Johnny Flynn on writing an original song for Emma and the Emma in his life
For many actors, a good project has to get personal — even if it’s based on a beloved piece of classic literature.
When Johnny Flynn was cast as Mr. Knightley, one of Jane Austen’s swoon-worthy heroes, in the latest adaptation of Emma (in theaters today), the actor found himself needing to find ties to this Regency-era gentleman. Luckily, they were plentiful — and his own creative impulses allowed him to further the connection by penning a song from Knightley’s perspective.
For Flynn, it started with lots of long walks. Not necessarily the romantic variety, the type you’d post to a dating profile. Just practical, meditative ones. In director Autumn de Wilde’s film, Knightley is a great lover of constitutionals, often opting to travel by foot rather than using his carriage. It was an easy in for Flynn, who also indulges in the very British pursuit.
“I like walking and I go on lots of walks. I go hill-walking and I go on pilgrimages,” he tells EW. “We did a lot of shots, tons that weren’t used, of me just walking through the woods and the fields. Autumn really wanted that sense that it was his ritual, his meditation.”
Then there’s the central love story, the slow burn between the quieter, more thoughtful Knightley and the vivacious, meddling Emma (Anya Taylor-Joy). Flynn’s own love story with his wife, Beatrice Minns, mirrors the one on screen and possesses a similar energy. “We met when we were 16, and we’ve really grown up together,” he says. “Sometimes it flips into that brother-sister sparring where we both just want the best for each other so much that we challenge each other. [It] sometimes sounds quite aggressive to people outside the relationship, but there is love at the center of it. It feels special and rare, the level of care we have for each other.”
If that isn’t enough to convince you of his unique connection to Austen’s hero, Flynn has taken things a step further by writing a song for the film. He’s a singer-songwriter in addition to being an actor, and audiences can hear Flynn singing his song during the film’s happy conclusion. “[Composer] Isabelle Waller-Bridge asked me if I had an inclination to write something for the end of the film that was Knightley’s perspective of Emma to celebrate her,” Flynn says.
The track also showcases de Wilde’s singing voice, making the whole thing a (work) family affair — an extension of the warmth and familial gatherings that dominate so much of Austen’s work.