While most Westerns tend to follow one man’s heroic journey, The English decides to place a woman at the forefront. Emily Blunt—who also serves as an executive producer—stars as Lady Cornelia Locke, a wealthy Englishwoman seeking revenge against the man she believes to have killed her child. She meets Eli Whipp (Chaske Spencer), a Pawnee ex-army scout on his own quest towards claiming land that has been promised to him, though is getting repeatedly denied due to the color of his skin. As the two travel together, they find themselves joined against an array of bloody conflict, as well as finding connection in their shared pasts.
During a recent press junket, Paste sat down with leads Emily Blunt and Chaske Spencer to discuss The English, building the core love story, and bringing Blick’s characters to life.
Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Paste: What attracted each of you to your character in The English? Why was this someone you wanted to bring to life on screen?
Emily Blunt: I fell madly in love with [Cornelia] and I love a character with a secret and she certainly has one, how much she withholds on this epic adventure she goes on. I found her endlessly surprising. She shows up in the Wild West like the feminine ideal and quickly reveals herself to be a force to be reckoned with. She’s like the damsel-not-in-distress, and I really liked that about her. I was gripped immediately. I thought the characters were so rich and so nuanced and modern somehow, within this epic landscape that they’re working in. They felt modern and the relationship [between Eli and Cornelia], their love story felt modern. I loved it.
Chaske Spencer: I have to go on what… [pause] I almost called you Cornelia [laughs].
Blunt: [Laughing] I imagined you preferred if she was my character at all times.
Spencer: …What Emily had said. It was the weight of the story that really intrigued me. Eli, I’ve never played a character like that, so I was really looking forward to seeing how far I could go with that. I love the chemistry between the two, the love story between the two. I loved how their dialogue, each scene was a little more peek into each character, a little crack into each character and I think that the audience will see that and also, I think they’ll be rooting for them as well as they go on this adventure of life, death, all that. I think that’s what really brought me into the world of what Hugo built.
Paste: You touched upon this blooming love story between Eli and Cornelia. Their connection that deepens through to the end is such an integral part to the series. How did you guys go about developing that relationship with one another?
Blunt: I think it felt very natural for us. We had such incredible material to work with. I think the space between them was so riveting to me. It’s what they don’t say to each other that keeps you leaning in and kept me leaning into his character and his into mine. I think even though their relationship at that point would be considered outside of the social norms, what I loved about it was that all that mattered to them was to survive. They needed each other desperately to survive. I think it came quite naturally for Chaske and I, we both saw the scenes very similarly. We wanted to play them, our approach was very in tandem, I felt. We sort of saw the scenes in a same way and so Hugo could just step back and let us play with them and I loved it.
Paste: Your roles in The English are very physical—the heat, the costumes, the stunts, etc. Could you talk about some of the physical preparations and challenges from filming? Was that at all daunting, taking on such an immersive role?
Spencer: I think the training we both went through with the horses, it just helped enhance the characters. [As for] the weapons [and] the training, they brought us in a couple months before to do some training. It just added more and for my character, I got to hold a shotgun and use it a certain way which I never probably would’ve done in my entire life. It’s on screen, it looks kind of cool.
Blunt: It’s very cool!
Spencer: Yeah, but it was very hard to do that [laughs].
Blunt: That took months, but now everyone else’s cool factor hits the floor when they see you do that.
Spencer: That’s Hugo, man.
Paste: Emily, you had the bow-and-arrow scenes as well. What was that training process like?
Blunt: I’m not sure if I could ever sort of hit a target, I’m good at sort of faking it. That’s really all we have to do. I’m not sure if Chaske and I could ever hit anything if you paid us. I certainly could never shoot a little piglet, that awful scene with that poor little pig which [Cornelia] shoots pretty mercilessly. [But] I loved all of the training for it and I loved making it look very believable. You want these characters to look at ease on a horse and at ease with a bow-and-arrow. That’s important. You want the audience to be kidnapped so you’ve got to offer them that believability. I’ve always loved that side of the prep.
Paste: The Western genre in itself is known for how it tackles themes of personal conquest, identity, greed, etc. How do you think The English stands out and approaches these themes in a unique way?
Blunt: Like you said, the Western genre offers you such a mythic story space and these great big themes that you listed. I do feel The English is a fresh take on it. I think there’s still room within the genre to brush off the dust and do something fresh and different. I think it’s the modernity of their relationship that really is lasting. Hugo’s very clever at smuggling in history that you will be confronted with watching it, but not assaulted with. He’s good at peppering it in a clever way so it’s very thought-provoking, very moving. I think what is lasting for people is that relationship between them, and I don’t know if many Westerns do that. It’s usually about that restoration of justice and is quite personal to the lead character. It’s quite a masculine world. I haven’t seen many where these two characters are very evenly matched in their quest.
Paste: Why do you think The English is relevant today, and what do you hope audiences will take from it?
Spencer: What I love about a Western is that anyone can put themselves into that situation. I think an audience member can put themselves in The English like, “Would I be able to do that? Would I be able to survive that?” That’s what I love about the Western. The elements involved, you can easily get caught up in that world. Where it is now, I think the audience is going to relate to a lot of it, especially the birth of a country and see the history. How the land is soaked in blood building this nation, I think people are going to have to look at that. But also there’s romance, there’s fun in there. The audience is going to really embrace that because we are living in uncertain times right now. That’s kind of like the Western, it’s very uncertain and I think people can relate to that.
The English premieres Friday, November 11 on Prime Video.
Dianna Shen is an entertainment writer based in New York. When she’s not crying over a rom-com, she can be found on Twitter @ddiannashen.
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