Jasmin Savoy Brown (The Leftovers, Stitchers) is the fresh-faced and always-composed Emilia Bassano on TNT’s Will. I caught up with her to chat about the series, what it’s like to play a historical figure, her favorite memories from the set, and how Will fits into the current TV landscape. Read on for a transcript of our phone call!
Rogues Portal: Hi, Jasmin! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me today. I really appreciate it.
Jasmin Savoy Brown: Hi, thank you. I’m really excited.
RP: My first question is, what is it like playing a character based on a historical figure? Is your process as Emilia any different from your other roles?
JSB: Yeah, it’s totally different, because she has so much to her. Her poetry is available for free online and there’s so many theories about her and books on her. I had to research all those things, and I went to some museums in London to look at paintings by other members of her family. I spent a lot of time researching her and I had coaches for speech and voice and body movement because it was a period piece. There was a lot of mechanical and mental work to do in addition to the emotional work. I did a lot of that, too, but there was definitely more mechanical work than when I’m playing someone that I just make up.
RP: A lot of the history surrounding Emilia Bassano is sort of murky. Did you feel that you had creative license to sort of fill in the gaps and flesh her out as a character for Will?
JSB: Definitely. I wanted her to be the way I think of her, strong and intelligent and funny. When I was creating her, I wanted to do her justice. I did feel like I had creative license and I thought she would appreciate and understand that because she was an artist herself.
RP: Do you have any particular opinion on the real Emilia Bassano and her supposed role in Shakespeare’s life?
JSB: I feel like she was sort of a Shakespearean times Hillary Clinton.She did accomplish what she set out to do, becoming a published poet, buts he was constantly told no by everyone around her. Every time she took a step forward she would get dragged back. Learning about her showed me a lot of what’s changed and also what hasn’t.
RP: Did you enjoy working on a period drama?
JSB: It was so much fun. We shot on a location a lot in these places filled with such rich history, castles and theaters and all these beautiful locations. It was so wonderful.
RP: Will takes lots of liberties with Elizabethan history and fashion. What was it like going into makeup and wardrobe while you were on set? Did you ever expect to come out with wild hair or makeup?
JSB: I never expected that for myself because of the character I was playing. I knew was pretty elegant and rich and straightforward but it was fun to see other people. All these punks were all over the place; especially the scenes in the theater, where we were sitting on the stage and there were the groundlings all around. It was really cool to see those transformations.
RP: How do you feel about the story? What is Emilia’s journey like, from your point of view as the actress playing her?
JSB: I thought her story was very rich. I did a lot of work with my acting coach to explore it and discover it and make sure we got it right. I thought it was rich and layered and beautiful. On screen, what she comes down to looking like is a deep support for William Shakespeare and a guide and sort of a mentor, even though they’re about the same age. All the stuff that I feel happened off screen that fed those scenes we got to see was just beautiful. I loved playing it and discovering it and just being with everybody.
RP: Do you have a favorite episode? Why that one?
JSB: My favorite to shoot was episode 7. It was a musical! We were in rehearsals every day and dancing and singing. I love live theater. To get to be a part of that, and in that way, as a renaissance moment of the first woman on stage was just incredible.
RP: Who did you most enjoy working with from the cast?
JSB: I really loved working with Mattias [Inwood, who plays Richard Burbage]. That scene where they meet was great, and the little glimpses and moments later on. He’s brilliant. I think he’s hilarious. The scene where they meet just cracks me up. I can only watch him. He’s the most open, lovely, funny, humble person. I would love to work with him again.
RP: What is it like to see the finished product?
JSB: It’s really cool. I’m not someone who looks at the monitor much or who likes to watch playback. I just show up, shoot it, and leave. So this is my first time seeing it all put together. The colors, for one, are incredible. They’re just beautiful. It’s been — I think — about five months since we shot the last episode, so it’s really… I don’t know if I have a word for it, but it’s really cool to see it all brought together.
RP: How do you think Will fits into the current TV landscape?
JSB: It’s interesting because it is very different, but if you’re paying attention, you notice it’s kind of speaking to our current situation in a way. They are dealing with this horrible dictator in a sense, and people are scared of him, and others don’t take him very seriously. He slowly grows over the course of the show. Luckily, at the end — well, you know what happens — but they kind of leave that up in the air.
Anything can happen in season two but I think, for me, it’s slightly — in its own different way, it mirrors what’s happening here. That may be because I flew out literally the day after the election, so politics were on my mind, but the political weight of it I definitely feel. The music, the colors, all the fast paced stuff they deal with, all the Shakespeare themes: sex, love, drama, war; those speak to a modern audience even if they don’t speak the language.
RP: How does it hold up to previous cinematic representations of Shakespeare’s life?
JSB: I think it’s its own thing. When people start comparing everything — I see why they do. But someone loves one thing and hate everything else. I see them all as their own body of work and I appreciate them for that.
For bonus material from this interview, support Rogues Portal on Patreon for just $1 per month! Catch new episodes of Will on TNT Monday nights at 11 p.m. EST/10 p.m. CST. To keep up with Jasmin, follow her on Twitter.