It might seem like a sizable leap from her scene-stealing role as a venomous fashion assistant in The Devil Wears Prada to portraying a stately sovereign in The Young Victoria. But as British actress Emily Blunt explains, this is no dry historical epic. Directed by French-Canadian Jean-Marc Vallée (and co-produced by the Duchess of York), the film is a humanizing love story about a ruler in the making. As 26-year-old Blunt explained during an interview in Toronto this fall – where her film closed the Toronto International Film Festival – this Victoria is feisty, robust and loves to go out dancing. [Watch the interview video here]
How did you land this role?
My agent got his hands on the script really early because he’s pushy and excellent, and called me and said I really want this for you, so I got in quite early, which was lucky. I knew it would be something a lot of people would be after. I went in, I met [producers] Graham King and Dennis [O'Sullivan] and was similarly pushy about wanting to do it, and that seemed to work. Maybe there was something incredibly royal about me demanding the role.
Why did you want it so badly?
Because I thought it was a rare period drama, essentially, because it was a more intimate take on her and Albert. I thought it captured the love and the passion in her life that nobody knows about – everyone has this preconception of her as being old and grizzled. And fat. And so I was like, I’d like to play the Victoria that’s in better shape. She loved to dance and she’d go horse-riding, she was robust and vivacious, and that’s a side people should know about.
Did it take a lot of study to nail down Victoria?
I did have to read a great deal about her. Her diaries were actually the most revealing to me. I got a sense of her voice. She’d talk ferociously about people if she hated them – she loved passionately and she hated passionately. She was emotional and emphatic. …I got a sense of the kind of feistiness and the rebellious nature of her.
Why do you think Jean-Marc Vallée, a French-Canadian, was chosen to direct this?
I think he was chosen mainly for his work in C.R.A.Z.Y., which was extraordinary. Visually and aesthetically, he’s quite dynamic and modern, and that’s what I think this film needed because the script was a modern approach to a historical love story, so you needed someone who was going to capture that and not hold anything in too much reverence. I think it would have been a different film if a British director had done it because there’s a sense to sort of covet what’s historically ours and protect it and shield it from being relatable or accessible. It’s supposed to be other-worldly, still. Jean-Marc just dove right in and said, “Be a rebel.” That’s what he said to me the first meeting and I thought, I love this guy.
He described you as “one of the boys.”
[Laughs.] There’s fewer female parts, so I inevitably end up working with men. This was definitely a very male set, but yes, I don’t feel like I’m someone who acts on my femininity much. I’d rather just have a good time with the guys, honestly.
What else is coming up for you?
So, The Wolfman‘s coming out, with Anthony [Hopkins] and Benicio [Del Toro], who are both just extraordinary and wacky. Tony just wants everyone to have a good time and he hates it if you get too serious. And Benicio just has this raw, animalistic instinct approach to everything. I think the film’s great. I think it’s going to be a very noble nod to those old classic horror films, without too much CGI.
The Young Victoria opens Friday at select theatres.