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Capone gets Ioan Gruffudd to spill about GALACTUS and the SILVER SURFER as well as upcoming Michael Apted movie AMAZING GRACE!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here with yet another interview with a FANTASTIC FOUR cast member. A month or so ago, I had a wonderful and somewhat revealing chat with Doug Jones, who we'll see this summer as the Silver Surfer in the sequel to the mostly disappointing FANTASTIC FOUR film. His enthusiasm, combined with a pretty kick-ass teaser trailer for FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER, has actually gotten my hopes up for this follow-up effort. In Chicago last week to talk about his latest film, the quite moving and well-acted AMAZING GRACE (opening in a limited basis on March 23) from director Michael Apted, Mr. Fantastic himself, Ioan Gruffudd (a Welsh name pronounced Yo-ahn Griffith), sat down with me for a conversation that covers most of his career, including his extended time playing Horatio Hornblower in those series of made-for-television films; his role in TITANIC; and the upcoming Jake Kasdan-directed satire THE TV SET. Oh, and he spilled a few secrets that I have yet to read anywhere else regarding the next FANTASTIC FOUR movie, including whether Galactus actually appears in it. Read on, and consider some of what he says on this subject to be SPOILERS. Ioan had just finished up a television interview, so we were shuffled off into a tiny closet of a room, where we sat down at a table that left us with about six inches between our noses, very intimate. In these close quarters, the first thing that strikes you is that he's so good looking it makes you angry. And you immediately think, "Wow, he's so attractive that I'm actually noticing how attractive he is. What's up with that?" Every woman I know was insanely jealous of me. Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. Enjoy the interview.

Capone: Wow, this is a small room. This is new.

Ioan Gruffudd: It's actually nice to have an intimate conversation, isn't it?

C: Sure. I hate to confess, but like many Americans, I was totally unfamiliar with the story being told in AMAZING GRACE, about the history of the abolitionist movement in England. Is William Wilberforce's [the member of parliament who led the movement to abolish slavery] crusade well known in the UK, or will this story be an eye opener on both sides of the Atlantic?

IG: To be honest with you, I think it will be an eye opened on both sides. I might be in the majority of people who didn't recognize this great feat that he accomplished in Parliament. I might be speaking out of turn; I might be the only one who didn't know. Certainly, I think it's going to educate people in both countries.

C: This struggle literally took a toll on his health as he got older. So you weren't at all familiar with him before you played him in this film?

IG: Not at all. Once I read the script, I was blown away by the story and what they had achieved. I was impressed by how young they were when they started out this crusade. And I educated myself to the facts of this, because I was totally ignorant.

C: You're right they were quite young. It also struck me how fringe they were when they first began. They were disregarded by most members of Parliament, almost the equivalent of the "dirty hippie" label we saw in the U.S. antiwar movement in the '60s and '70s.

IG: Absolutely. Anybody who's in the minority. The people who brought the abolition movement to light in the UK were the Quakers and clergymen and poets. They didn't have a strong voice or representation in Parliament and so they brought the cause to Wilberforce to represent it in Parliament so that it would have a voice.

C: The song "Amazing Grace" plays an important part in this story, although it probably could have been told without it. Why do you think it's so important to this story?

IG: It ties in with the fact the John Newton [played by Albert Finney in the film, a former slave ship captain who wrote the song] himself was a captain of a slave slip. When people hear that hymn, it has such great words and a great melody, it's interesting to see how the song came to be.

C: I'd never considered that the words actually mean something, they actually make reference to this situation.

IG: Exactly. And the melody is what struck me. The melody was probably one that the slaves used to sing to keep themselves going, as it were, on that horrific journey.

C: And by telling that story, you have a good reason to get Albert Finney on screen again. The other interesting casting choice, and it really is a nice touch, is the casting of Youssou N'Dour as a freed slave and key member of the movement. I think it's his feature debut as an actor. I don't think a lot of people are going to realize the significance of his being in the film. He's very popular as a musician, but how was it working with him?

IG: It was wonderful. He doesn't have that good a grasp of English, so it was tough at times to understand him. But he worked so hard on the phonetics of it and getting it right. And to have that confidence to play it so still and trust that it was all there. He doesn't really "act" to be an African, does he? I love the fact that we have an African actor playing that part, rather than an actor putting on an accent.

C: The other actor I was surprised by was Rufus Sewell, whom you have quite a few scene with. I was doing an interview with the director of THE ILLUSIONIST last year, and I mentioned to him that lately when you cast Rufus Sewell in a role, it's often shorthand for saying his character is a villain. So to see him play someone so good-natured was a nice turn. I'd been wanting to see him return to those kinds of roles again.

IG: He's had an amazing career, Rufus. I used to look up to him as a student when I was studying acting. He was the young hot leading man then, which he still is, I think. He should take faith that he can still do that. But he's such a good actor that he can turn his hand to anything. But in this part, he brought so much to it. On the page, there wasn't really that much there. It was an incredible journey that this man had taken, Thomas Clarkson [who brought the abolitionists' cause to Wilberforce], and to get under his skin and put that wig on was very brave, and it turned out beautifully.

C: In looking over your choice of roles in the last few years--Lancelot, Horatio Hornblower, Mr. Fantastic, and now Wilberforce--is it your intention to only play these iconic, larger-than-life characters?

IG: [Laughs] Yes! If you need an actor to fill a hero's shoes, look no further. I don't know, I'm sort of aware that I've done a lot of period dramas with Hornblower, playing Pip in GREAT EXPECTATIONS, and my role in "The Forsyte Saga." There's something about these characters that is so attractive. They are larger than life and there are such brilliant stories that surround these people. I think it's quite flattering to me that people think I can represent these sort of characters. I'm very fortunate to have that opportunity.

C: Some people that may not even remember that you had a fairly sizable supporting role in TITANIC. How far down on the credits list were you?

IG: I remember on the call sheet, I was something like #257. That was an amazing experience. That was my first foray into Hollywood. I remember flying to the U.S. for the first time, and then flying down to Mexico. Just to be on that movie, opened my eyes to it all.

C: How long were you down there shooting?

IG: Five months, for that little part, because I was in the background of nearly every shot. Who's on the payroll? Bring them in to fill up the boat.

C: If I remember correctly, your character doesn't die, does he?

IG: He does survive. He's a real person, who accomplished what he did. He saved four people in the end. So all the action I did in the movie is all historically accurate.

C: I seem to recall a scene on a lifeboat...

IG: That's right. He had gathered the people to get on the lifeboats together because they were leaving the ship half full. And he moved people off them to other half-full boats, and sent the empty boats out to look for survivors. Obviously it was too late because everyone had froze to death.

C: Okay, I'm going to carefully broach the subject of the next FANTASTIC FOUR movie. I spoke to Doug Jones recently and he was very generous with some of the details, or at least what he was allowed to talk about. Obviously, we're tracking the film very closely. There's definitely a growing enthusiasm about the film, due in no small part to the Silver Surfer storyline. The trailer is out there now. What do you think of it?

IG: I think it's fantastic. I'm very excited about it because it takes our movie and our franchise to a whole new level. It's up there now where they're comparing the effects to those of the SPIDER-MAN movies, which is a film that is $100 million more expensive than our movie, and rightfully so, it's an awesome franchise. I think the fans will not be disappointed. It is as he arrived in the comic books. He's an ambiguous character. Is he the protagonist or evil, or just the messenger of evil? We're not quite sure.

C: In the comic books, they referred to him as the harbinger.

IG. The harbinger, that's a great word.

C: Okay, since you brought this up...well, is the tone of the film more serious because the implications of the Surfer arriving are that the world could be destroyed?

IG: Absolutely. The benefit of this film is that we don't have to set up who we are. The first movie struggled in that sense. The fans were a bit upset and thought it was a bit lame the way we set it all up, but for a wider audience we had to explain how we became superheroes.

C: Origin movies always seem to struggle with that problem.

IG: Exactly. In this movie, we start out totally embracing our super powers within the context of a normal life, as normal as you can be, because they are under the scrutiny of the paparazzi and the public. And Reed Richards, this great mind, is now more interested in his fame than his work. So we start off on this light note, and then when the Silver Surfer arrives: Bang, we're off; we're up and running. And it becomes very dark by the end.

C: I'm just going to ask: does Galactus play a role in this film?

IG: Um...his presence is felt in the movie. He doesn't physically appear, no. Galactus does have a form, doesn't he, in the comic books?

C: Actually he has a really beautifully designed costume that Jack Kirby created. It's a fairly elaborate costume actually with all sorts of machinations. When I first heard that the Silver Surfer would be in this second film and people were being a bit evasive about whether Galactus appeared, I'd assumed that the second film would set up the coming of Galactus, and that the actual confrontation with him would occur in the third film.

IG: It's more of a finite movie than the first one. It's not open-ended in that sense. But Galactus doesn't actually appear, so it does leave room for that possibility.

C: Have the relationships between the characters changed? Obviously there's a wedding.

IG: There is a wedding. That's interesting because when the Silver Surfer arrives, he sort of drives a wedge between Sue Storm and myself. She finds him mysterious and appealing, much to Reed Richards chagrin. And then there's the element of, do they want to be superheroes or not, struggling with that fact and having enough of being under the microscope, in the public eye.

C: The Fantastic Four were always unique in the Marvel world because they didn't have secret identities and they were always in the public eye. Can you really say you don't want to do it anymore, but is that possible when everybody knows who you are?

IG: That's what we're grappling with throughout the movie. There's a point in the movie where we say, let's pack it in and go live in the countryside and raise a family like normal people. And then of course they realize they've been given a gift to help people and do things for the greater good, so they get over that sort of self-indulgence pretty quickly.

C: How long did it take you to realize with this second film that you were entering the holy waters of comic book fandom with this Silver Surfer storyline. There is a cult around his character that is more substantial than a lot of the major heroes. If you thought you were under the geek microscope with the first film...

IG: Yeah, yeah. It was first foray into this world. I wasn't a comic book reader, I wasn't aware of this whole...not underworld...but this specific world that existed. And I was blown away when we went to ComicCon when we were first introduced as a cast and we didn't have anything to show the audience. They were introducing the trailer for one of the SPIDER-MAN movies, I think, and we were just being introduced by Avi Arad to this audience. There were 7,000 people in the arena, all of them wanting Jessica Alba's phone number. And they were all sort of baffled at how this British actor going to play this American icon of Mr. Fantastic. And I'm glad that subsequently many people have been very complimentary about my performance and my representing of him. But with the new film, this is the first time ever where we've had so much scrutiny and paparazzi trying to get an image of the Silver Surfer during the filming. That's when I realized, Wow, this character is something special.

C: What are your thoughts on Doug Jones' interpretation of the Surfer? Do you remember anything specifically about his performance that struck you?

IG: The character is very, very attractive. There is that quality to him that you're never sure who he is. He can turn on a six pence; he can become incredibly angry and violent and quite vicious. And he can be quite calm and gentle. A lot of that was in Doug's voice; he's got a lovely voice. I hope they use Doug's voice in the end.

C: Even he wasn't sure when I spoke to him, whether they'd use his voice.

IG: Oh, god. I hope they do. The studio was trying to play down the whole thing. You know, the Silver Surfer isn't really him. If people got an image of Doug as the Surfer, that wasn't going to be what he looked like in the end. But Doug has created this character that we are responding to, and he does such a moving job and he's such a good actor in that costume, and I hope they use his nuances and what he presented to us. I know they're going to put the sheen on top of him. But his voice is wonderful, I don't know what they could get that would be better.

C: It seems that in many of the films he's best known for, they never use his voice. Sometimes for obvious reasons, like that his character is speaking Spanish.

IG: [laughs] Well that's fair enough.

C: I know that Dr. Doom is a part of this film as well. Is he secondary now that the Surfer is the primary focus? I haven't quite figured out what his role is in this film.

IG: It was strange when he came back, because it's not clear cut us against the Silver Surfer. Dr. Doom being Dr. Doom, he attempts to manipulate the situation to his own means and ends. It's all about the surfboard itself being the source of all the Silver Surfer's power. I probably shouldn't be giving that away.

C: I had suspected as much, where Doom would either try to get the Surfer to fight with him or at least find a way to harness his powers.

IG: That's exactly it.

C: Going back to AMAZING GRACE for a minute. Michael Apted has always been a favorite director, primarily because of his UP documentary series, but also he's done some classic films. How familiar with his work were you before you worked with him?

IG: Well, being British, he's one of our heroes and icons, the fact that he was attached to this movie, I was dying to do it. I knew he would know how to tell this story without knocking people over the head with the religious aspects of it. I knew he would handle it cleverly. COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER was obviously one of my favorites, and yes, the series is a part of history. That's the thing about Michael, he must have started that series when he was something like 18 or 19.

C: Actually, I don't think he was involved with SEVEN UP!, which was only a 40-minute short introducing the children. But he definitely directed the second film, which come out I believe in 1970, which would make him around 30 at the time.

IG: So he was still very young when I did those. And he hasn't lost that sort of enthusiasm and excitement for work. He was preparing another documentary and shooting that during our Christmas hiatus. He's so prolific. And when you work with somebody like that, or Ridley Scott [Ioan was also BLACK HAWK DOWN] or James Cameron, they stand out to me as well. They are so prepared that they have a Plan B, Plan C, and a Plan D during the day. The preparation for any given day gives them the freedom to go off and do something different, listen to the actors and create something new. More often than not, it went just as Michael wanted it. He was very clear with his vision and how he wanted to block it and how he was going to tell the story. It was such a pleasure, and we usually finished the day at 5:30 or 6 o'clock every night. We wrapped on time, under budget. It was amazing.

C: The scenes that I really enjoyed were the ones showing the debates in Parliament. You get all those fantastic actors, many of whom I've literally been watching my whole life, just really getting to watch them be sly and clever, and biting and stinging each other with words during these debates. It's so much more interesting than what goes on in government in this country in terms of debate.

IG: That skill for oration is lost now, isn't it? It's a real art form. It is still like that sometimes. When it gets heated, there's shouting and they have to shout order. They are incredibly eloquent. We had the experience of having Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays William Pitt the Younger, to dinner with us and William Hauge, who is the leader of the opposition at one point. We went to the House of Parliament to have dinner with him. We went to the House of Lords to have a glass of port because William Pitt the Younger was famously on five bottle of port a day, and was still able to orate for four or five hours. So this skill that they had--and Wilberforce and Pitt were considered among the best ever--was something of a game that they had in Parliament. This skill for wit and parrying and reposting was very cutting.

C: Tell me about THE TV SET, your next film.

IG: It's more of a satire, it's not a straightforward comedy. David Duchovny's character brings a television pilot that's he's written based on his experiences with his brother killing himself. So it's a drama that he brings to the network, and the network likes it but they want to try and manipulate it to their own means. For example, there's a scene where they are physically shooting a scene of the funeral, and the network executives come down and say, "This is a bit of a downer. Can't the funeral be the mother's funeral?" And it's quite clear it's the brother's funeral. "Oh, we can just loop 'brother' for 'mother'." And the film is filled with that concept.

C: What is your character?

IG: I play a British executive who comes to Hollywood for the first time, probably brought over from the BBC, where he'd had a great success with something like "Extras" or something like that. And he's brought in to class things up a bit, and we see his demise into that system as he falls into that trap of making fodder for television that is about marketing and financing and commercials.

C: Does he have an artistic integrity struggle like everyone else?

IG: Yes, that's much more eloquent way of putting it. He does come with integrity and falls into the quagmire.

C: Jake Kasdan directed the film, and ZERO EFFECT is one of the great feature debuts in recent years.

IG: Brilliant. I think the movie is based on his experience of trying to get ZERO EFFECT made into a television series. He did a pilot, and I don't think it was ever picked up, but he said just the process of making the pilot was exhausting. I like that all of these parts are so diverse, between AMAZING GRACE, FANTASTIC FOUR, and THE TV SET. It's an exciting time for me.


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