Meet the Royals of The BFG: Penelope Wilton and Rebecca Hall Interview
Last week I meet the Queen of England, well kind of, our group sat down with Penelope Wilton who plays the Queen in the BFG, and Rebecca Hall who plays Mary in the movie. Lots of people in the group was excited about interviewing Penelope because of her role on Downtown Abbey. I’ve never seen the show but I was still excited about meeting “The Queen”.
The ladies were the last set of interviews we had that day, and they shared with us about their royal roles in the film, their special connection, and so much more. Read their interview below.
Can you tell us how you both got connected to the project?
Penelope Wilton: Well I got a phone call and my agent got a phone call that said Steven Spielberg wants you to do this film, “The BFG,” and I said yes. If Steven Spielberg wants you to do a movie, you do it. Wouldn’t you say?
Rebecca Hall: Yes, I would. I had exactly the same thing. I got a call saying it’s not a very big part but he has asked specifically for you to do it, so I’m like well, I’ll do it, of course I will. Also, BFG is a book that as a child I loved, so even before I’d read the script or knew what the part was, I was like yes, certainly I want to be a part of that, of course.
Penelope where you still filming Downtown Abbey when you received the call?
Penelope Wilton: Well, I hadn’t started the last series, so they were very accommodating and they said, because I was going to be in the middle of the shoot, so because Julian hadn’t written it all, he sort of worked around me a bit, for just over a month and then that was fine.
What was it like going from one character to the other Penelope?
Penelope Wilton: Yes, it was, when I was playing the Queen and then, you know, it was all very, very upper class.
Did you let everyone know on Downtown Abbey know, I’m the Queen now?
Penelope Wilton: No, I didn’t. They weren’t too interested. In fact, they were rather envious. There was silence around the thing when I came back. She’s just been making a film. Who with? Oh yes.
What was it like becoming a Dame Penelope?
Penelope Wilton: Well it’s rather surreal actually, to be quite honest with you, being a dame; also when they asked me to do it about seven weeks ago, and they write to you and they sent it to the wrong address. So, then another one went out to my agent and it said priority because obviously the hadn’t heard. And they asked you if the Prime Minister puts your name forward to the Queen, would you accept it? So, I said I would. And then they said you must not tell anybody until it’s released which was six weeks after. And then there was a total silence and of course then I thought I dreamed that. I made that up. I just had a dream.
Then it came out in the papers and it did actually say my name so then I thought oh thank God. I hadn’t told anyone but my daughter. I told my daughter and my sisters. They would have been a bit disappointed as indeed I would have been.
What was it like working with Ruby?
Penelope Wilton: Oh she’s a darling. Well, we both loved working with her and Rebecca will tell you, she’s got the most wonderful sense of humor and she’s a lovely girl. She also takes direction very well, doesn’t she? And she concentrates and when you’re young, and repetition is really boring. I mean, you do it twice and then why would you ever want to do it again? And she sort of managed it, didn’t she?
Rebecca Hall: Yeah, no she was, she was a consummate professional, but I also remember it was all of that sort of stuff, the acting, the repetition and what, she was brilliant, but she was also brilliant at just being a person on the set, like I remember her knowing everyone’s name, the crew and like coming in the morning and being like all right how are you doing, Jim, all right? You know, that sort of thing, I remember her being very professional.
Astonishing and she just really, really made me laugh all the time, she made me do all sorts things. She made me work out like, you know, dance routines and she gave me a nickname because of my purple dress. I was Purple Swan for some reason. And she called Rafe something else. I can’t remember what it was.
Penelope Wilton: Queen?
Rebecca Hall: Queenie!
Do you have a personal favorite scene from the movie?
Penelope Wilton: I like the dreams, because it’s written in the book that they catch the dreams but Steven made the dreams so beautiful and then the angry dreams, the red dreams, when they get caught in the bottle, when they go under the water, I loved that. I thought that was a lovely sequence but there were so many. I mean, I loved the giant.
Rebecca Hall: Actually, I’ve got to say, it’s when, when you have a problem with passing gas, is probably my favorite.
Penelope Wilton: And we had fun playing that scene because Rafe had to do his proper moment before we did ours, so we all gazed at him while he did his. The effect of how it would come in silence, then all right, Rafe, the camera is on you and then he had to do whiz popping, but you know, it’s a private moment that you don’t often see.
What are you hoping people learn from the movie?
Penelope Wilton: Well, I would on the very basic level, I want people to enjoy being taken to that world because it’s a wonderful story written by a great storyteller meeting another great storyteller and a visual storyteller, so if you get those two together, it’s a wonderful combination, but also it, like all these stories, it is people learning to understand themselves and learn that you have to just believe in yourself.
For either of you, does the fact that you are playing a kind of childhood literary character change the way that you wanted to portray that character on screen?
Rebecca Hall: I couldn’t, because actually Mary in the book is very much a maid. I mean, she’s drawn by Quentin Blake as in a maid’s outfit and like a full outfit, even a feather duster. So it’s a very different sort of character that Melissa Mathison and Steven sort of created and I think that it was conscious I think actually, to speak a little bit to your point, to create something of a potential mother figure for Sophie at the end and the sense that also that she’s more of a P.A., sort of a right-hand woman. And that makes her a bit more authority I suppose. Yeah, so I couldn’t basically.
Penelope Wilton: Well I think that’s true. I think that you can’t always do exactly what’s written and it’s a disappointment to some people because they have made up their own minds as to how they see that person when they read the book. Children they do it in pictures in their head. I know I do but I thought the best way to play the Queen was to try and be the Queen, our Queen as best I could, because if I had made a fantasy Queen in a fantasy, they would have cancelled each other out.
What makes the film special for each of you?
Penelope Wilton: I’m lucky Steven Spielberg has done great things in my life, in my career actually and so that was special. Also, this is a wonderful story, wonderful to be part of something that, well I hope a lot, a whole generation of young children will remember like they did “E.T.” because it will be a stand up moment in the film so for all those reason and also I met and worked with Rebecca here so that was lovely, too.
Rebecca Hall: I think we probably met when I was a child.
Penelope Wilton: Yes because I worked with Rebecca’s father, Sir Peter Hall, when he ran the National Theater so um, so I remember when she was born.
Rebecca Hall: And I remember a figure who I’ve always admired and loved from a far so it was a real treat to get to work properly with you but yes, I think, I very much second what you said, for me personally it’s the combination of two such hugely influential people in my childhood, Roald Dahl and Steven Spielberg, as a child those were, the creative output of both those people really influenced me and I loved and so it was sort of amazing to have both of those together.
“The BFG” opens in U.S. theaters on July 1, 2016, the year that marks the 100th anniversary of Dahl’s birth.
About The BFG
The BFG (Mark Rylance), while a giant himself, is a Big Friendly Giant and nothing like theother inhabitants of Giant Country. Standing 24-feet tall with enormous ears and a keen sense of smell, he is endearingly dim-witted and keeps to himself for the most part. Giants like Bloodbottler (Bill Hader) and Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) on the other hand, are twice as big and at least twice as scary and have been known to eat humans, while theBFG prefers Snozzcumber and Frobscottle.
Upon her arrival in Giant Country, Sophie, a precocious 10-year-old girl from London, is initially frightened of the mysterious giant who has brought her to his cave, but soon comes to realize that the BFG is actually quite gentle and charming, and, having never met a giant before, has many questions. The BFG brings Sophie to Dream Country where he collects dreams and sends them to children, teaching her all about the magic and mystery of dreams.
Disclosure: I attended an all expenses paid press junket with Disney, any opinions expressed are my own. Photos provided by Walt Disney Studios and Coralie S. of Lovebugs and Postcards.