Don’t let the name throw you off. “The English” is a western, set primarily in 1890. It was also the term Native Americans gave to foreign intruders, regardless of nationality, who came to the West to seek their fortunes, no matter the cost. Writer-director-executive producer Hugo Blick (“The Honorable Woman”) has crafted a tale that is by turns bizarre, macabre, and beautiful.
Emily Blunt plays Lady Cornelia Locke, driven from England to America by grief and revenge. She meets Eli Whipp (Chaske Spencer), a former Pawnee cavalry scout, as he tries to return to a house that no longer awaits him. Discussing his inspiration via email, Blick writes, “When a country is reforged, for those who stand in its way, dreams turn to nightmares. I was interested in telling a love story about two very different people who clashed.
Speaking via Zoom, decked out in a sparkly white dress with a high neckline that would suit Cornelia, Blunt, who also served as an executive producer on the Amazon limited series, is happy to revisit a character she doesn’t really fancy to shake.
This tale is full of unexpected twists with added twists and turns. Is that what first hooked you when you read the scripts?
I was completely captivated to be continually surprised and amazed by this. It’s the kind of show that cuts your knees when you think you’re walking in the right direction. I was still stunned by the body count alone, by the people being eliminated mercilessly, with such speed. But what is beautiful and brilliant about Hugo Blick is that there is something joyful in the way he writes: “Oh, do you like this character? They’re gone now, but I’ve got 10 more, and I’m waiting for that. — and such confidence in how he would create the next saga, the next obstacle, and the next episode of violence. There’s joy in it, and I felt it in the script.
Cornelia is doing her part to increase that body count.
It was very exciting to play, as she seems to want revenge with a lot of enthusiasm and positivity, and she’s pretty outspoken about it, and seems to live pretty fearless. And then you have humanity of the aftermath of those moments, of how they count with what they just did. I love that her guilt about getting rid of people lessens as the show goes on, because she knows she’s heading with that great propulsion towards her final big bad wolf destination.
That would be Melmont, played by the amazing Rafe Spall.
Like a deadly Ferrari, he enters the show. Like a wild animal. And it was like doing scenes with a wild animal sometimes. Luckily, she’s the most gorgeous person, and we had so much fun visiting Madrid together. But he was an amazing scene partner, with just the right amount of unpredictability that kept me up at night after we did those scenes. I would think about them all night, they would be in my body, they would be in my veins, they were so intense.
Then we have your main man, Chaske Spencer, whose Eli is diametrically opposed to Melmont.
Let me talk about how transformative he is as a person, because when you meet Chaske, he’s a very lively, warm, exuberant person, and for all that simmer and sub, and for that he plays with such restraint, just took heart – doing nothing and knowing it’s going to be magnetic. He has charisma in the wazoo. I said to him today, “You’re going to make the hearts of the whole world beat for this character.” But he’s a lovely person.
Does adding an executive producer to the mix this time around affect your approach to performance in any way, or do you take that hat off while you shoot?
I take it off completely during filming, because I know that kind of character is going to require everything from me. With any project I work on, I feel like I’m looking at it from the inside, so I never watch the dailies, I don’t watch the reading. I don’t find it useful; I have no interest in it. Then, once the filming is over, and this intimacy that I have with him is over, I really don’t mind seeing him reflect back on me. And I can be quite objective. It’s become clear to me over the years, being in the neighborhood for as long as I have, that I don’t just want to do the acting side of things. I’m interested in every facet of it – the editing, the color timing, the music, all of it. It’s just a matter of choosing when the hat goes on and when it goes off. I don’t know how to do both when filming.
Was it hard to let Cornelia go once filming was over?
She and this show will have her fingerprints on me forever. I was truly so touched by this and the experience of playing her, not only because of the tragedy and dignity of her story, but also her endless hope. There is this dynamism in the character that is so surprising even after having suffered so much, that I think she is a real figure of hope for people. She felt like such a beacon to me. I was just in love with her, so it was really hard to say goodbye to her at the end.