Sienna Guillory on tackling the role of Arya in Eragon.
She may still be young, but Sienna Guillory’s acting chops have seen her working with the likes of Penny Woolcock, Richard Curtis and Iain Softley. And she couldn’t be more lovely, Rotten Tomatoes UK discovers as we meet her to talk about her latest role, as Arya the Elf in Eragon, based on the novel by Christopher Paolini.
Had you read the book before you signed on?
Sienna Guillory: No. I’d heard the myths of this fifteen year-old boy who’d written this epic journey and it was a big bestseller over in America and then I got sent the script for Eragon and it was just so inspiring and so beautiful. The relationship between the boy and the dragon, the female roles, the journey against evil, the hero with a thousand faces, it was all just so well told. I loved it.
I heard that it was actually the same thing and just assumed it had to be a Hollywood rewrite. After I eventually heard I’d got the job, I realised that it was the same thing and got a copy of the book in my hands and I was completely blown away. I didn’t move for six hours and just read it. I couldn’t put it down.
Have you read Eldest, the sequel?
SG: It’s amazing. The first third of it is pretty tough because it’s mostly about dwarves and dwarf stuff – their swords and knives and legends and religions – but then it just explodes and becomes mind-blowingly brilliant.
Does Arya have a bigger part in the second book? She’s obviously a key character in the story but she’s not given much time in Eragon…
SG: [laughs] No, she isn’t. I’ve been trying to explain to friends who’ve seen the trailer and said, “Oh wow, it looks amazing and you’re in it!” I’m like, “Well, yes, but that’s my whole part!” [laughs]
Roran comes into his own in Eldest and has his own story. It’s divided into three stories; Eragon’s, Roran’s and Queen Nasuada’s. Arya is part of the Eragon story.
What was it like working with someone who’s as fresh on-set as Ed Speleers?
SG: It’s incredibly inspiring because it’s not contrived. When you work with someone who’s so real… I did a film called The Principles of Lust which is one of my favourite acting experiences ever and most of the people that we worked with were non-actors. There’s a genuine thing going on with non-actors; you can’t pretend. And that’s what so brilliant about Ed; his talent is raw and you don’t know what to expect.
You know, he didn’t have a minute to think about anything. Everyone on set was saying, “Ooh, Ed, ooh his life’s going to change.” It’s like, “Shut up and let him get on with the job.” And that’s what he did; he put his head down and got on with the job. I love him; he’s great.
You got to spend some time with Robert Carlyle too…
SG: He’s just one of my biggest heroes. He’s a complete actor; he’s phenomenal, he has enormous power. When you meet him he’s very handsome and very kind-of quiet and charming and sweet and intelligent. And then he came on as Durza and it was just… I mean it’s a bizarre set-up because you’re there and it’s pissing with rain and there are things on fire and people in cagoules huddled around heaters in tents miles away. But he takes all of that away; he’s electric to work with. He just powers it up and you can’t help but fight back.
You can’t stop and switch off in-between takes either. You really have to walk away and find somewhere to go. He really showed me that; it’s hard to switch from such a villainous character back to Robert in-between takes because everyone’s really good friends and it’s a good craic that we’ve got going on. Gas, gas, gas, chat, chat, chat and suddenly you realise that you’re not focussed on what you’re doing and you’re not giving it the due respect that it deserves.
And he’s really good like that and incredibly disciplined. He’ll just step around the corner and he’ll have a chair there and some water and a banana or whatever and he’ll just sit and stay where he needs to be emotionally and that’s a good person to have around.
You’ve had the chance to work with a great many talented actors and directors; do you have any favourites?
SG: My favourite director is Penny Woolcock. And I really loved working with Antonio Cuadri on a film I have coming up called The Heart of the Earth. And Tom Shankland. Oh, there’ve been so many wonderful actors and directors who I’ve loved. It’s just so wonderful when people enjoy what they do. You can work with someone who’s an amazing actor and if they hate the role they’re doing it’s uncomfortable to watch and uncomfortable to work with. When you’re working with someone who loves what they’re doing it’s just such a joy. We all really loved this project, this story and this journey. It felt like it needed to happen on its own and that’s what was so great about it. It was our own.
Eragon is out now.