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Interview: Bel Powley and Douglas Booth Talk “Mary Shelley”


“Mary Shelley” directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour was not just about Mary and Percy Shelley’s (Douglas Booth) love story, their struggle, frustration and way of growing up in this old world. But it was also about Claire Clairmont’s (Bel Powley) relationship with her sister Mary and her close friendship, if you allow me to call it that way, with Percy, whose openmindedness was bizarre for Mary, but somehow, she finds a way to destroy the wall that appears between the two.

This is why it was interesting having both the actors, Douglas Booth and Bel Powley, in the same room to discuss “Mary Shelley”, the way they prepared for the role, and the bonds they needed to develop to portray their characters in a truthful way. And I must admit, their performances were much more than impressive – rather delightful and exceptional in so many ways.

MOVIEMOVESME: It’s a different emotional range in this film and that’s probably what I wanted you to talk about. What is it that you have done to portray Claire in such a powerful way that made her one of the most interesting characters in “Mary Shelley”?

Bel Powley:   It was really difficult because I think Douglas and I, there’s so much out there about Mary Shelley, about Percy Shelley, even for Tom Sturridge who played Byron, it’s a plethora of biographies and things that you can read about those characters. But for Claire, no one really knew that she existed, so all I really knew about her was that she mothered Byron’s baby, so I think the rest of it was up to Haifaa and I to just create something organic.

Douglas Booth: I was just gonna pay you a compliment and just say why I think you’re so, just why I think she was so powerful was that she, well I mean Bel is such a sensational actress that she can, with her eyes, she can just in a second, you see everything. You see her watching this relationship now in front of her and that– She’s kind of happy for her but crossed with envy, crossed with all these things and she plays a million emotions in one in just one look. All she’s to do is come through the door, look through the door and they say, “can I get you anything?” And they say, “no, we’ve got everything you want,” and she tells you a whole story in one shot.

MOVIEMOVESME: Bel, did you research the sisters? It’s clear that they loved each other but I can’t imagine that there wasn’t any rivalry.

Bel Powley: I don’t know if it was rivalry. I felt more playing it like Claire desperately wanted what Mary had and wanted in some ways to be Mary. But I don’t think she felt like she was a rival with her. I don’t think she ever disliked or hated or was jealous of Mary. I think also she wrote a bit, she just wasn’t very good.

MOVIEMOVESME: Did you see some of them, the writing?

Bel Powley: I’ve seen some of her letters myself. It’s just that unfortunately in the 19th century if you married an anomaly, she was an incredibly talented writer and managed to get published under her own name as we know. But for every other woman out there, you couldn’t really succeed without a man, so that’s kind of what she’s setting up to do and she aims high. Like, “if I’m gonna get someone, I’m gonna get the most artistic, most passionate, sexiest guy in the world.”

But unfortunately it just doesn’t really end very well. Kind of a tragedy.

MOVIEMOVESME:  There’s another scene where Lord Byron said, “Okay let’s have a competition tonight, and you’re all going to come up with some story,” to which Claire asks, “Oh well what about me?” He then replies, “Well you my dear are going to transcribe it.”  I would like you to talk about that part of Claire and that scene – your way of bringing her despair while she was so mad, albeit relevant.

Bel Powley:   I mean I can relate to that, that’s like everyday sexism. Stuff like that happens to us all the time, doesn’t it?

MOVIEMOVESME: Did the three of you do any chemistry testing?

Douglas Booth: We did, they were attached before me. Elle Fanning was attached first, then you.

Bel Powley: And then you.

Douglas Booth: … and then they came and said Elle Fanning, Bel Powley are attached, Haifaa Al-Mansour is directing, and I was like sounds amazing, great.

But luckily the chemistry was great, although actually I did meet Elle, before I got off the role, I was in LA and I went and met with Haifaa, Amy the producer, and Elle. And we just sat and chat…I think Elle may have sat with a couple of guys. We didn’t read anything, we just hung out and had a conversation and just processed thought who gelled.

But I think that’s one of the strong things of the movie is our chemistry, the three of us. I think we have a really good chemistry and even just here hanging out. I mean this may be our hundredth interview so we may feel a little bit tired now, but we’ve had so much fun over the last couple [inaudible 00:04:55] 24 hours. We’ve had so much fun hanging out with… like being reunited with Elle, I mean we both live in London so we see each other, but yeah it’s amazing.

MOVIEMOVESME: Mr. Booth, what about the scene where Percy tells Mary about love being free and they must share it with the world? What is your take on that?

Douglas Booth: About what we thought was going on between the two of us, but that’s why I like Percy, he says that, he never pretends to be doing something different than he’s doing from the very beginning. He kind of lays all his cards on the table and he’s truly in love with Mary. And he says, this is the way I’ve always lived my life but he doesn’t intentionally ever want to hurt her. He wants to chase his ideals so strongly that he kind of ends up hurting her a little.

MOVIEMOVESME:  It is fascinating that back then you portrayed a character who gave his name for Frankenstein to be published. That’s sexism nowadays as well. It’s like women are still way behind.

Bel Powley:   Well we were talking about it yesterday, the reason that JK Rowling published under JK Rowling is because it’s a genderless name. Because she thought that maybe she would get less if it was Joanne. So what’s really changed? Not that much?

MOVIEMOVESME: Douglas, did you try and write any poetry?

Douglas Booth: Yeah I’ve never really written but I would love to. I’ve written like two or three poems in my entire life, I wouldn’t say that I’m particularly into that. I would just do terrible rhyming poetry which isn’t too great. But no, I spent a lot of time with his text and I spent a lot of time with a young poet, a young Egyptian poet because I didn’t want to– When I’d sort of looked up some of his poems and once I could see on the internet when they read, they were read in the old-fashioned way. He was a progressive, and he was very modern and he was on the front foot of the time and I wanted him to feel like that. I wanted the rhythm to be fresh and new and modern in this as well.

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