IT'S No Wonder Romola [...]

Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales), October 4, 2009 | Go to article overview

IT'S No Wonder Romola [...]


IT'S no wonder Romola Garai considers herself a "corset geek". She's something of an expert on them, having appeared in a plethora of period dramas since embarking on an acting career nine years ago, including Daniel Deronda, Nicholas Nickleby and Vanity Fair to name just a few.

"It's become a joke in my own life that I now associate going to work with wearing a corset!" says the 27-year-old, laughing.

Romola prefers to remain in her own attire rather than a waist-cinching corset when preparing for a role - aside from the physical discomfort, she says it's so she can make her heroines relatable to modern audiences.

"So that you feel like it's a character you're creating and not a construct," she reveals when we meet to discuss her title role in tonight's BBC production of Jane Austen's Emma.

"I think if you can work out who the character is and the world that they're in and you're dressed in your own clothes, then you have a really strong grasp on your character. It's not about assuming a way of dressing or talking, it's about finding the truth of that person."

Looking relaxed in jeans and a T-shirt, Romola appears to be minus any make-up save for a lick of mascara and her blonde hair is loosely tied back as if without thought.

Well-spoken and articulate, she talks at length about taking on the iconic role of Emma. The fact that she's just completed an Open University degree in English literature has undoubtedly fuelled her passion for literary prose.

"It's taken me five years to do it," she says with another laugh. "We didn't study Emma but I got to learn a bit about the way the novels have been critiqued and certainly the wave of feminist criticism that has re-evaluated the novels and the new historicism, which see the novels as part of a wider sphere."

Ever since Jane Austen wrote, 'I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like', the character of Emma Woodhouse has suffered some bad press.

Spoilt, meddling and manipulative are just a few of the traits associated with the character, but mention this to Romola and she's quick to jump to Emma's defence.

"I've always found it quite disturbing that Emma is a character that most critics, predominantly the literary canon as controlled by 19th century men, have struggled with," she says with conviction.

"For me it's completely obvious why that is and it's nothing to do with her personality, it's because she's rich and because she doesn't have to get married."

Romola is aware she's a woman with an opinion or two and, with a mischievous grin, recalls attempting to tame her views when auditioning for the role.

"I actually had to sit on a lot of what I thought about Emma to allow myself to be properly directed and I had to pretend in the audition that I didn't have lots of ideas that didn't correlate with the director," she says with a chuckle.

"It's something I've had to learn the hard way - that you don't always get the job by telling the director in the audition that you have very strong ideas about how it should be played! …

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