Joely Richardson: Every Brit Dreams of Being Queen
By Jarett Wieselman
Joely Richardson has a unique gift for seamlessly blending into any era -- which is doubly amazing because she's so stunning. But the actress looks just at home in a modern day drama like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as she does in a period piece like The Tudors.
For her latest project, she's headed back to the past -- Shakespearean London, to be exact -- to play Queen Elizabeth in Anonymous. And in a fun bonus, her mother -- Oscar winner Vanessa Redgrave -- plays the older version of England's queen. The actress recently rang up ETonline for a century-spanning chat about her career, her approach to acting and her thoughts on the controversial Authorship Theory at the center of Anonymous!
ETonline: The idea of authorship theory brings up such an interesting discussion -- is it one you've found audiences receptive to having?
Joely Richardson: I have found that. I'm rather embarrassed to admit it, but I was really unaware of the debate myself until the subject of the movie came along. Then I became fascinated that for all of these incredibly learned people in present day, and also for quite a number of people, it had been a real debate. I had no idea. I think it was a great shame that the movie was reviewed as a documentary rather than a film, so I think it got a level of criticism as if it had been a true story.
ETonline: Obviously the appeal of playing the same role as your mother had to be exciting, but wouldn't any British person jump at the chance to play Queen Elizabeth when it's offered to them?
Richardson: To be honest, that was the number one. I think if you asked my mother, she would probably say exactly the same answer, because she had played Mary Queen of Scots and always wanted to play Elizabeth, so that was a dream come true, and for me it was a dream come true as well. I just wanted the project to go on and on. I really loved doing it so much. It's a movie I am really proud to have been in.
ETonline: Does that mean we can expect you to play the older version of Queen Elizabeth when the time comes?
Richardson: Well it would all depend on the story, but yeah -- because she stayed the Queen until the end, and her background was so fascinating. I did The Tudors where I played Queen Catherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII who survived him, and had scenes with another very young actress, a young teenager playing Queen Elizabeth. It was very odd to do those two projects back to back. If the Queen can be interesting as a teenager, and then a younger middle-aged and older-aged woman, I think there still are a few more stories out there about Elizabeth.
ETonline: In doing your preparation for this project, what was it about this particular portion of the Queen's life that stuck with you?
Richardson: When Elizabeth was younger, the stakes were higher -- she was full of the impulses of a young woman, plus the impulses of a queen and wanting to hold onto her reign, so the sort of corrupt decisions she made, it was all heightened, and that’s why it was such fun to play her at that particular time. Later in life, I think she was a little bit more of a victim of her advisers. I always say that she was the Queen who ruled with her head rather than her heart. What I loved about the young Elizabeth was that you could see the huge personal sacrifices she made in order to hold onto her reign.
ETonline: You have played so many different women that have really covered the whole spectrum -- when you get a script, what is it about a character that makes them jump off the page, and makes you want to dig in and play them?
Richardson: Their humanity. But then it can be fun if it's quite a flashy role. Last year I started to do theater again, and that's what I'm doing now, and I was looking to expand. I felt like I wanted to be challenged more, and theater is like the difference between being a sprinter and a long distance runner -- you have to sustain it for two hours as opposed to three minutes. That has really kind of satisfied me, but then again it's funny because after this project I was looking towards possible next projects and I thought, "I really want to do a comedy!" [laughs]. Just a flat-out comical project, because that is something that I really have not done in awhile, that would be heaven.
ETonline: You have made a name for yourself with heavy dramas, do you find that it's harder for you to be cast in a comedy?
Richardson: I'm not sure. I remember this story, who knows if it's true, about Jon Hamm, and how brilliant he is in that project, and then a thing came up for the casting of Bridesmaids, and apparently when his name first came up they were like, "Oh no, no, no he's a dramatic actor. He can't be funny." Everyone persuaded them that he could be, and you see the movie he's absolutely hysterical in it. So maybe there is a little bit of that with actors where you get put in a category, but on the whole I think that people tend to be open to new things. It means that you have to audition and put yourself on tape, but I like doing whatever it takes really to get the part.
ETonline: You enjoy the audition process? Interesting because I find so many actors cite that as their least favorite part of the job.
Richardson: I enjoy it if it is a part I want. For The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I auditioned three times. I had been in a long series, I had been booked up for a very long time and hadn't auditioned actually for years, and so when Dragon Tattoo came up I thought I probably wouldn't get it, but it's so good for me to get out and audition again. In that way I did enjoy it because I knew it was a chance to work with a brilliant director. I think that auditioning is scary, I can't pretend that it isn't -- but if you want a part it's sort of exciting because at least you get to have a shot at it. Of course they can still say no, but at least you got the chance to show them what you can do.