Emilia Schüle on ‘Marie Antoinette’ and Her Most Challenging Scene to Film

Mar 19, 2023

The upcoming PBS drama series Marie Antoinette follows the titular queen as a young woman, newly arrived in France to marry a young prince she barely knows. The intensity of the court of Versailles initially proves overwhelming for the newly-arrived Marie. There is the strict social hierarchy, the conniving members of the French court, and of course, the pressures to produce an heir with a husband who won’t even make eye contact with her. Enough pressure to make anyone crack.

In a recent 1-on-1 interview with Collider, series star Emilia Schüle discussed her process for stepping into the elegant shoes of the famous monarch. She talked about finding the line between research and gut instinct, dressing in Dior, and drawing inspiration from other period dramas. She also talked about how society now, as in the series, is still quick to condemn women for their emotions.
COLLIDER: What is it like stepping into the shoes of a historical figure as well known as Marie Antoinette?

EMILIA SCHÜLE: I mean, it was definitely daunting and a lot of pressure. I remember I was happy to have the part for two days, and then I just realized that I have so much work to do, and it’s a really big job and a lot of weight on my shoulders. But then I just prepared as much as I could. And then I do know that at some point, you just have to let go and have to have fun because you will not have amazing results if you’re in your head. Acting is about letting go, and I feel like I accomplished that.

Image via PBS

So tying into that then, I was wondering how much research went into the role and then at what point you just decided to depart from history and go with your gut?

SCHÜLE: That was actually really well put, because I was prepping a lot and learning RP accent. I was speaking American before, and I had all those wardrobe and wig fittings, oh gosh, for days. And then I was reading all those books, and then I met (writer) Deborah Davis, and she got really upset about the books that I’ve read. So I was really confused.

And then I just realized that I have to trust all the work that I’ve done with my acting coaches, and the scripts and the vision that Deborah Davis has of Marie Antoinette. Then I had to depart from all the knowledge that is out there and just create my own Marie Antoinette.

What were some of the details you put into your portrayal to really make her your own?

SCHÜLE: Yeah, I added this thing that whenever she feels canceled that she has to– she feels herself if she touches things, like fabric, or an apple. And this is how some beautiful moments were created in the show where she kind of wraps herself in the curtain, and it’s really random.

Was that like the bit with feather, as well, when she was talking about having the dress made?

SCHÜLE: Yeah, stuff like that, for example. Yeah.

Image via PBS

Were there any moments that really jumped out to you as being the most fun to film?

SCHÜLE: Yeah, I mean, I enjoyed filming most of Episode 1 because all those moments are just so epic, like her arriving in Versailles for the first time. And then I really love the wedding bed scene in the first episode, when the whole court kind of brings them to bed, and then they start throwing those aniseed balls at them. It’s just so disturbing, but it was a lot of fun to film it, actually.

Then I really love Episode 6 with her brother, where they’re just about to get a divorce, and they get couple therapy, which is just so cute. And then she has a very feminist outburst and is really raging, and it was just wonderfully written. I loved playing that scene.

So then by contrast, were there moments that you found especially challenging when it came to filming? Be it like a stunt or something like that?

SCHÜLE: I mean, there was a moment where I was almost killed by a horse. It back-flipped, and luckily the horse didn’t fall on me. It fell next to me, and it rolled on me for a tiny second. I was just very, very lucky. Apart from that, there’s one scene where she’s underwater, it’s this nightmare, and I realized that I’m not feeling too comfortable underwater, especially having a wig and a big gown. It kind of really discomforted me. So I had to go and do underwater training and then the corsets, big challenge. Big challenge.

Speaking of corsets and the costumes, they are stunning. Absolutely gorgeous. I wondered if you had a favorite of your dresses.

SCHÜLE: Oh, I mean, I love the Dior dresses. Dior made two dresses for me. It’s crazy if you wear Dior for work an entire day, but it’s also complicated because they were not allowed to touch the ground when I was not filming. So I would always have someone behind me carrying the seam of the dress. But I love them. They were just marvelous. Yeah.

You mentioned earlier this kind of outburst that she has during couple therapy, and that kind of made me think throughout that her struggles are so rooted in the excess of Versailles, but there’s such a relatability to them that feels very contemporary. I wondered if you could speak a little more to bridging that gap?

SCHÜLE: You mean that women who speak out are labeled hysteric and stuff like that?

Image via PBS

To this day, yeah.

SCHÜLE: Yeah, that’s true. That’s true. I mean, we definitely have female enemy views nowadays. I mean, I just look at Meghan [Markle] and how the press was just eating her. I mean, yeah, definitely. I don’t know why, but if you’re a mother, then you’re not a career person. If you choose the career, then you’re a bad mother. There’s just so much judgment towards women. A man is bossy, but a woman is complicated and hysteric. I don’t know why. But yeah, it’s not easy to be a woman these days. Yeah.

In preparing for this, you mentioned research on Marie Antoinette, but did you also look to other period dramas, other sort of things of this genre to get inspiration?

SCHÜLE: Yeah, I was obsessing over The Great, the show. I’m a big fan of Elle Fanning and also the way she did the British accent. She’s American. So yeah, I was obsessing with that. And also, I mean, I watched all those films. There’s also a film where Saoirse Ronan plays Queen of Scotland. There are loads. Yes. My family had to endure watching all these films once.

One thing I love about your Marie is just, she’s so bubbly, she’s so much fun. So I was wondering, if she were around today, what would be her go-to song on her playlist?

SCHÜLE: I had this one song, it was so Marie Antoinette for me. It was called “Space Girl.” That was actually like a spirit animal kind of song for me. For her, yeah. Wait, “Space Girl” from Frances Forever. That’s Marie Antoinette for me.

Marie Antoinette premieres on PBS on March 19.

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