Emily Blunt’s career started auspiciously at the 2002 Chichester Festival, where she played Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. In her London debut she performed opposite Dame Judi Dench in The Royal Family. Her movie career took off when she played Emily Charlton in The Devil Wears Prada, the senior assistant at Runway Magazine who is permanently on the brink of a nervous breakdown.
But her role in the movie The Young Victoria is perhaps her most challenging. She portrays Queen Victoria at 17-years-old, on the verge of taking over an empire. It also chronicles the budding relationship between Victoria and her cousin and would-be suitor, Albert.
Did you have to summon up your inner frustrated teen for this film, as Victoria is constantly being controlled by adults?
Yes, I think that she had a more oppressive childhood than most people. It was so managed, handled and controlled. So I think that by the time she was able to be independent she was ready to give everyone the finger who’d ever tried to bring her down. And I understand that.
There was no way she was going to relinquish any of that power when she’d been denied it for all of those years. But that’s to her credit she had that steely resilience to hold on for that long. To know that she would be great and she would never be denied this independence. I think people will relate.
I definitely remember being a teenager and how stubborn and reckless I was, and the stupid decisions I made and how I thought I knew it all.
Did you feel like you knew her beforehand? I assume you studied her in school. But what was it that surprised you about her in your research?
I actually knew only the older image that people have of her dressed in black, the mourning. And I always thought, ‘Why did she mourn him so ferociously’? And that’s what I loved about the film, because you get an indication as to why she did.
It was the most beautiful love story of all time really. They were put together as a manipulative calculation but they actually managed to surpass that, and to find real, true love. So I was surprised by the youth and the passion and the exuberance that I hadn’t come across before or imagined her having before.
She’s the antithesis to what people imagine her to be in this film. So I was surprised by that. She’s very highly sexed. She loved to dance. I was really surprised because the image people have of Victorian England is the repressed state. But it’s the polar opposite to what she was like when she was young.
I grew up in England, and I thought I knew English history but I had no idea there was ever an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria.
There were actually three attempts. I really had a limited knowledge [of her life]. We have a lot of kings and queens. At school we’d have a paragraph for each of them. I knew she had copious amounts of children. I knew that she was very sad after Albert died, but that was about it.
How difficult was it mastering the wardrobe for you with twenty layers of garments on, navigating the sheer weight of that?
Some of them were really heavy. The coronation cloak was like dragging a bear behind you, so it’s definitely a workout to wear those clothes. And it’s so time consuming getting into all the undergarments. There are about ten different things you have to put on.
How challenging was it wearing the weight of the crowns?
It was quite challenging. I felt suddenly that I had a really flimsy neck. And I was very aware that I was wobbling slightly.
Had you and Rupert worked together before?
Since your mutual attraction is so important to the film did you get together before shooting and just chat about how you were going to work on these two people?
We genuinely liked each other. He and I definitely had a very similar approach to these two people and I think we wanted to create a very real marriage and one that was intimate, not too stiff and arch, and try not to be swallowed up by the costume and the set. We tried to keep the contemporary feel because love lasts forever and it always has done. So I think you have to just remember that when you’re creating a love story, whether you’re in a bonnet or a pair of sweatpants.
Did Sarah Ferguson come on the set a lot? Did you talk to her?
She came on set a couple of times. She came up with the initial idea and then left us to it. Because she said, ‘What on earth do I know about making films?’ She was really fun but I didn’t get to know her.
Afterwards talking to her was interesting because I think of all of them she relates to Albert the most, because he was a guest in the castle and he was the outsider. I think she definitely empathizes with that character more than anything.