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The Golden Compass - Dakota Blue Richards interview

The Golden Compass

Compiled by Jack Foley

DAKOTA Blue Richards talks about winning the coveted role of Lyra in The Golden Compass, getting to grips with Philip Pullman’s novels and similarities between herself and her on-screen character.

She also talks about her favourite scenes in the film, working with Nicole Kidman, some embarrassing moments while shooting, and future film projects and plans for her career…

Have you always wanted to be an actress?
Dakota Blue Richards: When I was little I used to pretend I’d be a cat by tying a feather boa to the back of my trousers. Then at the end of the game I’d pull off the tail and say: “Didn’t you know, it was me all along!” From the time I was about six I wanted to do plays and proper acting. Me and my friends would make up our own plays. The best one I did was called The Fall of Danny. My friend Celeste and me were writing it together. I actually still want to do it, because I think it would be really fun. It’s about this guy Danny who falls in love with a woman and falls out of a window and gets buried alive, because the doctor thinks he’s dead…

How did you find out about the auditions?
Dakota Blue Richards: My mum started reading His Dark Materials to me when I was about nine, and I saw the play at the National Theatre in London. I really liked the character of Lyra, and I really wanted to be Lyra. Then my mum’s friend was watching Newsround and heard that a film was being made. She asked me if that was the book I was always talking about.

So did you get a lot out of the Philip Pullman books?
Dakota Blue Richards: When I first read them I was quite young and I didn’t really understand a lot of it – I didn’t get “dust” and why the bears talked. It took me a while to understand it… but in Lyra’s position I think it’s a very good idea to be good friends with the bears. You would feel very protected: don’t mess with me ’cos I have a bear on my side. Iorek is the only being that Lyra allows to be better than her: she accepts that he is bigger, stronger, braver and cleverer.

Were you nervous auditioning for the part?
Dakota Blue Richards: At the first auditions I didn’t think I was going to get it so there was no point in feeling nervous. My mum and my grandma and me went to the casting call in Cambridge. My mum said we wouldn’t go if the weather was bad, so it was lucky it wasn’t raining! We waited in the queue for about three hours, and we went into the audition in groups of between 50 and 100 girls. They asked your name, age and where you came from, then some of you got your picture taken and some were asked to read something. And I was asked to read a second piece. I don’t think many girls got to do that. I was called back with about 60 other girls to the casting office in London. Then I started to feel scared about it because being called back was like being given a real chance, and you know it’s time to start worrying!

How did you react when you found out you’d got it?
Dakota Blue Richards: I came home after a bad day at school and my mum said we had to wait for a phone call. It was Chris Weitz, the director, and he said: “Can you put me on the speaker phone?” And my mum hung up on him, because she’s not very good with technology, and didn’t know what to do. So he called back and told me, and I screamed and was very excited, and did the Snoopy dance! That’s very “spinny” and “jumpy” and “kicky”, a “leggy” kind of dance…

Are you anything like Lyra?
Dakota Blue Richards: Lyra’s very brave, she sticks up for herself, and she seems quite confident. She’s very loyal. I’m very loyal to my friends and family, but I don’t think I’m as brave as Lyra. She lives in Jordan College, Oxford, but she dreams of going to the North and meeting the Ice Bears who live there… Her best friend is Roger, who works in the kitchen. She and Roger are always going up on the roof of the college – which they’re not supposed to – and getting into fights with the town kids, and the gyptian kids by the river.

What was it like working with big stars like Nicole Kidman?
Dakota Blue Richards: The first scene I did in the film was with Nicole Kidman. I didn’t have to say anything, thankfully. I was at a table surrounded by loads of other people that I didn’t know, and Nicole sat next to me, and I had to act like I knew her. Both she and Daniel Craig seemed so confident that I felt I should be, too. They made me feel more confident about myself and what I was doing. I think I’ve learned a lot working with actors as experienced as Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. They taught me that whatever happens during a take, you should just carry on. Don’t ever stop until the director tells you to stop.

What was your favourite part of filming?
Dakota Blue Richards: The scenes I enjoyed most – and this may sound strange – were the fight scenes! It was great because I was fighting the Tartar guards, and it was stuntmen who were playing them, and they said to me: “Don’t worry, you just fight as hard as you can!” And I did. They were padded and wearing heavy clothes, so I was able to wriggle and kick as hard as I could.

Were there any embarrassing moments?
Dakota Blue Richards: The most embarrassing moment was falling over on the fake snow. There were lots of other kids running and some of them fell over as well. I fell over not once, not twice, but three times!

Would you like to act when you grow up?
Dakota Blue Richards: I don’t know that I’d want to do acting as a job, not as a proper job. I’d like to do it as a hobby. I want to be a supply teacher. I’d like to be one of those teachers that kids really like.

Do you have any more movie roles lined up?
Dakota Blue Richards: I’m starting another film, The Moon Princess, in Hungary in August 2007 with Colin Firth. The director of the film is Gabor Csupo, and it is adapted from a book by Elizabeth Goudge. I hope we will make the second book of His Dark Materials, The Subtle Knife, so that I can be Lyra again.

What’s the most difficult thing about acting?
Dakota Blue Richards: I think the worst is when you have to do things over and over. That can become boring, although you have to try to make it slightly different, so it can still be fun. The other really difficult thing on The Golden Compass was the green screen. A lot of the time I had to act to nothing, or to a green sack, or a green dot or a man in a green lycra suit… I had to imagine a green bean bag was my daemon that I really love.

Who would you love to work with?
Dakota Blue Richards: I don’t really know, because I don’t know the people. It’s hard to judge what actors might be like just from seeing their work. Ewan McGregor seems very cool – I’d like to work with him.

What movie do you wish you’d starred in?
Dakota Blue Richards: I’ve just seen Hairspray and I really loved that. I think I’d like to do a voiceover in a cartoon. I love animation movies.

What daemon would you like to have?
Dakota Blue Richards: Lyra’s daemon, Pan, is mostly a cat or a ferret. He’s also a mouse some of the time. In the third book he settles as a pine marten. But he doesn’t keep changing all the time. It depends what mood Lyra is in, and how she’s feeling. If she’s in a fight with someone then Pan might become a scarier animal. I’d like to have a daemon. I think when it settled it would be a ring-tail lemur. I’ve thought about that for a while. Either a ring-tail lemur or a white hare.

b>Read our review of The Golden Compass