The Young Victoria is a drama that chronicles Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne, focusing on the early turbulent years of her reign, and her legendary romance and marriage to Prince Albert.
In 1837, at the age of 17, Victoria (Emily Blunt) was the object of a royal power struggle. With her uncle, King William (Jim Broadbent) dying and Victoria in line for the throne, everyone is vying to win her favor. Coached to win her hand, Victoria’s handsome cousin, Albert (Rupert Friend), is invited to visit by her mother, The Duchess of Kent (Miranda Richardson), and the two quickly become friends.
Once King William dies and Victoria is crowned Queen of England, she embraces Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany), the charming Prime Minister, as her sole advisor. Prince Albert returns to London to witness the coronation and, after their friendship deepens even further, Victoria invites him to marry her, and continued to rule with him until the end of his life.
At the film’s press day, actress Emily Blunt, who plays the title role, talked about what drew her to such an iconic British figure, as well as gave hints to what audiences can expect from her upcoming big-budget releases The Wolfman and Gulliver’s Travels.
Q: How did you first hear about The Young Victoria?
Emily: My agent sent me the script and I really fell in love with her and the script. I thought it was really rare, in that it wasn’t too arch and stiff. It seemed to be a very intimate portrait of a girl, rather than a queen. She was a girl who was under duress and huge pressure, and she was in love, so there was so much to play with and I knew it was such a rare find. I had to be quite pushy about getting them to cast me.
Q: Playing such an iconic character and being British yourself, does that add more pressure to your work?
Emily: Yes, because you want to do her justice, since she’s very much emblematic of our country, and everything that her and Albert did together, what they achieved and how much they did for education, social reform, architecture, the arts, the sciences and all of it. They did so much for the country. So, it’s important to try to show her in the best light you can, but also to create a real person and try not to approach her as the Queen.
I don’t know what it’s like to be the Queen of England. Hardly anyone does. But, at the end of the day, there’s a human side to everyone. She was a young girl who was in love for the first time, in a job where she felt completely intimidated and over her head, and a lot of people can relate to that. A lot of people remember what it’s like to be in love for the first time, and some people have come from a dysfunctional family. I feel like this film is actually about a dysfunctional family, at the end of the day.
Q: How was it to work with both Rupert Friend and Paul Bettany? You have such a different dynamic with each of them. What was that like to develop?
Emily: The relationship with Melbourne was the more ambiguous one, so that was the one that was harder to play. With Albert, they definitely had a connection. With Victoria and Albert, it was very much a meeting of souls. They instantly had a spark together. Whereas with the Melbourne character, that was trickier to place, so you wanted the ambiguity of him being a father figure that she was kind of infatuated by, but there wasn’t really anything sordid going on ever. He actually loved her, but was still using her. It was a complicated relationship, where the trust wasn’t there, at the end of the day. She trusted him at first and that got betrayed. That was more complicated to pin down. But, Paul is a great playmate for that. He’s able to create nuances, so that you’re not quite sure what that relationship is.
With Rupert, we had a very similar approach to these characters. Love is one of those things that can’t be influenced by the fact that you’re wearing a bonnet or a corset. It’s lasted this long, and it will continue to be the driving force of people’s emotions and instincts, and so that’s what we tried to remember. We didn’t want to be swallowed up by the sets and the costumes. We wanted to let it have a contemporary flare, so that people could identify with it, as they should. Just because I’m wearing a big gown doesn’t mean that I can’t have a fight with my husband, and a real fight that people have. People get that.
Q: What did you think when you found out that the director would be a French Canadian from Montreal? Were you shocked?
Emily: I think I was, briefly. I remember saying, “God, that’s interesting.” And then, I met him. We had breakfast in L.A., at Shutters hotel, and we sat and ate eggs benedict. He was so funny and sweet with this big eyes that were full of passion and zest for life. He said, “You know, she was a rebel,” and I was like, “This guy is so great. What a great, fresh approach!” Who on earth would have described Victoria like that? So, he was really the only guy for the job, at the end of the day, because not only does he have a very dynamic aesthetic, but he really understands what actor’s needs are. He would play music on the set. It was a very atmospheric set with a real ambiance to it. He was wonderful like that, and really cool.
Q: What did you know about Queen Victoria, before making the film?
Emily: I didn’t know very much. I knew about the old lady with the thing on her head, looking really grumpy. I knew that she wore black and she had nine children. And, I knew that Albert had died young. That’s all I knew. I remember my mom telling me about the fact that they had this incredibly loving, passionate relationship, when I was a kid.
But then, when I started reading about her, I was so surprised to see that she was the antithesis to what I imagined her to be. Everyone knows about the mourning and the grief, but no one knows why. That’s what this film allows for. People can actually get some understanding as to why she laid out his clothes for the rest of her life and why she wore black for the rest of her life. When he died, she literally said, “How am I supposed to go on when half of my soul is gone? How am I supposed to live when half of my soul does not exist anymore?” And, she really meant it. She never recovered. I think that’s what I loved about the film. It gives people an indication as to why she mourned him as ferociously as she did.
Q: You have a couple of big projects coming out in 2010, with The Wolfman and Gulliver’s Travels. What’s it like working in such fantastical worlds?
Emily: It’s funny because The Wolfman was a different kind of genre for me. The thing with The Wolfman is that it’s quite hard to do those genres sometimes because you want to have the characters react in a very real way to something that’s so otherworldly and supernatural that you’ve never had experience with that yourself. I’ve never come across a Wolfman. I don’t believe in it. And so, to have your whole existential bubble burst and try to react and show that in a realistic way was tricky. It helped that Benicio [Del Toro], as the wolfman, looks absolutely fucking terrifying. That helps transport you because it really makes your skin crawl, it’s so frightening. So, yeah, when I got chased by the wolfman, I ran for my life. I hate being chased, number one. That’s my pet hate. When I was a kid, my mom would chase me up the stairs for a joke and I would cry. I hated it. So now, I’m living my nightmare in this movie. It was really fun.
And, Gulliver’s was a blast. It was just heaven to work with Jack [Black]. Everyone should run to work with him ‘cause he’s awesome. And, I got to play a princess. Obviously, I’m only taking on roles where someone will curtsy to me.
Q: What is your character in The Wolfman?
Emily: I play Gwen, who I suppose is the damsel-in-distress character. She’s the love interest for Benicio’s character.
Q: And, you had to do extensive training to play a ballerina in The Adjustment Bureau, the film you’re working on with Matt Damon?
Emily: Yeah. The dancing is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, honestly. I finally finished all the dancing scenes and I was so emotional at the end of it, it was pathetic. I was probably so relieved. But, it’s been a real learning curve to learn how to join a contemporary ballet company and try to fit in. I’ve never danced in my life, so it was a good learning curve for me. I think it’s probably good sometimes to be put in situations which are so frightening and alien to you, and to have to try to overcome them. This has actually been the hardest job I’ve ever had to do, just for the maintenance of it.
Q: How much dance training did you have to do?
Emily: I did six weeks of dance training and gym training, and then I go as much as I can while I’ve been shooting. I have to go to the gym and keep up my guns and keep up my pirouettes.
Q: Do you have any idea what you’ll be doing after you finish that film?
Emily: I don’t know what I’m doing after this. I think I’m going to have some time off, which will be nice. I’ll take some time off and have a real think about what I want to do next. I’d like to take my time and find something that I really, really adore.
Q: What do you look for, when you’re deciding what projects to do?
Emily: The objective is that I don’t try to do the same thing. I try not to emulate something I’ve done before. And, I’m a real people watcher, so I like trying to play characters that are as diverse from each other as possible, simply because it’s more fun for me, actually. But, it definitely is a conscious decision to try to do something I haven’t done before and play someone that is unfamiliar to me.
THE YOUNG VICTORIA opens on December 18th