‘Becoming Elizabeth’ star on the queen: ‘She had painful experiences’

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New Starz period drama “Becoming Elizabeth” takes a look at the iconic Queen Elizabeth I before her legendary 44-year reign, during her teenage years. 

“Whenever I look at a public figure, I think the most interesting thing is not necessarily what they achieved in a political sense, or the facts. I always try to understand who the person behind those icons are,” Alicia von Rittberg, 28, who stars as Elizabeth, told the Post. 

“Especially with Elizabeth, who is the young woman behind this incredible female leader, there’s no better way to understand why she was called ‘The Virgin Queen,’ and how she found her way in such a male dominated world than looking at her early years.” 

Premiering Sunday, June 12th (9 p.m.), the story is set during the sixteenth century and starts after the death of Henry VIII, when his three children are pawns in a scheming court full of various players vying for power. There’s the 10 year old boy king Edward (Oliver Zetterström), devout Catholic older sister Mary (Romola Garai ) and middle child Elizabeth (von Rittberg, “Genius”) who has an uncertain future, since it seems like her younger brother will rule, and her infamous mom Anne Boleyn met a bloody and bitter end. 

Alicia von Rittberg wearing a french hood sitting at a desk.
Alicia von Rittberg in “Becoming Elizabeth.”
Nick Briggs Unit Photographer /

On the show, she lives with Henry’s widow, Catherine Parr (Jessica Raine). Things become complicated when Catherine’s husband, Thomas Seymour (Tom Cullen) takes an interest in Elizabeth. 

“The most surprising thing for me was how dangerous that world was. It wasn’t glossy at all. And how lonely she was. Her mother was dead since she was 3, her father died, she never knew who to trust,” said von Rittberg. “In that vulnerable state of mind, she had such a difficult relationship to her stepfather. I didn’t know that.

“I think she wanted to be seen as ‘The Virgin Queen’ after such painful experiences. What we see is just an interpretation of a very complex first experience with love, and that made her the person she was later on. It’s incredible to understand. We tried to be very careful with that relationship, and show all different sides of it.”

Elizabeth (Alicia von Rittberg) with Thomas Seymor (Tom Cullen) in "Becoming Elizabeth."
Elizabeth (Alicia von Rittberg) with Thomas Seymor (Tom Cullen) in “Becoming Elizabeth.”
Nick Briggs Unit Photographer /

The monarch has famously been played in other movies and shows by other actresses such as Cate Blanchett, Helen Mirren, and Judi Dench. Von Rittberg said she watched all of their movies.

“I wanted to see what the other brilliant actresses who have played her did with that part. But, we’re talking about the younger years [on the show], so I tried to develop a blind spot for her later years. I didn’t want to influence something I can’t know, in her youth.”

Elizabeth (Alica van Rittberg) is a lonely teen sitting at her desk doing work in "Becoming Elizabeth."
Elizabeth (Alica van Rittberg) is a lonely teen in “Becoming Elizabeth.”
Nick Briggs Unit Photographer /

“There was only that much research I could do, because there is not much documented about that time. I learned calligraphy and her favorite dance, La volta, and I worked on my ancient Greek. I think by doing so, I got as close as I can to actually living the lifestyle that she lived. Nowadays, we think that someone who is such a respected female leader has some kind of strong masculine voice. We tried…to accept a softer way of leading, and see that as strength. That was something we really tried to find with Elizabeth.” 

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