Alicia von Rittberg on the Challenges and Triumphs of “Becoming Elizabeth”

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When Alicia von Rittberg first got the audition for Become Elizabeth, a new Starz drama that chronicles the debut of Queen Elizabeth I of England, the German-born actress didn’t believe she was in the running for the lead role. In fact, she thought the producers made a mistake when they asked her to send in a self-tape. “I knew it wasn’t a joke, but I was like, ‘Okay, that’s never gonna happen. I’m just going to do it for fun,” von Rittberg said. O on Zoom.

Even after completing her first live audition, during which she struggled with her command of the English accent and found herself sweating profusely, von Rittberg had effectively withdrawn from the race, believing that she did not have what it took to embody the young woman. who would become known as the Virgin Queen and final ruler of the Tudor dynasty.

“Then I got the call for the screening, and it was the first time I met everyone and realized how much they questioned the fact that I was German,” says von Rittberg, who is also countess by birth in her native Germany. “They were just like, ‘Well, we think you can do it. You’re going to have dialect practice, and we’re not worried at all. It really helped me believe in myself, and I think that that’s when I realized it could happen.When I got the part, it was still absolutely surreal.

Created by Anya Reiss, Become Elizabeth (which premiered on June 12, with a new episode airing every Sunday) picks up in the wake of the untimely death of King Henry VIII in 1547, sparking a dangerous rush to power when his three orphaned children – Elizabeth, Mary ( Romola Garai) and Edward (Oliver Zetterström) – find themselves used as pawns in a game between power-hungry nobles vying for control of the land.

The lead role marks a first in an English production for von Rittberg, who has racked up a steady stream of film and television credits in Germany but is perhaps best known internationally for her role in the film. movie starring Brad Pitt. Fury. Born and raised in Munich, von Rittberg loved to sing and dance, so much so that she thought she wanted to be a pop star one day. At the age of 11, she took a two-week acting course during her summer vacation and fell in love with the craft (even though she didn’t get the first role she auditioned for when she was a child).

While she admits she may have focused more on acting than her studies as a teenager, von Rittberg, a self-proclaimed “analytical” person who has always enjoyed math lessons, has wondered if she missed an opportunity to broaden her horizons – then she decided to major in business management and economics at Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen, Germany. After making a short appearance in Furyshe found an agent and expressed a desire to gradually move into international productions, leading the first season of the German television series Charity (streaming on Netflix) and appearing in the National Geographic anthology series Geniusas well as the biographical film Resistance.

Once she was thrown Become Elizabeth, von Rittberg knew she would have her work cut out to play the iconic monarch. She honed her knowledge of ancient Greek and learned to ride a horse, write calligraphy, play the virginal and dance the volta – all skills she picked up in a crash course at the princess school. And while she knew she would be joining the ranks of Judi Dench, Helen Mirren and Cate Blanchett, who have all portrayed older versions of the Tudor Queen, von Rittberg took comfort in knowing she was creating her own version. from Elizabeth at a young age – down to her accent and the way she moves through the world.

“You have to give it so much time that it just becomes something natural,” says von Rittberg, who has worked closely with a dialect coach and still speaks with an English accent in his voice. “I started working with a movement coach six months ago, then I stopped probably three months ago and just did little things, like how to turn so much fabric and such heavy clothes, how to move fast or be more [or less] concentrated at age 14.

The world that was built around Elizabeth, which was recreated to be as historically accurate as possible and only “lit by natural light and candles”, left little to the imagination and allowed everyone involved to “lose it completely” in the world, says von Rittberg. “I wore six layers of costume every day, and cinematographer Adolpho Veloso, who is brilliant, rotated 360 degrees: if anything interesting happened in the opposite direction to the shot, he would pan around. He there was no “I’m going to take a second off and just walk out”, because you could be in for a shot at any moment.

After the death of her father and the accession to the throne of her 9-year-old half-brother Edward, Elizabeth moves in with her widowed stepmother, Catherine Parr (Jessica Raine), who soon marries the charming Thomas Seymour (Tom Cullen ) – a man who is said to have engaged in flirtatious and possibly sexual behavior with the real Elizabeth while living under the same roof. This relationship is being carefully re-examined through a modern lens by Reiss, who told reporters at a press conference in February that she wanted to tackle issues of “consent and gender imbalance and power imbalance in relationships”.

The fact that Elizabeth falls head over heels in love with Thomas, unaware that he was manipulating her, speaks to her natural desire to be loved and cared for in an unforgiving environment. “I think that’s all she wanted, because she was so alone, it was such a dangerous world, and there was so much duty and pressure,” von Rittberg says. “She just wanted to experience love and be a normal young woman with needs. She was blind and didn’t see the danger behind it. Even as an audience, you completely fall in love with this guy.

Before landing the role, von Rittberg did a chemistry reading with Cullen, who had already been cast as Thomas. “From the moment we stood in front of the camera together – and in fact the first conversation we had before that was about Oktoberfest – I was like, ‘Yes, I want to work with you! “,” von Rittberg recalls with a laugh. “He was so charming, and he’s such a beautiful being. He just put all his charm on screen.

The cat-and-mouse dynamic between Elizabeth and Thomas was much discussed during the production of the eight-episode first season, to the point that even von Rittberg became invested in the power play. “We discussed a scene that hadn’t been written or filmed yet, and [Cullen] said, ‘Well, how much is real, and how much is it pretending?’ And I, without listening, I said to myself: ‘Well, it’s real! Obviously, he loves her! That’s exactly how badly he cheated on her. You just want to believe this person; you just want to like it,” von Rittberg says. “I heard [Cullen] say [Thomas] think it is his world, and that’s the only way he was able to play this role; it was just something very powerful that young Elizabeth probably felt drawn to.

But Thomas isn’t the only one Elizabeth is ready to confide in. After becoming embroiled in the sociopolitical and sexual politics of the English court, Elizabeth turns to Robert Dudley (Jamie Blackley), one of her oldest friends and “the closest thing to the person in whom she can trust. But the fact that Elizabeth only sees Robert as a best friend “also makes this relationship difficult, because maybe he would like the relationship to be something else,” von Rittberg teases.

For all the intrigue a love triangle can produce in a juicy historical drama, Become Elizabethat its base, is about halfsibling rivalry between Elizabeth, her older sister Mary and her younger brother Edward. It’s basically Succession for the remaining line of the Tudor family, the siblings being forced to reconcile the love they have for each other with their own growing desire for power. “What was so important to us is that there is always love and there is history together. With her and her sister, it was so damn hard, but they fell out of favor together, they were brought up the same way, they grew up together and were lined up for the throne,” von Rittberg said, adding that the show leans into the gray areas of the era by oscillating “between the love and hate” and showing “there are no heroes [or] nasty.”

“For Elizabeth, observing and learning, rather than jumping to certain conclusions, sides or opinions, made her the brilliant queen that she was – that ability to pick herself up and choose her fights wisely,” says von Rittberg. “She knew the only way to keep a cool head was to choose wisely who to go with and who to follow – being nimble and allowing herself to change that opinion as well.”

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