The Day I Became HUGE in Hollywood; DRESSED FOR THE PART: Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn, Left, Eric Bana (Henry Tudor) and Scarlett Johansson (Mary) HOLLYWOOD QUEENS: Scarlett Johansson, Left, and Natalie Portman at the Berlin Premiere Earlier This Month

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), February 24, 2008 | Go to article overview

The Day I Became HUGE in Hollywood; DRESSED FOR THE PART: Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn, Left, Eric Bana (Henry Tudor) and Scarlett Johansson (Mary) HOLLYWOOD QUEENS: Scarlett Johansson, Left, and Natalie Portman at the Berlin Premiere Earlier This Month


Byline: Philippa Gregory

BESTSELLING novelist Philippa Gregory wrote the book on which a newblockbuster film, starring Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman, is based.Here she offers a hilarious insight into what it is like to be suddenly 'huge'in Hollywood (despite the fact that she has no 'talent') ...

I NEED to run through some questions with you,' the eager young researcher saidin her strong American accent. I nodded. I am not new to the phenomenon of theeager young researcher running through things - as if my research weresucculent kebabs fit to be skewered. I have been a bestselling author since myfirst book, Wideacre, was published more than 20 years ago, and I am nowaccustomed to being solemnly told that such-and-such a thing does not existbecause it does not appear on Wikipedia; or that a fact must be wrong becauseone historical source differs from another.

Now, I have all the complexity of having read 20 different sources, while theeager young researcher has all the confidence of having read an abstract ofonly one, so - contrary to the saying - I believe that a little knowledge is areassuring thing.

'Here are the questions,' she says.

I gulp. She has given me four pages of closely typed questions. This is alifetime of work. 'Will we do them all?' I ask. 'Yes,' she says brightly.

We work our way through. We go through all the characters of my novel The OtherBoleyn Girl, now adapted as a Hollywood film starring Natalie Portman, ScarlettJohansson and Eric Bana. Then we come to Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk. 'Whatis Norfolk? Is it the name of a lovely house?' I begin to think she is toyingwith me.

'It's a county,' I say. 'A large county, in England.' 'And what position is theDuke?' she asks me. I hesitate. 'What position?' 'What is his exact status?''Um, he's a duke,' I manage. She is all amazement. 'He is a duke? A duke? Youmean that's his title? He is a duke?' 'Yes,' I say. 'He's Thomas Howard, theDuke of Norfolk.' She laughs at herself.

'I thought that was his name. Duke Norfolk. But I guess then he would have beenDuke, the Duke of Norfolk.' I find myself starting to giggle and I have to griptight to the chair out of good manners. This would be the well knownprizefighter 'Duke' Norfolk, and his well-matched opponent 'King' Henry.

She turns her page. We are now on to personal questions.

'And do you have a talent?' she asks.

I hesitate. Without being vain, I selfevidently have a talent. I have written15 novels. Four have been adapted for television. Now one is a big-budget moviethat is to be honoured with a Royal premiere. 'I write,' I point out.

She smiles. This is a post-feminist girl: she is asking after my domestictalents, my traditional womanly skills. I am afraid she will look in vain. 'Doyou sew?' she asks. 'Or knit? Or quilt?'

We regard each other in pleasing bafflement. I was brought up in a generationwhere girls prided themselves on ignoring domestic work for education andcareers. I used to pretend I couldn't type to avoid someone making me take copyin the newsroom where I was a junior journalist.

But she takes high ability and equal pay for granted; her ideal of success isthat a woman is well rounded. By this, she means embroidery. She hopes that Ican bake. 'I write,' I say stoutly. 'That's really all I do.' This interview,by turns funny and awkward, is typical of what it means to be famous in today'sculture. I have been significant for 25 years, and famous for about a week, andI have to say fame is enjoyable in small amounts but I shall be happy to bemerely significant once more which will happen, by my calculations, in aboutApril.

My significance comes from being a writer, published worldwide in 70 languages,and I have watched myself rising slowly as a 'name' throughout the years. Yearsago, at first meeting, I would say my name and people would not know it at all. …

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The Day I Became HUGE in Hollywood; DRESSED FOR THE PART: Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn, Left, Eric Bana (Henry Tudor) and Scarlett Johansson (Mary) HOLLYWOOD QUEENS: Scarlett Johansson, Left, and Natalie Portman at the Berlin Premiere Earlier This Month
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