One of the
great things about English actress
Emily Blunt is that she carries no vestige of her
characters beyond the set – especially since she played the British
Queen Victoria. At her roundtables for her latest film, The
Young Victoria, Blunt showed no royal imperiousness, no
contempt of the masses, no unwillingness to answer questions that
didn't please her. But her characterization of the youthful Victoria
was so dead-on in the award-worthy The
Young Victoria that you'd have expected her to be a
It takes a
fine actress to make interesting the story of a young princess who
has basically been a prisoner in her own home – trapped by her
mother, the Duchess of Kent and lover/consort, Sir John Conroy. When
they try to force her to give control of the crown to her mother,
she resists. On her 18th birthday, she becomes the Queen – but the
power really shifts to her once King William, her uncle, dies
shortly after her birthday.
Blunt's on-screen intensity is what makes the 26-year-old actor such
a hit in the films she's made from her breakout role in My
Summer of Love as a well-educated, cynical and deceptive
sixteen-year-old beauty, Tamsin. She went on to have key parts in
such films as
The Devil Wears Prada, The
Jane Austen Book Club,
Charlie Wilson's War and Sunshine
Cleaning but nothing has brought her such public
attention as this film about the English monarch who reigned the
longest and changed her country's culture. Blunt's already been
nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA award for Best Actress
because of it – and she's expected to garner a few more award noms
including one for an Oscar.
How aware were you of the Victorian period? What were your prior
impressions, and how did they change?
I actually had
a rather limited knowledge of Victoria and Victoriana – how they
created that – and of her and Albert together. I had the image of
her as the old lady who is mourning and dressed in black. I had no
idea about the antithesis of that, when she was young, rebellious,
spunky and bright, and she partied all night. 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 never thought were there.
What did director Jean-Marc Vallée or the producers do to inform
you? Was it just what you got from school?
I had no idea,
because I took geography, which I thought was the easiest subject
compared to history. I took geography and can't remember any of it.
It was probably a stupid thing to take because I think history would
have been a better way to go. It certainly would have helped me more
with this. But maybe not; we have a whole lot of kings and queens,
so I think that I probably would have only known a paragraph about
her anyway beforehand. It was really fascinating to read about what
they did together, really mainly under Albert's influence, because
he was very educated in all these departments – social reform,
architecture and the arts and the sciences – and what they did for
[curing] poverty. They were very progressive in what they wanted to
do for the country.
How did the producers help you?
Julian Fellowes is a historian really; you can't try out history on
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 and letters. The diaries
were most helpful to me, because you can learn as much as you want
about this history, you can read about it out of your own interest,
but it doesn't necessarily help me with trying to play this person.
At some point you have to drop that and make it your own. 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.
Was it hard to keep that balance to make her relatable?
interesting... I wanted it to be accessible because I feel period
dramas can be quite staged almost – 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 because 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 and any of the
world then it doesn't become relevant.
So it is a tough balance but Rupert [Friend, who played Albert] and
I approached it very similarly. I was very lucky with him because he
is such a natural actor, so we fed off each other trying to make
those moments incredibly real. Love is this thing that is all about
emotions and instinct, and so you can have this flowery dialogue,
but at the end of the day, instinctually, it's about love. Love is
timeless and I think that we really strive for that, to fight
against the dialogue, fight against the costumes, to try not to be
swallowed up by the sets and the opulence of it. I thought this was
a love story, but I also thought it was a film about a dysfunctional
family and about a young girl who's in a job where she's in way over
her head. So I tried to approach it in a way that I could
understand. I have no idea what it's like to be Queen of England.
Did you feel the chemistry was there between you and Rupert or did
you only see it when you saw the film?
I think you
know it [from the start]. Rupert and I met and we just got on so
well and that really helps. When you have a genuine liking for that
person it gives you a freedom within the scene to try stuff. There's
a lot of trust there so you can improvise 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. Rupert was wonderful, and it's just
because he was the only guy to play that job because he was so
perfect as Albert. 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.
Lord Melbourne – her early advisor and friend who helped before she
got involved with Albert – was the other major male relationship in
Victoria's life. He is so incredible – what a dynamic between the
two of you.
It's a really
interesting relationship because Melbourne was sort of everything to
her. He was a father figure, she was infatuated with him in a
slightly teenage way, but she didn't have those romantic feelings
towards him. It was more sort of a teenage crush that developed into
very much a real friendship. She had a real love for him but at the
same time he was manipulating her and was toying with that, but he
actually ended up having a huge amount of respect for her when he
realized he couldn't do that anymore, the tables turned. So it was
an interesting dynamic to get because you wanted to see that there
was a threat to Albert, but at the same time that nothing shady was
going on. So he was great with that pull because he'd add elements
of being vaguely flirtatious but not seedy, and you could see he
really liked her but it wasn't that he was completely trying to
sabotage, or use her as a pawn.
It was a very
complicated dynamic to get [right] and it was mainly on [Paul
Bettany] to create that. He created it because it should always have
been ambiguous as to what that relationship really was. I thought he
was great; it was very delicately done.
Did the corset help you find your character?
It's very good
in that it transports you to moving a different way, holding
yourself differently. You do have to kind of glide with it, so I
think it did help me. I usually try and approach characters in that
way, I mean everyone's very different, but I find the physical
aspects of creating that person very helpful, like the costumes, the
clothes, the way they move, the voice, and everything like that. I
usually start from that point.
Did you ever faint wearing those corsets?
I got close to
it. Miranda Richardson [who played Victoria's mother, the Duchess of
Kent] 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. We call it in the UK, she "pulled a whitey;" she literarily
went white. She was sitting at the table and she was talking and she
suddenly just went...and she was like, "Get me out of it!" and had a
panic attack. I was alright; I 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.
One of the most powerful scenes was between her and King William.
Was he as entertaining in real life?
Oh he's so
entertaining. She did adore her uncle; he was always wonderful to
her and very much a father figure. She was kept back from seeing him
and that was always very sad for her. She was kept back from seeing
anyone. It was really an oppressive, lonely childhood. There was one
story I read that she was walking with her mother in the gardens –
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, I think, going to see him. But Jim Broadbent [as King
William] is absolutely as fun as you can imagine. He's really
wonderful. That's my favorite scene in the film, that dinner scene.
What do you think you'd do if you lived in that time?
It's almost an
impossible question because I have 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. I thought that that was a really wonderful quality for
her, and surprising that she had the guts to do it.
helped her not growing up at court amongst those stately manners,
from the mannerisms to the etiquette, and I think that she was kind
of a loose cannon in a room like that. She had a horrible temper,
which correlated as well to how passionate she was as a character. I
think that she was a modern girl and that she was independent, so I
would hope I wouldn't be manipulated and controlled in a way that a
lot of women were in those days.
What about handling fame and wanting to be a young person?
because I think it is all about choices, 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 to where you know people are going to take your
picture. Just find a dive bar, why do you have to go to a scene? Are
you talking about me or Victoria? It's a similar thing. It's
interesting. You have to develop quite a thick skin because people
are going to trash you. Not everyone's going to think you're great.
And I think that that's important to remember... You've got to
relinquish that and just let it go, because you 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. I feel that in a way I now lead a
similar existence to what Victoria led, although certainly not under
the amount of pressure that she was under. I have a good life. It's
not compared to the ridicule that she was put under, but I think
it's that sort of element of a dual existence. You have yourself at
home behind closed doors and then you have an awareness [of
something else] when you step outside the house. For me it's only an
awareness. It's no more than that.
Celebrities are always complaining about the downside of dealing
with fame and attention and paparazzi.
It's a really
magical job, so the side effect of what comes with that can be good
and bad. But what I get out of it is the work. It's not whatever
people think of me...because with that comes bad regard and that
willingness to see you fall as well. A lot of people like to see a
fall from grace. There's a real hunger for that. I'm aware of that,
so I try not to buy too much into what people think. But as long as
I keep getting the parts that I've been lucky enough to play...the
variety is what I really strive for, because that's what I love
about the work. It's a wonderful job in that everything you go
through in life can come out in it somehow. You can have a visceral
reaction to so much in life and then put it into your work.
What was your impression of Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York [former
sister-in-law of Britain's Prince Charles] and did you get to meet
any other real-life royals?
Sarah was a
great support system because she came up with the initial idea, but
then she very much took a back step and said, "What do I know about
making a film? I know nothing about that." But she'd come on set and
make tea for everyone. 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. In a way she
identified more with Albert because Albert was the guest in the
house and the outsider, and she actually understood his character
I want to know more about Fergie. She actually came on set and made
She only came
on twice. She really wasn't around once we started filming. She was
very tenacious with Graham [King, producer of the film] in getting
it off the ground, but once we started making it, she was just
thrilled to be a part of it. I only got to know her after, when we
started doing press.
How do you think the royals will react to this movie?
The Queen saw
it; she liked it. She said she wants to know what happens next. So
that was good.
Did you get to meet her?
No I've never
Though you haven't met the Queen, what is your imaginary scenario of
getting to meet her Majesty?
I'm sure I
would botch it up somehow. I'm sure I'd forget to curtsy, or I don't
know what I would do. I'd probably say the wrong thing; I might drop
an F-bomb, it could all go wrong. I think it would be nice to meet
her in this context because I've played a queen and I think I'd feel
more at ease meeting her in this context.
Did you hear that Lady Gaga met The Queen?
Did she meet the
Queen? She did not! What was she wearing? Are you serious?
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