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All hail the new Queen Elizabeth I: Alicia von Rittberg talks playing young monarch in new drama Becoming Elizabeth

Alicia von Rittberg joins us as our new Spotlight star

alicia spotlight usual
Emmy Griffiths
TV & Film Editor
June 10, 2022
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Move aside Cate Blanchett, Helen Mirren, Margot Robbie - even you, Dame Judi Dench! There is a new Queen Elizabeth I in town - and you’ve never seen the monarch quite like this before. STARZPLAY’s exciting new period drama, Becoming Elizabeth, sees the story begin as King Henry VIII dies - with Elizabeth as a young teenager, trying to find her place while in the centre of political turmoil. 

MORE: 11 of the royal family's favourite TV shows revealed

And who better to play the role of the teen Queen than up-and-coming star Alicia von Rittberg? A German actress who has previously starred in Fury, Genius and Resistance, the star is even somewhat nobility herself, as a member of the noble family of Rittberg de. Chatting Elizabeth I, perfecting her English accent and why her brothers are nothing like Elizabeth’s siblings, Alicia joined HELLO! for a special Spotlight issue to talk all things Becoming Elizabeth… 

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Alicia is our Spotlight star

You are playing Queen Elizabeth I herself in the new series Becoming Elizabeth. Can you tell us a little bit about it? 

I think Becoming Elizabeth is the untold story of the early years of Elizabeth I where you see a young girl coming of age trying to find her way in terms of politics and in a very difficult time in terms of religion and also just torn between her brother and sister. And it's about a young woman who falls in love for the first time and everything that comes with that age, basically.

WATCH: Join our chat with the Queen Elizabeth I actress

It really is such a glorious one for fans of period dramas, we've never really seen this particular period of history.  What was your reaction to reading the scripts for the first time?

I think it was so brilliant because it is with that part of the story, it also allows you to go into a time where it's not just politics and not just a time, but go into the age of a young woman… and that's why the character and the human in those people is so much more palpable and the whole story is so much more relatable - because you realise it is not just some great monarch we know, but it's also just a young girl trying to find a way and trying to stay alive, which is probably a bit different to us nowadays!

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Alicia is the future Queen Elizabeth I in the new drama

It is never black and white. She was torn between her brother and sister. She also fell in love, she wanted to marry for love, and she was torn between growing up and wanting to explore the world. But already having some kind of duty.

It’s kind of like history’s first teen drama. Euphoria for Tudors!

That’s exactly what it's like. When preparing for it, other than the skills I was allowed to learn, in terms of actual history and who she was, later on, I sometimes tried to not look into that too much even because I didn't want to be like pulled into a certain direction by knowing what she will do and who she will be later on. I wanted her to be that young woman. I wanted her to be just a girl in love… Not the Queen, just a girl. 

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Will you be watching?

It’s a universal feeling, isn’t it…

Exactly. And I think that's what makes it so modern as well. When I read the script, and when we prepared it and shot it, we wanted to aim for something that might as well work without the costumes and without the setting because it is so modern and it is it touches on topics that are as important today as they were 500 years ago.

I saw your co-star Romola Garai actually describe it as a Tudor version of Succession… 

Yes! Well done Romola! 

It seems like that period of history doesn’t even need dramatising, there was so much going on! Like with Elizabeth and her stepmother’s husband - did anything about her surprise you when researching the role? 

To be honest, that whole relationship with Thomas Seymour, that whole relationship with Thomas Seymour and Catherine Parr and that triangle, that was something I did not know and I didn't expect. And I think that's something that was very shocking to me.

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There were rumours that Elizabeth had a romance with Thomas Seymour

But especially that story and that love story, as complicated as it might be, inform you so much about the person she became and why she also became the Virgin Queen. It just all makes sense and understanding that she went through such horrific things just makes her even more relatable and even more palpable and even more of a human being other than this figure from the books. 

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"I am just such a lucky little bee to be part of this creation"

I was allowed to learn horse riding and playing the Virginals and dance and work on my accent, to get a proper British accent. I was put through half of my drama school education, and I’m so grateful for that - but also that was what her life must have looked like. She was schooled all day every day. 

I am just such a lucky little bee to be part of this creation - it was incredible, seriously. The creative departments were all so into this, and everyone was like, absolutely historically accurate. They made it so easy for us actors because we literally just had to live and play and work what they gave us.

So you also have siblings - how else do you relate to Queen Elizabeth I? 

I obviously wasn't ever scared of one of my brothers! I wasn’t scared of falling out of favour! I'm very close with them so there is no having to decide with whom you go with and being scared of the other! 

Also when her father dies, I think knowing what it feels like to be close with your family, [I woud] always letting that come through just a little bit because I think there is no, ‘He was a he was horrible and I hate him,’ there’s always something in between. There is always that family familiar bond and there is always love. I think no matter how if it's a love hate relationship, I think letting that come through and knowing how important family is and how much or how little you’d be without them, is something that I could take from home. And that was very important to make her more relatable as well.

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Alicia on how her Elizabeth I is just a normal teenager

Was it a challenge perfecting Queen Elizabeth I’s accent? Were there any words you found particularly challenging?

There were! Don't get me started! It's funny. There are some words that I still can't pronounce, and I don't know why. I think what really helped me is that we didn’t try to go with the Queen's English because we were like, ‘This is like 500 years ago, and no one actually knows what they sounded like.’ 

It is English that we would probably really understand because it still sounded so different. And going with the Queen's English accent is something we think they spoke like because we know it from other films and other series. But they were just conversationalists you know, they would just be people trying to have a voice and make conversation and make politics. So we decided to go with a most mutual clear accent. The director really helped me by saying even if I do sound sometimes a little bit otherworldly, she is like the young princess and no one knows what she sounded like, what she was like, how she talked and how she moved. 

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The star is from Germany so had to work on perfecting her English accent

So it's okay if there is the occasional, ‘where did that come?’ People would probably want it more British or more perfect but it is okay if there is the occasional, ‘what was that?’ 

I thought it was perfect!

I really did put a lot of work into it because I also wanted to get it right. It’s such an honour to be allowed to play that character. And you want to get it right. For English people to see someone from Germany play one of the greatest monarchs, I wanted to get it as right as possible, but just the director saying that just really helped me to realise you can't go that wrong.

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 Alicia portays the young royal in a period of political turmoil

Is season two on the cards and what can you tell us about it? 

I don't know! Elizabeth, I think she was 70 when she died so! She’s not even on the throne yet… oh I’m not allowed to say! There’s a lot of things yet to tell, I think, so let’s see!

Becoming Elizabeth premieres 12 June on STARZPLAY. Pictures by Nick Thompson. 

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