Q&A: Emily Blunt, Matt Lucas, Ashley Jensen

A chat with the cast of Gnomeo and Juliet...

Gnomes

What was your initial reaction when you were told you were going to be playing gnomes in a Shakespeare adaptation?

Matt:How much?

Emily: I was really baffled. I remember when I got the call from my agent and he said 'It's an animated film' and I was like 'Oh great'. Then he said 'It's called Gnomeo and Juliet' and I went 'Oh my god, really?' But then I read the script and I was so charmed by it that I went from going 'Huh?' to 'Ahh'. It was really witty and I think everyone's passion about the project was really infectious.

Ashley: I'd never done an animated film before so I was really excited. One of the little boxes that as an actor I wanted to tick off was an animated film. After my mum got over the fact that I was never going to play Shrek's sister (because of the Scottish accent) the frog was the nearest I was going to get to it. 

How did you find the experience of voice acting?

Emily:It was quite lonely being in the sound booth by yourself. It's a strange discipline to learn because you don't look in anyone's eyes, you're just there trying to make your voice sound lively.

Ashley: It was almost like being a child again because you felt like you were in your bedroom and nobody was really watching. You were just having a bit of fun on your own doing silly voices.

Matt: It was very nice because I'm normally up at half four or five having prosthetics put on, so it was nice to get up at half eight. You sit down and have a cup of tea, say about six lines and then walk home! You do that about twice a year for about three or four years, and then you walk down the green carpet, and everyone says 'Well done!'

Ashley:It almost felt like you were cheating because it was a wee bit too much fun. I thought 'I can't be getting paid for this as well'.

Matt: You're not.

Have you always been a fan of gnomes?

Emily: I was a bit gnomophobic before this film. It's actually made me see them in a different light, they're romantic, charming little things! Before when I was a kid I was like 'Oh no, bearded little men in my garden'.

Ashley: They're in the same sort of camp as clowns, all scary and sinister. 

Learnt any interesting gnome facts? 

Emily: A Canadian lady told me that in Canada people steal gnomes and then send ransom notes saying 'If you want your gnome you're going to have to pay up'. That is so weird, I've never heard of anything like it. 

Did you get much insight into the animation process?

Matt: I remember going to the Rocket pictures place and they had forty or fifty people drawing. They didn't know what the characters looked like yet and I remember seeing about thirty or forty different versions of Juliet on a wall. I realised that someone had to come in and make some really executive decisions. It must be a really hard job to direct something like this because there's so much going on.

Do you have any previous experience of Shakespeare?

Matt: I was in a production of Troilus and Cressida at The Old Vic. The director, Dominic Dromgoole, wrote a chapter about it in his book - I think he classes it as a career low. He talks about the overt alcoholism of the cast, but I was stone cold sober for the entire run so I don't know what my excuse was. You can read the reviews of me in the archives - it's a wonder I ever got back on stage again. It wasn't the most auspicious moment of my career, and I think this is probably the closest I ought to get to Shakespeare.

Ashley: I was in King Lear at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, in fact that was where I met my husband. I was playing Regan, he was playing Cornwall and together we fell in love plucking out Gloucester's eyes.

Emily: That's one role I really want to play.

Ashley: Regan the eye-gouger? It's good fun. Everyone assumed I was Cordelia because I've got long blonde hair, but actually I was Regan with a big auburn wig. It was great.

Emily: I've played Juliet on stage. I found it an extraordinary task to do Shakespeare because I hadn't trained or had any previous experience. For the first two weeks of rehearsals I was staying with my Nana and I came back just weeping. She made me a cream tea and said 'You'll be fine love, you'll get there'. And I did - by the third week it got easier. The best thing about Shakespeare is when people forget their lines and start improvising. It's terrifying - if you dry, you are f***ed!

The film incorporates some classic Elton John tunes. Have any of his songs got a special resonance for you?

Emily: 'Bennie and the Jets'.  I remember after a really rough day at school my mum came to pick me up, and that song was on the radio. I think everyone remembers the first time they heard an Elton John song, they've got a certain nostalgia for people just like the story of Romeo and Juliet.

Matt:That's a tricky one because I'm a proper fan. I'd seen him in concert loads of times before I'd even met him. Whenever I see him I always tell him that 'Passengers' is my favourite, because it's just one of his least auspicious ones.

Ashley: Mine would be 'Your Song'. I was actually really glad that the whole song wasn't played in this film because it makes me cry. You know those songs that just make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up? That's one of those for me, I put it on if I want a good cry.

Matt: A good Elton karaoke song is 'I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues' (proceeds to sing a few lines)

This is a very British movie with the Brit sense of humour, gnomes, Sir Elton John - how important was that to you as British actors?

Emily: It's vital, it's really exciting. There are a lot of Anglophiles in America, they really like the British way of life and they find it really fun and quaint. I think this is a really good representation of British actors hopefully doing what we do best...playing gnomes. 

What's it like trying to balance a career in the UK and America?

Ashley: I think when you go to LA, Britain sometimes feels like you've defected a bit. That's not really the case. Ideally I would love to work here and in America. I came back here and filmed an ITV1 drama for a couple of months, but I'll be going back to LA soon to do pilot season.

Emily: I think it's definitely possible. I feel great loyalty to the British film industry - I did one last year and I'm about to do another one. It's alright to keep it diverse and do a bit of everything, that's the fun of it.

Finally, what's your favourite kids film?

Matt: Saw 4.

Emily: Growing up I used to watch Old Yeller all the time.

Matt: The Railway Children

Ashley: Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music...there are too many to name really. I love the old classic ones like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Bambi.

Emily: Bambi's devastating isn't it?

Ashley: Oh Bambi's brutal.

Gnomeo and Juliet is released on 11th February. Read our review here!

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