Capone Interviews Ozymandias! Matthew Goode Talks BRIDESHEAD REVISTED and WATCHMEN!
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
Thirty-year-old British actor Matthew Goode is still a relatively new face to most filmgoers. In fact, there's a very good chance many of you have never actually seen one of his movies. He seemed destined to play the love interest to some very beautiful actresses, including Mandy Moore in CHASING LIBERTY; Piper Perabo in IMAGINE ME & YOU; and Scarlett Johansson in Woody Allen's. But Goode seemed determined to break free of his handsome, nice-guy roles when to took on the role of the absolutely evil Gary Spargo is last year's THE LOOKOUT (rent it immediately if you haven't seen it) from writer-director Scott Frank. It was thanks to this film that I got to interview Goode for the first time (along with Frank and Goode's costar Joseph Gordon-Levitt).
This time around he was out promoting his latest work, the film adaptation of the preeminent piece of British literature, BRIDESHEAD REVISITED, in which he places Charles Ryder (for those familiar with the original miniseries, this was the breakthrough role Jeremy Irons played). And while we certainly do discuss this film, my mind was already racing ahead to the next time we'll see Goode on the big screen: you see, he plays Ozymandias in next year's WATCHMEN movie (you get one nice shot of him in the recently released trailer). My first statement to Goode was meant as a joke, but boy am I glad he thought I was serious. Matthew Goode is one of those actors who I absolutely know will be a huge deal in the near future, so important he probably won't grant interviews to the likes of us any longer. But he's one of the most personable, funny, often-salty gentlemen I've ever interviewed. And he uses a word during our conversation that I've never actually had to transcribe. Enjoy Matthew Goode…
Matthew Goode: [Taking a look at my digital recorder] That's a fancy-pants one. That is good. I like anything with graphics.
Capone: That's funny you say that because when we met last year, I had a fairly large cassette player, and you were fascinated by it and you said how you loved it because it was old school.
MG: Well, I do. I kind of switch between the two. Because that [points to recorder] just looks really sexy, but there's a real appeal to the older machines. It's like people who like vinyl. That shit in-between: don't like it. One way or the other.
Capone: So you realize I'm only going to be asking you WATCHMEN questions, right?
MG: Perfect! I'm so happy to do that.
Capone: So are you going to San Diego for the big ComicCon presentation?
MG: Yes, I am.
Capone: I'll probably see you there. Do you have any idea what [director] Zack Snyder will be showing?
MG: I would imagine, considering the trailer is going out with DARK KNIGHT. That makes good sense for Warner Brothers. So I'd imagine they're going to be showing extra material, otherwise people who made the effort to get down there will go, "I'm pissed. This is the shit we've already seen." I haven't seen anything myself really. I've had to looping, some re-recording of sound on one or two tiny scenes in it, so they've either cut me out of the movie or the original recording was as good as it needs to be. So I've seen so little, but the stuff I've seen has been "Oh, fuck me! Wow! There's Bubastis; there's my fucking cat!" Because there's very little CGI in it.
Capone: I noticed that just from the video diaries that Zack put on line. I wasn't seeing, like he did with 300, the green screens every single shot. Everything looked very real and practical.
MG: Well, we had these huge, huge sets. There's so much attention to detail, and they had this massive backlot, which was New York. It was incredible. And thank God because it is the CITIZEN KANE of graphic novels. It needs to be visionary and real. We're actually not as accepting of false things these days. We want to go back to old school and the scale of a CITZEN KANE. I fucking hate CGI.
Capone: You mentioned DARK KNIGHT a minute ago, there's hardly any CGI in that.
MG: Yeah, we want the sets, we want the kind of old school visionary. And the minute some crap CGI comes on [in other films], it takes you right out of the story. Obviously, when we have things like a 100-foot Dr. Manhattan, sorry to disappoint you, but that's CGI. Having not seen it myself and having spoken to Zack, he said, "The running time is about three hours right now, and what Warner Bros. don't really get yet is that I've made a three-hour arthouse film." [laughs] "That sounds great!" So I think his integrity with it, and even the color palate he's using, it's trying to serve only the novel and the fans. It's not something he's come on board and reinvented. Obviously, you have to have your own vision, but you've got it storyboarded there, right there for you. He's done as much as he can with the way he's cast it and give as much of the budget as he can to fulfilling the vision of the film. And there were other directors attached like Paul Greengrass [and Darren Aronofsky and Terry Gilliam], who have a great back catalog, and with Zack, other than 300, he's very new. He's been working with a camera for however many fucking years, but to the film world, he's only done two films. But I honestly think we've got the best man for the job.
Capone: Zack was kind enough to bring a nearly completed 300 to our Butt Numb-a-Thon a couple of Decembers ago, and I know more than a few of us are hoping he bring WATCHMEN this year.
MG: The movie is cut now. He's just doing the CGI now. I could imagine by December, it could well be done. It goes out worldwide in March. It just depends on how secretive they're going to be.
Capone: It must have been pretty much impossible not to want to play the smartest man in the world. That's not a title that is bestowed upon many actors in their lifetime.
MG: My God. And it certainly won't be when this interview comes out, will it? [laughs] It's one of those weird things, I didn't have any knowledge of WATCHMEN. It's not a world where I came from. And a lot of my friends did have knowledge, and I'd say, "I've been given this job. I'm playing this guy called Ozymandias in WATCHMEN." And they're like, "I fucking hate you." "But I don't know anything about it." "READ IT!!!" It was only after I read it that I was like, "Oh my God." I then understood the enormity of what I was undertaking, because it's the best graphic novel out there. I don't have a huge amount to compare it to, but the depth of the story, the way it's written, the peculiarities in the structure of it. It's the most thought-out, deeply intelligent of the lot of them. So you sign on. And I was one of the last to be cast, and knowing the interest of other, much larger actors who wanted the role, combined with the fact that Zack just gave it to me on a plate really, I would have been an idiot to turn it down. I was scared, for sure.
Capone: Your character is one of those classic comic book villains who isn't evil per se; he thinks what he's doing is for the greater good. He does see some righteousness in what he's doing.
MG: For sure. He's morally ambiguous. He's kind of a crossover to Rorschach really, because people go right to him; he's the character people love. And by the end, people realize there's a sociopathic-ness between both these characters, but really you just want to be right and you would forsake the world's safety because of that. As opposed to Ozymandias, who's like, "I get it, but we needs someone to be fucking practical about this." It's the reverse of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. I've done it, I save the world, and I've done it in the way, but it's pretty much the only way it could have been done. I don't know about you, but I've sat around and joked with people about how it's going to take some outside force for the whole world to unite, which is giving a little bit away. It may or may not be this rather large creation of Adrian Veidt that comes to attack and kill people. I loved the character, and I love that you don't know anything about his real backstory, and that may or may not upset the fanbase. I mean, you know his parents were very wealthy, you now that he gave that wealth away and went on a trip, and he took some hash, and he had these vision with the Ozymandias, the King of Thebes. But we said there has to be some understanding with it.
And I came in to Zack one day because I'd gotten quite drunk--I find that always really helps, as I learned from Paul Newman, go get drunk and think about your character on your own--and I said to him, it would be interesting in a very comic book kind of way to ask why did he give his parents' money away? Perhaps it's because his parents were Nazis, and he was ashamed of that wealth. And also it would be a way to challenge his own intellect. Did he live in Germany before? Wouldn't it be interesting if he did come over here post-WWII after having grown up there as a child? He speaks the German language, and he has an accent. So when he comes over, he works himself up into being this very successful man when we first see him, but how can we distinguish between the public and the private persona? That way, he's the epitome of the American dream. He's built himself up as a self-made man effectively. So the entire world knows him as this guy who speaks with a perfect American accent…hopefully [laughs], but actually with the Watchmen, there's a hint of German, which grows a bit stronger. But that's more from a technical standpoint for me. But having that sort of duplicity made it much more layered and interesting.
Capone: Is that something you came up with or something you and Zack did together?
MG: My idea, but he let me do it.
Capone: Something else I remember from the last time we spoke, you told me that you always create backstories for the characters you play, but that you never reveal them.
MG: Well, I'll only be telling you now. This isn't in the script.
Capone: When I asked you for a little bit of the backstory for your character in THE LOOKOUT, you got very serious. I thought you were going to hit me for asking.
MG: [laughs] No, not at all. It doesn't really serve the story of THE LOOKOUT for me to have told you, and it actually looks a bit self-indulgent as an actor, which I try to stay away from. I don't really talk about process. I can't really describe what goes on in my imagination. We have all one, and I think the more you let someone in there, the more danger there is that they might let you explore that imagination to do other characters. I sound like a dick already. But with this, it needs a little explaining because otherwise people will be like, "What the fuck is going on?" I think they'll get it; I think they will. I hope they don't think I'm being self-indulgent because I think it really serves the film. And it comes from the idea of this comic book world.
Capone: The comic book world loves its backstory.
Capone: Okay, I really didn't intend on opening with WATCHMENT questions, and we can come back to it. But I did want to talk a little bit about BRIDESHEAD REVISITED, because I truly liked it. I remember watching the 11- or 12-hour miniseries in college, and it's such a risky endeavor to condense it and rework it the way that it's been done here, but I think you pulled it off. Did you revisit Jeremy Irons performance, or did you draw more from the novel's version of Charles?
MG: I'd seen the series, which I wish I'd never seen, but I was given it about five years previously as a present from my agent. He said, "You should watch this. It's be the best piece of drama that's ever been, and you could learn a lot from it." And I knew the novel because I'd studied it at school, although it wasn't part of the syllabus, I just read it and fuck me. [laughs] Obviously, we had a different script, and it would be weird to say, "Yes, I revisited it." You can't copy somebody else's performance. You've got other actors around you and different lines. But I know what you mean, because you're never going to get a better medium to do a book adaptation with than television, because you have so much time. You could do it chapter for chapter with a narrative structure that you don't have to change, which obviously we did because you need to bring Julia into the story earlier on, which Jeremy [Brock, co-screenwriter] was very aware of. So they sought the permission of the [novelist Evelyn] Waugh estate to do that, because that's quite a drastic change. It didn't sit hugely comfortably with the cast at the beginning. Everyone is kind of a purist when it comes to a novel, especially one of the greatest novels in the English language, and the prose is so fucking beautiful. So I didn't revisit anything that Jeremy did, no, but the way I work, you've only got yourself.
Capone: The way you play it seems much more like the novel and less the innocent. He holds himself away from the Flyte family as an observer and is pulled in, and not necessarily against his will.
MG: It's [director] Julian [Jarrold's] vision, and it's a shame he's not here to talk about it, because it's specifically what he wanted. And it's a very ambiguous character, as far as his sexuality and far as his ambition, and I think what you have in our adaptation--and it's one of the things I'm most proud of--is that they are very three dimensional and very human, even Lady Marchmain [Emma Thompson]. You feel a huge amount of sympathy because everyone has their losses, their history, but by the time we see them, it just gets worse for them. It's a very sad film dramatically. With Charles, his mother died. He's the loneliest guy on the planet, and he meets this guy, who falls in love with him. And Charles falls in love with him platonically, he knows it's not going to work out, but just how ambitious is he? It seems to me, as someone who loves words, I don't write psychology, the psychology of those two looking alike and acting alike and there being a love between them and Charles transferring his love to a woman because that's his thing, makes perfect sense to me.
Capone: I'd forgotten how oppressive this story is despite the large estate and all the location shooting.
MG: Yeah. Just life, really. Things don't always work out. Like at the end, some people are going to be walking out wanting things to be tied up a bit more neatly, but one of the things that happens in the book is that you're wanting for an ending, and you get there and there's this sort of sigh. I remember reading it and going, "Okay, good. Someone says to him 'I've never seen you looking so upbeat.'" That idea that he can finally tuck the past behind him and try to get on with his life, even though he's just said, "I'm middle aged, childless, loveless." The past weights heavy.
Capone: Did you find it necessary to create a backstory for Charles? It's kind of already there for you.
MG: Most of it's there. It doesn't talk about his mother apart from the fact that she went away and was killed in the war. And you can imagine, being English and being so close to post-WWI, but having a knowledge of the class system and having been to a boarding school for the middle class, I've got a pretty good knowledge of where he's coming from. I can imagine it's like the Italian guys who play good fellas, they grew up in those kind of worlds, they nothing they didn't know that they put onto the screen. If you cast someone like Kirsten Dunst in a role like that, another big American actress, I'd imagine it's slightly harder…or not, we speak the same language, we read the same books. I don't know, it's all a load of bullocks really. [laughs]
Capone: It's almost unfair that Emma Thompson is in this movie with you, because you can't help but focus every ounce of attention onto her whenever she's in a scene. She's so great. What did you learn from her?
MG: That's not unfair; that's a learning curve. I learned grace from her. She's won Oscars for writing for acting, and all she seeks is the truth in any scene, and she doesn't do it at the expense of wanting screen time. She's the least selfish person you'll ever meet. She just loves her job and loves playing around. She's like a mother on set, a very young mother, a very young sexually attractive mother. [laughs] She could make people feel very nervous until she starts laughing around, and then you're like, "Oh my God. You're just brilliant." There are too many superlatives to mention to describe her. She's a class act.
Capone: And Ben Whishaw, who I've been seeing so much of lately in PERFUME and I'M NOT THERE, he strikes me as the kind of guy who really throws himself into whatever part he's playing.
MG: He's a chameleon. He's twitchy when he's not working. He loves to work, and he's so fucking good. This is the guy, remember, who was reputed to have done the best Hamlet in 40 years on stage. He is a class act as well, amazingly deep, sensitive person. And it was just such a pleasure, and he was someone I knew that I'd know for the rest of my life, and hopefully we'll get to work together again on stage or in film. He throws himself into it, as you say, but he doesn't know how to do anything apart from be right on screen. There's a different kind of masculinity between him and Daniel Day Lewis, but there's that line of Jim Sheridan about Daniel "He's a character actor trapped in a leading man's body."
Capone: One thing I remember you saying the last time we spoke--and I thought it was really honest of you to say it…
MG: Was it the word 'cunt'?
Capone: No, but it will be the next time we meet. That'll look good this time around in print. When we were talking about the script for THE LOOKOUT coming to you, and that it was important to you to make it big in American movies, and that that film was a great step in that direction for you. WATCHMEN is essentially diving head first into them.
MG: I'm the luckiest son of a bitch in the world. You do feel like you're taking another actor's job. But what we do is acting, and if you do it well, it shouldn't matter where the hell you come from, particularly since the English film industry is not what it was. We have to come to America and try to gain work, because we're out of work at home. I'm certainly in a position where I still have to audition and take meetings, which I think is great and thank fuck. Otherwise you don't feel part of a project and you feel alienated or that you don't deserve it. You need to talk it through and really get close to the director. I want to work all the time, but I don't see the point in working unless you love the project. And I can say that and a lot of other actors will say, "Well, you're in a fucking lucky position to say that." I am, but I came from a position where I took some jobs, and I'm lucky that they worked out, but I've also went through two periods where I didn't work for a year, and I had to borrow money, because you read some things and you go, "I just can't do that. The idea makes me feel physically ill. It's like selling out." I have my own integrity, hopefully.
Capone: Last question: what was it like putting on that costume for the first time and seeing yourself in it?
MG: One good thing is that I got a different haircut. I do look completely different, which is kind of nice. So if it doesn't work out or not a particularly good performance, people won't recognize me. [laughs] But it feels pretty good, although it does take 40 minutes to get on every day, with talcum powder. But most of the time I just looked like David Bowie in my suit.
Capone: He got a lot of mileage out of that look. Thanks a lot, and hopefully we'll see you in San Diego.
MG: I'm sure. Thanks a lot.