Thursday, July 22, 2010

Venice Magazine Interviews Eddie Redmayne - He "Adores" KStew

Eddie Redmayne radiates an infectious enthusiasm. The Tony-winning actor’s cheerful passion about his work has a way of pulling you in, and as we chat with him we realize that this strength of emotion is what makes his characters so compelling. The rapidly ascending stageand- screen performer takes on intense personalities whose thoughts and feelings are racing even in silence. In “The Pillars of the Earth,” Starz Entertainment’s grand 12th century tale of the building of a cathedral, the London-born talent plays Jack Jackson, who begins as a mute 17-year-old living in a cave with his mother. Though he doesn’t talk for much of the two-hour premiere episode, the fire behind his eyes speaks volumes. As his skills as a sculptor come to light, he begins to share with the outside world the storm of creativity he’d long kept to himself — but it’s no easy task for the outcast, illegitimate son of a fugitive mother (Natalia Wörner) accused of sorcery to get on in a society steeped in mistrust and superstition. And falling head over heels for Aliena (Hayley Atwell), a young woman of royal birth who’s vowed above all else to reclaim her family’s title, throws his life into chaos. Slowly but surely, however, his apprenticeships to his stepfather, master mason Tom Builder (Rufus Sewell), and to devoted monk Prior Philip (Matthew Macfadyen), lead Jack to become the story’s flawed and unlikely hero. The eight-hour miniseries is based on the 1989 novel by Ken Follett, and co-stars Ian McShane as the villainous Waleran Bigod and Donald Sutherland as Bartholomew, Earl of Shiring.

Redmayne won his Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play for “Red” recently. The John Logan-written, Michael Grandage-directed production is about the tense and tenuous friendship forged between abstract expressionist painter, Mark Rothko (Alfred Molina), and his fictional assistant, Ken (Redmayne), during Rothko’s painting of his Seagram murals, commissioned in 1958 for placement in the Four Seasons Restaurant on Park Avenue. It’s Ken’s fortitude and ultimate ability to stand up to his grandiose, disagreeable, cantankerous employer that forces Rothko to examine his own hypocrisy, regain his creative principles, and accept the coming of a new generation of artists. The show, which focuses primarily on heated dialogue, offers a centerpiece of pure physicality, where Rothko and Ken prime a huge canvas in dark-plum red in a deftly choreographed scene that leaves them both exhausted and covered in primer. With no words spoken, the scene is thick with emotion. “Red,” which ran first on London’s West End and then on Broadway from April 1st through June 27th, earned six Tonys in all, including Best Play and Best Direction of a Play.

The 28-year-old actor’s newfound attention and acclaim aren’t out of the blue. After some work on British television in the late ’90s and early 2000s, he performed in “Twelfth Night” for London’s Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in 2002, and won a key role in London’s run of Edward Albee’s “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?” in 2004. Redmayne was then cast as the Earl of Southampton in the British TV miniseries, “Elizabeth I,” with Helen Mirren, Jeremy Irons, and Hugh Dancy, which was broadcast on HBO in 2006. In a major win, the red-haired, Cambridge- educated thespian earned a supporting role as the naïve, attention-starved son of Edward Wilson (Matt Damon) and Margaret Russell (Angelina Jolie) in The Good Shepherd (2006), Robert De Niro’s darkly quiet meditation on the birth of the CIA. He then co-starred as Antony, the sexually and socially confused yet strangely charismatic son of Barbara Baekeland (Julianne Moore) in Savage Grace (2007), the disturbing and true story of the events leading up to Baekeland’s murder. Again taking on a period piece, he played Thomas Babington in the Cate Blanchett starring Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007), after which he took a spontaneous road trip with Kristen Stewart and William Hurt in The Yellow Handkerchief (2008). And somewhere amid The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) with Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson, the PBS miniseries “Tess of the D'Urbervilles” (2008), Powder Blue (2009) with Forest Whitaker, and Glorious 39 (2009) with Julie Christie and Christopher Lee, he also became a model for Burberry. Just released in June in the U.K. was Black Death, which saw Redmayne in a monk’s cloak — which he’ll don again in “Pillars” — as he investigated allegations of necromancy in Medieval England. Taking a moment from channeling impassioned and surprisingly multifaceted personas, the unconventional star talks to us from Manhattan and reflects on the most exciting year of his life.

Venice: What a time in your life right now.

Eddie Redmayne:

I know, I’m a lucky man. It’s been a whirlwind! This year I started out in Eastern Germany shooting a film about the plague, then finished that one day and flew to Hungary and started work on “Pillars of the Earth” for six months, and the day that “Pillars of the Earth” finished, we started rehearsing “Red” in London — and each weekend I flew back to Hungary to work some more on “Pillars.” We finished “Red” in London and came to New York and it’s been the most incredibly hard-working but wonderful, wonderful year. I’m still pinching myself.

It’s been a long time coming. You’ve been quietly working on this for a while now.

Yeah, man. With the whole acting thing, I’ve been really, incredibly lucky to be gener- ally employed pretty much since I started. It’s step by step, trying to mix theater with film and television, and what I love about it all is the variety of it. Whether that’s doing English- period dramas or playing an adopted Native American. I love the variety of the medium, whether it’s stage or film or TV, and also the lifestyle of where you’re living. Like at the moment I’m living in the East Village in New York in a wonderful apartment with a whole lot of paints and canvas and a guitar. I’ve been exploiting my three or four months here to live the clichéd East Village life. [laughs] It’s kind of great!

I watched “Pillars” over the course of two days. What a grand tale.

It’s quite huge, isn’t it? I’ve actually just seen the first two hours last night and I think it’s kind of extraordinary. I’m quite excited by it.

You shot for six months?

The shoot was about six months. We shot it all in Hungary and then in Austria, and it was kind of dumbfounding. When you’re working on something for that long there’s an intimacy you get amongst friends, and it was a really eclectic cast of Brits, Canadians, and Germans, all based out of Hungary. There is a kind of summer-camp feel to it. [laughs] You’re all living in this wonderful city away from home and you develop close friendships. And its rare that you get to work on something that everyone is deeply passionate about, and there’s something about the story of “Pillars.” Most people who read [the novel], including Oprah [who selected it for her book club in 2007], have become so devoted to it as a story that we really wanted to serve the book and the story as well as we possibly could.

When we spoke with Alison Pill, who plays Queen Maud, she also mentioned that it was a very young cast, in large part.

What was lovely is on the one hand, you have Sam Claflin, who plays Richard — who’s now, like, the lead in the next Pirates of the Caribbean film, and Hayley Atwell [Aliena]. Sam had literally just left drama school and his career is just starting and is about to explode. And then you have Rufus [Sewell] and Matthew Macfadyen, who are wonderful British actors who have had these fantastic careers, and right up to Ian McShane and Donald [Sutherland]. We felt like at every level you had people to aspire to, or to learn from. There was a collective passion for it. We all really, really cared about the story, and the man helming it was a guy called Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, who was Spielberg’s first for many years. He’s such an ingenious talent. As you saw, the scale of it is so epic that to keep the momentum and the energy up for six months worth of shooting every day was kind of formidable. So we were all behind him as well.

It sounds like you had a group of your peers and then there were the elders. Was there a defining line between them?

Slightly, in that Ian and Donald would sort of arrive for specific moments, whereas Matthew Macfadyen and Hayley and Sam and Liam Garrigan [Alfred] and Rufus were all out, gently ripping up Budapest as much as we could at weekend. So it was a slight definition but also, as I say, the international quality of it, where Alison would come in or Natalia [Wörner], who played my mom, from Germany would come in. You realized that there is a slight cultural shift [in terms of] acting and film sets. There is a different vibe, internationally, and having that whole variety of opinions was kind of amazing. I think that gave a vibrancy to it, perhaps.

What are some of the differences between the styles of the various countries?

As far as the differences, for the Germans there was a passionate, visceral quality to how they worked. There was, I suppose, a calm, collected quality to how [Canadians] Alison and Gordon Pinsent [the Archbishop] and Donald worked. And us Brits, we all come in and do what we can. [laughs]

Your character, Jack, starts out completely mute and we have no idea that this kid is going to become a kind of savior. How did you go about inhabiting him?

What I love about him — and actually why all the characters and the fabric of the piece works so well — is that they’re all flawed human beings. Jack is, maybe in some ways, the hero, but he does start mute. He’s woven into the story gently as he’s gaining confidence and passion, but he also retains his flaws throughout the piece, right up until the end. Whether it’s his ambition for his art or his family commitment, I think that tempestuous or wild quality that he has from the outset is something that I wanted to [bring out]. So I suppose what attracted me to the part was that he wasn’t your typical hero. He was flawed, he was eccentric in some ways, and that was kind of amazing because it’s rare that you get to read that sort of character. But also it was a massive challenge because, as I say, you were shooting for six months. At one in the morning you could be playing Jack when he’s 17 years old and then in the evening playing him when he’s 35 years old. [laughs] And you’ve got thousands of these scenes and you’ve got this wealth of material and you have to definitely be on your guard as to where, exactly, you are within the context of the story.

How did you keep track of your character’s timeline?

Normally on a film script when something’s an hour and a half or two hours long, you’ve read it so many times that by the time you start shooting it you know exactly where to slot in. But on “Pillars,” because it’s eight hours worth of material, I actually ended up being incredibly nerdy about it and having to make a massive timetable, or crib sheet, of every single scene in the piece. When it was shooting, how old the character was, and where it was so that I could jump in and out of it, because it was too large in scale to be able to do through instinct.

You drew out the whole timeline?

Yes, genuinely. In my trailer was this massive timeline of the guy’s journey. It was on several huge pieces of A3 paper and each scene that I did would get scribbled out. That’s how I would work out where things were going.

Did you use different colors?

No, it wasn’t quite color coordinated, although I am a huge fan of color coordination. [laughs]

The characters in “Pillars” all tend to say they’re working for a greater good, but they’re also furthering their own agendas. What’s your take on this?

I completely agree with that, but what I think is interesting is you’re given a whole spectrum of opinions. Whether it is for personal ambition in the case of Waleran [McShane], whether it is for your children in the case of the Ellen character, my mother, or even Prior Philip [Macfadyen], who has his agenda. Is he doing it for God or is he doing it for his own sense of self? But for all those questions, the one thing over and above that is the cathedral. And what the cathedral represents for me in “Pillars of the Earth,” and why it is such a central figure and monument, is that cathedrals were never finished in a lifetime. Fundamentally, they are the most selfless things because whoever came up with the conceits, it’s never going to be finished, and I think that’s what Prior Philip says in that last speech at the end. Even though we’ve put colored glass [in the windows], all of these cathe- drals still have permanent masonries attached to them because there is always something that’s being upkept or changed. And although the timeline is condensed slightly in “Pillars,” they took so many centuries to make, that cathedrals, fundamentally, are symbols of altruism and selflessness. So while you have all these characters dealing with their own very human problems of ambition, of jealousy, of greed, of power, you also have this other thing that connects the whole piece that is beyond that, and optimistic in that sense.

They’re optimistic for a future they’re never going to see.

We’re building for the next generation.

When you were putting “Pillars” together, did you wonder how you were ever going to finish it?

[laughs] I’ve been very lucky to work on a complete variety of films and TV shows of different scales. I shot The Good Shepherd in New York about five years ago and the scale of the sets there in this Brooklyn armory were kind of immense, but I’ve never seen anything like the scale of the studios and the outdoor spaces in Hungary. Some of it is CGI or what have you, but a massive amount was actually built to scale. So the workmanship even within the designing of the sets was so impressive that it did blow your mind.

Like Jack in “Pillars,” many of the characters you’ve played have started out as people we’re not quite sure about, and then expressed virtues that we never expected.

As an actor you go up for things or you get offered jobs and you take what interests you, and I don’t know if there’s any symmetry to that as far as my choices are concerned, but definitely those are the characters that interest me. I think your classic, straight-off, I suppose stereotyped leading man may not have the variety and the color that interests me so much, but I’m also sure that’s down to the way I look and the way I speak [laughs] — but certainly in things like The Yellow Handkerchief, those are parts where the audience doesn’t quite know what to make of someone. But fundamentally what I relate to [in pieces like] The Yellow Handkerchief and “Pillars” is this idea of someone whose heart is kind. And it’s interesting this idea of the flawed character who ultimately pulls through. [laughs]

Do you feel a kinship with that kind of character?

Do I feel a kinship? I suppose. Those are the characters that I find interesting. Those are the characters I want to watch, rather than them all being transparent and from the outset you know exactly where this person is going and what they’re doing. But whether I am that sort of person, I’m not sure. [laughs] I don’t think I could say.

You studied art, is that correct?

Yes, at college I majored in art history, so hence doing “Red” has been a bit of a dream, really. It’s consolidated lots of things I’m interested in.

When did acting come about for you?

I always kind of loved it at school. When I was about 11 years old I auditioned to be in a production of “Oliver!” in London and it was being directed by Sam Mendes. I ended up getting a part in that. Everyone assumes when you’re in “Oliver!” that you were Oliver or Dodger or one of the main guys in the gang — but I was something like Workhouse Boy Number 74. I don’t think I ever even met Sam Mendes, but he remained firmly on my CV for a long time. [laughs] It was through that, I suppose, that I got into it. It was funny because the guy playing Fagin was Jonathan Pryce, who played my dad in “The Goat [or Who is Sylvia?]” which was the first big play I did in London, which was about 10 years later. It was a weird symmetry there.

What was it like getting that role, which ended up earning you a lot of attention?

What was most exciting for me is that it was a new Edward Albee play and the idea of originating a part in a country. That really was a big deal for me, getting that part. And also that Kate Fahy and Jonathan Pryce, who are a couple in real life, were playing my mom and dad, and they became incredibly close friends. They’ve been out here in New York and given me great advice. So it’s lovely starting out with a sort of family thing. Acting is a transient life and a lot of it is about surrounding yourself with people who you trust and love the company of. And certainly with Jonathan and Kate and Alfred Molina — and in the younger generation, Matthew Macfadyen — I have managed to get a great group of friends and people I trust around me.

Have people you know come to see you in “Red”?

One of the great things about doing this play in New York has been that Bob [De Niro] came and saw the play the other night and Matt Damon, who played my dad in The Good Shepherd [has seen it as well]. The last time I was here for a film was with those guys, and it’s been lovely to see them again and see how their lives have moved on. So it’s been wonderful.

Congratulations on your Tony.

Oh mate, thank you, dude. [laughs] It’s still so aggressively sinking in. I have to sort of wake up. Award shows in London are so low key. You’re in a slightly grotty hotel, sat round tables, and it’s the British attitude not to celebrate too much at these things. So I’d never really witnessed what the Tonys were, but when I went the other night, it was a completely mind-blowing evening. It was an extraordinary event, although, of course, inevitably the 10-minute period in which you win, you have no memory of whatsoever. [laughs]

You said afterwards that you forgot to thank your mom.

It was my mom’s birthday on the night of the Tonys so I was incredibly apologetic. She’s like, “Darling, if you‘d even mentioned my name I think I would have been so embarrassed I wouldn’t have known what to do. So she seemed all right about it. But it was also the scale of the performances, it was the success for the play. It was something that I’ve worked hard at and I’m incredibly passionate for what the play is about. It was a really great night.

After wild year, as you said.

The one thing that’s connected the whole year was that I spent the whole first part of the year shooting “Pillars” having to shower every night and watching the shower turn to this muddy paste. There’s all this mud and dirt that was washed off. Then as soon as I got to London to start rehearsing “Red,” I was like, “Oh, great! Perfect. Now I can be clean again.” And the rest of the year has been spent having showers which look like something out of Psycho as the red showers down — so I’ve spent most of the year in the shower. I suppose “Red” really is about apprenticeship, and regarding what I was saying in relation to “Pillars” and these different generations of actors that you admire, as a young actor you do try, through osmosis, to pick up what you can from people. And not only their attitude toward work, but also how they live as people, and certainly on “Pillars” there were various people who I admired. And on “Red,” Alfred Molina is just one of the most wonderful human beings and also an extraordinary actor. It’s been an amazing thing for me to be doing a play about apprenticeship, but also being able to — not that Fred would ever condescend or give advice — but I’ve just sat there trying to glean as much from him as possible.

Tell us about performing the scene where you’re priming the canvas together. It looks exhausting.

It’s kind of a wonderful thing because the piece is, as you know, such a word-filled play, and it’s a play about arguments and discussion and the nature of art, but right in the center of it to have this purely physical thing is wonderful for us and I think for the audience as well. The problem with plays about art is ultimately you have an actor [putting the final touches on] something, and fundamentally it ruins the artifice if you never believe that they can do it. Whereas with the priming of the canvas, we spent so many weeks in rehearsal covered in paint, or prime, determined to try and make this look as realistic as possible.

The play is a meditation on art, and also on future generations. It takes the young apprentice, Ken, to point out that Rothko himself had said that the younger generation must destroy the older one.

You have to kill the father! [laughs] Exactly. “Respect him, but kill him,” is what Rothko says. I think one of the weird and amazing things about acting is that it’s one of the only professions where generations continue to cross and mingle together. I remember on my first day of doing a play, “Twelfth Night,” which I did in London. I was still at university and an actor named Mark Rylance — one of our great Shakespearean actors who had been doing it for a long, long time — was playing Olivia and I was playing Viola. It was my first proper, professional day’s work, and despite the fact that he had been doing it for years, you’re in a room together, being treated on the same level, because ultimately you’re all working towards the same thing. So whilst certainly Rothko talks about generations killing one another, I also think that acting, in theater, TV, and film is an amazingly unique world where generations coincide next to each other. And it’s one of the things that I love the most because it means that you end up with [such a diverse array of] friends. I have friends in their 70s and I have friends who are 19. Little Skye [Bennett], who plays Martha in “Pillars of the Earth” and is 14 or 15, is a mate as well.

What do you love about stage and screen, respectively?

Dan Rice, who was Rothko’s real assistant at the time of the painting of the Seagram murals — and Ken is not based on him — I’ve met his widow, a woman called Virginia Foster, and she gave me some of Dan’s writings. He writes this one thing about how ... I don’t want to paraphrase but I’m clearly about to: Art is not about talent; it’s about learning to live with yourself, and it’s the idea of aspiring to perfection in the knowledge that you’re never going to achieve it. And maybe in some ways that’s what Rothko’s comeuppance was. Certainly with film and television, you have a day to shoot the thing or what have you, and once it’s done you go home in the car at the end of the night and that’s it. That’s all you can do. It’s gone and you have to wait nine months and then see it — and if you’re unhappy with it, you’re unhappy with it, you know? [laughs] There’s nothing you can do. The great thing about theater ... People go, “How can you have done ‘Red‘ for seven months? How do you do it?” The answer is you never get it right .So every night you go up aspiring for perfection but you come off stage not having come close to nailing it. But the lovely thing is that, at least with theater, the next night you can go back and try it again. Whereas for film, you have to accept what you’ve done and what you’ve given.

When you get off the stage, do you think about specific things you could do better the next night?

Yes. What’s great about it being two people, and particularly where Fred and I get on incredibly well, is that we have to go and have these showers after the play. So there are these two showers at the top of the theater. They’re side by side, and we’re scrubbing away in these red-stained showers, discussing what we could do better, and what we could change, and how the audience was and their reaction to it. It’s like a hilarious, slightly bad comedy double act, is what it is — and we were thinking about taking it to the Edinburgh Festival, maybe. A post-show session in a couple of showers.

That’s an awesome idea. I’d watch it.

We’ve got one audience member! [laughs]

You did a lot of interesting film work before this busy year. When you shot The Yellow Handkerchief, did you feel like you were on a road trip?

Yeah, man. I took a road trip, actually. I was sort of shocked at being cast in that part. I thought, “Why would they cast a British actor?” I’m not particularly method as far as these things are concerned, but I thought on that occasion I should go and drive from northern Oklahoma — where the guy is from, Osage County — and down into New Orleans, and it was an amazing experience. And I loved that film. I adore Kristen Stewart. She’s a wonderful young actress and we had a huge amount of fun on it. It was the kind of film that a lot of people get hit by, actually, slightly unexpectedly. I think it’s one of those films where you don’t really know where it’s going and it sort of steals into you, and hopefully takes you over a wee bit. It’s rare that you look back on your own stuff and look for parallels, and it’s interesting to hear them being drawn!

Your character in The Yellow Handkerchief isn’t somebody you like, at first. He says all the wrong things.

Yes, he’s kind of irritating. [laughs] Like, “Shut up!” But what I love in those scenarios ... It’s the same with Jack in “Pillars of the Earth.” No one ever expressed any fear with me, but I think when I started as the young Jack, there is a slightly animal quality to him. I suppose he’s like a gazelle in the forest, jumping around the place. Given, in theory, he’s meant to be our hero, should I be pointing towards that? But it’s quite fun as an actor when you just jump off a cliff and see what happens, and hope that people run with you.



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