Cannes 2011: Emily Browning on Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty premiered at Cannes yesterday, and Total Film were big fans – you can read our reaction to the film here .

We sat down for a chat with star Emily Browning who is at the festival to promote the film;

On taking the role…

“There was no hesitation, I was sent the script and halfway through I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

I had no idea who was making it, I knew whoever had written it was also directing. I thought ‘I wanna be a part of this’.

I had such a visceral reaction to the script, it made me so physically uncomfortable, which I think is a good thing, when something affects you that much.

When I met Julia we clicked instantly, and even though she’d never made a film before it was so clear in the script that she had such a knowledge of cinema – the way it was written was so cinematic already, that I just trusted her instincts.

The fact that she was being mentored by Jane Campion, and that she could just call Jane up if she had a problem – that made me feel pretty safe also.”

On her character, Lucy…

“Julia is an amazing writer, and it was very, very clear to me on the page who Lucy was. Obviously you bring your own subtleties I suppose, but the character was very clear from the start.

Also, when I met Julia I thought, ‘Oh, you’re kind of like Lucy.’ I think this characters is in some ways like Julia, and so that actually helped me a lot, just watching Julia.

I don’t know if she realised what was happening (laughs).

When we finished the film, Jane Campion wrote me a letter and said there’s a duality with you and Julia, she saw that that was there too, between Julia and the way I’d played the character.

I took a lot of Julia and the way that I saw her and put that into Lucy, but it was very clear on the page to me as well.”

On preparing for the role…

“I watched Belle Du Jour , obviously, everyone guesses that (laughs).

I watched Anti Christ at Julia’s request, less because there’s a similarity in the female characters, but because Charlotte Gainsbourgh’s performance in that film was so brave.

She totally threw herself into that role, and that was inspiring to see somebody else do that.

Another film that I really connected with in terms of this film was The Piano Teacher by Michael Hanneke.

I think Isabelle Huppert’s character in that film is similar to Lucy in her coldness, and stillness, and the perverse fascination with the disturbing things going on around her.

On the nudity in film…

Nudity isn’t a taboo in European film, which is great. I think that’s the best attitude – everybody has one, I don’t really see an issue there.

In Australia people have been a little bit weird about it to me, and I think in America it’s absolutely still a taboo, which I don’t get.

I don’t really understand. People are saying ‘oh you’re being exploited’ but I entirely disagree.

I felt as though I had so much control in terms of this character.

I really trusted Julia, and I think it’s far more freeing to play a character where you feel so comfortable that you can be naked, but it’s not exploitative.

I would feel far more used if I was playing a vacuous arm candy in a romantic comedy.

I couldn’t think of anything worse, it’s really not my cup of tea.

In this industry if you’re not passionate about the work you’re making it can become a sad place, if you’re there just for money or exposure it can become kind of devastation.

I’m far more interested in playing challenging roles and I feel like this film challenged me so much, now I’ve got to see how much further I can take it, see if there’ anything more intense out there.

I don’t find this film sexy at all, I mean the scenes in the sleeping chamber, it’s disturbing.

I felt more comfortable being fully naked than I did being dressed up in lingerie, having to dress sexy – and it was the same thing in Sucker Punch – that made me feel more insecure.

Of course, you get nervous, but after the first time I did it realising that I go into a different world when the camera is on, that it’s not really me, I’ve thrown myself into the character – it didn’t really bother me that much.

It’s more when you see it on that giant screen that you go, ‘oh… really?’ (laughs), that’s when it’s more shocking.

Sleeping Beauty is playing in the main competition at Cannes.

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