Romola Garai Interview for BBC's Emma

The sky is the limit for actress, Romola Garai. Not only has she landed her dream role – playing the lead in Sandy Welch's forthcoming adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma – she is also due to graduate with a BA in English Literature after four years of study.

The Atonement star and self-confessed busy-bee says: "I'm about to graduate! I have my last exam in September. It's taken me four years to do a BA on the Open University; I've doubled up on some of the course because normally it takes around six years.

"To be honest, when I finish my degree I don't know what I am going to do – I am going to have to develop some kind of strange hobby I think!"

But on the serious time management skills that have come into play in order to juggle a flourishing acting career with her final year of studies, the 27-year-old, who was brought up in Hong Kong and Singapore before moving to the UK at the age of 10, admits it hasn't all been plain sailing.

"When you are working it can get difficult. On Emma, when we were filming I'd quite often get picked up at 5.00am to shoot all day and not finish until eight or nine at night; and if you have an essay it's very difficult to find time to do it. But if you have to do it, you do it!"

Romola's love for literature, and particularly Jane Austen's work, meant that getting the chance to play Emma – the beautiful, clever and rich 21-year-old who greatly overestimates her matchmaking abilities – was an extra special achievement for her; even though she can't deny being a little nervy about following hot on the heels of Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

"Most girls my age will have seen the film with Gwyneth Paltrow, which I really, really enjoyed. I thought it was lovely and it did obviously cross my mind that, God, this has been done really, really well previously. That was a source of concern for me – but not enough to turn it down!

"I have never done an Austen adaptation before and, in terms of my own personal taste, there is no one that can touch her for writing female characters. I even think I prefer her characterisation to George Eliot or any of the other 19th century novelists.

"It's a book that I knew really well. It's probably always been my favourite of the Austen novels so it was obviously a big deal for me to get to audition to play the part as she has definitely always been my favourite heroine."

Romola's academic endeavours and love for literature led her to her own unique interpretation and portrayal of Emma, a character she says she is very fond of and can relate to.

"Emma isn't flawless, and I suppose there are some people that innately relate to Lizzie Bennet [Pride And Predjudice], but I always thought there was something terrifyingly perfect about Elizabeth Bennett in the way she effortlessly seems to always know the right thing to say.

"Emma is just beautifully flawed, properly fleshed out as a character and has a wonderful spirit and wit as most of Austen's heroines, but she has this horrendous egocentricity which gives the arc to the story. I felt that I could relate to her as a character because of those flaws.

"I am always naturally drawn to heroines that have human flaws because I enjoy people that have lived their life with courage and make big successes and big failures. I like big personalities and people who don't care who is watching and so I think Emma personifies a lot of those qualities.

"The idea of someone being naughty and wicked and undermining their social constraints I find very, very attractive in female characters."

Despite her fondness for Emma, Romola believes if it weren't for Mr Knightley, her neighbour from the adjacent estate of Donwell, things could have turned out rather differently.

"Mr Knightley is a really important character in the story. It sounds a trite thing to say but I think fundamentally Emma would not be a nice person, and probably a person you wouldn't want to be friends with, if it weren't for Mr Knightley.

"I think he has a profound effect on her personality. He is the only one who has enough power to tell her off! He is also the person in the story who is bright enough to battle with her. She is very bright, she is witty, but he is rich and powerful enough to give her the natural check that keeps her within the realm of being a likable person.

"I think there is a very good chance that if you were to project into a future without him she would be a spoilt little madam!"

On Emma's somewhat complicated relationship with her anxious, hypochondriac father, Mr Woodhouse, Romola says: "Her relationship with her father, although very affectionate and warm, is unfulfilling – which is why she seeks out her relationship with Mr Knightley, a relationship which gives her some boundaries.

"She doesn't concentrate on her own romantic life and because her father is very materialistic and cannot see any reason to get married, and she is already wealthy, there is that kind of displacement where she doesn't feel like she needs it herself.

"It sounds like a paradox but she is genuinely a kind-hearted, generous person. She wants the people around her to have the best because she loves them. Unfortunately she perceives the best for them as material and social prosperity – she pushes her values onto the people around her. So someone like Harriet, who would have been perfectly happy marrying a very kind and respectful man who loved her very much, is put through this horrendous process of social improvement because Emma doesn't deem him good enough!"

So what next for the soon-to-be graduated starlet?

"I'm fundamentally a busy person, I spend my time doing useful things and profoundly useless things!

"I know I will be really, really sad to finish my degree. The way it's played out is when I'm not working it keeps me absolutely sane as it's very, very easy to become a crazy person in this world. So when I'm not working I sit down for two hours every day and do two hours of study.

"It's been an amazing thing that I have been able to have it both ways. I was able to start my career very early through not going to university and that was a real sadness to me. But I have been able to get the further education that I really wanted and enjoy and I don't see any reason why in a couple of years I couldn't carry on and do an MA in English Literature. But, equally, I may turn round and say that's the last thing I want to do!"

From BBC Press release

more on the BBC's upcoming production of Emma


1 comment:

  1. Love how she's (almost) got a degree! I know it's not true, but I always feel like famous actors and actresses hardly ever get beyond a high school education when it certainly isn't impossible for many of them to get one. I'm majoring in English myself right now, and I know it's not easy to have to write lots of essays at once. Three cheers for Romola, having to do all that traveling and scheduling while doing her studies! Oh, and I know she'll be fantastic as Emma. :)

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