We felt the uncoordinated urge to salute and hug Emily Browning at the same time, but we managed not to poke an eye out while talking about her new film, Legend.
If you ever meet someone from Los Angeles who says they love the British actress Emily Browning, be sure to say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” and correct them immediately. The 26-year-old Aussie grew up in Melbourne and has the Blue
Heelers IMDB listing to prove it, but Americans find it hard to detect. “People hear my accent and assume that I’m English,” Browning says. “I don’t know what that says, I still think I sound very Australian, but perhaps Americans can’t tell the difference between the two.” That’s possible, but it might also be because Browning says things like ‘perhaps’ and refers to Lil Wayne as ‘Little’ Wayne. Yep, she’s a tiny smidge well spoken. We’re talking about her most gangster attribute because 19 credits above Blue Heelers on her IMDB resume – up past Lemony Snicket’s A Series
of Unfortunate Events and Sucker Punch – is Legend, the new mob film about the Kray twins who ruled the London underground in the 1960s. So what’s the most badass thing about Browning? “I have a very impressive… what’s the word I would use – back catalogue of hip-hop lyrics in my head,” she says. “There are a bunch of Drake and Little Wayne songs and Nicki Minaj is the most fun to sing along to because she’s so fast. I read something that says when you sing along to song lyrics that you know, and I think the more challenging they are to sing, it fires off some chemical response in your brain or releases dopamine and it makes you happy, essentially, so I wonder if that’s why if I’m feeling bummed out I’ll pump Nicki Minaj in the car and you always feel satisfied with yourself when you can sing along to all the words when she’s rapping really fast.”
In Legend, Browning delivers a different beat playing the fragile Frances Shea, wife of Reggie Kray who, alongside his unhinged brother Ronnie, navigates turf wars, bar brawls and gang mutiny in London’s East End. Glossy and violent, it provides not once but twice the Tom Hardy as he takes on the role of both Reggie and Ronnie Kray. Writer-director Brian Helgeland fought for Browning to play Frances from the start, but it was Tom Hardy who needed convincing. “I think he was a little sceptical,” says Browning. “I think he was like, ‘I don’t know who this person is,’ and I was asked to go to London to read with him and my first response was, ‘No. No, I’m terrified. Someone else can have it, I don’t want to do it’,” she laughs. “I’m a huge fan of Tom’s work and I thought it’d be far too intimidating for me, but I put on my big girl pants and went over there. I was meant to read a couple of scenes with Tom and ended up chatting to him for three hours, and by the end of the conversation he was like, ‘Oh you don’t need to read, we’re fine. It’s all going to work out.’ So that was a big relief.” Browning isn’t precious about the fact she had to take part in Tom Hardy try-outs, in fact she’s incredibly grounded, quick to crack a joke, has an Instagram account that makes you want to braid her a best friend bracelet, and isn’t so far gone into Hollywood that she’s forgotten home. “What really kind of hurts in my gut is how much I miss my family. I’ve gotten used to LA, I used to hate it so much, but in the last few years I’ve kind of found my tribe here.” Things could have been very different for Browning; she was Stephanie Meyer’s first choice to play Bella Swan in the
Twilight series, but she passed on the role and instead took a break from acting to finish high school back home.
When she returned to LA, it meant wading back into the icy waters of Hollywood, and in particular she struggled with the expectation to look the way the industry demanded. Luckily, the longer she stayed in the water the less she felt the cold. “This weird thing happened to me last year where all of a sudden I just didn’t give a shit anymore. And it was invigorating,” says Browning. “The way that women are expected to present themselves is exhausting and it can be incredibly painful for some people and it was incredibly painful for me for a long time, until one day I went, ‘Oh wait, life is huge. I have better things to think about.’ It was an amazing moment, and I have the deepest compassion for people who still are plagued by those feelings and I don’t necessarily have any advice to give because for me it was honestly a lightning bolt moment of, ‘I’m going to die one day, and when I’m on my deathbed, I’m not going to give a shit what my body looked like, it’s going to be completely irrelevant so I need to stop caring.’ It’s not like I feel fantastic all the time, I still have my moments like everyone does, but it’s more about detaching from that, being able to go, ‘I’m healthy, my body works, and there’s a lot of really cool things I can do.’ I’m more interested in thinking about what’s going on in my brain, as opposed to how skinny my legs look.”
When Browning lifts her arm she has a scroll of words tattooed on the inside that reads ‘a blessed unrest that keeps us marching’, a line that choreographer Martha Graham wrote to dancer and choreographer Agnes de Mille when de Mille was struggling with the weight of expectation. The letter encouraged her to follow her artistic urges and never compare herself to anyone else; to come as you are and create purely. Browning is spurred by that blessed unrest, and if her march is to the tune of Nicki Minaj’s ‘Super Bass’, more power to her.