Natalie Dormer has personally opened up about her time filming The Tudors and her struggle to ensure Anne Boleyn had a respectful interpretation in Susan Bordo's new book The Creation of Anne Boleyn (to be released April 9th).
The Game of Thrones actress gets candid about the Showtime series, her fight to guarantee The Tudors' interpretation didn't veer into caricature, and how important it was to portray the character from a feminist standpoint.
Excerpts of her discussion with Bordo:
Natalie on her knowledge of Anne Boleyn's legacy:
A long-time British history buff who had, in fact, hoped to study history at Cambridge (she misunderstood a question on her A-level exams and failed to get the necessary grade for acceptance,) Natalie has strong opinions about the real Anne, and when she got the role, was excited over the prospect of embodying her as accurately as possible. “I didn’t want to play her as this femme fatale—she was a genuine evangelical with a real religious belief in the Reformation.” Dormer also came to the role well aware of the stereotypes and gender biases that had dogged Anne, both in her lifetime and in later representations. “Anne really influenced the world, behind closed doors,” she told me in our 2010 interview. “But she’s given no explicit credit because she wasn’t protected. Let’s not forget, too, that history was written by men. And even now, in our post-feminist era we still have women struggle in public positions of power.
Natalie on the first challenge: Showtime wanted Anne Boleyn, a brunette, to be blonde on the show:
I was extremely lucky to meet Natalie after her contract with Showtime was over, and she felt free to cease acting as a spokesperson for the show and to speak her mind. [...]
The first challenge came almost immediately. Natalie had auditioned in her natural hair color, which is blonde, fully expecting that if she got the role she would play Anne as a brunette. She knew her history, and it never occurred to her that the executives at Showtime would have anything else in mind. She was concerned, in fact, that her strong physical differences from Anne—including her blue eyes—would disqualify her for the part. She reassured herself about the eyes—“they aren’t the right color, but just like Anne, I’ve been told they are my most becoming feature” (actually, there’s not a feature on Natalie’s face that isn’t dazzling.) But she knew the hair would have to be changed. So after she received the phone call telling her she’d won the part—largely on the basis, Hirst told me, of the “physical chemistry” between her and Rhys Meyers (Natalie describes it as “a lot of heaving bosom stuff”), after becoming “hysterical with joy,” she immediately dyed her hair.
When she arrived on set, Dee Corcoran, chief of the hair department, who won an Emmy for her work on the show and was “almost like an Irish mother” to Natalie, took her aside. “Okay, we’ve got a really serious problem—you dyed your hair. They are really unhappy. Really unhappy.” “They” were the Showtime execs.
“So they sent me back to the hairdresser and they tried to dye blonde back in. But any hairdresser will tell you that it doesn’t work to put peroxide blonde on jet black. I looked like a badger! I was terrified that I’d lose the role. I mean, what did they have planned, now that I was multi-colored—to put me in a blonde wig?” Dormer wasn’t sure she could accept that. “Anne’s hair color is such an important detail! For one thing, it was the basis of a lot of nasty labels—Wolsey calling her the “night crow” and so on. And also, in being a confident brunette she was defying the ideal, of what it meant for a female to be attractive at that time.”
“So we’re all barely cast, and I went to Bob Greenblatt with my heart in my mouth, and told him how important it was that Anne be dark. ‘Bob, I have to play her dark. It’s so important. You have to let me play her dark!’ Some might say I was being melodramatic and self-important. But I thought it would just be a direct betrayal of Anne. Of her refusal to step into the imprint of the acceptable norm at the time.”
“Greenblatt, who is a very shrewd man, just said ‘I’ll think about it.” I assumed I’d lost the job. I felt completely and utterly depressed. But then I got a phone call a few days later, telling me that Bob had decided I could be dark.”
Natalie on the show's hyper-sexualization of Anne Boleyn and the recycling of Anne as a scheming mistress during the first season:
“Men still have trouble recognizing,” she told me “that a woman can be complex, can have ambition, good looks, sexuality, erudition, and common sense. A woman can have all those facets, and yet men, in literature and in drama, seem to need to simplify women, to polarize us as either the whore or the angel. That sensibility is prevalent, even to this day. I have a lot of respect for Michael [Hirst, creator and writer of The Tudors], as a writer and a human being, but I think that he has that tendency. I don’t think he does it consciously. I think it’s something innate that just happens and he doesn’t realize it.”
“I had to reconcile the real person and the character of Anne Boleyn as created in the text. For the actor, the text is your bible. You can try to put a spin on the nuances, but in the end our job is to be the vehicle of the text.”
Yet she often felt “compromised” by the way Anne’s character was written for the first season, and got tired of “flying the flag of Showtime” in interviews, justifying the show’s hyper-sexuality and inaccuracies “when in the pit of my stomach, I agreed wholly with what the interviewer was saying to me. I lost many hours of sleep, and actually shed tears during my portrayal of her, trying to inject historical truth into the script, trying to do right by this woman that I had read so much about. It was a constant struggle, because the original script had that tendency to polarize women into saint and whore. It wasn’t deliberate, but it was there.”
[...]During a dinner with Hirst, while he was still writing the second season, she shared her frustration and begged him “to do it right in the second half. We were good friends. He listened to me because he knew I knew my history. And you know, he’s a brilliant man. So he listened. And I remember saying to him: `Throw everything you’ve got at me. Promise me you’ll do that. I can do it. [...] Hirst listened to her and took her seriously, and the result was a major change in the Anne Boleyn of the second season.
On filming the execution scene:
The execution scene was especially important to Natalie: “By the end of the season, when I’m standing on that scaffold,” she told Michael, “I hope you write it the way it should be. And I want the effect of that scene to remain with viewers for the length of the series.
[...] Anne’s resigned, contained anguish did not have to be forced, because by then, Natalie was herself in mourning for the character: “As I was saying the lines, I got the feeling I was saying good-bye to a character. And when it was over I grieved for her.”
Hirst, too, recalls the heightened emotions of shooting that scene: “That was an amazing day. Extraordinary day. After, I went in to congratulate her. She was weeping and saying, `She’s with me Michael. She’s with me.’
The episode averaged 852,000 viewers, according to Nielsen, an 83% increase over the first season finale and an 11% increase over the season premiere, and for many viewers—particularly younger women—the execution scene became as iconic as Genevieve Bujold’s “Elizabeth Shall be Queen” speech.
Bordo and Natalie on her influence in The Tudors and what her portrayal of Anne Boleyn meant to young women:
Today, hundreds of fan-sites are devoted to Natalie Dormer, who managed, despite being cast on the basis of “sexual chemistry,” to create an Anne Boleyn that is seen by thousands of young women as genuinely multi-dimensional. Natalie still gets letters from them, every day, and finds them gratifying, but also a bit depressing. “The fact that it was so unusual for them to have an inspiring portrait of a spirited, strong young woman—that’s devastating to me. But young women picked up on my efforts, and that is a massive compliment—and says a lot about the intelligence of that audience. Young girls struggling to find their identity, their place, in this supposedly post-feminist era understood what I was doing.”
Source, excerpts come from the book The Creation of Anne Boleyn.
This was great interview. I really respect Natalie for refusing to let this portrayal of Anne Boleyn be one-dimensional.