In the making of an adaptation (especially with a story or characters that have been adapted before), a lot of performers will try to put a bit of distance between themselves and the source material – the idea being that they don’t want to be so overly attached to a take that they end up being limited in their own spin on things. When this happens, it can ultimately be fascinating to learn what an actor used as reference instead… and Anya Taylor-Joy’s experience making Autumn de Wilde’s Emma is an excellent example.
In the making of the new take on Jane Austen’s 1815 novel of the same name, Taylor-Joy didn’t want to take any specific guidance from, say, Alicia Silverstone in Clueless, or Gwyneth Paltrow in Douglas McGrath’s 1996 version, but she did still have some outside influences courtesy of some recommendations from her director. As I learned last month during the Los Angeles press day for Emma while sitting down with the actor, two classic movies that wound up being key for her performance were Howard Hawks’ brilliant comedy Bringing Up Baby, and James Ivory’s period romance A Room With A View.
Speaking to the movies individually, Anya Taylor-Joy first noted that it was particularly the tone of Bringing Up Baby to which she paid attention in the development of Emma. After all, the Jane Austen story is at heart a comedy, and as far as getting the proper timing and silliness it’s hard to find a better source than the screwball adventures of paleontologist David Huxley (Cary Grant) and flighty heiress Susan Vance (Katharine Hepburn). Said Taylor-Joy,
Bringing Up Baby – that was very informative in terms of the slapstick element that we have in the film. I don't think we would have understood it if we hadn't seen how broad it is in Bringing Up Baby.
It was qualities on the opposite end of the spectrum from there that were provided to Anya Taylor-Joy from A Room With A View. While the film starring Helena Bonham-Carter, Julian Sands, and Daniel Day-Lewis is technically set a full century after the period in which Emma takes place, it was still a useful reference point as far as being a particularly poignant examination of life and relationships in an era long before our own digitally-dominated one.
While many of us today are constantly rushing around and having all varieties of rapid, on-the-go conversations, Anya Taylor-Joy found that watching A Room With A View provided special insight into a time when people could take a breath – which ultimately had a particular influence on the way in which she approached Emma’s period-accurate material. She explained,
From A Room With A View, I think the fact that you can do a lot with stillness in these moments – like you can really allow them to breathe, because the pace of life was slower in those days. So you can just take your time with things a little bit more.
For those curious to see how those two different reference points mix together with the ageless and universal material from Jane Austen, specifically the story of well-intentioned matchmaking gone wrong, the amazing news is that Emma is now playing in theaters nationwide. Co-starring Johnny Flynn, Josh O'Connor, Callum Turner, Mia Goth, Miranda Hart, and Bill Nighy, the film is an absolute delight, so go check it out on the big screen, and then be sure to come back to CinemaBlend to learn more about the story behind the movie.