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Interview: Sarah Gadon

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Best known for starring in Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis alongside Robert Pattinson and for her portrayal of the wife of the Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method, Canadian actress Sarah Gadon is now taking on the lead role of the young Princess Elizabeth in new British comedy film A Royal Night Out.

Set in London on VE Day in 1945, the film sees young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret (Bel Powley) try to take part in the celebrations outside of the confines of Buckingham Palace, incognito - much to the dismay of their parents, played by Rupert Everett and Emily Watson.

We spoke to Sarah (pictured right during a meeting with the Chelsea Pensioners last month) to find out more about her preparation for her leading role, her friendship with Bel Powley and what it was like working with Emily Watson again.

Sarah’s initial interest in being a part of A Royal Night Out was sparked after reading the script. "I knew that it was a lovely story and it was just charming," she says. "It was a charming romance."

After accepting her leading role as the young Princess Elizabeth, researching it further and "really discovering Elizabeth; who she was, what the family had gone through during the war", she realised a deeper connection. She says: "My grandmother is British and she fought in the women’s Auxiliary Air Force during World War Two. She met my grandfather during the war, because he was sailing for the British Navy, and they married and immigrated to Canada after World War Two. So there was also that personal connection to the story that made me really want to be a part of this film, to recreate that moment in time that they were both a part of."

This isn’t the first time that Sarah has portrayed a real person - she also played Emma Jung in A Dangerous Method and Lady Elizabeth Murray in Belle. She believes that by portraying a real person, an actor takes on a lot of responsibility: "You want to do justice to their memory, to their character, to who they were, or who they are in this case. I think you feel this tremendous responsibility to do them justice and I know that really inspired me to work as hard as I could."

To be able to undertake such a responsibility, Sarah did a lot of research into the life of the young Princess Elizabeth and her role during the Second World War. This research involved a lot of reading, including that of Sally Bedell Smith’s biography Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch ("I really liked this because it explored their early life as young princesses, leading into the war, during the war and post-war") and Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader.

To achieve the impeccable, posh British accent that she showcases in the film, Sarah had to do a lot of dialect training and watching films for accent inspiration; the most inspirational of which was David Lean’s Brief Encounter: "There’s a very clipped pacing to that that Julian [Jarrold, director] really liked, so we tried to bring that spirit of dialect to our film." She also prepared for the film by learning to dance the Lindy Hop, meeting with a royal consultant and taking etiquette classes.

The film, set mainly in the crowded, celebration-filled, night-time streets of London's packed-out pubs and dancing-filled bars, involved the main characters energetically running between, and dancing within, these settings. With lots of running, stumbling, dancing and falling out of bus doors, the shooting process was thus quite intense and demanding for the actors.

"The schedule was gruelling," Sarah says. "It was four a half weeks of night shoots, and then we started moving, after the first two weeks, every two weeks to a different location... six day weeks, it was really intense."

Sarah believes that she couldn’t have "made it through that kind of a schedule" without her co-stars Jack Rayner (Jack) and Bel Powley (Princess Margaret), as they had fun together and helped each other out.

"They were consummate professionals, incredible actors and wonderful people," she says. The three became very close during filming and due to the nature of their shared night-filming schedule; they were "living this very isolated, but fun, existence for the short period of time that we shot the movie... We would wake up every day at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, and we would go and meet in the park across from our apartment, and myself, Jack, Bel and Jack’s fiancée Madeline would box... we’d do boxing training for an hour and then we’d go home, shower, head to set and work until six in the morning.’

Sarah and co-star Bel Powley have a great friendship, both on and off-screen: "We got on like a house on fire right from the start. Bel is amazing, she’s so funny, talented and smart - and she just impressed me from the moment that I met her, with her openness and her creativity and her artistry and her commitment to her work."

Sarah predicts big things for Bel in the future: "I feel really lucky that I was able to work with her because I know she’s going to be this country’s biggest gem... I can see her becoming a dame", she laughs.

Having previously worked with Emily Watson, who plays her mother in this film (on period drama Belle), Sarah enjoyed working with her again: "Working with Emily was great, I really felt like I had somebody in my corner," she says. "I’m such an admirer of the work that she’s done and the career that she’s had and she was so supportive and lovely and kind to me. It was really great to be able to work with her again, and have her play the Queen mum, and I think she did an incredible job in the film."

Sarah also praises the film’s costume designer, Claire Anderson, for the beautiful dress that she gets to wear throughout the film: "I loved it, it was really amazing and fun to be in and to run around the city in", and also for letting her wear wedge trainers during shooting, rather than the heels made for her. "Working all day in heels is quite tiring, so Claire got me a pair of purple wedge trainers to wear in all the scenes that you don’t see my feet in, but they still give me the same height as my heels. It was really funny when I saw paparazzi shots of us on-set and me in my dress and my trainers, it was so hilarious"

A Royal Night Out is released in UK cinemas on 15th May. Read our review here. 

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