Goode Is a Great Bad Guy
(from brinkzine.com 3/29/07)
- Mathew Goode
Matthew Goode walks into the room and I don’t recognize him. I had just seen director-writer Scott Frank’s excitingly inventive noir, “The Lookout,” and this debonair stranger who sits down across from me bears no resemblance to the tattooed, vicious ex-con who manipulates brain-damaged hero Chris Pratt (Joseph-Gordon Levitt) into helping his low-life gang rob a bank in Noel, Kansas. That guy gave me the creeps, but the man I talk to is full of wit and charm, and flashes the dimpled grin of Hugh Grant. And Goode, who grew up in Devon, England and attended Birmingham University and Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, speaks like an upper-crust English bloke, for heaven’s sake.
Apparently I’m not the first to be started by the difference between the amiable actor and the reptilian villain. First-time director Frank (whose screenplays include “Out of Sight,” “Get Shorty,” “Malice,” and “Minority Report”) says, “When the casting director first suggested Matthew Goode to play Gary Kasparo, I honestly had to ask who he was. She said, ‘He was in ‘Match Play’...’ I said, “Oh, is he the one who kills…?” She said, “No, he’s the rich guy who befriends him.” I said, ‘The tall Rupert Everett guy? That’s who you think should play a thug from Kansas City?’ And she said, “He’s closer to the part than the guy you’re thinking of casting. You should meet him.” So Matthew showed up with his head shaved and wearing a ripped T-shirt. He started bouncing all over the room and I literally couldn’t keep up with him with my eyes. And he using a flawless American accent and was amazing. He wasn’t at all what I expected.” Ironically, Goode’s performance is so convincing that one hopes he now won’t be typecast as nasty American heavies.
Q: After playing “gentlemen” or gentle men in previous films, like “Match Point,” “Chasing Liberty,” and “Copying Beethoven,” were you thrilled to play Gary Kasparo?
Matthew Goode: In the past I’ve been required to play pretty much myself or someone with money. And unless you do that in period costume, some people say you’re not acting. So I’d been looking for something to get my teeth into. Not just so I could say, “Fuck you, I can do other stuff,” but to prove something to myself. I read scripts I might do in the bath and I finished this one, which was a good sign. Scott had written a terrific character-drive script, and I hadn’t played someone like Gary Kasparo before. I thought it would be fun to play a bad guy who isn’t a two-dimensional character. I liked that he is charismatic and manipulates Chris Pratt by telling him the truth. In fact, he’s the one person who is doing that—it’s an interesting conceit. So I wanted to play the part enough to go through the whole audition process. I knew I had better be good because ostensibly I’d be taking the job away from an American actor.
Q: It sounds like you dislike auditions.
MG: I fucking hate auditions. But I understand the need for them and that they’re beneficial because we actors need that pressure to do well. I don’t know about others, but I get into a character by getting into a dreamy haze. However, I need to relax to do that. So if I go into my final audition and there’s suddenly eight producers standing there, how do you expect me to feel comfortable? And besides, doing something by yourself in a hotel room is totally different from doing it on a set with other actors, because eighty percent of your performance is based on what they’re doing. You’re not acting opposite a tennis ball stuck on a broom handle.
Scott made me audition for two and a half months, which is a long time. I thought I’d gotten the part early on, but he kept bringing me back. He put me through the ringer, which is fair enough, but there’s only so much you can do. My guess is that what he was after was for me to relax, but you’d have to ask him while it took so long.
[Frank, in New York to publicize the March 30 opening of his film, is asked that question, and recalls, “I brought him back to read with Joe to make sure they had good chemistry. And Matthew was completely different from how he’d been the first time. I wondered what happened. So I continued to read other actors. And I was so close to giving the part to someone else. But I kept thinking of his first audition. I knew what I saw. So I flew him back in and he read with Joe again, and I made him read and read and read. And he was beyond phenomenal. I sent the tape to the producers and it was clear to them that he was right for the part. It turned out that for the other interview he was jet-lagged and was going through something with his girlfriend and was completely distracted. I did torture him but, hey, I gave him the part.”]
Q: In playing your first scoundrel, did you have any screen villains in mind, like, perhaps, Robert De Niro in “Cape Fear?”
MG: Not intentionally, no. I’ve seen so many films, so subconsciously some character might have made an impression. But I didn’t watch that movie again or gangster movies and think I’d give Gary a bit of Jimmy Cagney, where he’d lower his head and raise his eyes—though that is an interesting technique he invented. I tried not to think about it too much. I just tried to be true to the script and do what Scott wanted me to do. I felt in safe in his hands, even though he was a first-time director, which was important because I shot my scenes almost backwards. The first day I filmed, the third day of the shoot, I filmed my character’s final scene, so it was really make or break time for me. I’m theater-trained—Stanislavsky, Brecht, Shakespeare--and it was quite daunting not having a character arc.
Q: So on your own, did you have to work on developing your character?
MG: I didn’t sit down in an office and work on my character. But I thought about it the entire time. I worried about the accent and all the little choices I was going to make. It’s not method but as I said there’s a dreamlike thing I go through as I try to be someone else.
Q: Gary Kasparo is cold-hearted, but you allow glimpses of humanity to show. Did you see him as being battered and damaged by life, as are all the other characters in the film?
MG: There was no exposition about his past in the script, so you don’t know why he turned out as he is and what he wants to achieve by robbing the bank. So I came up with a very interesting back story that made him a bit sympathetic. As an actor it’s good to come with secrets about your characters to draw upon, without telling anyone else. But I’ve told a few people about what I came up with for Gary, so I’ll tell you. I believe he’s an intelligent guy who came from a middle-class family. His mother died early in his life. His father was in the navy but was dishonorably discharged and turned to drink, and there was some abuse that went on with his son. He had to travel around to try to find a job and ended up a laborer on a farm. And Gary would live on the farm with his abusive, alcoholic father and be bored by his new life. So eventually he started drinking, too, and committed some crime and got arrested. He had a fucking-hard life and was seeking the money because he felt he deserved something.
Q: How does his somewhat sweet girlfriend Luvlee, played by Isla Fisher, fit in?
MG: I didn’t worry too much about their relationship because I liked the ambiguity of it all. I think viewers will assume he knew her before the scene where he supposedly picks her up while in the bar with Chris Pratt. I would think he met her when she danced in a strip club. He fucked her once and kept her around. She is intrigued by him because he’s charismatic and dark; and she feels protected by him and kind of special. So she goes along with his plan to seduce Chris Pratt so he’ll help rob the bank where he works as a night janitor.
Q: Were you allowed to improvise?
MG: When I read Woody Allen’s script for “Match Play”—here’s where I get in trouble --I wasn’t exactly blown away by what was written for my character. There wasn’t anything to it, and he said that himself, so I was lucky that he let me improvise. And afterward he said, “Thank you, good job, blah blah blah.” With Scott, there’s no reason to improvise because it’s all there in the script: the dialogue, the relationships…and it’s a very linear narrative where you know what’s going to happen yet the suspense is maintained. And there’s humor in there despite it being about a guy who has had a traumatic brain injury—which is not funny. Scott had met a lot of people who had suffered similar head injuries and discovered that they had senses of humor, so the offbeat humor was there for Joe to play, even in scenes with me.
Scott and I didn’t analyze a lot about what my character would do, I just did it. We didn’t over-rehearse but talked each scene over and then went and shot it. I had freedom but no need to really improvise. The exception was the scenes in the farmhouse basement where the gang hangs out. We didn’t know how we were going to do them although we’d gone over them in the hotel room. So we go down there and I’m fucking freaking out because I’d gone over it so many times but really had no idea what I was going to do. But we got through it.
Q: In the film’s production notes, you say you had a lot of leeway to play Gary and there were a lot of different ways you could have played him. What way would have been wrong?
MG: Joe, Jeff Daniels, who plays Chris’s blind friend, and I all could have played our parts over the top and made them two-dimensional. That would have been wrong. It was great acting with Joe and Jeff, who is an effortless actor that I love to death, because they could have gone overboard and gotten Oscar consideration, but chose not to. I’ve heard people have been hard on Joe for not doing more. But I like this economy. I didn’t force myself to hold back so that Gary wouldn’t be too extreme; that’s just the way I thought he should be played when reading the script. He is a very consistent character throughout the film—there’s no great big change in who he is, so I never had him lose control. The one thing I might have done differently was to go the other way and give him more stillness—which might have made him even more menacing.
Q: Did you have a hard time with your American accent, particularly after a few days off?
MG: On this film I was up in Winnipeg for the entire shoot, but I wasn’t working the whole time. I’d have seven days off sometimes. So I went to a lot of bars. But also I’d go over my lines every day, in the bath of course, doing my homework. When you do an accent you worry that’s what you’re going to focus on and you’ll lose dramatic impact. It would have been nice to have a dialect coach, although I can’t imagine having asked Scott for one. But there would have been less worry on my part--“Oh, God, am I saying it right?” It helped that before shooting I spent a couple of months in New York, which wasn’t to get the accent I did, but to be around American culture and pick up rhythms.
Q: Do you live in New York now?
MG: I split time between England and Manhattan, where my girlfriend lives. She’s English, but she’s not an actress. She’s my rock. She tells me went to shut up.
Q: Are you recognized on the street yet?
MG: More here than in England, where I’m totally unknown—maybe because I wear a hat. I’m fine with that. I like going to a pub and not being recognized.
Q: What projects are coming up?
MG: I am going to do the film version of “Brideshead Revisited” for Miramax, so I’m watching the miniseries again. I’m stepping into the ominous shoes of Jeremy Irons, which is very intimidating. Actually it’s always intimidating to get any acting job, and I’m always fairly surprised when I do. Michael Gambon is in that, too. One reason I decided to act was I saw him play “Volpone” at the National Theatre. So I’m going to act with some really great people and it’s thrilling. I don’t have other things planned. If I get to do a film and a piece of theater every year for the rest of my life, and go to pubs and play golf, that would be fine. I don’t understand the need to make five films a year. I don’t want to overdo it. Maybe in a couple of years I’ll get another script like “The Lookout.”