Anne Boleyn was once one of history's most overlooked characters (or at least history as portrayed by Hollywood). Born a commoner, she became Henry VIII's second wife and Queen of England from 1533-6 and was the fuel for Henry's divorce and (indirectly), the foundation of the Church of England. Her daughter, Elizabeth ruled England for 45 years, but it is the salacious nature of her family's life that provides such rich fodder for cinematic drama: Anne was beheaded for both adultery and incest, while her sister Mary was Henry's mistress before Anne was his wife. Now that Showtime Networks' The Tudors has begun to reveal their world to an amazed viewing audience, it is little wonder that two of Hollywood's leading young actesses (Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson) would agree to play the sister's in a new film about their lives, The Other Boleyn Girl. Upon their return from Merrie Olde England (TM), Natalie and Scarlett sat down together with Buzzine's Emmanuel Itier in Hollywood to talk female leads, royal dramas and the pros and cons of making Eric Bana King of England.
Emmanuel Itier: For the two of you, was there any choice of who played which Boleyn girl? What was the order of the casting, and do you think that anyone under 20 really knows who Anne Boleyn is?
NP: I think a lot of people watch The Tudors.
SJ: I remember passing very briefly through this period of time in my own World History class, just because it was so vast. I remember us having World History I, World History II, and learning all of this in a period of two years, and that’s before you hit U.S. History. Unless you’re studying it or majoring in European History, or particularly interested in these monarchies, I think that it’s not something that’s known as much to Americans. I remember learning: “Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived.”
That’s what I learned about Henry VIII, but it was never really fully explained. We knew the rough edges of the history, so it’s interesting. Hopefully the fact that Natalie and I are both involved with the project will maybe entice the younger generation and spark their interest in the subject, because it is a fascinating time in history. They say history repeats itself, so we’ll see how that works out over time. A major part of why I joined the project was because Natalie was involved and was set to play Anne, and I was a huge fan of Natalie’s for a long time. I always loved her choices and performances, and I’d never had the opportunity to work on such an even playing field with a peer being able to play siblings. It was a great opportunity for both of us.
NP: I read the script and loved it and came on as Anne, and I was like, “I will only do it if Scarlett does it,” because I have just loved her for so long, since we were kids. She’s so true always and so good, and it was, like Scarlett was saying, you just never get the chance to work with someone your own age that you so admire. This was such a great, great chance.
EI: Natalie, do you think people are aware of this story?
NP: I wasn’t aware of this story before I read the script, so that’s exciting–to be able to introduce this story from the beginning. And then it’s exciting because, in England, where I think people know a lot about Anne Boleyn, it’s pop culture knowledge. And it’s exciting too to turn it on its head because the story of Mary is a very untold story. And also, people know this story. The book was really, really popular here. Every woman I know is like, “When’s that movie coming out? When’s that movie coming out?” I think that primed people for the movie.
EI: How did you enjoy working with each other?
NP: Scarlett was a total dream partner to work with. Just the fact that she was always so present, so focused and so real–I could believe everything and stay in the scene and feel supported. It was really, really one of my best, if not my best, acting experience opposite someone my age. It was so exciting to get to see someone I admire up close.
SJ: It was so important for us to maintain the connection, even between shooting, that we were kind of with one another because we were in it together. That kind of shooting experience could feel so isolating. We were shooting on digital film; it was a new process–these big sets, these old castles…everyone was running around doing their scene, and it was nice for us to be able to just stay in it. It was very interesting. It was really an incredible learning experience. It was hard work, but it paid off hugely. Natalie, being able to watch her performance change and manipulate, and watch her make the discoveries in a scene…or when she does that, it affects me this way…in some way, it was like one half of a whole character.
EI: How was working with Eric Bana?
SJ: We never really had any scenes with Eric together. Because of that, I never knew what Natalie’s relationship was with Eric, so totally out of circumstance, I had to define my own relationship with Eric because I had no idea what was going on with Natalie. Did you feel the same way?
NP: We obviously knew from the script that he’s gentle and sexy with you and rough and challenging with me. I remember people being, like, “Wow, the sex scene was really hot!”–the crew members talking about whatever afterwards. I was like, “okay.” But Eric is super fun and funny.
SJ: He’s such a goof. He’s a comedian, of course. He’s really involved with his family. His family was there the whole time.
NP: He’s like a bloke. He’s this Australian bloke: “My car…my bike…my kids…”
SJ: And all of a sudden, he’d become the king and regal. What was the word that you used earlier?
NP: Strapping. He is strapping.
EI: The family in the movie tries to essentially sell/pimp off the daughters. Have we really advanced that much in society? Today we still read the Weddings section of the Sunday New York Times to see who’s getting married, and they’re almost like mergers. What’s your take on that, and has it happened in your personal lives?
NP: No, I don’t get that personal pressure. But yeah, I think it definitely exists and I think that’s why it’s a story that is still resonant now because you know those people. You know the people who think of marriage as empire building or whatever, and I think it’s something that definitely still exists today.
SJ: I guess so. There are still debutante balls and things like this. It’s completely foreign from any lifestyle that I grew up in, but I hear rumors of it.
NP: The fact that marriage is a legal contract at all…the fact that the word “husband” means “to tame” or whatever–”animal husbandry”–it’s engrained in the language–the ownership and all of that of marriage.
EI: Natalie, you pulled out of The Horse Whisperer in 1999, and that ended up being one of Scarlett’s breakthrough roles…
SJ: I never even thought about that! It was the best thing that ever happened to me, that you dropped out. Thanks, Natalie.
NP: That was an awesome performance.
SJ: I totally forgot!
EI: What other historical characters would you like to play?
Scarlett Johansson: I’m starting production for Mary, Queen of Scots, which is kind of interesting because it’s some time later but the same bloodline, of course. So I guess I’ll be playing a distant cousin of myself or something. I have to think about that for a minute. It’s a little bit twisted.
Natalie Portman: Maybe like an aunt or something.
SJ: A distant cousin…I don’t know. The whole dynasty was so confusing at that time. But that’s what I’m looking forward to.
NP: Historical figure? I don’t know. It’s interesting. I feel like there were periods of time, a long time ago, where there were more women leaders than there are currently. But nothing particular [comes to mind].
EI: Do you both seek out roles that send out positive roles for women?
SJ: Do you want to answer that one?
SJ: I’ll think about it.
NP: I want to do things that are real people. I think women can be weak or vulnerable or strong. They can be not very smart or brilliant. There’s not one kind of woman out there, and I think it’s important to portray a wide variety. But I have recently been getting frustrated. I don’t know if you [Johansson] have this experience, because we probably read a lot of the same [scripts] that are out there, but the number of roles that are for strippers or prostitutes, or the opposites, which is: “She’s the pure one; she’s the one that makes the man realize who he should be…” that dichotomy exists so strongly. It’s the virgin-whore thing in evidence to the greatest extent. That’s really been bothering. So to find a character who’s complicated, like the women in this film, is very, very exciting. I love comedies so much, and then any time I read a comedy, the girl is in fashion. She’s really into clothes and she just wants to get married. Those are not values I care to jump the bandwagon on. I’d love to do a comedy. I’d love to do a romantic comedy, but you can’t find something where the woman has a real job that’s not just about fashion. Joining the “All girls care about is fashion and boys” [bandwagon]–that’s not something… So it is frustrating, but I don’t want to bitch about it because I think you find the things that are good, and we’re in lucky enough position to see a lot of stuff.
SJ: I echo very much how Natalie feels about that. I never think about finding a particularly strong [role]. I have found strengths in every character that I have played, even if it is a vulnerable person or someone who’s easily manipulated. There are strengths to every personality. As much as I wasn’t particularly looking for a girl-power kind of a role, I think maintaining integrity in a character is a positive thing for women to see. I think it’s inspiring for women of all ages, and I don’t think that necessarily, like I said, has to do with a girl-power type of film.
NP: That’s just as false as the woman-as-victim or woman-as-whore stereotypes. A strong woman is as much a fantasy as anything else.
Columbia Pictures' 'The Other Boleyn Girl' is in theaters now