Sarah Ferguson sat down with Buzzine to talk about producing The Young Victoria, starring Emily Blunt.
Izumi Hasegawa: We heard you pitched the idea to the producer. Can you talk about that process?
Sarah Ferguson: Fifteen years ago, I decided to make a movie of Victoria’s love-life — her wonderful love with Albert — and I took it to Hollywood, and the script that was given to me was more like Victoria’s Secret than Victoria. [Laughs] I tore it up because you have to be true to history. This is the greatest untold love story of all time, and it’s true — you can’t make it up or make it more juicy. It is juicy. It’s the most beautiful story ever. So five years ago, I decided to go back to my friend Tim Headington, and say, “I need to do this.” I just felt it in my heart. I had to. Something was driving me, and it was so important to me that I fought hard for the world to see Victoria. I read in the diaries and what I loved, and Tim Headington introduced to me to Graham King who said, “I’ll make the movie,” and that was the greatest moment of my life. I said, “Well, I’ve never done anything…” to be a producer in the Hollywood sense is different from what I’m bringing to the table, which is all the historical facts, my friends who opened up their palaces and castles…
IH: Did you write a college paper about her, or did you study? You published two books — what made you passionate about her?
SF: My greatest love at school was history. My greatest period of love was Victoria. Then I married into the royal family, and everywhere you go…like, I went to Balmoral Castle, where Victoria built the castle for Albert, and I just got married and I was about to sit down in a chair, which looked like a nice little chair in the corner, and everyone went, “Don’t sit in that chair!” I went, “Why, why?” you know. “No, no, ’cause that’s Victoria’s chair!” “Oh, okay fine.” Then I went that way… “Don’t go that way!” “Okay,” so it was like everywhere was Victoria, and I think she was the most incredible empress. I can’t describe, really, my sense of passion except that I love romance, and this is one of the greatest untold true stories of history of romance, of love, and I will go on to do more now.
IH: One of the things Rupert [Friend] said is how a lot of times there’s an assumption with the royal family — for example, there’s an arranged marriage for political purposes — and this is one of the true marriages where people really loved each other very much. Is there a lot of information about her early life? Is that readily available?
SF: Yes, there is, and the childhood years of Victoria, and there’s the diaries she wrote… Before Victoria died, Beatrice was asked to edit the diaries, and she said a lot was taken out which would have absorbed me, but since working with Victoria, I’ve just gotten strength from her. I think anything’s possible. She gives me courage, and everyday when I think, “Life’s quite hard,” or “Life has been harder for the royal family,” I always think of her and how she managed.
IH: When you said you’re going to do more films, what do you have in mind?
SF: When I left the cinema last night, Graham King said, “Meet me next week for two hours and let’s talk about the next film.” So I will come out with a new historical love story which no one will know about.
IH: Any other hints about that?
SF: I don’t know. It could be the sequel on Albert, because in 21 years, what he did for Britain and how he changed Britain…but I think it’s very important for young people to learn from history, whether it be Victoria or Montgomery or Patton or Mandela, or the present queen. I think it’s so important to keep opening everybody’s eyes to great examples of strategy and structure coming from leadership, being a good leader.
IH: When you saw the movie, how did it either meet your expectation, or how did it compare with what you imagined in your mind? Five years ago, when you started pitching your project, did it realize what you had hoped for, or was there a shortcoming, or was it what you imagined?
SF: I never pitched it. It was only Graham — I just talked to him, and I didn’t want it to go anywhere else because Graham knew it had to be exactly right, and if it in anyway portrayed the royal family a bad light, I couldn’t have done it because it was too important for me and to my children that I uphold exactly respectfully, with dignity, what her majesty stands for, and the monarchy and the sense of monarchy. So yes, this film has completely, in fact, more so, risen to a place I never could dream of.
IH: How so? What do you mean by that?
SF: Because it’s historically correct. The way Jean-Marc Vallee had directed it, it has honored Victoria, has not undermined her in anyway, nor him, and I feel that Julian Fellowes is quite an extraordinary writer, and I thank Graham, I thank Rupert and Emily [Blunt]. To be honest with you, I’m so bowled over by this. I can’t quite explain how proud I am. The people who’ve made this are truly great people, and I’ve also been amazed by Hollywood and what it takes to make a movie. It’s just such hard work, and people don’t really understand that, so I’m lucky enough to be behind the scenes, to have seen the hard work and the love they put into it. Graham believed in this movie all along. It is a miracle really.
IH: Does it help to have someone like Graham and Martin Scorsese, who have a respect for history? Martin Scorsese goes way back in terms of appreciating history, and he’s had a huge role in archiving films and film preservation. Is it helpful to you to have someone like that as collaborator on a project like this, that it’s accurate?
SF: One of the most humble men ever, Martin Scorsese, and one of the most extraordinary icons of America. He made a promise he was not going to let Victoria down. You feel safe with icons like that, and when Graham said, “I’m going to ask Marty,” I went, “Marty who?” cause I thought, there’s no way that Marty. Who’s Marty? And he went, “Martin Scorsese.” I went, “What? How can you possibly…?” It’s surreal. How can you possibly put me as a producer with… It’s just extraordinary. I really don’t know how it’s all come about. Here I am sitting here. Last night, I sat with Graham for a minute and I just said, “Thank you, thank you,” and I said, ” It’s just extraordinary,” and he said, “It is once in a lifetime, isn’t it?” And it is. I’ve made another dream come true.
SF: I walked in the set and I went, “Hi, Victoria…I mean Emily!” [Laughs] I did. It was completely ridiculous, she was so in the part and everything was so beautiful, and I’m being a romantic and very sort of in this world of make-believe. I got carried away with the magic of being on set, and actually, I think it was even more extraordinary because Victoria — Emily — was on the mobile telephone [laughs], but actually, for someone like me, I want to meet her. I want to talk to her. I would love to ask if she’s happy. I know she is. I mean, she mourned him so badly that it’s lovely that we’re reliving her life for her.
IH: That’s an amazing scene at the end, where she’s laying his clothes out — something I never knew about, but imagine doing that just 40 years after he died…
SF: I couldn’t bare that pain. She had her racking headaches, terrible headaches, and after he died, she could not cope. No one was allowed to go into the room because the rustle of the dress caused her such…she was so fragile. She never went out for at least many months, but then eventually, her daughter Alice managed to get her out, but the wheels had to be covered so there was no noise for her, ’cause I think there was just no possible way she could imagine life without him. Indeed, she got Vicky to marry in black and nothing, not even little Beatrice, her daughter at age seven, could console her. In fact, it made it worse for her, and I suppose there were nine children in 21 years. He did have total rheumatism. He was often very grumpy, but for her, he could never do anything wrong.
Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) Worldwide Acquisitions Group's 'The Young Victoria' is released on December 18, 2009.