Emma (1996) with Gwyneth Paltrow in the title role has some behind-the-scenes facts that are funny, lovely, surprising and shocking. It’s all over the map, really. Test your knowledge and check your answers or read on and learn something new.
- What is the real-life connection between the actresses who played Mrs. and Miss Bates?
- What did Toni Collette do to prepare for the role of Harrie Smith?
- How many of the leading actors in this adaption of Emma are of English origin?
- Which great house in Dorset served as the filming location for Hartfield, the Woodhouse estate?
- Paltrow’s ability with a particular non-British accent was pivotal to her casting. What was the accent?
- Which Hollywood mogul green-lit the film and approved the casting of Gwyneth Paltrow in the title role?
- Which supporting actress in the cast had been seen in the cast of another Austen adaptation the year before?
- What was the screenwriter’s original concept for the film, and why is it fortunate that this changed?
- What type of surgery did Gwyneth Paltrow undergo a month before traveling to London for the filming of Emma?
- Which member of the cast has expressed regrets about being in the film?
How do you think you did? The answers to the quiz are at the bottom of the post.
10.) The English are outnumbered – Among the top-billed actors in the cast, only two out of ten were English, Jeremy Northam, and Sophie Thompson. Expand the circle to include the rest of the United Kingdom, Scottish actors Ewan McGregor, James Cosmo, Phyllida Law, Alan Cumming, plus the Irish Denys Hawthorne account for five more. Austrailian Toni Collette and American Gwyneth Paltrow might be grandfathered in as citizens of former colonies if you’re feeling generous. This leaves Italian Greta Scacchi with the distinction of being least English of the non-English members of the cast.
9.) Miss Bates’ doppelganger – It’s true. You’ve seen that face before. Sophie Thompson, who was Miss Bates in Emma also portrayed Mary Musgrove in the 1995 adaptation of Persuasion.
8.) Hartfield or Heartfield? – I love Austen’s little play on words here. The estate where Emma Woodhouse grows up and falls in love is aptly named “Hartfield.” In the same vein, “Came House,” the location that served as Hartfield in the film, is a popular wedding venue.
7.) A rising star gets cast in her first leading role – Gwyneth Paltrow’s acting career was steadily building. At the age of twenty-two, she had already been cast in numerous minor and supporting parts, including as young “Wendy” in Hook. When the director, Douglas McGrath, saw her in the role of “Ginnie” in the 1993 film Flesh and Bone, he was impressed with her Texas accent, saying that as a Texan, he had never heard someone who wasn’t from Texas perform a convincing Texas accent. She was brought in to audition on short notice, and she apologized for not having adequate time to practice a British accent. She proceeded to perform her audition with a convincing English accent. Speaking of that audition, McGrath said:
“We had many actresses, big and small, who wanted to play this part. The minute she started the read-through, the very first line, I thought, ‘Everything is going to be fine; she’s going to be brilliant.'”
6.) There’s always more to the story – The other person in the room at the audition was Miramax producer Harvey Weinstein. After the audition, he green-lighted Emma on the condition that Paltrow would accept a role in another film, The Pallbearer, before doing Emma. More than 20 years later, in 2017, in the wake of allegations made against Weinstein by numerous other actresses, Paltrow revealed the dark side of what had seemed a fairy-tale story of her big break in Hollywood. She had also suffered an encounter with Weinstein. Her boyfriend at the time, Brad Pitt, intervened, confronting the producer directly.
5.) Ewan McGregor Regrets – In a 2003 interview with The Guardian, when responding to the question of “What’s the worst thing you’ve done?” McGregor revealed:
‘Work wise? My character Frank Churchill on Emma. I made the decision to do that film because I thought I should be seen to be doing something different from Trainspotting. My decision-making was wrong. It’s the only time I’ve done that. And I learnt from it, you know. So I’m glad of that – because it was early on and I learnt my lesson. It’s a good film, Emma, but I’m just… not very good in it. I’m not helped because I’m also wearing the world’s worst wig. It’s quite a laugh, checking that wig out.’
4.) Being Harriet Smith – In Chapter 3 of Emma, we meet Harriet Smith:
“She was short, plump and fair, with a fine bloom, blue eyes, light hair, regular features, and a look of great sweetness; and before the end of the evening, Emma was as much pleased with her manners as her person, and quite determined to continue the acquaintance.”
Actress Toni Collette is naturally slim. To portray the “plump” Harriet Smith, she intentionally gained weight for the role. When asked about this, Collette said:
“I think it’s important for people to look real in films. There’s a tendency to go Barbie doll and I don’t agree with that at all.”
3.) They were clueless – Screenwriter/director Douglas McGrath had read the book Emma when he was an undergraduate at Princeton University. He loved the book and knew right away that he wanted to turn it into a film someday. His initial idea was to adapt it into a modern version of the novel, set on the Upper East Side of New York City. A decade would pass before the opportunity came up for him to pursue his idea, and the producer like the idea of a modern version as well. Miramax executives, as well as McGrath, were unaware that a modern adaptation of Emma, Clueless (1995) was already in production and would be released well ahead of Emma. They didn’t find out about Clueless until after the plans and pre-production stage of Emma had already begun.
2.) The happy coincidence of Mrs. and Miss Bates – According to actress Emma Thompson, the casting director for Emma had the names of potential candidates for the parts of Mrs. Bates and her spinster daughter on separate lists. They cast actress Phyllida Law as Mrs. Bates. Initially, there was some concern on the part of director Doug McGrath about casting Sophie Thompson in the role of Miss Bates; he thought she was too young. He changed his mind after he saw her with glasses and her hair down. And that is how the mother and daughter pair of Phyllida Law and Sophie Thompson were cast– entirely coincidentally–as mother and daughter in the film. What does Emma Thompson have to do with this? She is also a daughter of Phyllida Law and sister to Sophie Thompson.
1.) Like pulling teeth – Gwyneth Paltrow underwent surgery for extraction of her wisdom teeth a month before she was due to fly to London for the filming of Emma. After a week of recovery from the surgery, she spent the next three weeks studying material from a woman who was an expert on “all things period” in Los Angeles to prepare for portraying Emma Woodhouse. She worked extensively with a dialect coach and rehearsed the differences in behavior and manners of the Regency era along with singing, dancing, archery, etc.
Quiz Answers: 1.) They are mother and daughter. 2.) Gain weight. 3.) Two. 4.) Came House. 5.) A Texas accent. 6.) Harvey Weinstein. 7.) Sophie Thompson as Mary Musgrove in Persuasion. 8.) A modern adaptation of Emma. Unbeknownst to the producers, another modern adaptation, “Clueless” was already underway. 9.) Paltrow underwent Oral Surgery for wisdom tooth extraction. 10.) Ewan McGregor in the part of Frank Churchill.
How did you do on the quiz? Are there other interesting bits of trivia you’d like to add to the list? Your thoughts and comments are always welcome!