There's a scene I wanted to unpack, the scene where Emily Mortimer's character first walks into the dojo. She's completely wired, she's nervous, and your character, Mike, is trying to calm her down. "Is there some way I can help you? Joe, take the ladies coat." And you keep up this patter and Mike doesn't seem to notice that he's actually winding her up rather than calming her down, not letting her get a word in. I find that interesting because most of the time, Mike is very aware of people and what's going on with them. How did you approach the scene - what do you think was in Mike's mind then?
I think he knows that she is coming off the street and that she is fraught, but he assumes that she is fraught because she's hit his car and it's raining outside. He doesn't know at this moment the depth and level of her problems. She has some deep psychological issues. So at this point, he thinks a calming influence on this woman, you know, just making her feel at ease, taking her coat off, relaxing, coming out of the rain, then we can discuss the car, whatever, is the approach to take. Of course, you're right, this just ends up exacerbating the situation and then it becomes quite dramatic. And this is a clue to him that there's something else going on with this girl and it's only later on that all the pieces start to fall into place and he really understands. So though he's very aware of people, I don't think he's hyper-aware; he's not clairvoyant in any way, of what people are really going through. So, in that instance, he reads that situation as I think most of us would read it, if somebody who had come in and seems a little agitated and in your mind you considers why that would be and he concludes it's because of circumstantial things.
But I'm curious as to why he never let's her get a word in, he just keeps on talking. Is there something going on with Mike at that point?
I think it's just that if you're in a situation that's becoming dramatic... Mike is aware of being able to defuse situations with his voice and just being able to calm them down. He is by profession an instructor so he's able to defuse and relax situations, so the more that she starts to get agitated, he feels that he can bring her down to earth. In this instance, he's not able because there's more than meets the eye going on with her.
If I may, I'd like to talk about some of your other films. The first time you really jumped out of screen for me was in Dirty Pretty Things. Okwe is a character that, as written, could be very saintly, and you brought a sense of weight that was always on this character that I thought was very moving.
Well, thank you.
I was also convinced that you, as an actor, were in your late 30s or early 40s.
There was a little aging up that I did for that part. Which was great. It was great that Stephen Frears allowed me to approach it in that way. I was pretty young at the time of doing that role. I was 24, and it's a part that is... I mean, the guy is at least mid- to late 30s, so there was a sense that if people had known more about me, then people may have perceived it as a bit of a stretch, but actually being relatively unknown at the time and people coming to it and seeing it at face value, it was able to work, which is proof, if it were needed, that sometimes the most useful thing is not being known extensively and that frees you up to do the work and play the parts you choose to.
I think the very next thing I saw you in was the British mini-series Trust, and I couldn't believe it when I saw you on screen. I had just seen you as a world-weary thirty-something man, and here you were looking all of 21. I thought, how old is this guy? You're face was shaved and smooth, of course, but you also moved completely differently.
Yeah, yeah, it was a much younger, more erratic character that I was playing on the TV series. It was kind of interesting for me, even, jumping from one to another. It was my first experience of that, really, trying to find where I wanted to land as an actor. So it was an interesting point for me also.
And soon after that you started appearing in American films, in Melinda and Melinda for Woody Allen and Four Brothers for John Singleton. Did that open up more opportunities for you?
Absolutely. Melinda and Melinda was an interesting way to start playing characters that are American and that was a new aspect of everything for me. Although I'd done it on stage, I hadn't done it on film at that point, I think. So yes, that completely opened up a new avenue of investigation in terms of characters and the sort of characters that I could play. I think I'll always continue to experiment with all those things and try and find interesting and complex and sometimes fun characters to bring to the screen.
What do you look for when you're looking at parts?
I think those things, just if they strike me as interesting, if there are inherent challenges or something in there, but the main thing is narrative and story. Characters and story are, I think, the crucial bits of any film.
You are also still doing theater, am I correct?
You're doing a Shakespeare play in London?
No, I've just finished that. I finished that late February, doing Othello at the Donmar with Ewan McGregor as Iago and Kelly Reilly, with Michael Grandage directing. It was a terrific time and a fascinating play, obviously.
Do you still try to return to stage regularly?
I was on stage twice last year, at the beginning of the year with The Seagull at the Royal Court with Kristin Scott Thomas and at the end of the year with Othello, and I did Redbelt in the midst of all that. It was gratifying to do that, to be on stage a lot last year, although I don't think that's going to be the typical sort of thing.
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