Capone With HOT FUZZ's Martin Freeman About THE GOOD NIGHT, Peter Greenaway's NIGHTWATCHING, And More!!
Published at: Sept. 19, 2007, 10:22 a.m. CST by merrick
Hey everyone. Capone here in Chicago, with an interview with a guy whose career I've enjoyed watching grow and adapt over the last few years.
As far as I'm concerned, Martin Freeman is only at the beginning of his attempt to show us what he's made of. Obviously, the man could have written his own ticket after two seasons as Tim on the devastatingly funny British series "The Office," but he seemed more intent on showing the world his range, which is not to say he hasn't continued to make us laugh with such films as LOVE ACTUALLY; ALI G INDAHOUSE; THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY; CONFETTI; and tasty cameos in SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ. But with his co-starring role opposite Jude Law in BREAKING AND ENTERING and his new work THE GOOD NIGHT (opposite his good friend Simon Pegg), Freeman reveals a more serious side to his acting abilities. It seems almost impossible for him to resist the temptation to make us laugh, but the film is decidedly quiet and somber.
Just as background, THE GOOD NIGHT deals with Freeman's character slowly escaping his dreadful real-world relationship with Gwyneth Paltrow for a more ideal dream girl (played by Penelope Cruz), who actually does exist only in his dreams. Danny DeVito plays a dream coach who give Freeman techniques to extend his dreams and see the fantasy relationship out to is conclusion, which may or may not be the best idea. But don't take my word for it; let's let Martin explain his decision to take such a role.
Capone: You’re probably in the midst of a whirlwind day.
Martin Freeman: A mini-whirlwind, yeah, a mini one.
Capone: Then I’ll jump right in. I suppose it’s my own fault for deliberately not reading anything about THE GOOD NIGHT before I watched it, but it really threw me how melancholy the tone was--and I don’t mean that in a bad way, it was actually kind of a nice surprise. One would certainly think that a film with you and Simon Pegg in it would be a flat-out comedy. But, it was quite nice to see the two of you playing serious together. Can you talk a little bit about that?
MF: Well, I like melancholy films, you know, and I like melancholy as a state, really. I don’t really mind that. I certainly prefer it to zany and ‘in your face’. I like the sort of calm of melancholy and also the stability of that. So, you sort of know where you are, which I like.
Yeah, the film does have that quality, I suppose. I think it might have less of it, as you say, depending on what expectation you bring to it. Because if someone said to you, “God, it’s a really, really depressing film,” then you’d go, “No, no, there are really quite a lot of laughs in it.” But, yeah, if you’re expecting a lot of laughs, there are some laughs in it, but yeah, it’s darker than that, I suppose, which is exactly…well, I suppose it partly reflects my taste in films, and in art generally, and in life.
Sometimes, I want to watch Stan Laurel push Oliver Hardy into a bucket of fuckin’ oil, and sometimes I want to watch NIL BY MOUTH, or sometimes I want to watch THE GODFATHER, or whatever it is. So, I have a pretty catholic taste in movies. It encompasses all sorts of things, and this is that movie. This is something that reflects part of my taste in storytelling and in…
C: Did you say ‘catholic’ taste in movies?
MF: Sorry, as in…what that word means is universal.
C: Oh right. I just couldn't hear you very well. I figured you didn’t mean ‘just Catholic’ movies.
MF: That's right, Roman Catholic. I only like films about the Pope, yeah.
C: And, I certainly didn’t mean to imply that THE GOOD NIGHT was either depressing or not funny.
MF: And, you didn’t imply that. And, I know what you mean. I think it does have a melancholic edge, which I’m really, really pleased about, because if nothing else…I mean apart from the fact that I like it anyway, just from my own selfish point of view, I like people obviously seeing me in something that does vaguely surprise them, for better or worse.
C: I think anyone who has gone out of their way to follow your career and seen you in BREAKING AND ENTERING, which had a more serious tone, they won't be as surprised. In fact, just yesterday, I didn’t even know you were in the film when I went to see it, but I saw DEDICATION, which you have a small role in.
MF: Right. Well, you’ve got one on me. I’ve not seen that yet. I really want to see it, yeah.
C: I particularly like the scene in THE GOOD NIGHT where you and Simon are at his wife’s home listening to her phone messages. Can you talk a little about that? I know the two of you have worked together, although never quite like this…more, like, in cameos than anything else. Can you talk about working with him as an actual partner in crime here?
MF: Well, I was very keen to get Simon involved in it. Not that he needs my affirmation--he’s doing alright on his own--but I was very keen to get him, because Simon’s 3-D, he’s not a comedian who’s begging to be liked all the time on screen, and he’s not just wanting to be loved. He’s got a seriousness to him, and he’s got a gravitas to him, which I like, you know, which I really wanted for this, because I think the film warrants it. I can’t abide, you know… I mean, some comedic actors or some comedians are brilliant actors and some are dreadful, because they’re just waiting, you can see them waiting for the fuckin’ round of applause. And, Simon doesn’t have that. And, he’s a pleasure to work with, because he’s natural. He’s a friend anyway, you know, so we’re mates, so we kind of…I mean, you’re right, we haven’t worked in detail that often. But, we do have a sort of shorthand, because we are friends.
C: I’ve certainly never seen him play a more appalling character than the one in this film.
MF: Exactly, which I’m sure for him was a pleasure as well, because, I mean, all actors like to play something else. Yeah, he’s a pretty conscience-less person.
C: How did this film and [writer/director] Jake Paltrow find you?
MF: It was actually while I was still making THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY in 2004. It was, I think, on the tail end of making that when I received this script with a sort of offer to play the part. And, I really liked it, you know, I just really, really liked it. I didn’t know Jake. I had never met him, and I spoke to him on the phone and liked where he was coming from. We had quite a long chat about--with a small ‘p’--the politics of the film and the politics of how we view the women in the film, because I just thought there was a danger…because I didn’t know Jake, I didn’t know Jake is who he is, so I thought that in someone else’s hands that female fantasy woman could be shot in a different way and could be presented in a different way that almost a bit too, not frat boy, but almost a little bit more ‘Well, let’s look at her tits’ sort of thing. That’s what I wanted to avoid, really.
And, Jake’s a lot smarter than that, and that’s not his sensibility at all, so we met up, and he put me on camera. I don’t think he needed convincing to cast me, but he needed to convince other people, ’cause he could have been asking, you know, a movie star to being doing it. So, I guess, for him, he probably needed to show to people I could do it. At that time, especially, people would have begun, “Sorry, who? Who’s that?” So, he would have needed to sort of put their minds at ease.
But, yeah, that’s how it came about really. He wanted me to do it. And, I’m very, very grateful to him. I always like it when people, who I don’t expect to know me or I don’t expect to think that I can do a particular thing, when they have a bit of faith, you know, when they show a bit of foresight, to see that there’s more to somebody than initially meets the eye.
C: He had faith in you, but you also had to have a certain degree of faith in him, because it’s his first feature.
MF: I did, yeah, I did. Absolutely, I think we were both working on faith, because I didn’t know anything he had done. At least, he knew a couple of things I had done. So, yeah, I was just talking to him, and I thought, if he’s written a script this interesting, and he sounds like an interesting bloke, he’s a decent person who I could spend seven weeks with, or whatever. Because the last thing you want to do is spend it, frankly, with someone who is appalling. Life is too short. But, Jake is a nice person. I think he’s a good person who kind of has his head screwed on, you know?
C: Was there some aspect of the story that you found particularly enticing, or was it the opportunity to be at that close proximity to Penélope Cruz that sold you?
MF: [Laughs] At that time, you see, of course, I didn’t know. I didn’t know who the women were going to be. At that time, I don’t think it was going to be Gwyneth [Paltrow], and it certainly wasn’t going to be Penélope. I really didn’t know who it was going to be. I think Jake…I’m sure Jake knew, but I didn’t know. So, no, it wasn’t that.
Well, partly, I thought, This isn’t the script I’ve read five times this month. A lot of the time you are thinking that, because either scripts are done by committee, or they’re done hoping to please a certain sector of the audience, you know, so people talk about demographics a lot, which is something that just bores the shit out of me, because as soon as you start talking about that over and above your own vision and over and above your own taste, then you’ve already lost the game. This sounded like it was Jake’s taste and like it was his film. So, when I meet a filmmaker who has a true voice, I want to be involved.
C: The idea that when you’re dreaming and a plot forms, the dream always ends before you really get to the good stuff. And, the idea that your character has been given the means to actually extend his dreams is fascinating. The possibilities are endless there, and it seems to make your character happier.
MF: Happier, but then there's the realization that it’s only going to lead him to live the life that Danny DeVito’s living, which is surrounded completely in a non-world in the past, and he hasn’t had a real, fucking relationship for 30 years. So, that’s what kind of turns him off, when he goes to Danny’s apartment and thinks, ‘Christ, this is not how I want to end up?’.
C: I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn't be able to identify with the ‘Well, I’d like to see how this dream ends’ mindset.
MF: Of course, yeah, absolutely. We all do, don’t we?
C: The scenes between you and Gwyneth Paltrow are so wonderfully uncomfortable and tense. Even the way the two of you say “I love you” when you go to bed.
MF: Yes, absolutely, yeah.
C: Was there anything that the two of you did to keep the air between you uneasy?
MF: [Stage whisper] We just never got on. We just decided to hate each other. [Laughs] No, not really. I have to say, it was just…no, just acting, because we certainly got on pretty well. I liked her straightaway. Simon already knew Gwyneth, you know, through Chris [Martin], I think, but I didn’t know Gwyneth. I just liked her straight away; I thought she was cool. And, I like her acting, you know, I like her acting as a viewer, and I was very pleased to see that to act with her was easy as well. She’s very easy to work with, extremely easy to work with. And, I think those scenes work because of that, because there is a sort of ease between us, I guess. She’s a very good actor. I really have a lot of respect for her, and even more so now that she worked with me [laughs].
C: Let’s finish up the cast list here…As many good scenes as you have with Simon and the other actors, it emerges that your real partner in crime is DeVito.
MF: Yes, indeed.
C: I mean, this man is Hollywood royalty with his work as both an actor and a director. Give me your best Danny DeVito story. What impression did he make on you?
MF: Part of an impression he made on me was walking through the streets of New York with him, because you see the reactions. People are delighted to see Danny DeVito. Over and above just him being a celebrity or whatever, they feel a real warmth for him and real affection for him--from cops to children and their parents, street sweepers. People like him and, again, you spend 10 minutes with him and you know why. He’s a very likeable man, and he’s an interesting man. I thoroughly enjoyed our scenes together. I have to say--and again, all credit to Jake--he got a fucking amazing cast. He really did, There was nobody who felt ‘God, this isn’t working, I’ll crank this out,’ where you’ve got to kind of somehow artificially generate some energy for this scene, because everyone was totally on it. Everyone’s very good at their job in this film, you know, which is, of course, another thing you hope for as an actor. You want to be surrounded by people who are really, really good, because it keeps you good, and it improves you.
C: It’s funny you say that about walking on the streets of New York with him, because New York is sort of well known for leaving the celebrities alone, more or less.
MF: It’s true, yeah, true.
C: But, you’re right, there is a warmth he exudes that makes him feel very approachable.
MF: Yeah, it is. And, again, I’m sure he would be…I don’t know him well enough…but it would probably drive him as mad as it drives me to have people think, ‘Hey, it’s the nice little guy. Let’s go and annoy him.’ And, you think, ‘Fuck it, they don’t do that to Sean Penn’ or someone else they’re a bit more ‘Oooh, I wonder if I should go up to him.’ Both he and I, to be honest… You know, back home [in the UK] there are people that, I suppose, for whatever reason, because they're not threatened by us, you know what I mean? They just come up and say, ‘Oh yeah, I know you, you’re that guy, and my wife loves you, and I don’t even care if you're eating’, you know?
C: Do you wish that you were more menacing? Is that what you’re saying?
MF: Well, it would certainly…Sometimes when you’re having a meal, you kind of think, ‘If only he feared me, then he wouldn’t come over and annoy me.’ [laughs] But, no, put it this way: It’s nicer to be liked than ignored.
C: Sure. I have to say--and this will be the only sort of veiled reference to “The Office” that I make today--but there were a couple of times in this film where I caught you sort of with that… it’s almost like a world-famous look, like your eyes kind of get big, but the rest of your face doesn’t really change. You may have used it before “The Office,” but that’s where I spotted it. Do you have any idea what I’m talking about?
MF: I’m not sure. Unfortunately, I do only have one face. So, I’m definitely acting with my own face, so there’s…
C: In “The Office,” if somebody said something ridiculous or outrageous, your head would kind of pop up, almost like out of a gopher hole…
MF: Yes, yes, yes.
C: … and your eyes would seek out the camera. That’s the look I’m talking about. Obviously, you don't look at the camera in this film.…
MF: No, I hope not, no!
C: I did see you kind of, like, open your eyes, widen your eyes just enough so that the camera catches it, but that maybe nobody else does.
MF: Exactly, the character looks up.
C: Is that something you rehearse, or is that just you?
MF: No, that’s just how…I just think tt’s…well, it’s probably, I don’t know, filtered through Stan Laurel, Jerry Lewis, I don’t know what it’s filtered through, but it’s…I honestly don’t know. I didn’t know that I did it in this. But, I suppose it’s just…it’s an honest reaction, I guess, of incredulity. It’s part of you thinking--well, certainly in “The Office”--it’s the sentiment, ‘Am I alone in that one? Did he really just say that? Did anyone else hear that? Am I imagining that?'
C: Those are exactly the words that come to mind.
MF: So, yeah. I don’t know, there are always those people in life and in films who say stupid things, you know, and you’re almost subconsciously looking out for an ally to share the reaction with.
C: The one regret I have about not going to the Toronto Film Festival this year is not getting to see NIGHTWATCHING, because I’m such a huge Peter Greenaway fan. I don’t think I’ve ever had a chance to actually ask somebody about working with him. I’ve met him a couple of times, and he’s so knowledgeable about so many things that’s almost intimidating. Was it easy to work with him, or was it a difficult experience in a good or bad way?
MF: Well, it wasn’t intimidating, but it wasn’t easy either. I don’t think there’s anything about him that is easy, to be honest. Not that he’s a difficult man. I never found that he was weird or difficult with me, but his films aren’t easy, obviously, and his films are always pretty challenging. The process that he puts you through is fairly challenging, because as an actor, obviously, you’re used to waiting for the lighting, but you’re not used to waiting THAT LONG for the lighting, you know. You’re not used to waiting, like, half the day for the scene to be lit, but that’s, of course, what gives his films their look. That’s why his films are unique, because they look the way they do.
I’m playing Rembrandt at the heart of this film, and there has to be a sort of human, beating heart at the core of the movie the rest of the film can sort of exist around. And, he’s a very hands-off director, you know. He leaves you alone. I rang Michael Gambon actually [who is also in THE GOOD NIGHT]. Michael, you probably remember, was in THE COOK THE THIEF HIS WIFE & HER LOVER, opposite Helen Mirren, and Michael said, “He leaves you alone. He sort of lets you act. He presumes that you can act. He’s not going to presume to tell you how to act,” which is certainly true. He sort of directs from a distance, but he’s particular. He’s really, really particular about what he wants, but less so with the acting. Do you know what I mean? He’s less hands-on with you than he is with the art department and with the DOP, you know. That’s where he kind of acts out his complete, exacting sort of methods, you know, where is the glass on the table, because an inch over there is going to make all the difference in the shot, an inch over here is going to ruin it, you know?
But, it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, you know. Peter Greenaway says, “Would you like to play Rembrandt in my film about Rembrandt?” and you say, “Yes.” That’s how that conversation goes.
C: I really don’t know much about the story, but is it structured like many of Greenaway's other films, where it’s almost about a process and a certain, very deliberate, rigorous structure?
MF: Well, I hope it’s a bit of a return to a beginning, middle, and an end. It’s slightly more narrative than some of his other films certainly. And, the films that I respond to of his do have a story. The ones that I respond to less are the ones that are a bit more like an art installation, whereas NIGHTWATCHING is set over a couple of years of Rembrandt’s life in his 30s when he’s commissioned to paint one of his most famous paintings, known as "The Night Watch," which is of a Dutch militia, which hangs in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It covers that period in which his wife, Saskia, dies and the mother of his son, Titus, dies. He begins a disastrous, self-destructive relationship with his housekeeper, and then he has a slightly better relationship with another member of his household, who’s 20 years his junior. So, there’s a lot of fuckin’ stuff to play. And, that’s certainly not a comic role, although Peter wanted me because I’ve got some comic chops, but it’s by no means an out-and-out comedy. And, I’m certainly not the loveable guy in it. I’m doing some pretty 3-D, all-around nastiness and jealousness and humor as well. That’s a great departure for me.
C: Have you seen the film yet?
MF: I have, yeah. I’ve seen it a couple of times. I saw it at Venice and Toronto.
C: Is there any idea about when it’s going to be released?
MF: The official release, I think, is going to be in Paris by the end of the year, yeah. Then it will just open at different times throughout the world.
C: Do you have anything else that you’re working on? That sort of looked like the last thing on your upcoming docket.
MF: Yes, I think it is. Yes, it is. I’ve got a thing coming out on British telly soon called “Other People,” which is a comedy, but, yeah…’cause DEDICATION is out, and NIGHTWATCHING is about to be out, as is THE GOOD NIGHT. Yeah, after that, it’s just waiting. [laughs]