Star Anya Taylor-Joy on the melodramatic characters and why the story still resonates.
It’s Women’s History Month — the perfect time to spotlight Jane’s Austen’s spunkiest female character: Emma. Everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Cher in Clueless has channeled the matchmaker. And now, rising actress Anya Taylor-Joy stars in a new whimsical, hilarious rendition of Emma. Wake-Up Call’s staff writer Amanda Svachula chatted with Taylor-Joy about why the story’s relevant years later, and crazy things that happened on set — like how she managed to get a real nosebleed on cue.
Wake-Up Call: What do you think it is about the story of Emma that people love so much that warrants so many popular adaptations?
Anya Taylor-Joy: I think Emma herself is a very tricky character to pin down — and that’s exactly what makes her so human. Whenever you’re watching a film, or you’re reading a book, and a character is so moral and so good — it can be hard to measure up to them because people like that don’t really exist. So it’s nice to see somebody that commits the same errors as real people do in real life and learns lessons from that. While she behaves badly, she also has a heart of gold. It’s a story of redemption.
How do you think this remake, specifically, will resonate with modern viewers?
Austen, herself, said: “I’ve written a character that I’m not sure anyone but myself will like.” I think she said it in a very tongue-in-cheek way. Female characters often have to be easily likable. And I think that’s just lazy because human beings come in all different shapes and sizes. I think it’s important that Emma’s just not sugar and spice and everything, nice. I personally wanted her to have flaws that weren’t easy to love — but you kind of love her in spite of yourself.
People treat period dramas like sci-fi movies. They forget that these are living, breathing, eating human beings inside these corsets. What I love about our movie is while everyone’s trying really hard to keep that veneer of perfectness about them, they’re all hot messes consistently. Everyone’s losing it all of the time. I’ve never seen a panic attack in a period movie, but we have plenty of those.
Speaking of period movies — were there any kind of funny or awkward moments when you were adjusting to playing a role set in a different time — like for instance when you were trying to breathe in a corset? Or ride in a horse-drawn carriage?
I think what’s most funny is (director) Autumn wouldn’t let anybody touch me. And I’m a big hugger. But the second I was Emma, nobody was allowed to touch me. If anyone came even close to me, Autumn would scream from the other side of the room. I was the “Emma doll.” The dress had to stay perfect.
I read that you had a real nosebleed during the iconic Emma nosebleed scene. How did that just happen? Had you prepared anything to make it happen?
I have no idea — I guess I got myself into enough of a frenzy that I had a nosebleed. We were about to go into doing it, and they were going to drop blood onto my face, and then it just started happening. Johnny freaked out and was like, “Are you okay?” I was like, “Are you kidding? Keep rolling.” And we made it work!
Hah! You’re probably the first Emma to have made that happen! And what was it like to be transported to Jane Austen’s world? Were you familiar with her work before you did this?
Growing up in England, there are a couple of authors that are just part of your cultural consciousness because we’re so rightfully proud of them. I had read Emma for the first time when I was 11 and really enjoyed it. And during filming, it was almost like you stepped onto set and you were the last piece of the puzzle. Everything just fit and looked the way it was supposed to look and you could just embody the character in that world.
Also, the clothes — they’re all so gorgeous! Did you have a favorite outfit?
I did really enjoy the clothes aspect of it because I’d never done clothes-acting before. Autumn is the sort of director that picks clothes for a reason, and it added a completely different element to how it was able to act. If I was wearing a coat with an exceptional back, I would deliver my lines over my shoulder — so you could see it.
There are a lot of different outfits, and we had code names for all of them. I love the engagement dress because it has the little green, heart glass beads. But my favorite dress of all time — we called it the “Watermelon Martini With a Twist of Lime.”
Was there anything that surprised you about the role?
I’m not a method actress, but when you’re playing a person for 18 hours a day, it would be weird if they didn’t rub off on you.
But for Emma, there were random moments where I’d find it hard to behave as badly as her because I thought more of her. But then, it’s so rewarding when she gets it right. I’ve come to care about her so much — I’m almost like a proud mum or like a proud twin sister.
What’s next for you personally?
I’ve got five movies coming out this year, and a T.V. show that I’m so proud of. It’s called the Queen’s Gambit. And that will come out on Netflix.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
This originally appeared on Medium.com