Becoming Elizabeth with Anya Reiss, Executive Producer
ALL THINGS TUDOR Podcast #22 Transcript
Elizabeth struggles to control her own destiny and take real power as the men around her attempt to claim her sovereignty. Her fascinating and factual journey to secure the crown is filled with scheming, betrayal and illicit relationships that threaten to bring forth her demise at a time in which every man or woman of the court is on the wheel of fortune, which may take them to a position of great power one moment, or the executioner’s block the next.
- STARZ Media Room
Becoming Elizabeth was a historical drama which launched on STARZ in June of 2022. It was the story of the young Elizabeth I as she struggled to find her way amidst the political machinations which followed the death of her father, Henry VIII and especially centered on the young girl as she attempted to control the will of her heart and the wiles of Thomas Seymour. The creator of the series, Anya Reiss, joined me on the All Things Tudor podcast. You can listen and subscribe for free on ALL podcast platforms here: https://pod.fo/e/129546
Read the transcript of the recording by scrolling down. Enjoy!
Intro: Hi, I’m Deb Hunter and welcome to All Things Tudor, the podcast that blows the dust off the history books and brings the world of the tutors roaring back to life. Each episode will bring you awesome guest and topics, stories, and revelations, the power, the sex, the scandals, the romance, and the ruthlessness. So join me and together we’ll pull back the curtain and discover the real lives of the Tudors…
Deb: Hi, and welcome to All Things Tudor. I’m Deb Hunter. And today our guest is the absolutely amazing Anya Reiss, who is a British phenomenon in theater and television. Anya welcome to All Things Tudor. How are you today?
Anya: Hi, I’m great. Excited to talk to you.
Deb: Well, thank you. I want to get right down to things and talk about becoming Elizabeth. How did you create this?
Anya: Well, this came from a meeting I had with the other executive on this show, who’s called George Ormond, who brought me in and said, I want to do a show about the young years of Elizabeth the 1st. And I think my first answer was no, surely the Tudor’s have been done over and over and over on TV. And he said, no one’s done this story. And he started telling me it and I realized no one had. I realized that there were so many myths or things that I believed that are just completely wrong about this time. And so I was really excited to try and write a show covering things like Edward’s reign and who married first, (who she) was as a person and the entire Thomas Seymour horrific affair.
Deb: It’s really an intriguing part of history. Isn’t it?
Anya: Yeah. It’s amazing. And there’s so much in it to explore. I felt like every time I turned a page, there was like, oh, that could be an episode. That could be an episode. So, yeah, it’s a rabbit warren of stuff to explore.
Deb: You’re absolutely right on that. I have a few questions from our group, All Things Tudor. If you have a minute to answer them, please.
Anya: Yes, of course go for it.
Deb: Our first question is from Gerg Anidem, what was the most challenging part of creating Becoming Elizabeth?
Anya: I suppose it was the choices you have to make, where there are gaps between the facts. So there’s stuff we do know, there’s stuff that there’s proper evidence for. Questions are raised from the facts and you have to answer those questions when you’re making a drama, you can’t really leave it ambiguous of quite what happened between her and Thomas or if there’s a rumor that someone’s pregnant, you kind of have to make a decision whether they are or aren’t and so many things like that.
That was always a challenge because I really wanted to make a show which felt truthful and historically accurate. And it’s hard to do that when you have to make those decisions, because some people are going to feel like it’s a lie when you have to fill in those gaps. So yeah. Trying to make those decisions was always hard.
Deb: Absolutely. Our next question is a two-parter by Kerry Ferguson and she wants to know, was there any part of the creative process for Becoming Elizabeth that was really agonized over?
Anya: The Thomas Seymour story is a very delicate story to tell. So I suppose that’s the thing that we agonized the most about, is just trying to tell that kind of truthfully and safely in a way and authentically. So the most agonizing came around him, which it really annoys me that man agonized so many women in life and he’s still doing it in death.
Deb: You’re so, right. The second part of her question is, what was your favorite part to write and film?
Anya: I really enjoyed Catherine Parr. I really liked her. She’s one of the few characters I really liked. I don’t think all her decisions were the right ones, but I think I found a lot of quite dislikable or questionable people in this show. So it was nice to actually enjoy someone. Not that she doesn’t have a bad side, but everyone does, I really enjoyed her.
Deb: She was an intriguing character that’s for sure. Our next question is from Stacey Gage, who wants to know, was there any specific books or authors that you took scenes from?
Anya: So we’re going from the fact, so kind of any scenes that were taken are from historically true facts. But we had Natalie Mezz was our historical consultant on this show. And so her influence is there. I think I read, I can’t remember all the books I read now, but I read a lot. I read Black Tudors by Miranda Kaufman, and I read the biography of Mary I and a lot of Elizabeth biographies and the one of Edward. We’ve dipped our hand in most stuff that’s out there. I think I would’ve read a little bit of it.
Deb: It sounds great. And we love all those books to be honest about it. Gladys Gonzalez Atwell wants to know how much research you did before deciding to proceed with the project?
Anya: Well, I did a lot of research once I’d already decided, I think it literally was me sitting in George Ormond’s office and he just started the story. And about 15 minutes later, I went, oh, I want to do this. So I think that’s as much research as I’d done before I decided I wanted to move forward. And then masses and masses afterwards.
Deb: Sometimes you just know things, don’t you, it’s just like kismet or something?
Anya: Yeah. I just heard the Catholic/Protestant thing. I heard about the dog getting shot. And I think I just heard about the dog getting shot and I went, oh my God, this is amazing. Yes, this is perfect.
Deb: Honestly, the Tudors are, you can’t really make this stuff up. They’re reign is far better than any soap opera, really, to be honest about it.
Anya: Yeah. It was like I was sitting, eating popcorn and going and then…what happened, George?
Deb: I think we’re all like that. So I’m glad you have it now. Kerri Elise Miller wants to know, what was the casting process like?
Anya: A long one, partly because of COVID. We had to do everything remotely and we’d half cast. And then we had to start casting again. I think the first person we cast was Oliver (Zetterström) who plays our Edward VI because I mean, it was kind of accidental that he was the first we cast. So, the show has been kind of built around him in a way, but that was the part I was always most anxious about because finding a good child actor that could properly carry scenes and carry huge amounts of the show and stand up against…He literally is going up against British theater royalty with John Heffernan and Jamie Parker and people like that. When he is having to play these big council scenes. So as soon as we had Oliver, we knew we were on the right track.
Deb: You’ve done a phenomenal job from the pictures I’ve seen. It’s just absolutely remarkable. It’s almost like you’ve taken people that match the way their pictures look-the ones that we’ve seen of them. Well the artistic renderings of them.
Anya: I think partly that is down to our amazing costume designer who just had pictures all over his studio walls of the Tudors and did some amazing reproductions of them. And if you put people in the right clothes, often you’re on the right track.
Deb: Well, there you go. Lucy May wants to know how accurate will the show be to reality and how much was added for entertainment value?
Anya: Well, I’ve tried to make it accurate, but inevitably when you simplify stories and lose characters and have to make choices about stuff, we don’t know, it can’t be a hundred percent accurate because just kind of the process beats it out of it a little bit, but I don’t think we were ever saying, oh, let’s invent this for entertainment. I think we did sometimes because it’s meant to be kind of character-driven. We went what would that person do next then? And then you kind of find yourself inventing stuff that way, but it’s really to illustrate like decisions that they made or kind of their stance on something or the growing of a relationship rather than it being, well let’s chunk that in because that’ll be fun.
Deb: That’s a great answer. Let’s go back to the costumes. Nikki Cox wants to know, were they difficult to replicate?
Anya: Bob looked very stressed a lot of the time. So yeah, I think so. I think he had a brilliant team though, and I think they did an amazing job. I also know that they were accurate in ways that can’t even see, because they took hours to get dressed the actors because it was kind of like he did the properly, the full layers of what they would be wearing. And so it was never kind of like stitched on to kind of make it look that way, kind of genuinely there are that many layers to their costumes. I think it really helped the actors process as well because you just understand their mindset so much better if you’re having to be dressed by people all the time and that kind of the restrictions that the costumes give you, I think really helped people immerse themselves in the world.
Deb: Very good point. Is there anything you would do differently? And that question is from Felicia Bowker.
Anya: Yeah, because I suppose everyone’s critical of their own work, aren’t they? And so there’s a thousand things I watch it going like, ah, I should have done that. But I am very, very proud of the show. So I hope other people like it.
Deb: Well, we can’t wait. I’ll be quite honest about that.
Anya: Well, you make good until Sunday, that’s not too far now.
Deb: And we’ve been waiting for quite a while. So it’s countdown time. Tori Reinheimer wants to know, was it hard to decide what period of Elizabeth’s life to focus on?
Anya: Well not really. I suppose because of the nature, how the show came about, of him saying let’s do the early years. There was a moment when I thought, do we go a little bit further back? Do we go into Henry the 8th time? But I think we really wanted to start this show. Well, I really wanted start the show with this sense of like a collective breath of having survived that man and plunge herself straight into the chaos of what comes after. So I suppose there was a slight decision around that, but other than that, no it was always going to be, we start here and see how far we get
Deb: Beth Ragsdale-Richards has a question from her 13 year old daughter who loves all things related to English history and her daughter wants to know, how Elizabeth felt or thought about her mother. Do you know if she ever spoke or wrote about her?
Anya: We do explore that a bit in the show. I think her mother is a huge…I’m kind of struggling between calling it an influence or a shadow on her life. But I think there is evidence of, like she wore the B necklace in that portrait, which was Anne Boleyn necklace. And there are bits of, I’m trying not to give spoilers, but yes, I have read everything I can about Elizabeth’s feelings into her mother.
Deb: Just in case any of our listeners don’t, Elizabeth’s mother was Anne Boleyn, who was beheaded by her father, Henry VIII. So that would complicate anyone’s life right there. That kind of sets you up for a rough life.
Anya: That is just one of those things, isn’t it? It always complicates things.
Deb: Yeah, definitely. So our last question is from Melody Bennett, who wants to know your opinion – were Elizabeth and Dudley lovers?
Anya: We’re not there yet in the story. I’d like to think so. She clearly had very strong feelings for him, so I think it’d be a great shame if she wasn’t…if they weren’t.
Deb: That’s such a great answer. It really truly is. It would be a crying shame as we say here. Anya thank you very much for your time today. We are so excited about Becoming Elizabeth and so thrilled that you took the time today.
Anya: I’m quite excited for you to see it now.
Deb: I can’t wait. Honestly, we can’t. So again, the members turned in questions for you and we have waited a long time for this and really, truly appreciate your time. And if you do anything else Tudor oriented, you are more than welcome to return.
Anya: Ah, brilliant. Thank you.
Deb: Thank you for your time.
Anya: Thank you Deb. It’s lovely to talk to you.
Deb: Have a good day.
Outro: You’ve been listening to All things Tudor. My thanks go to listeners, my husband and my team. If you like what you hear, leave a review, follow wherever you get your podcast and share with your friends to help others find the show. Join the All Things Tudor Facebook community to connect with tens of thousands of tutor history lovers. You can also connect with me across social media @TheDebATL. Thanks for listening. And we’ll catch y’all later.