Matthew Goode Interview – BRIDESHEAD REVISTED

     August 8, 2008

With “Brideshead Revisited” finally playing on 350 screens nationwide, I figured it’s time to finally post the interviews I recently did with Matthew Goode and Hayley Atwell.

If the name “Brideshead Revisited” sounds familiar, it’s because Evelyn Waugh’s acclaimed novel was made into a very successful mini series in the early 80’s and it starred Jeremy Irons in one of his first roles.

Anyway, the material has now been adapted into a movie and it stars Matthew Goode, Ben Whishaw, Hayley Atwell and Emma Thompson. Here’s the synopsis:

A heartbreaking romantic epic, “Brideshead Revisited” tells an evocative story of forbidden love and the loss of innocence set in the pre-WWII era. In the film, Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) becomes entranced with the noble Marchmain family, first through the charming and provocative Sebastian Marchmain (Ben Whishaw), and then his sophisticated sister, Julia (Hayley Atwell). The rise and fall of Charles’ infatuations reflect the decline of a decadent era in England between the wars. Emma Thompson co-stars as Lady Marchmain.

While this is the kind of film that usually arrives in theaters at the end of the year, Miramax is launching it in the summer season in an attempt to get early buzz going. Also, with multiplexes filled with explosions and superheroes, a film like “Brideshead” will have time to breathe and get noticed…

So to help promote the film, I interviewed Matthew Goode – who plays Charles Ryder. During our extended roundtable interview we talked about making the film and a lot of the behind the scenes stories. It’s a great interview with the very talented actor. And one last thing…if you want to read the exclusive interview I did with Matthew about “Watchmen,” click here.

As usual, you can either read the transcript or listen to the interview by clicking here. Again, “Brideshead Revisited” is now playing in limited release.

Q: So how was it to play a pagan?

Matthew Goode: I played him well. Where do you stand on this? It was an absolute pleasure. No, it was hugely fun, probably the most challenging thing I’ve had to do even just as far as stamina let alone the densely thematic novel that “Brideshead” is, so yeah total pleasure.

And you didn’t miss out on the Catholic guilt that everybody else had to share in?

Matthew: Oh I missed out on that completely. It was completely over my head. I know a little bit about Catholicism but I didn’t feel the need to necessarily go into, “oh I should really look up more about that.” But I know that Ben and Hayley and Felicity and Ed really benefited from going to a service or two particularly with Emma, so they had a real family unit thing going on before they started filming. All I had to do was go and get chicken supper and that was fine for me.

The last time a lot of us spoke to you was for “The Lookout”.

Matthew: Yes, sir. It’s a little different this one here.

Exactly, and I think I remember at that junket you were talking about how you weren’t sure what your next project was and you were debating things and all of a sudden you got attached to 2 other interesting projects. What was it about this script and this project that made you want to take the challenge or play this role?

Matthew: Well, I knew the novel because I read it first when I was about 12 and I always thought it was…I don’t think I understood it as it was expected of a 12 and then I’d seen the series previously about 5 years before we actually started filming. My agent gave it to me as a gift. I think more to say this is what you should be trying to make, if possible. So it was quite prophetic in a way. And I knew that Emma Thompson and Michael Gamble were going to be doing it and it was, I suppose in some ways, ostensibly my first lead, but it’s never like well…I chose to do it and I still had to go through the auditioning process and in some ways considering I went up for the other part first, which is amazing because Julian said, “I never really wanted you to play that part anyway. I don’t know why you were in for it.” I was like, ah-ha. Well why didn’t you see it. Then I went back and I was asked to come in for Charles and I re-read the script and I was like I just don’t get him. I’m not sure…it was only when…which seems funny actually because it seems so obvious that he’s such a lonely character and once you peel back those deconstructive psychology of like this guy who didn’t know where he was meant to be in life. And without a mother and the thoughts on religion and all that kind of thing, it’s just such a dense project and as much as it’s been done before, it was such a great opportunity because I think they are 2 different beasts—television and film—so there’s a worry about truncating the story but the opportunity to work with Emma Thompson far overrides anything.

I’m curious if in the audition process they made you try out a bunch of different wine or did you really research that aspect of the character by just trying them out?

Matthew: I’ve been researching that for 20 years. No, it was unfortunate we didn’t get to really go to town with it only because we wouldn’t be able to afford the cellar that they had at that time. I would liked to have sat around and drank some 1958 Chateau Briand or even further back obviously. But no, not too much research done on that.

Is it hard to be in every scene in that film? Is that hard on you as an actor to have to carry it to that extent?

Matthew: You know, I think it’s hard stamina wise because of the constraints of filming that we had to do 6 days weeks and it being every scene means it’s a 16-17 hour day every day, which is fine. That’s what we’re here to do is work and it’s a pleasure, but I think considering the novel, you know, Charles’ voice is so prominent because he’s the narrator of the story. It felt like you had to convey a huge amount more without having a voice-over as they did in the original and so, yeah, I did feel a huge pressure and I think particularly if you don’t film it narratively you’re jumping around all over and so suddenly in one day you’ll be doing all 3 areas and you’re like I must remain…it’s not as obvious just to say….to play older I drop my semitone 2 semitones, because most of the time I’m 2 or 3 semitones up from where I am as just a small technical thing, so you just have to…it gets exhausting to remember where you are in the story and to say to flip around era wise and that’s where a really good director comes in and keeps you honest and keeps you…and occasionally he would say, “that’s a little too 18 year old” and I’m like “all right. Sorry. Down a bit. Okay.”

Having read the novel and seen the mini-series, how do you feel the actual script adaptation was for this film?

Matthew: I thought it was really good actually. I was slightly worried about Julia being brought…obviously which we had to do…but her character as the book is, you know, she doesn’t really enter the fray until Book 2, chapter 2. So by bringing her further forward and suddenly having this love triangle thing going on. Does that make Charles look more ambitious than he actually was at that period in his life? And that was a concern, but, I think, it actually made it really super interesting for all those things… the looks between us and also just adding yet another ambiguity into the script, not that it needed any more, but it got one. So yeah, it’s hard.

In preparing for the role, did you draw on any real life experiences, in other words in the movie you were kind of an observer, kind of the every-man?

Matthew: Yeah, well I mean, you’ve only got yourself to use so I mean you bring every life experience you’ve ever had into it but also, for me being an actor is the power of imagination and not blocking your instincts if you have, particularly if you’re working with a class of actor, I mean each job I do it seems that I’m doing something with celebrated and people who are at the top of their game and you either sort of sink or swim really. And part of that is a bit of a self-belief and obviously you wouldn’t be there….you have to keep remembering that I wouldn’t be here unless they thought I was good enough to be doing it. So there’s a sort of…it’s so disarming. My confidence is always up and down but I think particularly during this it was challenged and I think it came out through on the other side and it was because of people like Emma, who really encourage and really encourage and give so much when the camera turns around and it’s not on them. I think…and I don’t think it really is a rare thing, but sometimes some actors don’t really want to give you everything. They want to be the better part themselves and they want to give a better performance as sort of competition and Emma is the utter opposite of that. She gives more. I don’t have enough superlatives for her….she’s become a really good friend and I think will be a very good modern mentor for me in the future.

You had a lot of good scenes with Ben Whishaw. I don’t know if I pronounced is last name…

Matthew: No, you’re bang on. You’re bang on.

Okay. You had a lot of good scenes with him and what did you guys do to prepare for that or did you just sort of that’s just what actors do?

Matthew: There’s a certain amount of hanging out but I kind of knew…I was such fan of Ben’s work anyway from the little I’d seen but everything I’d heard from other actors who’d worked with him, and obviously I was slightly daunted by working with Ben as he’s given the best performance of Hamlet in 40 years, so suddenly he’s opposite me and I’m like oh fuck, I’ve got to bring my A game. So when we went in for the kind of final audition I knew that Ben already had the role and so there is a certain worry and I thought we immediately he’s….Ben’s a bit different to me but he’s quite sort of twitchy and uncomfortable and when he starts acting it’s like there’s this totally different person then. He’s extraordinary and I have to say working with people that like they really give you everything you need. You know, all you have to do it sit there and just listen and respond and it takes it down to its basic components of acting really and it felt at times effortless and I think also we were helped by having hanging out a little bit beforehand. Not rehearsing too much. Talking, chatting. Chatting through all the thematics in this is hugely important and chatting also about the relationship that Ben and I wanted to have as far as our characters and where that was going to be set. And me saying that I don’t think you can definitively say that Charles hasn’t entertained the idea of having had feelings for Sebastian and being confused about things, but we are both fairly straight away. He’s not gay and that Sebastian is….so it feeds to the epic doom of…it’s very, very sad. It really is.

What do you think audiences should take away from the film in your opinion?

Matthew: That’s a good question really. I mean, you certainly can’t say they should take away this. I mean, when I watch it I think it’s a…that we’ve upheld the integrity of the novel. I honestly don’t know how to answer that question and I hope that doesn’t sound like a cop out. I don’t know what to take away from it. I think the themes in it are very strong.

There’s so many different themes.

Matthew: There’s so many. There’s so much. It’s not religion, it’s bad parenting combined with religion that can be the downfall of somebody.

So now aren’t you happy that Charles grew up without a mother? As there was only one bad parent to ruin his life.

Matthew: (Laughing) Yeah, you spend half these interviews going it’s the mother that provides the love and it’s the father that provides the disciplining and actually maybe that does feed into it after he left she suddenly took upon this role that…and went overboard with it. I don’t know.

Those are some great scenes though with your dad—the actor playing your father.

Matthew: Patrick Malahide, I know. He’s wonderful.

We were discussing those scenes got really good laughs in the theatre. When you were filming them did you realize they were going to come across that funny?

Matthew: I think when I first heard him laugh I knew it was going to be fairly amusing. But also touching as well. When he says your mother was always so good about….you kind of go “oooh”. You know? It’s a tough relationship when he doesn’t have that much time. We only have these tiny few little segments that come in here and there and it could be non-believable very easily and luckily with everyone kind of…I can’t talk about myself but I think we nailed it. I think we did all right. I think considering the time constraints and all of the constraints that were part of trying to tell an epic story with so many, as you say, thematically rich I think we did a pretty good job.

Speaking of all the different elements of the film, I’m curious if, because we don’t get to talk to Julian today, I’m curious about the…was there stuff that you shot that didn’t make it into the movie?

Matthew: Yeah, of course. As any movie you ever do there’s always stuff that doesn’t get in there.

I was curious because sometimes there are movies that are missing a ton of stuff and sometimes there’s movies that are missing one scene. Were there any like…were there a lot of scenes….I’m always curious about what might on the DVD.

Matthew: I don’t necessarily know if there’s…I mean some people don’t like putting stuff that hasn’t made it into the film because then immediately people think well, certainly have arguments well that should have been in the film. Why does this person think that it wasn’t very good and we’ll open up a can of worms occasionally. There were some things I was surprised and I know they fought about such as at the end of the fountain scene where I think Charles says to Julia “no God that’s good could ever do such a thing to you” or something like that and she starts striking Charles. They took that out because they didn’t…they had some sort of feeling it would be showing you the impending doom between the relationship between Charles and Julia and I was like it’s a shame because people might be slightly more sympathetic towards Charles at that point. So obviously there’s some stuff left on the cutting room floor but nothing that really upset me.

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As an actor how weird is it that first time you see the movie to see what the director has chosen for the takes that they’re going to use in the movie? Is there like annervousness?

Matthew: Always. My God, yeah. There is and occasionally you’re like didn’t I do one better than that? You’re never a judge of your own work and generally I hate seeing….I hate it. When you’re playing a character that’s American or something like that, then I’m all right then watching it because it’s not you up there really. I know that sounds bizarre but that’s the thing about playing English parts and particularly something as subtle as this. Obviously it’s slightly mannered and whatever but it is an extension of seeing ones own self, so it’s…I don’t know…it’s very odd, but I was all right with it. I was very happy with it.

Now with this film because of the whole British styling and the period piece scenes are very, very deliberate. Actions, mannerisms. How did that play into the number of takes and with the production? Or with the rehearsal time to minimize the number of takes?

Matthew: Rehearsal time wasn’t really rehearsing which the way we did it I really like. It’s more like this, sitting around talking about it. Talking about it extensively, so you’ve really got your homework done. You’ve nailed it down and you’re not going to be suddenly get to set and go shit, I really liked leaning on the television in the hotel room and we haven’t got television now obviously, you know, so rehearsals were good and most of one’s own homework, you take yourself to a national gallery. No one needs to….when you’re doing a project like this if you haven’t got any inspirations get off your ass and do something and work around and half of it’s in your imagination in your mind’s eye and half of it happens on the day. That’s the difference between theatre, you rehearse so much for theatre and you try to get out of that rehearsal thing in a way, and with this it keeps you on your toes because you haven’t done anything. So you’re shitting yourself most of the time.

What was your favorite scene?

Matthew: One of the favorites just from an acting point of view, I mean anything with Ben is just a joy, and I like doing the long 1 take scene which is when Ben in the bath and he gets out and we sort of follow through and he does his thing and it was a bit looser because you can be off-screen and talking and something that a lot of directors don’t use and it’s really nice. There was a fluidity to it that I liked for some reason and also I got to watch Ben do his thing and he’s such a pleasure. He’s such a marvelous actor.

Did you find some scenes hard to do? I mean there’s some actors…

Matthew: Sex scenes are never easy to do, you know? Hello everyone, this is my cock. You know? That’s always tricky when you’re got half naked people standing around and you’re just trying to cover up her as much as possible because she’s uncomfortable as you would be. So that’s a long day, otherwise I got to go to Venice again. Going to Morocco, going to Morocco I found a little hard because there was the language barrier and things took longer and we didn’t have any time there at all really and that may be the reason a couple of scenes from Morocco were cut. I think that was more just down to time. But yeah, so that anything that was ever hard about this job is just the energy level when you’re 8 weeks in it’s like, I’m exhausted and I think I’ve drunk too much coffee. So no, just a pleasure really.

I was going to ask you about filming on location. Do you enjoy that aspect of it? Is it exciting at the beginning and then all of a sudden people watching you becomes old? Can you talk a little bit about that?

Matthew: I think we were lucky like the first time I filmed in Venice, for example, we were doing it in modern dress so they didn’t stop the crowds and that becomes arduous because honestly people look at the camera. It’s like a blue light to a fly. You explain in 7 different languages please don’t. So that gets old pretty quickly because it’s nothing to do with your take being bad, it’s just that everyone in the background is fucking up. I’ve never really done a huge amount in the studio. I mean, “Watchmen” is my first experience really of doing a huge amount in the studio, so I always been on location and I love it because it’s kind of like everyone’s away from home, you know, you have dinner every night and you have a glass of wine before you go to bed so that really helps with certainly like having a family situation and with…it just helps. Most of the time you finish and then everyone goes off home if you’re filming in London and so you feel like you lose out a little and I don’t know I think that’s one of the reasons that the relationships seem quite strong in this is that it gave people time to go over the fact….well actually Emma dispels all that straight away but by the end it’s not oh my God it’s Emma Thompson. It’ s like it’s you. I’ve already made 10 drinks—your turn to buy at the bar. So I don’t know. I love location shoots, yeah. I don’t worry about it.

Now you’ve got probably 3 of your most signature roles would be Ben Calder, Gary Spargo and now Charles Ryder. All 3 totally different but you balance each one like walking on a tightrope and you do it beautifully. What qualities do you look for in a role considering the diversity of the parts that you choose?

Matthew: Well, I’ve been lucky enough…I hope it doesn’t sound arrogant but I think it makes it…I’ve been very lucky to be involved with all those….even like Chasing Liberty one would hardly say it’s the world’s greatest piece of work, but it was still a good script and it was working with good people and it’s also a really good confidence builder in something…which is however how many millions of dollars have gone into it and you’re a bit of a star and gives you the perfect example of learning to forget about that and get on with your craft.

And you got to be on location for that one, too.

Matthew: And again on location in some amazing places.

I just watched it for the 30th time the other night, so.

Matthew: Bless your heart. You’re the one.

I’m the one.

Matthew: But no, I wouldn’t say I choose projects and I wouldn’t be as wanky as to say they choose me but for some reason the directors have …it’s their vision and they decided I fit into it so I do think there is something very fortunate about having had these year breaks or year and a half breaks in between when I haven’t been suited to anything and haven’t wanted to be. Some of the scripts you see are so generic and whatever so I mean for example the last 2 jobs I ended up doing the top 100 novels of all time, so that’s a joy and it doesn’t get any better than that because when your source material is that good and when you have such beautiful pros explaining stuff like Charles’ nature and then it gives you some comfort into hoping that more particularly people who have read the novel will see a lot of the subtleties in your work and feel like…because some people will see it and it’s like he’s a bit dull and he underplayed it and you’re like trying to find a balance and somebody will have read the novel which comes back to what you were saying about what they will take away. I hope they take away that we fine tuned it to an area that we’ve only given that amount of time to go to that place. I don’t know. I hope they’ll probably be another adaptation in 20 years.

So what did you take away from the film?

Matthew: Very nice ash tray from the York Hotel and a really great set of friends. I don’t know. I’ve watched it once so I have to watch it again in New York and probably at London and then it’ll get put to bed as all these things do because you can only…you’ve got to move forward. But a bit of confidence and Ben Whishaw, Emma Thompson, Haley Atwell on speed dial.

Can you talk about what you have coming up next?

Matthew: “Watchmen” is coming up so I have the pleasure of going to Comic-Con. I’m literally throwing myself to the lions. So that’s next and apart from that who knows at the moment. Just reading and fishing and waiting for the next thing to come along whatever that may be.

I was going to say so I’m assuming that this quasi-SAG strike/not strike is affecting you just like everybody else?

Matthew: Well, I’m not a member of SAG.

You’re not?

Matthew: So, but at the same time you have to be very wary about work because you can suddenly become someone’s worst enemy and not just someone, a whole group of people as worst enemies. So I think if a job comes up in London that’s outside of it then fine and if not then I’m used to waiting around to work so I’ll just be sitting at home watching re-runs of “West Wing”.

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