Given England’s history of monarchic rule, most British actresses realize they must star in costume drama at some point in their careers. Emily Blunt enters the corset coterie with “The Young Victoria,” a lively account of the early years of Queen Victoria’s nearly forty year reign. Though she had to don period garb for her role as Catherine Howard in 2003′s television drama “Henry VIII,” the 26 year-old says her latest is her first, real introduction to the suffocating device. “On [“Henry VIII”], I only had to wear a corset for about a week,” she said. “This one was an endurance test, but it was worth it to play such a fascinating women.”
Victoria is only the latest of a series of fascinating women Blunt is playing on the big screen. Next year, the actress, best known for her break-out out role in “The Devil Wears Prada,” will also be seen opposite Benicio del Toro in a remake of the “The Wolf Man” and as a ditzy princess in an adaptation of “Gulliver’s Travels.” She’s currently wrapped up production on “The Assassination Bureau,” opposite Matt Damon, in New York.
Speakeasy spoke to Blunt about her role in “The Young Victoria,” which opens today in limited release.
Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, was a driving factor in getting this film made. What was she like on set?
She came to set a couple of times, and was very warm and bubbly. She also made tea, she was very nice, but I didn’t really get to speak to her until after the film was done and we were doing publicity. That’s when I learned that she actually identified more with [Victoria’s husband] Albert than Victoria, because like Albert, she frequently felt like an outsider and guest in that royal world. I also liked hearing how she basically bullied [producer] Graham [King] into making the film and that he only did it to get her off his case.
She must have been rather tenacious.
Yes, because it’s so hard to get a costume drama — any adult drama, really–off the ground these days. These are not the films getting made now, which is very sad. I feel as if you miss out on so much if you don’t get to see films with a real human heartbeat. Why would you want to see a film that can make you feel something when you can be blinded by an explosion?
Do you have a favorite film about the British royals?
Mrs. Brown is one of my favorite films. I though Judi Dench was extraordinary.
Through all of your research, were there any particular details about the young queen’s life that stuck out for you?
The thing that shocked me was the required hand-holding down the stairs and Victoria’s mother’s sleeping in the same room as her daughter until she was 18. How suffocating that must have been, and not being allowed any friends or to read books — basically to be deprived of anything that could be inspiring or influential in any way.
Directors you’ve worked with have said you’re a good mimic and draw on people you know to help develop your characters. In addition to the history books, who did you base Victoria on?
I did base Victoria on someone that I know really well, but I never like to say who it actually is. And for this one, it was actually kind of easier for me not to draw on too many outside influences, because there was such a wealth of knowledge in the diaries I read and letter Victoria wrote. I mean, I could actually hear her voice. You get such a wonderful insight into a person when you hear them expressing themselves so intimately.
This film was shot in 2007, but is only coming out now. Why the hold-up?
The film came out in England in March, but we couldn’t get anyone to distribute it in the U.S. because no one was willing to take the risk. Not only is it hard to get this sort of film made, but it’s equally hard to distribute after it’s made, which made me sad. But I’m happy we ended up doing it with Bob Berney [through his distribution company Apparition], because he has a great eye for films that will resonate with audiences.
At this point in your career, are you happy with the selection of scripts you’re sent?
Fairly, to a point — there’s a lot of delving that needs to go on to find the ones that you love. I’m okay about it, but there’s not as much diversity as I wish there were. It’s tough out there — you could put a helmet on.
How was working on The Wolfman, which seems like a film diametrically different from The Young Victoria?
I had a really good time, because I can see the grandeur of doing a film like that. The money that went into it was great — there were three cameras for every scene — but at the end of the day it still felt like character piece. Plus, we had Rick Baker doing makeup, and he’s the king in that field. One scene I really enjoyed doing was with Benicio’s character, as he’s starting to realize that he’s turning into this beast and all his animalistic instincts are starting to pop up. The monster trend is fascinating. I think they really tap into people’s paranoia about the possible existence of such creatures.