In the film A Royal Night Out, Sarah Gadon portrays Princess Elizabeth, enjoying a night out on the town with the masses in London on the night victory was declared in Europe in 1945. We spoke to the Toronto actress by phone.
I'm curious about actors portraying real people, and if they feel protective of that real-life person when it comes to how they play them. And so with you in the role of someone so revered as Queen Elizabeth, were you super conscious of how you portrayed her?
I was stepping into the shoes of someone who has an iconic status, and I was trying to humanize her. It was something at the forefront of my mind. Reading the screenplay, I thought the character had a lot of integrity. What was interesting was my approach to Elizabeth was a little bit different than that of [director Julian Jarrold]. Because I'm Canadian and Julian is British, whenever I would talk about a reaction, he would sometimes say to me, 'temper it, with maybe a little more reserve, because you're playing the Queen.' So, you had to always check in and remind yourself of these things.
You say you were humanizing her. It could be said that the film goes too far in humanizing the Royal Family and an establishment figure.
I understand that. But with our film, there's so much fantasy involved in the story. There's so much fiction. I wasn't interested in doing a biopic, because you're so beholden to actual events. I think the tone of the film has enough self-awareness and tongue in cheek that when we released it in London we received positive reviews because people were so charmed by the story. I think they were charmed by Elizabeth.
The film does touch on the issue, with your sort-of love interest being decidedly anti-monarchy.
Well, my grandmother on my father's side was in the Women's Auxiliary. My grandfather served in the British Royal Navy. They met during the Second World War. They were in Trafalgar Square on VE Night, celebrating. And I think so many people from that era and that generation remember that night as such a relief and such a moment of happiness, after a long, long time of sacrifice and suffering. So I think the spirit of the film usurps any sort of real feelings of disdain for the monarchy. Because it's a charming love story, at its heart.
And a coming of age story, too, right?
It is. It's about her facing her future, and her destiny, if you will. And that's something I can relate to, and something we can all relate to. Growing up you have all these ideas and then you're confronted and faced with the real world for the first time. And you have to think of what you want your life to be. Elizabeth may be a Queen now, but at the time she was 19 and facing her future.
This interview has been edited and condensed.