Legend Star Emily Browning on the Deceptive Appeal of the Bad Boy: "You Can't Change Them"
Hollywood never gets tired of gangster movies. The latest, Legend, in theaters today, comes from across the pond. The film tells the true story of the Kray twins, Reggie and Ronnie, who terrorized London in the '60s. They eventually were captured and imprisoned for life, but their story lives on, and this film focuses on the nuances and complexities of the twins' relationship, in between the gunshots and blood-spatter. Tom Hardy plays both brothers, while Aussie actress Emily Browning plays Reggie's wife in the film, Frances Shea, who narrates. "Do you like being a gangster?" she asks Reggie at one point. Well, these guys did.
We caught up with Browning when she was in Toronto to premiere Legend at the Toronto International Film Festival, where she told us working with Hardy was an "intimidating" experience. "He’s so incredibly talented, and that was a little scary at first," she said. "I didn’t know if I was going to be able to hold my own with him. But then we got to know each other, and I saw how he is such a kind and generous person. He really, really cares about what he’s doing and that’s such a nice energy to be around because that means everyone else working around him ups their game."
She didn't stop there. Scroll down to find out what life is like when you're the gangster's wife.
You portray a real person. Was that hard for you in wanting to get things right?
"It’s tricky. There’s always pressure when you’re playing a real person that people knew, but there’s really so little information available about Frances herself. That makes it really difficult to differentiate truth from fiction. A lot of the stories are conflicting, so it’s hard to hard to know who she genuinely was. I didn’t dig too much into researching her on my own because I felt that could have gotten a little convoluted and confusing if I tried to take everything into account. Instead, I put all my faith in the director and screenwriter, Brian Helgeland."
As an Aussie, did you have to work hard to achieve a great East End accent?
"I worked very hard with a dialect coach for a solid month before we started shooting. We would sit together for hours and play recordings of people with these old school East End accents. I worked a lot on vowel sounds. I definitely got to a place where it felt natural. I haven’t done the accent for a long time, and I’m not sure if I could do it right now, to be honest."
Gangster movies show how complicated the world can be. Do you think viewers will be able to relate to that in this one?
"Compared to a lot of gangster movies, I feel like these characters are just straight villains. We’re not trying to apologize for any of the things that they did, but I think you get to see another side of them as well. You get to see the good parts of them, which makes it more interesting and a lot more realistic. We’re not putting these people up on a pedestal. You see the damage that they cause for a lot of people around them. There are a lot of cool scenes in the film, but by the end I don’t think anyone is thinking that these guys are so awesome, I want to be just like them. You see the destruction that’s left in their wake and that’s a lot more realistic telling of the story."
Clearly your character has a complicated marriage.
"I definitely don’t think this is what you would want from a marriage. They had a very brief one. They were only married for eight weeks, I think. It makes you wonder about the appeal of the bad boy. For Frances, she wanted something else from life. She’d been told to stay in and be and housewife and marry someone with a good solid job and have babies, and she didn’t want that. She wanted something more exciting and interesting. She says early on in the film that she'd do anything to get out of the East End. She saw something in Reggie that was exciting and glamorous and perhaps an escape from the dull life she was leading. Because of that starry-eyed feeling, she was able to turn a blind eye to the violence and the darker side of the world that they were in."
That can happen in life—a point where you don't realize your partner is who you thought they were.
"Exactly. She definitely goes into the relationship hoping she can ignore certain parts of him and possibly even change parts of him. Then, it becomes pretty clear to her that he’s always going to be a gangster, he’s always going to put his relationship with his brother above everything else, and he’s never going to leave that world. That is the downfall of their relationship. No matter how much you love someone you can’t change these inherent facts about them."
Maybe that's why so many people say men don't change.
"Could be true. I have no comment."
Watch a trailer for the film below.