Sunday, February 25, 2007

Ioan Gruffudd: On Amazing Grace & the Silver Surfer (Q&A)

...Last Tuesday I covered the press rounds for the movie Amazing Grace which opened in theaters nationally last week and is inspired by the life of William Wilberforce's struggle with Britain's 18th Century-era House of Commons to abolish it's ties with the brutal institution of enslaving Africans and shipping them to the colonial new world . Directed by noted documentarian Michael Apted (Coal Miner's Daughter, Bring on the Night) the film stars Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd (Yo-wan Griffiths) who's also set to return to theaters this summer in The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer...I had a cool sit-down with both Apted (which I'll transcribe later) and Gruffudd, here's what went down while chatting with Ioan...

Q: So how did you learn about William Wilberforce?

Ioan Gruffudd: I didn't meet any of his family member or anything, although I'd been in touch with one of his great, great grandsons-- after he'd seen the movie. I wasn't in connection with him to discuss or research him. So I read about as much as I could about him, many biographies on him but just to flesh out the character. [Wilberforce] is not incredibly well-known world-wide although we know about him in the UK, I was slightly ignorant of him, personally, so I needed to research as much as I could to bring him to life. But a lot of the story was in the script already and it was a such a perfectly written script that it sort of leaped off the page from the very beginning.

Q: What were you working on when you got the role of Wilberforce?

IG: I was doing the TV Set, this movie I was doing with Jay Kasdan-- Sigourney Weaver and David Duchovny. So, I was shooting that here in LA at the time and I auditioned with Michael Apted, sat down with him; did a screen test and whatever

Q: So you were in Titanic and then Black Hawk Down-- I saw you in Titanic but who were you in Black Hawk?

IG: I was actually very briefly in Black Hawk Down. There's a scene at the beginning of the movie where a character has an epileptic seizure who has to go home, that was me having the seizure. And then Josh Hartnett's character takes over the squad, so, literally, I was there for like two or three days on that movie.

Q: In this film William Wilberforce ages and you continue to play him, talk about how that was for you. You have any difficulties with it?

IG: I actually love having the aging process; the makeup, the wigs and the costumes, I mean personally I love all of that. It gives you the chance to put yourself in a whole different time. But, say, the going back and forth (in time), the continuity of it, as was the nature of the movie-- you're not going to shoot everything in sequence. So, it was a bit odd [when] one morning I'd be the young Wilberforce and the we'd take that makeup of and put on the old Wilberforce again-- it was a lot of fun. It's really satisfying as an actor to play someone over fifteen years of his life and to have an ailment, to have an illness to play-- that was a lot of fun to do.

Q; You come from the Royal Academy-- do you think having that background puts period pieces front and center in your actor's wheelhouse?

IG: I'll be honest with you, I suppose, yes, having the theatrical training, yes. I think that I [direct] myself more to those sort of I've got that lock or whatever, yeah.

Q: You started acting at an early age, like at 12, what made you want to get into it?

IG: Well, I think I was introduced to it as a twelve year-old, I mean, I didn't decide to go in-- they came to school, they auditioned and I tried out for the part, so I was introduced to it. I wasn't a good actor at all, that's why I wanted to go to drama college, to learn, so it wasn't a conscious decision [initially], I was introduced to it and then from that moment on I thought 'wow, I really want to do this-- I want to do this professionally'. I didn't see it before, there really wasn't a defining moment, I was just introduced to it and I was just smitten and wanted to do it for the rest of my life.

Q: So what exactly happened that day?

IG: They came to school to look for [someone to play] this character in a soap opera and we all tried out for it, I mean everybody wanted to have a go and I was game...and I got it. There's an incredible amount o f luck involved in the career of an actor, absolutely, and you need it in an abundance as well as talent and ability; being in the right place at the right time-- it's a combination of all those things.

Q: So are period pieces such as this what you enjoy doing most?

IG: I do love it but then, you know, I'm an actor-- I'd like to have a go at everything. It's just the way that these parts have presented themselves to me, they're such great, heroic parts but they happen to be based in history.

Q: You still play the oboe?

IG: No, I don' that on [bio] that I do? (laughs) ...No, I haven't played in a long while-- I played up to a really good standard when I was younger but I haven't played it since--

Q: -- but is it true or no?

IG: Yes, if they were making a movie about an oboe player tomorrow then I would play it (laughing) -- I'd definitely put my hat in the ring there.

Q: Did you go through a lot of weight changes while doing this because you back and forth in time on the film.

IG: Yeah, it's a tough one to do because, in order to look younger, it's better to have a bit of weight, a bit of puffiness, to fill out the cracks. But to play older then you need the cracks to [be evident] so it was so it was down to this incredible makeup artist that I had -- she was an Oscar winner for Elizabeth, so, thanks to her, we got that aging process right.

Q: You ever look in the mirror with your makeup on and go 'okay, so this is what I'm going to look like in 20 years?'

IG: Yeah, of course there's vanity that comes into it and you worry about it but, as an actor, you embrace those things, it's fun to do all that. I mean, it's acting in it's true sense of the word-- you're totally pretending to be somebody else, to be older.

Q: So what was it like on the set? I was expecting a Vanity Fair/ Pride and Prejudice kind of feel but there are points where it's a lot like Tristram Shandy, as far as the mood went.

IG: Oh, it was incredible, as you could imagine with all of those [veteran] actors on the set -- Michael Gambon and Albert Finney, they're great legends of screen and theater-- so it was a lot of fun to me. Michael Gambon is an actor who likes to keep it light [during a shoot] and fun-- he likes to camp it up the whole time. And Albert Finney is just a real lesson in humanity, such a great humanitarian-- it wasn't just a lesson in acting, he was just such a great guy. So, of course, these guys have got incredible war stories to recount, so every day was just a pleasure. I was listening intently to all of their great stories...When you watch these guys work there's so much ease about it, they make it look so easy but when you see it [on screen] you go 'wow, I didn't know all of that was going on? I didn't realize all of that was happening.' Because they were making it look so effortless.

Q: William Wilberforce developed a strong passion for abolishing the slave trade-- does Ioan Gruffudd have any passions as such?

IG: Wow, I'm really passionate about my relationship with my fiancee-- it's coming to a very exciting time, we're getting married towards the end of the year. So that's an exciting moment-- I never thought, as a guy, to be honest with you, that I would be that excited about getting married but it's true. It's something that happened over the last year. I'm like really excited about this.

Q: Is she in the business?

IG: Yeah, she's an actress and we met on 102 Dalmations years ago.

Q: Well getting back to the films, you've got this film, which is a period piece, and you've got The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer coming out-- talk a little bit about the Fantastic Four movie.

IG: That's what I love about being an actor is that one minute I could be in a movie like Amazing Grace and then the next one you can see me as Mr. Fantastic, so I'm glad that there's that great contrast. The Fantastic Four, as the title suggests, is about the rise of the Silver Surfer, when he arrives-- I really hope they're not going to take that franchise away from us and make it all about the Silver Surfer from now on, you know what I mean, (laughs) -- I hope we get to do a third movie. The Silver Surfer is just very exciting and the [special] effects that they have for this character is going to be-- you remember the T-1000 from Terminator 2? It's going to be that sort of mercury-sheenish look...

Q: And that comes out in 2007, then?

IG: It comes out in June-- we just finished shooting at Christmas. They're putting it together now, there might be a few re-shoots, I don't know but I haven't heard anything so no news is good news...In this movie, we are now, much more, in control of our powers, we're embracing our powers-- [Mr. Fantastic] is becoming more of a leader whereas in the first movie I was-- not a nerd but a scientist, geeky sort of guy but this time I'm becoming more of a leader. So it's a lot more fun to play this time.

Q; You see any of yourself in William Wilberforce at all?

IG: I would never want to try to compare myself to somebody who achieved so much in their lifetime, you know, to help humanity. Just to meet me, I think I'm genuinely compassionate, i think we all are, and I just have to tap into those elements and try to ramp it up to 100% because that's the kind of guy [Wilberforce] was, he was compassionate towards everyone, towards every animal-- he was just an extraodindary character...when I read about him, I wondered 'wow, how am I going to represent someone as amazing as this person?' That's why I wanted to make him more of a human, you know, because when you describe him, it seems like he's too good to be true. So I wanted to try to give him a bit of a human touch, an eccentricity so that you could relate to him.

Q: Like what? What do you think are the things you added to your portrayal to achieve that?

IG: Things like, he was always moving. He was always very open, he didn't care care about how he looked, he was always tired, his stocks (leggings) were untied and his pockets were full of books or pieces of paper, his fingers were covered in ink the whole time...Apted] was trying to depict someone who lived in that time period...just little touches that I didn't want to be [done] in vain in any way, you know, because I'm incredibly vain.

Q: Was there any moment in your life, maybe in your career where you saw yourself at a defining crossroads, such as the one that William Wilberforce found himself in?

GI: Well, I wouldn't want to compare it to the life of an actor but, as far as persevering, as career, as an actor you start at a young age, you train and then you leave drama college. And then it's all about perseverance and continuing to go to those meetings; auditions and knocking down doors to get to the stage that I'm at now. It's been a long process, it's been 12 years since I left drama college to get to this stage and it's a nice feeling to have achieved all that in these ten years. So, the perseverance aspect of it, yes. But I think what's interesting is that's perseverance toward self advancement, you know, it's like a selfish thing whereas [William Wilberforce] was persevering on behalf of these other people-- that's what's extraordinary about it.

Q: Any difference working with an American director than it is with one from Britain?

IG: Well, there's the language barrier (laughs), no, in my opinion, I would say that Ridley Scott -- he's British, James Cameron and Michael Apted, what sets them apart is that they're so well prepared when they come to the set. Everything runs smoothly or if something comes to affect [a shoot], they've got a plan B, C, D and E set in place. They're composing as they go along, they have a clear vision of what they want to do, they arrive on set and then they just go and shoot what they want that day and you finish at about 5:30 every day-- it's like 'I'm done, I've got what I want' and we move on. It keeps that energy going, you know, that buoyance, that energetic set and it keeps the crew happy as well, if you move quickly like that and not laboring over one particular shot. But then you also assemble a team of brilliant people in their [respective] fields; lighting/ camera man, makeup artists, costume designers and production designers...

Q: So, at what point did you realize that you no longer had to sing for your supper?

IG: As an actor?

Q: Yeah, did you ever get to a point where you stopped worrying about the next gig?

IG: I don't think you ever stop worrying, that's the thing and I hope it's something that I never lose. For example, I finished [Amazing Grace] at the end of last year, then I went to do Fantastic Four...okay, I know it's only the end of February but I'm feeling antsy already because I don't have the next thing to go to. So, I hope I never lose that because it keeps driving you forward-- and I'm sure if you were to ask George Clooney, he would feel the same way. You never want to lose that anxiety and excitement, you know-- because you never know where it's going to take you next.

Amazing Grace is in theaters now...


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