Emily Blunt and James McAvoy Talk “Gnomeo and Juliet”
Another film about famous hot couple Romeo and Juliet? Before you freak at going to see another film based on the famous Shakespeare play, know that this animated movie from Touchstone Pictures is produced by classic rocker Sir Elton John and that these cute gnomes are pretty modern and hip. Best of all, this time, the story has a happy ending!
Kidzworld was briefly able to corner the lead voices of Gnomeo and his Juliet (Emily Blunt of The Devil Wears Prada and Young Victoria and James McAvoy of Atonement, Wanted and the new X-Men movie) to find out their personal memories of having these little guys in their gardens as kids and how actually having acted Shakespeare on stage in the past, helped them get a handle on their animated characters.
Kidzworld: Emily and James, do you have any childhood memories of garden gnomes? Did you ever even see them? If so, did you like them?
- Emily: Yeah, I saw them.
- James: We shot them [big grin,.. he’s kidding].
- Emily: [looking shocked] I was always scared or skeeved out by anything that resembled people when I was a kid like puppets or things like that. Dolls were the depths of Hell for me. I was a rather anxious child apparently. But, I remember my friend had garden gnomes and I remember being scared of them when I was very young. I think I know someone who has a garden gnome of themselves which is quite strange. But, I wouldn’t mind having one now. That could be fun.
- James: I had a frog much like the one that Ashley Jensen [voices] in this film and I had two garden gnomes in my grandparent’s garden. One of them was baring its backside and the other one was looking kind of like that [indicates a sidelong, shocked look]. But they were really grimy and covered in moss and I thought they looked a bit seedy [Emily laughs] unlike the friendly ones in this film.
Kidzworld: Does either of you have a garden?
- Emily: I’ve never gardened before but it’s something that I think would be nice to do. I know my parents love doing it. It’s a relaxing pastime for them but I’ve never shoveled mud before but I should.
- James: I don’t do much of a garden but I do have a very nice herb bed that I’m very proud of. If you’ve looking for rosemary, I’ve got it and there’s some nice lavender.
Kidzworld: If kids and teens are familiar with any Shakespeare play, it would likely be “Romeo and Juliet”. You two have played those famous lovers on stage [not together]. Did that experience help you create these characters?
- Emily: Yeah. I actually found it very helpful. When I did “Romeo and Juliet” I was about 19 and it was my third professional job and I was very intimidated by the thought of it because I hadn’t trained and had no experience acting Shakespeare but I had a really wonderful director who encouraged a different view of Juliet which is that she’s not a wilting, delicate flower, that she’s actually hot-tempered like her dad and she’s decisive and rebellious and very much not the reactionary role.
Kidzworld: That would be more fun to play.
- Emily: Yeah. I felt she actually drives a lot of the second act by her decisions, reckless as they are. So, that was really interesting for me to have lived through that on stage and do it day in and day out. I loved it. I’ve never had a part like that and probably never will just because it was such an emotional roller coaster. So when I met [the filmmakers of Gnomeo and Juliet], it was really great to hear that they wanted to have a tough little Juliet and one that I had done on stage and so I was happy that we met in the middle in that way. But I did find it helpful for sure.
- James: I always see Romeo as being a bit of a pain in the backside. Very in love with himself, got lots of time for himself and some time for the ladies as long as there would be time for him. And, then something massive happens to him. So, it was important to make him a little bit “cock of the walk” you know. But also Gnomeo in this is a little bit of a [combination of] Romeo and Mercutio [Romeo’s good friend in the play]. We have Benvolio a little bit with Benny [the gnome] but we don’t have Mercutio. We don’t have that leader of the pack.
Kidzworld: So Gnomeo has to also play that role as well then?
- James: You have to conform to what your family wants but yeah, also just to show off for your pals. The other thing that was really handy to have an experience of in theater was just [using my voice on stage]. In animated movies, I get paid to hyperventilate and lose my voice. I’ll go in and think ‘Great, we’re going to do a scene’ and [the director] will be like ‘We’re going to get a few more reactions’ and I spend four hours going [he pants as if out of breath and makes fight noises, ‘oof, argh, oooo, ah!’] By the end of that, I can hardly speak so being able to know how to do a proper vocal warm up [for stage] was quite handy.
Kidzworld: Besides just being very entertaining, Gnomeo and Juliet has some great morals. Can you talk about that?
- James: Well, the story “Romeo and Juliet” has got a lot of nice morals. It’s got ‘don’t pay attention to preconception and to prejudice’ and ‘forgiveness is really important’ and all that really good stuff to tell kids but you can’t tell them with “Romeo and Juliet” because everybody dies or commits suicide or takes a drug or kills someone or [hooks up] with someone they shouldn’t. [At this point the lights in our interview room blink off then go back on!] Okay, that’s bad! [we laugh]. Uh, so you use garden gnomes [in the roles] and you can give them all those good little morals and tidbits without the suicide, sex, death, drugs.
Kidzworld: With animation you usually record the voice by yourself, did the two of you meet before starting the film? Did you rehearse together?
- Emily: They tried to keep us apart [looks sadly dramatic].
- James: She’s not very easy to work with.
- Emily: James is really temperamental, so they didn’t want us in the same room.
- James: But with that temperament comes genius. [Emily laughs]
Kidzworld: So you’d never met before?
- Emily: We’d only met socially a couple of times so we were kind of thinking when we both got on board for this, ‘It’ll be great, we’ll be in the same room and we’ll riff and we’ll improv,’ but we improv-ed separately from each other.
Kidzworld: That’s sad, star-crossed lovers who.. uh don’t really meet. You both have great film careers, why do an animated role now? Was that a plan?
- Emily: I think you shouldn’t strategize your career if you are in the creative realm. I love the element of surprise and I love the spontaneity of the job and I think you can’t really fight against it. You can’t take a job because you think it might lead somewhere. It’s better just to do work that you’re really proud of and work that you’ve enjoyed because really all you have are the choices you make and that’s it, and who knows after that? I think that’s what I love about it.
- James: I just agree with everything you said. One of the things that I know attracted me was the fact that people are enthusiastic about film. [Elton John and his team] have been trying to make this for 11 years. If [they] weren’t enthusiastic about it they’d have fallen out with it by now or had a mental breakdown. They were so enthusiastic that I found it so infectious that it made me want to be a part of it. I liked the script, I was very excited about working with Elton John.
By: Lynn Barker