Chatting with Penelope Wilton & Rebecca Hall ~ Whizpopping, Royalty, & a Sequel #TheBFGEvent

by Heather


After a whirlwind of a day sitting down with Director Steven Spielberg and Ruby Barnhill {“Sophie”} as well as Mark Rylance {“The BFG”} and Jemaine Clement {“Fleshlumpeater”}, I couldn’t believe that it was time to sit down with Penelope Wilton {“The Queen”} and Rebecca Hall {“Mary”} to close out the day.

We had learned so much and picked up so many tidbits about the film that I was a bit nervous about the ground that was left to cover. Then, I started thinking back to the film and the role that these two ladies played in rounding out the storyline. I jotted down a few questions, giggled as I thought about one of the parts that I hoped we would get to talk about {whizpopping!}, and was ready just in time for the announcement to be made that Penelope and Rebecca were joining us.

It was time to get down to business and discuss whizpopping, the Queen, and the possibility of a sequel!


QUESTION:  Can you tell us how you both got involved in the project?

PENELOPE WILTON:  Well, I got a phone call after my agent got a phone call and they said Steven Spielberg wants you to do this film, “The BFG,” and I said yes. [LAUGHTER] If Steven Spielberg wants you to do a movie, you do it! [LAUGHTER] Wouldn’t you say?

REBECCA HALL:  Yes, I would. I had exactly the same thing. I got a call saying, it’s not a very big part but he has asked specifically for you to do it, so I’m like well, I’ll do it, of course I will. Also, BFG is a book that as a child I loved, so even before I’d read the script or knew what the part was, I was like yes, certainly I want to be a part of that, of course, you know?

PENELOPE WILTON:  So that was quite a simple answer [LAUGHTER].

QUESTION:  And now you are a dame, what is that like?

PENELOPE WILTON:  Well, it’s rather surreal actually, to be quite honest with you, being a dame. They asked me to do it about seven weeks ago, and they write to you and they sent it to the wrong address. [LAUGHTER] So, then another one went out to my agent and then it said priority because obviously they hadn’t heard back. They ask you if you would if they put your name forward, if the Prime Minister puts your name forward to the Queen, would you accept it? So, I said I would. Then, they said you must not tell anybody until it’s released which, was six weeks after. And then there was a total silence and of course then I thought I dreamt that. [LAUGHTER] That didn’t happen. I made that up. I just had a dream.

BLOGGER:  The BFG came into your dream.

PENELOPE WILTON:  It wasn’t until Sunday, a week last Sunday, then Saturday it came out in papers and it did actually say my name so then I thought oh thank God. [LAUGHTER] I hadn’t told anyone but my daughter. I told my daughter and my sisters. They would have been a bit disappointed as indeed I would have been. [LAUGHTER]

QUESTION:  What was it like working with Ruby? She’s darling.

PENELOPE WILTON:  Oh she’s a darling. Well, we both loved working with her and Rebecca will tell you, she’s got the most wonderful sense of humor and she’s a lovely girl. She also takes direction very well, doesn’t she? And she concentrates and when you’re young repetition is really boring. I mean, you do it twice and then why would you ever want to do it again? And she sort of managed it, didn’t she?

REBECCA HALL:  Yeah, no she was a consummate professional, but I also remember it was all of that sort of stuff, the acting, the repetition and what not, she was brilliant. But, she was also brilliant at just being a person on the set, like I remember her knowing everyone’s name, the crew and like coming in in the morning and being like all right how are you doing, Jim, all right? You know, that sort of thing, I remember her being —

PENELOPE WILTON:  Very professional.


REBECCA HALL:  Astonishing and she just really, really made me laugh all the time, we did all sorts things. She made me work out like dance routines and [LAUGHTER]. She gave me a nickname because of my purple dress. I was Purple Swan for some reason. [LAUGHTER] She called Rafe something else. I can’t remember what it was.



PENELOPE WILTON:  But she was wonderful because Steven worked tremendously well with her and he worked very fast. The scenes took a while to set up but once the scenes were setup he worked very fast, didn’t he? So, you know, the boredom level is —

REBECCA HALL:  Minimized.

PENELOPE WILTON: …minimized because otherwise you have to be spontaneous, especially if you’re young and you haven’t learned about repetition and that is a difficult thing. I find it pretty hard.

REBECCA HALL:  Well because acting is quite close to sort of games you play in the playground but you don’t have to do it again and again and again. [LAUGHTER] I mean, you have everybody believe once in the playground that you’re the Queen and then it’s great.

PENELOPE WILTON:  It’s on to something else.

REBECCA HALL:  And it’s on to something else. [LAUGHS]



QUESTION:  It’s amazing to watch her and know that this is her first film. Amazing. So, do you have a favorite scene, personal scene from the movie?

PENELOPE WILTON:  I like the dreams, because it’s written in the book that they catch the dreams but Steven made the dreams so beautiful and then the angry dreams, the red dreams, when they get caught in the bottle, when they go under the water then, I loved that. I thought that was a lovely sequence but there were so many. I mean, I loved the giant.

REBECCA HALL:  Yeah, I did too. Actually, I’ve got to say, it’s when you have a problem with wind, is probably my favorite. [LAUGHTER]


REBECCA HALL:  Very basic.

BLOGGER:  That whole scene is genius.

REBECCA HALL:  It’s brilliant. It’s so funny.

PENELOPE WILTON:  And we had fun playing that scene because Rafe had to do his proper moment before we did ours, so we all gazed at him while he did his [LAUGHTER]. The effect of how it would come in silence, then all right, Rafe, the camera is on you and then he, right, go, and he had to do whizpopping, but as you know, it’s a private moment that you don’t often see. [LAUGHTER]

BLOGGER:  That’s when acting really comes into play.

REBECCA HALL:  Well, at least we’ve all experienced it. [LAUGHTER]


QUESTION:  So, I kind of noticed that Mary has somewhat of an adoration for Sophie in the end when she is saying, wake up darling, could you see that as like a segue to maybe a storyline for a sequel where maybe Mary has more of a rearing with Sophie?

PENELOPE WILTON:  It could be.

REBECCA HALL:  It could be, yeah, you’re right. I mean, put it out there, yeah. [LAUGHTER]

PENELOPE WILTON:  A very good idea.

REBECCA HALL:  Very good idea.

PENELOPE WILTON:  Actually I think the water glimpse. There was a window of opportunity there.

REBECCA HALL:  Yeah, set it up.


QUESTION:  The story has so many lessons. What is something you want people to get from this story, from the movie, from just the general idea of this, what do you want people to capture from it?

PENELOPE WILTON:  Well, on the very basic level I want people to enjoy being taken to that world because it’s a wonderful story written by a great storyteller meeting another great storyteller and a visual storyteller, so if you get those two together, it’s a wonderful combination, but also it, like all these stories, it is people learning to understand themselves and learning that you have to just believe in yourself.

And little Sophie, who doesn’t have much, but when she meets somebody who has even less than she does and he’s 20 foot tall, they sort of work as a good team and both of them understand that they are outside the norm and they give each other confidence and when you have confidence in yourself you can take on the world. And I think that’s the overall, perhaps the overall message of the movie, which is the message of a lot of very good children’s literature.

There’s always a pursuit and a pursuer and in the end you have to turn around and face the bully and if you do that the world opens up and I think in a very wonderful way, not in the sort of preachy way, that’s what is so —

REBECCA HALL:  The magical way.

PENELOPE WILTON:  The magical way, that’s what the movie is saying.


QUESTION:  For either of you, does the fact that you are playing a kind of childhood literary character change the way that you wanted to portray that character on screen? Because kids have read the book and kind of come up with this idea in their head of what each character was. Did that kind of play into how you chose to play those characters at all?

REBECCA HALL:  I couldn’t because actually Mary in the book is very much a maid. I mean, she’s drawn by Quentin Blake as sort of in a maid’s outfit and even a feather duster [LAUGHTER]. So it’s a very different sort of character that Melissa Mathison and Steven sort of created and it was conscious to, I think, to speak a little bit to your point, to create something of a potential mother figure for Sophie at the end and the sense that also that she’s more of a P.A. than the sort of right-hand woman. [LAUGHTER] And that gives her a bit more authority I suppose. Yeah, so I couldn’t basically.


PENELOPE WILTON:  Well, I think that’s true. I think that you can’t always do exactly what’s written and it’s a disappointment to some people because they have made up their own minds as to how they see that person when they read the book. Children do, they do it in pictures in their head. I know I do, but I thought the best way to play the Queen was to try and be the Queen, our Queen as best I could. Because if I had made a fantasy Queen in a fantasy, they would have cancelled each other out.

But if you have a real Queen in an extraordinary situation, then it’s a much more interesting story, wouldn’t you say? I think Rebecca and I, we played them very straight and then we were put into this extraordinary situation and then it works better because then there’s a change. Something happens, it’s not —

REBECCA HALL:  A contrast.

PENELOPE WILTON:  A contrast exactly.

REBECCA HALL:  The humor that’s in there.

PENELOPE WILTON:  Yes the humor, because you’ve come from something very conservative that’s met with something very —

BLOGGER:  I almost pictured it as the Queen playing the part because you did such an amazing job capturing her in that role, I was just like almost thinking, oh my goodness; it was so good.


PENELOPE WILTON:  Yes, I was helped a lot by Joanna Johnson with my wig and my clothes and my wonderful outfit and I had the Queen’s glove maker make my gloves and the Queen’s bag maker made my —

BLOGGER:  I love that scene where you have the bag.

PENELOPE WILTON:  It’s a strong fit. It’s not going to fall off your arm while marching past a whole lot of soldiers and very sturdy shoes, which are nice, and bright colors because she likes to be seen at a distance and she’s a quite small Queen but you have to, when people go, they said did you see the Queen? They want to — even in a crowd, “I saw the Queen, I saw the Queen,” especially young children.


QUESTION:  What makes this film special for each of you?

PENELOPE WILTON:  I’m lucky Steven Spielberg has done great things in my life, in my career actually and so that was special. Also, this is a wonderful story, wonderful to be part of something that, well I hope a lot, a whole generation of young children will remember like they did “E.T.” because it will be a stand up moment in the film so for all those reasons and also I met and worked with Rebecca here so that was lovely, too.

REBECCA HALL:  I think we probably met when I was a child.

PENELOPE WILTON:  Yes because I worked with Rebecca’s father, Sir Peter Hall, when he ran the National Theater so I remember when she was born.



REBECCA HALL:  And I remember a figure who I’ve always admired and loved from a far so it was a real treat to get to work properly with you but yes, I think, I very much second what you said, it’s a combination of, for me personally, it’s the combination of two such hugely influential people in my childhood, Roald Dahl and Steven Spielberg, as a child those were, the creative output of both those people really influenced me and I loved and so it was sort of the opportunity to have both of those together was wonderful.

It was so much fun to learn more about Penelope and Rebecca and not just the roles that they played in this film but how their lives have connected over the years. I also loved that they were both so giddy and eager to work with Steven Spielberg and that they didn’t care about the part, how big or small it was, they both genuinely just wanted to be a part of the film.

After taking a little bit of time to go back and review all of the interviews, it is interesting what each person took away from the film and what they want us, the viewer, to take away from the film. The general message is there but depending on their role in the film, their closeness with The BFG long before anyone thought of making a movie, and their walk in life, there were varying messages that they wanted us to take away and each was prudent and fitting.


I can’t wait to take my family to see the film and then to talk with them afterwards about what they took away from the movie. I imagine this will be a movie that we will need to see at least two or three times on the big screen in order to take in the whole experience and I hope that you will be there with us!

The BFG opens in theaters TOMORROW, July 1, 2016

Learn more about The BFG on FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM, and TWITTER.


*I was invited by Disney to attend #TheBFGEvent to share my experience with my readers. All opinions are my own.


Photo credit: Coralie Seright – and Walt Disney Studios

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Terry Poage June 30, 2016 - 8:24 pm
Great interview, thanks for sharing.
Margot C June 30, 2016 - 9:19 pm
I love Penelope Wilton on Downton Abbey!
Margot C July 10, 2016 - 3:50 pm
I came back and read this again, don't you adore Rebecca Hall!

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