to make decisions for their personal gain rather than the good of the country. It isn’t until her budding relationship with her cousin Prince Albert (Rupert Friend) transitions into a marriage that she realizes, unlike everyone else in her life, he has no intentions of being controlling and overbearing, just to be her loving husband and equal.
ComingSoon.net had the opportunity to attend a roundtable interview with the actress who enlightened us on the burdens and joys of taking on such a dynamic and historically significant character.
ComingSoon.net: Did you ever feel faint wearing those corsets?
Emily Blunt: I got close to it. Miranda Richardson was the one who had the closest call. After claiming she was amazing in the corset and that she could take it as tight as anyone wanted, she pulled we call it in the U.K., she “pulled a whitey,”–she literally went white. She was sitting at the table and she was talking suddenly she was like, “Get me out of it!” [Laughs] Had a panic attack, but I was alright. I sort of got very used to it and by about four o’clock that’s when it starts to hurt. But they look beautiful, so you’ve got to just suck it up really, or suck it in as they say.
CS: Did they help you find your character?
Blunt: It transports you to moving a different way, holding yourself differently and, you know, you do kind of have to glide with it. So I think it does help me. I usually try to approach characters in that way. Everyone’s very different, but I tend to find the physical aspects of creating that person, very helpful like the costumes, the clothes, the way they move, the voice, everything like that. I usually start from that point.
CS: What do you think it would have been like if you lived during that time?
Blunt: Oh my God. It’s almost an impossible question because I’ve no idea. I would hope that I could be as forward thinking as she was. She went against protocol and she was determined to make things better and she overrode tradition and I thought that that was a really wonderful quality for her. And surprising that she had the guts to do it because I think it probably helped her not growing up with court amongst those stately manners that, you know, from the mannerisms to the etiquette. I think that she was kind of a loose cannon in a room like that because she had a horrible temper, which was kind of correlated into how passionate she was as a character. But I think she was a modern girl and I think that she was independent, so I would hope I wouldn’t be manipulated and controlled in the way a lot of women were those days.
CS: How do you handle your fame while still wanting to be a young person and develop yourself?
Blunt: It’s funny, cause I think it is all about choices, you know, from the choices you make as to where you want to go and eat dinner. Like, don’t go to the scenes. Don’t go where you know people are going to take your picture. Just go find a dive bar. Why do you have to go to a scene? Are you talking about me or Victoria?
CS: You and relating to her situation. It’s kind of the same problem.
Blunt: Yeah, it’s a similar thing. I think it’s interesting. I think you have to develop quite a thick skin because people are going to trash you; not everyone’s going to think you’re great. I think that that’s important to remember that it’s actually the best part of it that you have no control over it so you’ve got to relinquish that and just let it go because I have no control over that side of it, of people’s opinions, but I do have control over how much I put myself out there and I feel like, in a way, I lead now a similar existence to what Victoria lead. Although certainly not under the amount of pressure that she was under. You have yourself at home behind closed doors and then you have an awareness when you step outside the house. And for me it’s only awareness, it’s no more than that.
CS: And nobody has to help you down the stairs.
Blunt: No! [Laughs] Sometimes in heels! In heels it can be tricky so I do need a handholding then.
CS: What were your impressions of Victoria beforehand and how did they change after you made the film?
Blunt: I actually had a rather limited knowledge of Victoria and Victoriana, how they created that, her and Albert together, but I had the image of her as the old lady who’s mourning and dressed in black. So I had no idea about this antithesis of that, which was when she was young and she was rebellious, spunky and bright. It was these elements of her that I never imagined possible so when I started reading about all of that I was very surprised to hear about the character traits I’d never thought were there.
CS: Was your prior knowledge of the period just what you learned in school?
Blunt: No, I had no idea because I took geography, which I thought was an easier subject compared to history, so I took geography and learned about I can’t remember any of it! You know, it was just sort of a, probably stupid thing to take cause I think history would have been the better way to go so then it would have helped me more with this, but I don’t know, maybe not. We have a whole lot of kings and queens, you know, we have a lot of them. So I think that I probably would have only known a paragraph about her anyway beforehand.
CS: What did the producers give you to read?
Blunt: Well, [screenwriter] Julian Fellowes is a historian really. You can try and out history Julian Fellowes, because he will nail you every time so it was very helpful talking to him and then reading books that he had encouraged me to read: biographies, diaries of hers, letters. The diaries were most helpful to me because you can learn as much as you want about the history. You can read about it out of your own interest, but it doesn’t necessarily help me with trying to play this person. And again, you can read as much as you want of her diaries and her letters but you have to drop that at some point and make it your own and another actress would have read the same diaries and had a different take so it was just my personal take on her. What I felt I could identify with, what I thought was important to bring across.
CS: Was it difficult to make her relatable without making her too modern?
Blunt: It’s interesting cause I wanted it to be accessible cause I feel period dramas could be quite staged almost and stiff and arch and I think that that stops people from actually getting in and identifying with what’s going on. At the same time, you don’t want to risk losing those constraints cause then you lose the whole nature of the implications of what happens if you do a certain thing in that period and if you’ve lost any of those constraints in any of the world, then it sort of doesn’t become relevant. And so it is a tough balance and I felt like I had to and Rupert and I approached it very similarly and I was lucky with him because he is such a natural actor as well, so we sort of fed off each other, try to make those moments incredibly real. Well, love is this thing that’s all about emotions and instinct so you could have this flowery dialogue but at the end of the day instinctually it’s about love and it’s about – love is timeless and so I think that we really strive for that to fight against the dialogue, fight against the costumes, try not to be swallowed up by the sets and opulence of it. I thought it was a love story but I thought it was a film about a dysfunctional family and about a young girl who’s in a job where she’s way over her head. So I try to approach it in a way I could understand. I have no idea what it was like to be Queen of England.
CS: What was it like working with Sarah Ferguson and Martin Scorsese?
Blunt: I actually had not met Scorsese until the other night. I met him the other night, so he wasn’t on set but I gather he was very helpful in postproduction. He was so helpful in the edits and his notes. He really has an encyclopedic knowledge of everything so probably knows more about Queen Victoria than I do. But Sarah was really, she was a great support system because she came up with the initial idea but then she very much took a back step and let us she said, “Well, what do I know about making a film? I know nothing about that.” But she’d come on set and make tea for everyone. But she was always so open and down to earth and I think that you were able to see the humanity in the royal family through her because she would talk quite openly.
CS: How do you think the royal family will react to this movie?
Blunt: The queen saw it! Yeah, she liked it. She says she wants to know what happens next, so that was good.
CS: With awards season fast approaching, do you have any hopes or expectations?
Blunt: No. That’s again sort of like I feel like people are the birdwatchers. You can’t have an awareness of what is going to happen and it’s such a meat market. Who knows? I just want people to see it. I feel if there’s any buzz around this film it’s a good thing, not in a selfish way for me, but for the film because these films need a lot of help. They can be overwhelmed by New Moon or whatever else that gets the bombs on season film I think deserves to be seen and I think it’s very beautiful. So if there’s any kind of buzz around it, it’s good.
CS: One of my favorite relationships in the film is between Victoria and King William. I don’t know if he’s as entertaining as Jim Broadbent.
Blunt: Oh, he’s so entertaining! She did adore her uncle. He was always wonderful to her, very much a father figure and she was kept back from seeing him and that was always very sad for her. Well, she was kept back from seeing anyone. It was a really oppressive, lonely childhood. She had a wonderful relationship with King William. And I think there was one story I read that she was walking with her mother in the gardens and her mother was reluctant about being there with King William and he came past in his carriage and just picked her up and they went on this crazy ride around the gardens in his carriage. So that was her outlet going to see him. Jim Broadbent is absolutely as fun as you can imagine. He’s really wonderful. That’s my favorite scene in the film, that dinner scene.
CS: How was it working with the dog?
Blunt: Oh, that little dog was so cute! She was so cute. She was 10 months old and she was amazing. We had a great trainer, Gill Raddings, was the best. And I walked around with Frankfurter sausages in my hand, so I probably was delusional about how much this dog loved me. I think it was just after the sausages, but she was so sweet. I worked with her a lot beforehand so she got to know me and she knew all of the commands.
CS: The chemistry between Victoria and Albert is excellent. Did you know that that existed between you and Rupert or did you not realize until you watched the film?
Blunt: Rupert and I met and we just got on so well and I think that really helps. I think when you have a genuine like for that person it gives you a freedom within the scene to try stuff. There’s a lot of trust there, so you can improv moments and they come alive and sometimes you strike gold and sometimes it’s like watching paint dry, but at least you can try it because you have the trust there with that person. He’s wonderful and is partly because he was just the only guy to play that job because he was so perfect for Albert and he was the last person that came in to read and I was like, thank God, because he just blew it out of the water. He was so fantastic.
CS: So, you haven’t met the queen, but do you have an imaginary scenario of what would happen if you did?
Blunt: I’m sure I would botch it up somehow. I’m sure I’d forget to curtsey, I’d probably, I don’t know what I would do. I’d probably say the wrong this. I might drop an F bomb! It could all go wrong!
Jean-Marc Vallée’s The Young Victoria opens on December 18.