Sunday, September 12, 2010

Interview with Jason Isaacs - April 2nd, 2009

Promoting: Good
Venue: The Sanderson HOtel
Interview type: One-on-one (actually one-on-two, with Jodie Whittaker)

ViewLondon (VL): What's the film about and who do you play?

Jason Isaacs (JI): It's about a man called John Halder, who Viggo Mortensen plays, who is a perfectly ordinary individual in the 1930s, in Germany. His best friend is Maurice, a psychiatrist, who I play, whose Jewish. John's a very good, decent, righteous individual, who's horrified by the party that's come to power, as all decent, righteous individuals were. So it's about John Halder, who's a good man – which is why it's called Good – and his relationships with his wife, his best friend and his new lover and how difficult it is in the face of feeling so powerless, to do the right thing. It's an ethical thriller in many ways and the hope is that if we've told the story right then you'll see yourself in all of the characters and all of the choices you'll recognise from your daily life.

VL: How did you get involved with the film? What stage did you come on board?

JI: Well, I was on from when it was just an idea. The producer – the real producer, Miriam Segal - asked me to lunch about eight years ago and said, 'I've got the rights to this play, it's the best play I've ever seen, do you want to get involved?' and I said, 'No, you ought to be ashamed of yourself, it's an apology for Nazism, how dare you? And as a Jewish woman particularly, you should run in the other direction'. And she said, 'Why are you being such an idiot? Have you seen it or read it?' and I said, 'Course I have' and I was lying, I'd neither seen it nor read it. So she gave me the play, I took it home, I phoned up and I said, 'I'm really sorry, I was wrong. I am an idiot and how can I help?' So then it was a very, very long process of her trying to raise the money to make a film that is so morally challenging and with such contemporary resonance that it was disturbing.

VL: How so?

JI: Well, during the course of the time we were raising the money, we watched, you know, the Geneva Convention being thrown aside, we watched the right to silence done away with, we watched people detained without trial, we watched extraordinary rendition. And a war was started, a pre-emptive war, based on lies told to the public. So all this stuff happened while we were raising the money but then the whole thing collapsed for a couple of years because of funding. And then, finally, when we had all the money, the second incarnation of this film, and then I wasn't available because I was doing a TV series. And the producer said, 'Well, we're not making it without you'. And I managed to get Viggo, through a friend of a friend, to read the script and say he would do it and he also said, 'I'm not doing it without Jason', having met me, and so I managed to get a break from the TV series, twice, for ten days at a time and come and make it. So it's been a long, long, long, long road.

VL: What was it like, working with Viggo?

JI: Well, first of all we had to play best friends and we didn't really know each other. Well, we didn't know each other at all, we had a mutual friend. And when the film was finally up and running, I couldn't be there for rehearsals, so he flew himself out, at his own expense, to come and hang out with me and my wife and children in Rhode Island for a few days and get to know me and build a shared history of the characters and of us. Which was the first sign of what kind of generous actor he would turn out to be. He likes to explore human nature, which is why he's an actor and a painter and a photographer and a poet and a writer and a publisher and a musician and all these things. So he's really interested in the human condition and there's no part of him that engages in that status game that so many stars do. He wants there to be a level playing field – he did away with his trailer when he got there, it was too big, he wanted one the same size as everyone else. He did away with an assistant that the film provided for him. And you know all that when you start working – you're working with a collaborator, you're working with a dance partner who wants to dance with you and it was a real joy. And surprisingly so – I hadn't expected that of him. I always thought that on screen he radiated this fundamental decency, which is why we had always wanted him to play this part, but it was a joy to find out that he did the same thing off screen as well. Oh, and he brings chocolate, proper, haute cuisine chocolate to the set, to hand out to everybody.

VL: How much research did you do?

JI: I think we all did different things, depending on who we were playing and what we were doing. And so I thought I was familiar with the period but actually, in order to bring this to life, it was really important for me -and I know for Viggo - to read only contemporary accounts, nothing with the wisdom of hindsight, so we read a lot of diaries, we found contemporary footage and archive stuff, listened to contemporary music and so on. And once you wipe away all the stuff you know with the benefit of hindsight and try and place yourself specifically in Germany in the 1930s, it's a rather magical time, the country is blossoming and exciting and if you put it in historical context and find out about the depression it was just emerging from, you can see why everything was so seductive and also why people felt so powerless when there was really only one party and the Reichstag burned down and stuff. So I did a lot of reading diaries and a lot of clearing stuff away from my head as much as putting things in there.

VL: What are your next projects?

JI: Well, I was filming Green Zone for a lot of last year, which will be coming out at the end of the year and I've got some Harry Potters coming up. And also, [co-star Jodie Whittaker] and I are possibly about to start a film together called The Great Ghost Rescue. And I'm hoping to do a play in the West End – Bergman's Scenes From A Marriage.

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