Celebrity 'Marie Antoinette' Star Emilia Schüle on Corsets, Dior, and Her Feminist Take on the French Queen Don't get her started on that whole cake debacle. By Madeline Hirsch Published on April 24, 2023 @ 12:58PM Pin Share Tweet Email Photo: Courtesy of PBS Marie Antoinette comes with a lot of baggage. There’s the whole “let them eat cake” thing — not a great look for her, but a memorable phrase, nonetheless. And sartorially, the infamous royal was unmatched, setting trends in fashion, interiors, beauty, and art in her own time and for centuries to come. Still, the French queen and her signature Rococo-era decadence had an obvious dark side in the tumultuous revolution years that followed. Personal politics and style aside, it’s hard to overstate Marie Antoinette's impact on the world. But first and foremost, she lived as the reigning queen of France, making her a powerful woman way ahead of her time — and therefore, a target for projection, hang-ups, and countless misinterpretations. It follows that any actress who plays the famous monarch on-screen would face similar scrutiny. Inevitably, she’s compared to previous renditions (Sofia Coppola’s equally divisive and beloved 2006 film, for one) while still expected to put her own spin on the well-worn historical territory. There's also the historical figure herself (and the many paintings, books, plays, and couture collections created in her name) to live up to. It’s a daunting task, but one Emilia Schüle took on wholeheartedly in PBS's new series. Courtesy of PBS "Everyone knows Marie Antoinette. She's an icon," says Schüle, who stars as the titular queen in Marie Antoinette, which offers a fresh feminist take on the historical figure. And while the German actress acknowledges the pressure of playing one of the most famous women in history, she felt inspired to do right by her. "I tried to do my very best and work my ass off to do justice to her," Schüle shares when we met over Zoom shortly after the show's U.S. premiere. "I did get a bit mad about the Coppola film because it really just scratches upon the surface of everything she went through. I don't think it really gives does justice to her. She's just so much more complex than that." Of course, the series, which originally streamed in Europe and was recently renewed for a second season, has all the requisite fashion eye candy, courtly intrigue, and lush settings that come with any well-made costume drama. Still, you won't hear anything about cake (many historians argue the dauphine never uttered that famous line). Instead, the show seeks to shed light on a complex, lost woman rebelling against the society she finds herself in. That "trauma" of feeling like an outsider, being separated from her family, and struggling with her purpose is what endeared Schüle to the character. "When I looked at her trauma, that really made me understand why she was this party girl, why she was addicted to all these clothes, partying, and playing cards," she explains. "It was all just a distraction from her loneliness. And from her emptiness. She was looking for a role in life." Courtesy of PBS In reality, Marie Antoinette was a complex, complicated figure like any other, not just a pretty face with an enviable wardrobe as she's so often portrayed. "I'm playing a really rebellious girl who's standing up for herself," Schüle notes. "She doesn't want to abandon her needs and doesn't understand the stupid rules of the court." And that's what sets the PBS series apart from its many predecessors. The Marie Antoinette cast and crew filmed in Versailles's sprawling grounds and the palatial interiors where the French queen actually lived, adding to the project's nuanced realism. It also underscored Schüle's sense of loneliness in her character. "Children can easily get lost in the palace like that and are not able to establish some intimacy because it's freaking big, you know?" The true-to-era costumes, which included corsets, stockings, and heavy fabrics, also helped solidify the actress's feminist portrayal. "I really hated the corsets," says Schüle. But they did get into character. The discomfort of wearing a corset for five months changed how and when Schüle ate on set and made her "so dependent on other people" when she was in full costume — much like how Marie Antoinette must have felt living in the stifling French court. "They really did just oppress women," she adds. It wasn't all bad, though, when it comes to the fashion on set. One of the highlights of Schüle's filming experience was working with Dior to create two of the show's most lavish gowns, including "a very special day" spent at the fashion house's Paris atelier. "I mean, obviously all the dresses [on the show] were made for me, and they were beautiful. And there were millions of hands working on them, and took millions of hours to create," she shares. "But then, if you wear Dior, it's just something else entirely." Courtesy of PBS You can spot two Dior gowns in a few of the show's pivotal scenes. First, when Marie Antoinette is presented to the people of Paris alongside her future husband, Louis XVI. Second, during a scene when the queen attends her debut party at what would become her refuge outside Versailles. "[The dresses] were so beautiful, both white, so we had to be extra-careful when I was wearing them," says Schüle of her experience wearing one-of-a-kind Dior creations during filming. "These dresses were not allowed to touch the ground unless we were filming, so there was always a person behind me, and when I was eating, I would have to be completely covered in blankets, you know." After all the pageantry, lavish wigs, and world-class fashion of playing Marie Antoinette, you'd wonder if some of her character's refined taste rubbed off on Schüle. "If anything, it made me the opposite," she laughs when I ask her about her own style. "I did wear, like, joggers. Yeah, sweatpants for six months after filming."