What Anna Popplewell Had in Mind for Susan in The Last Battle | Talking Beasts
I was nervous about auditioning for a character of which there were many different conceptions and opinions.
In this season finale of Talking Beasts: The Narnia Podcast, Anna Popplewell reminisces about playing Queen Susan, 15 years after the release of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Click play to listen (above) and then post a comment.
- Memories of NarniaWeb while filming
- The pressure to live up to readers’ imaginations.
- The “really really weird” experience of returning for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
- Anna’s take on Susan’s shocking choice in The Last Battle
- Possibility of Netflix rebooting Narnia
Also check out our recent interview with Georige Henley (Lucy).
Headshot by Simon Anand.
NARNIAWEB: Anna, welcome to Talking Beasts.
ANNA: Thank you for having me. It’s nice to speak to you.
Great to have you on the show. I’ve been really looking forward to reminiscing with you.
It’s so amazing to speak to you because we were fully aware of NarniaWeb when we were filming, and we had to resist the urge to look at the forum every time new stills were released or when any of us did anything. We were young, and I’m sure our parents wanted us to be incubated from whatever comments were on there, though I’m sure they were mostly very generous. It’s funny to speak to you having read those NarniaWeb forums all that time ago.
Good times, good times. You’re actually the fourth Pevensie I’ve interviewed.
Yeah – I was supposed to talk to you on the Prince Caspian set in Ústí, but the shooting schedule changed at the last minute and I ended up talking to Skandar instead. So, it has taken 12 years, but I finally checked that box.
Oh, I’m so glad to hear that.
Anna… it has been 15 years since The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe movie was released.
I know, it’s so crazy, and it makes me feel very old. But I was just thinking before we got on the phone, that it’s so nice to have a chance to unabashedly reminisce about the experience making these movies, because at the time it was this wonderful huge whirlwind adventure.
But also when I was going back to school, between the movies and after the movies, I was so focused on not talking about it and trying to fit in, almost to the extent of pretending that it wasn’t really happening, totally compartmentalizing real life and then the press and pre-production. I sort of skipped a lot of nostalgia in that process. I’m still in touch with lots of the cast, particularly the Pevensie kids when we get together.
You mentioned going to school. By the way, Oxford is where C.S. Lewis taught for 29 years.
And I went to Magdalen. That was his college.
If only he’d known Queen Susan would be walking those halls, what would he have thought? (laughs) Do you often get recognized as Queen Susan? Any funny interactions with fans, especially with kids you can talk about?
Yes, I still get recognized. People still enjoy watching the movies, particularly around Christmas time they seem to be on. It still confuses children. They are at this magical age where this fourth wall has not yet appeared with the screen.
I had one particularly sweet encounter with a child, probably about six years ago. He was giving me this very specific look people give you when they’ve recognized you. And because he was a child he was just indulging in this look. He told his mum that he had found Queen Susan and they came to see me, and we had a very nice conversation. And then he was like, “And now, of course you’ll come back to my house and we’ll go through the wardrobe, that’s next on the agenda.” And it was very sad to disappoint him, really.
It’s such a beloved series around the world and this year we’re celebrating the book’s 70th anniversary. When you were auditioning for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, were you aware of how popular the books were? And when you got the part, did you feel any pressure playing a character who already existed in many people’s heads?
Yeah, I had read the books as a child and had them read to me as a really young child I think. I knew them reasonably well. And I must have re-read them as I was auditioning. That sounds like the conscientious thing I would have done.
Even before getting the role, I was nervous about the idea of auditioning for a character of which there were many conceptions and opinions and satisfying all the different criteria people have for Susan and the Pevensies. And then when I got the job, yes, it was absolutely in my head.
Firstly, if you make a big budget movie, there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. Even within our filmmaking world, people had very different opinions or dreams about how Narnia and the characters would be. And you were anxious that this story, which means so much to so many people, is conveyed in a way that satisfies them.
Thankfully, the main concern I had was less about me in particular, and more about whether The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a whole would be able to conjure and replicate the magic of the book. But fortunately that great responsibility rested with Director Andrew Adamson more than it did with me.
Ultimately, the movies never got past book #3. But in The Last Battle, Susan has the distinction of being the only human main character left alive at the end. Everyone else is killed in a railway accident. And all we know about Susan is that she no longer believes in Narnia. But Lewis himself said that he thought there was still hope for her. While you were filming, did that knowledge of the choice Susan was going to make someday help shape your performance?
Interesting question. “Yes” is the short answer. I think Susan’s skepticism is written into the film scripts.
Exactly! “We’re not heroes, we’re from Finchley.” And I think at every turn, particularly in the first film, you see her resisting allowing herself to commit fully to this other world. Although that skepticism is less at the start of Prince Caspian, but more by the time that she and Peter are leaving Narnia and Aslan tells them that it’s the last time. I was very mindful that it would be very hurtful, very sad for them. I guess I had it in mind that it would have been one of the things that contributed to the imagined future life of her discarding Narnia.
So, the heartbreak of leaving Narnia just as she dared to get reattached, in your mind, may have contributed to her not believing in Narnia at some point?
Yeah, I’m not sure if that’s strictly canon, but that’s certainly the way I saw that trajectory playing out.
Did you feel disappointed when the movies were cut short? Do you regret not being able to play Susan in The Horse and His Boy?
I would have loved to watch all seven of this version of these movies. But I don’t think it was ever on my radar that I would be even asked to do The Horse and His Boy. They had cast an older Susan already. And I knew that was probably not the next up on the slate even if they had kept going. So I would have loved to watch them, but I wasn’t expecting that, no.
We know Netflix is currently developing their own Narnia adaptations, and we’re anticipating they might be starting from scratch, perhaps doing another The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And there are definitely some fans listening who are very uncomfortable with that. How would you feel about a totally new version of Narnia? And would it feel weird to see someone else play Susan?
First of all, I think it’s really exciting because I think they are wonderful stories. And a platform like Netflix has the creative wherewithal and budget to imagine them extremely creatively.
Of course, it will be weird seeing someone else play a character you love so much. But maybe I’m just getting a taste of what fans of the books initially had. I have this perception of how it is and it’s going to be different. There will probably be just as pleasing reactions as it was for book fans who saw these movies as they came out and thought they were reasonable interpretations.
I asked Georgie a similar questions several months ago, and she was worried she’d be the crotchety old woman who says “Well, when we did it…”
(laughs) Maybe Georgie and I can watch the new ones together and have a little grandma-fest about it.
I have a couple questions submitted by our Patreon supporters. Jonathan Paravel asks, “Were you surprised to be asked to return for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader considering Susan does not appear in the book?”
I was surprised, yeah. Especially because both Will and I felt quite emotional about finishing the second movie, and then the press around it. We said a lot of goodbyes to the project even though we kept in touch with people. Neither of us were expecting to be involved in the third movie. It was lovely to go out and see them. It was quite late for them in their shoot.
But it was also quite strange, as we turned up and this whole machine with lots of crew who had been with us for a long time, but also new crew with new ideas, and Michael Apted, just a new machine operating. It was lovely, but it was strange to enter into something that we were no longer a central part of.
Cody has a related question. He pointed out that in Dawn Treader you basically played Lucy in a dream scene. What was that like?
It was really, really weird. I think I had a fitting for that dress that both Georgie and I wear in that sequence. As soon as I turned up, I was sort of saying hello to Georgie who I hadn’t seen in ages and then we were wearing that same exact outfit. I felt slightly uncomfortable with that storyline in a way. I think it works in that film really well. But it was weird not seeing Georgie for so long, and then I was playing her thinking about Susan. Also, it was suggesting something that was, I felt, not very true, because Georgie is the gorgeous one. It was weird to me that was the storyline, and how they were negotiating that. That was surreal.
Wow, there are so many weird things you have to do while filming movies that don’t make sense in the moment but you hope it all comes together in the final edit.
And when we were making these movies, CGI was much more in its infancy. So many weird things, lots of people in green, balls on sticks, all of it just became the norm.
What do you think is next for you? Have you ever considered writing or directing?
I am very tentatively trying to write something.
Could you read part of that now? Just kidding.
(laughs) Can you imagine? What if I said yes and then you were just stuck on the phone for half an hour? (laughs)
Okay, let’s go.
(laughs) No, there’s no way. I’m obviously crippled with anxiety about it. So yes, I’m trying to write and I’m also attached to a project that’s been trying to shoot this year but it’s difficult with restrictions. We’ll see if we get to that next year.
Before you go, I wanted to acknowledge that we’re recording this near the end of a really difficult year for people around the world. There’s a lot of anxiety and uncertainty about the future. And it occurred to me acting is a profession with a lot of uncertainty. It’s not a 9 to 5 job, you’re not sure when the next gig is coming or what it’s going to be like. Do you have any advice for dealing with that kind of anxiety?
Oh wow. Yeah. I think it’s been an incredibly anxious year for lots of people in lots of different ways. Obviously the anxiety that manifests itself is very individual and personal. In some cases sort of existential but in other cases economic and extremely real, or health related. The way you cope with those various anxieties has to be very personal too.
But something I found helpful is trying to find joy in small things this year. That’s easier said than done when you face losing your job, or being furloughed or the poor health of a family member or friend. But I have found that a very helpful policy is to try and enjoy the butter on my piece of toast, or the front seat on the top deck of a bus, or sunshine. I feel very grateful to try to do that more this year.
For lots of people, their lives are so busy and chaotic and it’s very easy to sweat the small stuff, and stress about things that don’t matter at all. It’s okay to be anxious about the things that are anxiety inducing, but I try not to care about the queue in the supermarket if I have time to be in it and to try and appreciate the small things.
Thanks for that, I really appreciate it. And thank you for being on the show. It’s been fun to reminisce.
Thank you for having me. Take care.
Transcribed by SkilletDude