Sunday, August 07, 2011

Interview with Rufus Sewell - 25th September, 2009

Promoting: Vinyan
Venue: Revolver Office, Notting Hill
Interview type: One-on-one

ViewLondon (VL): I thought Vinyan was extremely disturbing, and unlike anything I’ve seen for quite some time. I can't think of anything that's comparable to how disturbing it is, although obviously it's thematically similar to films like Don't Look Now, with a couple losing a child and then descending into madness.

Rufus Sewell (RS): Absolutely, in a way there is an homage in there, it’s not accidental. I asked Fabrice (director Fabrice Du Welz) because that is a favourite film of mine. When I read the script it reminded me of so many different things that shouldn’t go together. It reminded me a little of Jacob's Ladder; I’m talking about films I really love – movies that fuck with your head. One of the frustrating things for me, which I knew, was they would have trouble marketing Vinyan. One of the reasons certain people react against this film is due to the marketing. In some areas they tried to market it as pure unadulterated horror – it’s not! I wouldn’t even call it a horror film. When I read the script, that's not what I read - I read a very painfully truthful psychological thriller that I found very moving. Put that along the side the fact that Fabrice believes he is making a ghost movie at the same time; which I think that contrast is extraordinary, in that it's a genre shifting film. To start off with, the film has a sort of John Cassavetes style to it. Very rough and hand held camera - close up, psychological drama. Which proceeds to get weirder, and weirder; and that is a very difficult thing to sell. It’s a very difficult film to even describe, in a way that doesn’t confuse people.

VL: What was it like, working with Emmanuelle Beart?

RS: Working with Emmanuelle was very easy, she is a very easy person to connect with. We just immediately felt like a couple. We were very relaxed and trusting of each other. I loved working with her. It was one of the easiest, automatic relationships I’ve ever had on screen. To use an American expression, we had each other's back; which is something that I never had to worry about, because it was just there.

VL: Your character is obviously in a very dark place, psychologically. How do you prepare for something like that?

RS: Well I don’t know if it’s about preparation really. Being a father, when I read it just hit me with a wallop. I didn’t need to sit and – you know, I had a natural reaction to the material. In terms of preparation, no it’s just the matter of being in the situation and letting it affect and infect you. I tried to just be as open and honest with each situation. The situation itself was so affecting, and oppressive you just had to struggle through it. I never had to search for it, it was there waiting for me. It’s such a powerful and horrible idea; there was no reason to be ghoulish during the preparation. It just happened that I had a natural and visceral reaction to it.

VL: I was more thinking along the lines of the preparing for a character who loses their mind and dealing with that element?

RS: Well, for a start, it’s always interesting, the moment you discover, as you go into the jungle that your directors’ hero is Werner Herzog (laughs). That was what was fantastic about working with Fabrice. I knew that, and loved that about him – I don't mean in any deranged way! That is what we were all excited about, the idea of going there. Fabrice arranged it in such a way that shooting was pretty much chronological. The beginning was the beginning, the middle was the middle and the end was very definitely the end. We did kind of unravel, which you know a lot of it is pretending. My relationship with Emmanuelle remained fantastic, it’s just that we spent less time giggling around the poly-styrofoam cups towards the end, because we were just exhausted.

VL: Since you shot it chronologically, the last scene in the film being pretty horrendous, how did Emmanuelle prepare for that, and were you around for the filming?

RS: Yes, I was around. A lot of the film had a very tight script, but a lot of things were forced because of the elements. The script really came together as we were doing it, if a scene didn’t turn out to be practical or if we had other ideas – like, there was massive rainstorm that we incorporated into the film – the incredible scene of us on the jetty, that was real rain. It just started raining, and Fabrice thought, “Fuck it, let's use this”. He an idea for a scene right then, which wound up being filmed. It was wonderful because he was so open to whatever the elements threw at us, because that is what the film is about. At the end I think they ended up with a crane shot they decided didn't work, and then it started raining and the children started going this way and this thing just happened and it was very much something they directed but it was spontaneous. I wasn’t there, but I remember talking to them all about it afterwards, and how excited they were.

VL: Do you know if the sound design was planned from the beginning?

RS: Oh absolutely, it was a very, very strong part of it. The sound guy, the sound team we had to work with was there right from the beginning; it wasn't something that was tacked as an afterthought.

VL: Had you seen Calvaire (Fabrice's previous film)?

RS: Yes, I had. When I read the script I knew I already wanted to do it. Then I saw Calvaire, and it was doubly exciting. For a start, in this country, it’s a role I often don't become aware of until I’m in Blockbusters to be honest; they don’t send them to me. It is something that is changing though. The fact that this is a French film with a Belgian director, that's no coincidence; otherwise it wouldn't have come to me. I thought to myself, thank God finally a normal guy in extraordinary circumstances, not some twat on a horse. I was very excited about that, because I thought it was such a great script; and you know an English bloke who has that kind of cultural frustration and blocked anger which he's emotionally ill-equipped as he finds himself in this terrible bind – and I wanted to play it and I pretty much told them that and then I saw Calvaire and then I was like, 'Oh Jesus, this guy is nuts' - in the best way! He's got this extraordinary imagination.

VL: You’d never worked with Emmanuelle before, had you even met each other?

RS: No, never. I didn’t know what to expect, and I had seen some of her work before. It wasn’t until I went over to France for an early read-through, that we immediately hit it off – it was easy. Talking about it sounds weird, like people are expecting to see signs of it on screen. If the chemistry is there, it's all pretty straight-forward. If it's not there, it's amazingly complex to fake. But if it's there, it's amazingly work-a-day – it's just a couple and you believe them. It’s something you see on the street every day. It’s not like, “Oh my GOD, look at their chemistry!” - we were just naturally relaxed with each other, and you buy it on screen. You see couples all the time, and you don’t need to read their biography. It's something that you can work out for yourself, because you believe the basic silhouette.

VL: What was the hardest scene to film?

RS: The underwater scene was quite difficult, because when she fights, she really fights. I really couldn’t point out one. As we got further and further into filming, it became more and more zombiefied .

VL: I had read a review that suggested the red shirt on the child in the video was a reference to Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. Was that a conscious thing?

RS: What, from a Belgian director? Yeah, well that’s the internet for you, isn't it? No.

VL: It was Sight and Sound!

RS: Really? Well, there you go. No, there is nothing behind that. People have their jobs to do; I’ve found that people in writing can be a little disingenuous. They say things they might not necessarily believe, but there is a certain copy.

VL: I suppose the red top also calls back to Don't Look Now again.

RS: Absolutely. And if you're talking about that, then also Schindler's List and anything from Michael Powell to Raging Bull. Red is a really good colour! (laughs) But thematically or media-wise, these things are British flashpoints, but these are French and Belgian film-makers, and these things vary by country.

VL: A French film-maker with a British actor, one can make the connection?

RS: Yes, but what I mean is the person who wrote the script comes from a culture where that red top doesn’t have the same implications.

VL: What are you doing next?

RS: Right now I am working on a thing in Budapest called Pillars of the Earth, which is being produced by Scott Free Productions (owned by Ridley and Tony Scott). I believe it’s going to be 4 part two hour mini-series. There is money coming in from all different cultures, which means there is isn’t one conglomerate making all the artistic decisions. The director, Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, who was Steven Spielberg’s First AD for a very long time. The story is based on the novel by Ken Follet, and has been really well adapted. And the cast is great, it's got Donald Sutherland, Ian McShane, Eddie Redmayne, Haley Atwell and Matthew Macfadyen – a really good cast. I play a builder named Tom. It's why I've got this big butch beard.

VL: You're not on a horse, then?

RS: Ha, no, not on a horse! For me, the caricature I’m not interested in playing, it's not so much about period drama, it’s the specific type of one-dimensional baddie. And in fact, if I want to play another one, I fucking will, actually. It's just as long as there is a choice involved. For me, playing a working man and a father is no different from playing anything else but difficult for me to be cast in those roles. So I'm really enjoying playing somebody who can move a fridge.

VL: You say Vinyan is a departure for you, was that part of the appeal as well?

RS: Yes, but you say departure, but for me it is more a departure from the kind of role I can get. The biggest departure I’ve ever made was to play a baddie actually, because the truth is I’m a comic actor. The biggest departure I’ve ever done is any job I ever do. The problem is I live in the real world where it is actually a question of convincing pen-pushers and secretaries to give me the opportunity to do what I do easiest. For me, it was a chance to do something I felt comfortable with, but not something people were comfortable in casting me in. That is why I’m so pleased to be playing a father now because a lot of the characters I’ve played are people you wouldn’t let near your children. I don’t like the word departure, because that would suggest that for me, it is; for me it's not. It's just an opportunity.


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