Boleyn beauties or Boleyn whores? Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson talk of their latest DVD release ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’

This year seems to be all about the period drama;  BBCs  ‘The Tudors’ , ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’ and now ‘ The Other Boleyn Girl’ is coming to DVD. The story of Henry VIII and the downfall of Anne Boleyn may be an old one but in Justin Chadwick’s directorial debut ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ the little known story of Anne’s sister Mary, one of the King’s lover and the woman who bore him a healthy male heir, is brought to the forefront of the Tudor drama. The film stars two of Americas most in demand starlets, Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson as the two rival sisters, Anne and Mary respectively, vying for the King’s sexual attention. We caught up with the Boleyn girls to talk about the latest Tudor drama.


Q: How’s your Tudor history?
NP: Unfamiliar.  [Laughs]
SJ: Completely unfamiliar!  I’ll tick that card as too.  We don’t really learn about it in American schools. There is a very brief moment in our world history class.  You learn about Henry and the wives but it’s a very short kind of synopsis.
NP: It’s very breezed over.

Q: So were either of you nervous, plunging into such iconic figures from British history?
NP: Well I think it’s always exciting when you get to learn so much for a part.  You know that you can walk away with this intense knowledge of a period. You become aware of what life was like. It definitely challenging but I think it would be boring without it.
SP: Yeah it certainly gave us something to prepare with for. It was funny- Natalie and I, we are both from New York and, of course, we’re trying to practice our accents off the set as well and talking around town in these accents saying things like, ‘Oh that great deli on like 51st Street’ or whatever [LAUGHING] Your thinking “This is ridiculous.”  At the same time, you know, it was challenging and yet and fun and I think we were luckily we got to go through it together.

Q:  Ornate bodices, lavish floor-length gowns, were the costumes a challenge?

NP:  They’re incredibly beautiful.  Sandy Powell did an amazing job with the costumes.  And they definitely help the character in that you walk differently, you hold yourself differently and, um, like Scarlett was saying earlier you have a different sense of space because the skirts are so large; you can’t really just hug some one.

SJ: To me, they were a constant reminder of the restrictions that were placed on women at this time.  And, you know, the intimacy between people, it’s a much different kind of communication because you’re in these incredibly elaborate costume.  Not fun after lunch though.  [chuckles]
NP: (laughs) Yes… It gets a little, shall we say ‘challenging’.


Q: When all’s said and done, the story of these two women is pretty tragic, don’t you think?

 SJ: Yeah I think it’s one of the saddest parts of this story. The fact that these girls, ever since they were young, have been told they are one way and that’s it.  These are the standards you have to live by. When they grow up, they realise there are many sides to their own characters but still they are trying to stuff themselves into these categories- ‘I’m sweet’ or ‘I’m manipulative’. I think it’s sad when children aren’t allowed explore every aspect of their lives and imaginations and to fully develop that way. So yes, to answer your question, it’s a very bleak ending.

NP: And they’re very much a product of their families and the values that are instilled in them from such an early age. These values are not unlike many of our own values today; you know to seek power and wealth and prestige and to do anything to achieve those things.  I think that, it really is sort of the difference between them; that you see that Anne really sort of follows in that path and conforms to the values that are instilled in her, whereas Mary removes herself from that whole belief system.

Q:  Natalie, how spooky was it to do the execution scene?
NP: It was actually extremely eerie, because we had this location in Dover in December and there was sort of a wind vortex in the middle of the place while we were shooting.  So it felt like all these spirits were sort of looming.  And you know walking down the steps and imagining that this actually happened, it really was a different feeling than playing a fictional character because you really feel um … you know you think about this woman being Queen and having all these people sort of cheering for her beheading. It’s just so gruesome…
SP: It was really scary.  And also we had so many people you know that were like in dressed in costume and heckling and all this. And then there was just kind of this eerie silence just as she arrived on the step and it was … it was really, it was very kind of (shivers). You know it was a eerie feeling.  It really was.

Q:Scarlett, just before I go, you’re about to face your execution as a Queen I believe?
SJ: Yeah, I’m going to play Mary Queen of Scots. I believe that there are many different kind of thoughts on how this should be played of course.  But I think that the safest bet would be to let my dialogue coach decide how I appraoach it and then just [LAUGHING] follow her, follow her instinct.   But,  it will probably be a, you know because her ladies in waiting I think were Scottish but she was living in France so her English would probably be with a Scottish accent, but some of her phrasing would be French. It’s very confusing…


‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ is out now on DVD in Ireland