Saturday, January 28, 2012

Emily Blunt Is "The Young Victoria"

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Emily Blunt Is "The Young Victoria"

(from 12/15/09)

I first met Emily Blunt when she and costar Natalie Press were promoting Pawel Pawlikowski's novel 2004 British film, My Summer of Love. Both young actresses gave daring, extremely impressive performances in the complex, sexually-charged coming-of-age film that is now a late-night cable staple, but in talking to the reticent, nervous twosome I worried that they didn't have the confident drive to match their talent that was necessary to move forward to become well-known internationally. I rooted for them, and though the Sissy Spacek-like Press struggled to find a breakout role, Blunt was unexpectedly brilliant doing comedy (who was shrewd enough to give her the chance?) in The Devil Wears Prada and then gave the most confident speech imaginable when accepting her Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. Now she's up for a Golden Globe for Best Actress for playing someone an insecure actress could never play, Victoria, the Queen of England. I met the smart, truly lovely actress for a second time last week when I took part in the following roundtable (for which I have marked my questions) to promote this Friday's New York release of The Young Victoria. It was before she received her Globe nomination. I couldn't help but think of her transformation from wallflower five years go to a star who can easily take charge of a room. The young girl I rooted for has come a long way.
Q: Before making the movie, what knowledge did you have of Victoria's early years?
Emily Blunt: I had nonexistent knowledge of her when she was young. I knew only of the old lady dressed in black. My mum had told me when I was young about how she had a very loving relationship with Albert [Rupert Friend] and that they had lots of kids but he died young. That's what I knew.
Q: To learn about her did you read any neat documents or diaries?
EB: I got to go to Windsor Castle and see everything from her paintings to the letters that she and Albert wrote each other to the music he wrote for her to her diaries. The diaries were wonderful. I could see them through a glass case but I couldn't touch them. They have extracts of her diary because her youngest child Beatrice released them to the public. They were edited because she went into extraordinary detail and length about what she thought of people and she was so open about her life with Albert. So it was really exciting to delve into that because I could really get a take on who she was straight from the horse's mouth. I could hear her voice in her writing. She was so passionate in her writing and loved or hated people intensely and certainly didn't hold back in saying who she hated and why. There would be pages about why she hated a person. So that was the most helpful thing in preparing for the role. That was really interesting because she was the antithesis of what I thought. She wasn't stodgy. At that age she would dance till about four in the morning, she would ride all day. She loved the theater and the opera. People would talk about her laughing at dinner so hard that food would fall out of her mouth. She was a really joyous figure.
youngvictoriaemilypose.jpg Emily Blunt, photo DP
Q: We've heard from Graham King how you walked into a meeting with him and said, "I want to play Victoria, and I'm not moving until I get the part."
EB: Grant has had a field day with that story. He's making it sound like I literally barraged my way through beefed-up security to get into the room. I heard about the script quite early and was aware that it was going to be followed up on by a wave of actresses who wanted to play her as much as I did. But I did get in early on and I said to Graham, "I'm very well aware that I'm only in the elimination process for this role, but I'd really like you to give me a go because I think I can play her. And he let me pitch her and then he gave it to me!
Danny Peary: Obviously you liked the idea of playing her and liked her story but what made you think you could relate to her and play her?
EB: It's not so much how I related to her because I always find that hard. I don't feel I'm that self-aware or that people know themselves that well or know how they relate to someone else. But I did understand who Victoria was, and my pitch to Graham was in simple terms. I said that she was a young girl who was very much in love for the first time and meanwhile was in a job where she felt way in over her head. I said she was rebellious. Graham and Jean-Marc Valle liked that I didn't want to approach her as the "English Rose." I wanted to approach her as a young girl who fights for her survival.
Q: Talk about working with Jean-Marc, who is Canadian.
EB: He was the perfect guy for the job because he has a very poetic outlook on life and aesthetically he's very dynamic. He shoots things beautifully and has great takes on things--the images correlated to everything he read on that period about dressing and appearances and the precision of that. He was very deep into those kind of aesthetic realms. He also understood what the actors needed to get in the right zone. On the set he'd play contemporary music, like the Rolling Stones, and he'd create an ambiance which was very active and invigorating. He'd encourage us to fight and work against the opulence of the sets and costumes and find moments that are real and breathe. So he was actually the best guy for the job, partly because he didn't hold that period with too much reverence. He was precise about creating that world but he didn't revere it to a point where it is so arch and stiff that viewers can't get in.
Q: When you look at the finished film now, are there moments when you are surprised by how good something is or think you could have done something differently?
EB: Yes, all the time. That happens to most actors and is almost the downfall of watching a film you've done. Because you convince yourself that you could have done better takes. I have moments when I'm driving in traffic two years after I've done something and I say, "Oh, that's how I should have done it. Oh, fuck." I think that happens to everyone. It's a weird experience working on a film and looking out and suddenly the film is done and it's reflected back at you. It's not altogether a pleasant experience. With this film that I thought it looked so magical and I could suddenly see everything Jean-Marc had envisioned. At times he had complicated, moving shots and you had to be very precise about where you were, and I remember thinking, "What does it matter where I am?" But now you see it, you see how beautifully it flows because of how he edited it. He has an editor's brain because he used to be an editor and he dreamed of assembling these shots. He tried to explain them to us but only now can I see what he dreamed. It is really cool seeing it back.
Q: Before seeing a completed film do you feel anxious and just pray that everything came together?
EB: Definitely. Because you can listen to people say, "It's great, it's great, you're going to really like it," but watching films is so subjective. For me, I find it helpful to watch a film a couple of times because the first time I'm distracted by what I'm doing in it or how I might look or sound. I find I really enjoy a film I'm in more the second time around. You do feel anxious because it's hard to step back and see it for what it is if you're in it.
Q: There have been a lot of films made about young female royals in England, I wonder what you thought of Elizabeth or Lady Jane.
EB: I didn't see Lady Jane. I did see Elizabeth and Cate Blanchett's extraordinary performance just blows your face off. It's a tour-de-force. She's so magnetic and compelling, and that face--who wouldn't want to put that face on camera. I also saw Judi Dench do Mrs. Brown. I really love period dramas. I think they're very romantic. There's something ethereal about them, where you feel like you're in another world. I tried not to watch any of those films while I was doing this because I didn't want to emulate anyone. I wanted my own take on it. Yes, the language will have a formality to it, and it's going to be more flowery than I would speak, but I didn't want to feel restricted. I wanted to make it more immediate. Not contemporary but accessible.
DP: What's your theory on how this young girl who was virtually imprisoned when growing up became what I'd call "the perfect Friday date?" She's fun.
EB (laughing): She's fun...

DP: How did that person come out of that restrictive upbringing?
EB: That's the question Julian Fellowes and I talked about so much. Because I asked him that. To have survived that oppressive, lonely existence and have that steely resilience and to know that at some point she is going to arrive and fulfill her expectations and know that she is going to be good--he and I don't know how that happened. I honestly think it's that she just came out that way. That's how she entered the world. Teenagers can be resilient, children can get over so much and move past it. I'm not sure if this related, but you hear about kids who have been abused and some fall and some survive it; some kids never get over it and some do. I think Victoria chose to put that bag of bricks down and walk away and not look back. She just made that decision, and she made it at the age of eleven. But that's the question I can't answer. It's the bit I can't define about her.
DP: Is the dowager queen who she became in later years a disappointment because she lost her vitality and went backward?
EB: I think she lost her vitality because she gained so much of it from Albert. It was a meeting of souls, it really was. And when he died, she said, "How am I supposed to go on with half of myself missing?" She very much felt that they were twin flames and without the other each was diminished. Even when he went away for the weekend, the clouds would descend over the castle and the kids wondered what was wrong with mom. She was in hell when he wasn't there. It was an obsessive love. She mourned him ferociously because he offered everything she'd been yearning for in those early years. He was absolutely everything to her. So I think what the film offers is the reason why people have an image of her as the widow in black. She was a person who dealt only in absolutes and extremes. So when he died, there was no other way to mourn him than as she did. Do I think others are disappointed in how she was in later years? I don't know. I'm not sure people should be.
DP: Well you more than anyone else because you saw how full of life she was when young.
EB: I'm not disappointed because I read about how much she loved Albert. So I understood how she would react to losing him that young. He was the ideal person for her and had offered her the world. So I understand her inability to recover after his death.
DP: Will she dance again after he dies?
EB: I don't think she thought she would but she did because of John Brown and Disraeli. She was one of those women who was very prone to receiving attention from men. She always was, which was my she was seduced by Melbourne [Paul Bettany], in many ways. John Brown was the one who got her outside again. He pulled her out the grave essentially. There are rumors that she was buried with something of both Albert's and John Brown's, though no one knows the full story of her and John Brown--that's really murky waters.
Q: Did you talk to Billy Connelly who played that part in Mrs. Brown?
EB: Yeah, I did. I just worked with Billy and we talked about it a lot. He had an extraordinary experience working on that film. We talked about Victoria. John Brown spoke to her like a real person. She liked male attention but loathed being gushed at. That's why she liked Albert and Melbourne, too. There was a frankness to them all. Brown was the most ballsy of them because he was a servant. He called her "woman."  He'd say, "For God's sake, woman, you've got to get out this house." I think she responded well to that. She was a realist and the tentative nature of people really pissed her off. He had that forthrightness that she really responded to, and she needed it to shock her out of her grief.
Q: You did so much research before playing her and developed an intellectual understanding, but what kind of emotional understanding did you need to become her?
EB: I find it hard to talk about the process of finding a character. I feel silly when I try to describe it because every actor deals with it differently. I don't know, other than reading as much as you can. Also I am a real people watcher. I love people's nuances, and discovering what makes them tick and makes them individuals. With Victoria, there's was something incredibly ambiguous about her in public, where she repressed things and you just couldn't read her. In private she would loosen the corsets and displayed a horrible temper. I liked the dual existence. I thought that was a really good starting point. I loved that as an actor I had all that to play with and just had to think it. I guess in regard to your question, I've talked about it in more technical terms because it's hard to explain emotionally why you gravitate toward playing someone a certain way.
Q: What interested me most in the movie was the relationship between Victoria and her mother, the Duchess of Kent [Miranda Richardson].
EB: Really! That was a delicate relationship. From everything that I read, I think she found her mother to be a silly woman but loved her. She'd paint pictures and write songs for her, she'd write letters and notes to her and make her beautiful gifts. She was loving toward her mother but her mother absolutely infuriated her. The relationship suffered severely as a result of her mother's alliance with Sir John Conroy [Mark Strong]. Victoria never loathed anyone as much as she did this man. If that's the choice her mother made, then what does that say about her mother? That's what Victoria thought. She lost enormous respect for her mother and felt her mother sided against her. When she was a kid they had quite a loving relationship but it got to the point where he was controlling both of them. Her mother lost her then.
Q: I'd think her mother made it hard for Victoria to trust anyone else, including Albert.
EB: It made it very hard. Then she realized she was being gamed by Melbourne, who she had such a great time with. Albert really revealed himself as the only person she completely trusts. He was the one who encouraged her to revisit the relationship with her mother. Albert had lost his mother and he told Victoria that she needed to give her mother another shot. It took ten years but he got there. Victoria was stubborn as hell.
Q: Did your connection to Victoria end when you finished the film or do you think you'll always be protective of her and have her in your heart?
EB: I think I'm very protective of her. I really fell in love with her. It was so interesting getting to know who this person was who was such a mystery to me. I think that's why this film is important. Everyone knows about the mourning and isolation, but nobody knows about the love and passion. So hopefully it will give people an indication of who she really was deep down. The mourning woman we know wasn't who she really was, the human being.
DP: Then let me ask you about the sex scene.
EB (laughing): We have time for one more question, let's talk about the sex scene...
DP: You had to make a choice of how to play her when she and Albert go to bed on their wedding night. She could have been timid and you could have had her just remain on her back waiting for him, but she's equally aggressive and passionate. How did you decide on that? It was a good choice.
EB: Thank you. I think she was really intrigued. Even before they first kissed, she was obsessed with the way he looked. She'd talk about every detail of his body and his frame and mustache. She was incredibly attracted to him physically. After they married, she seemed to take to sex like a duck to water.
Q: It was a fight to get the role and get the film made, so how does it feel now that it's done and people are talking about an Oscar for you?
EB: It's so weird. And the whole awards thing is like a meat market. I don't think you can predict anymore about who is going to like what you've done or think it's worthy. That's hopefully not why you make a film. Because if you're distracted by that you don't do it justice--you don't do this woman justice! However, I guess any buzz around the film is good because little films like this don't get seen otherwise. So I would encourage any kind of buzz so people will see it!
DP: I interviewed you for My Summer of Love.
EB: I remember.
DP: You were so quiet then. I asked you all these questions about themes and character motivations and you'd say, "Ask the director," who was in Europe.
EB: Really! I was scared! I didn't know what I was doing and was trying to avoid all these questions! I was so frightened.
DP: You did well, but now I can say you've blossomed.
EB: Thank you.

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