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The King's Speech Interview

Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter have all been part of the international acting fraternity for many years now, with starring roles in everything from Bridget Jone’s Diary and Alice in Wonderland to Pirates of the Caribbean. Having all taken part in the highly acclaimed The King’s Speech, the cast and director Tom Hooper were recently in London to talk about the challenges of recreating royal history and the difficulties of acting with a self-imposed speech impediment.

You've recreated real lives quite a bit before. When you're dealing with a royal subject, do you have any extra concerns, especially as some of the people in the film are still alive?
Tom Hooper (TH): I wanted to be hugely careful about the accuracy of the film and I did a lot of research and so did the actors. And history and facts do matter to me. At the same time, it's always a balancing act between verifiable historical truth and dramatic shape, and that relationship is one we constantly discussed. The great excitement of this film was the discovery nine weeks before the shoot that Lionel Logue's grandson had all these papers in his aunt's attic which were never before seen, unpublished diaries, fragments of autobiography, even King George VI's medical report card describing his rather weak diaphragm. To have this insight into this relationship was a really incredibly exciting gift to get.

Is there a message in the film about the challenges that people with disabilities and their families face?
TH: This film isn't about the miracle cure. I had a screening in San Francisco recently and a woman came up to me who'd been very moved and whose mother was disabled and she was very grateful we hadn't made a film about someone suddenly saying 'I can walk' at the end of the film. When Colin and I listened to King George VI making his final broadcast he was still clearly a man coping with a stammer, and we wanted to avoid any Hollywood climax where suddenly he was completely liberated and was Laurence Olivier. I think for most people with disabilities, it's not about a cure; it's about working with it. And that's an important part of the movie.

Colin Firth (CF): I felt a responsibility towards the people who have the issues I was trying to enact and to try to do it as honestly as possible. And I'd echo what Tom said: good storytelling is never about trying to provide answers for things. It's about being honest about issues and problems and the way people seek to navigate them.

How much research did you do in order to portray so convincingly someone with a stammer?
CF: A lot. And I've done a lot in my life, because it's actually the third time I've played somebody with a stammer. What was interesting to me is that you don't just pull out your stammer from the drawer from your last performance. It really doesn't work that way. That was an education for me, because I thought perhaps I could! Anybody with a stammer would tell me it's not the same for everybody. And what you're really playing is not stammering. That's what you've got to thrive at, because that's what the person is going through. So at different times in my life, I've researched it as an issue and spoken to people who've experienced it, including our own writer, David Seidler, who was probably our best source as he'd overcome a stammer himself. He was incredibly eloquent.

And what interested me, more than what's going on in a man's muscles, was talking to David about what the fears are. He would say when it was bad, it was all you'd think about. You go to a restaurant, and you don't order the fish if you can't say 'F', you order the beef, even if you want the fish. And your life can be like that. It's dictated by that fear. And it doesn't matter what else is at stake in what you have to do that day, it's can I say it? Those things were very helpful to me as an insight into the terror this man felt when he couldn't climb out of his silences.

If you look at footage of him making a speech, there's a kind of little narrative to what I think he's going through. He hits a word, you realise that moment's come when he knows it's not going to come out. And you see the dismay. You see another attempt. You see him going through that moment of containing himself and when you watch that you find out about him. For me, there's something quite heroic there - there's an entire epic going on in those few seconds. And then you see him come back out of it and carry on with the same dignity, as if there's nothing to do but go forward. And that revealed more to me about the character than anything and I found that out through the stammer.

Have your views of the British monarchy changed over the course of making the film?
Helena Bonham Carter (HBC): No. [Laughs] Put it this way, I vaguely knew he had a stammer but I was unaware of the extent and how chronic it was. So what I think this film shows is a fresh angle on a very famous period in history: the abdication. It came very close to a proper crisis in the monarchy. So the pressure on this man and the personal crisis, that was totally new to me. It's also the story of the most reluctant king. It's the duty, the responsibility, the sheer hugeness of the job. I certainly would never want to be royal ... even though I effortlessly am at times.

In fact, that's partly why I did play it because I knew I could indulge in being a queen. I've played a few queens lately and they are really enjoyable. I just do queens. So, it's enjoyable to pretend but then you can sling the crown off across the room. She, the Queen Mother, was extraordinary because she was a professional public figure and expert at it. But she had the character and the confidence. She married a man who was not born to be king and wasn't really constitutionally meant to be king, just in the way he was built.

Geoffrey, as a colonial from a country which has rather mixed feelings about the monarchy, does it warm you more to the monarchy or does it change any thoughts? You're the most unknown character in a sense yet the most key character in bringing George VI to life.
Geoffrey Rush (GR): I've always had an intriguing and fascinating obsession with the whole dynasty of British royalty back a millennia and a bit, because I find the whole complexity of the history and the shaping of the various houses, and sometimes bloody passing on of weird claimed lineage ... The house of Windsor, which is still with us, was to me the first sort of reality TV show. I remember the first time they let the cameras into the palace, which must have been in the late 60s, early 70s, it was a sort of 'At Home with the Windsors' which was probably the beginning of demystifying them. I just found that intriguing. I'd like my country to be a little bit more adult and independent, but I do find the presence of royalty and monarchy in contemporary life still intriguing.

For part two of The King's Speech interview, click on the link below.

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Content updated: 14/12/2019 10:51

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