W.E. - James D'Arcy DVD interview
Compiled by Jack Foley
JAMES D’Arcy graduated from LAMDA in 1995 and quickly became a popular face on British screens with lead roles in Ruth Rendell’s Bribery and Corruption, The Canterville Ghost and The Ice House.
In 1997, he was cast in the BBC hit mini-series The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling. Following this, in 1999, he played the co-lead in the World War I drama, The Trench, with Daniel Craig.
In 2002, he played a young Sherlock Holmes in the television movie, Sherlock Holmes: Case of Evil. Other television credits include Secret Diary of a Call Girl (2009-2010), where he played Duncan alongside Billie Piper, and Mansfield Park (2007).
D’Arcy’s feature film credits include Screwed (2011), opposite Noel Clarke, An American Haunting (2005), the multi award-winning Master and Commander (2003), alongside Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany, and Dot The I (2003) with Gael Garcia Bernal and Tom Hardy.
In W.E., the second directorial feature from pop icon Madonna, he plays King Edward VIII, the monarch who abdicated his crown for the woman he loved. He talks about some of the challenges and pleasures involved…
Q. Did you feel any pressure when Madonna asked you to be in her movie?
James D’Arcy: I don’t think I looked at it in that way. Perhaps that was a little bit naïve. Mainly I tried to approach it in the same way that I would approach any project, which is: first, is it something that I am interested in, something that heats my enthusiasm, and secondly is it a filmmaker who is passionate about the work and has a good idea of what they want to do? I know it is difficult to say all that without ‘Madonna’ screaming in neon letters in your head. We spoke on the internet, and I thought it was going to be for about 25 minutes when in fact she talked to me for an hour, Skyping. She was spectacularly well informed on the subject. I didn’t say a word for nearly an hour and she did almost all the talking and of course, she is the most famous woman on the planet and has been for a number of decades. But what really struck me was how passionate she was about this project.
Q. So you were confident in Madonna’s abilities?
James D’Arcy: I know that she is not a first-time filmmaker, but I have worked with a lot of first time filmmakers and I have worked with a lot of inexperienced film directors so that never has particularly worried me – I find it quite exciting – but I have never worked with a director who has had so little experience of directing who was so prepared.
James D’Arcy: Really. She had done homework. She had read everything. She knew everything as a filmmaker and that was what got me really excited about the project. I suppose I, like many people, had some sort of preconception about Madonna. One of the preconceptions was that she had this extraordinary work ethic, which turned out to be absolutely true. That is a big positive, frankly. What I wasn’t prepared for was her enthusiasm for this material and she explained to some extent why she was enthusiastic about it and that became very infectious and so I suppose that was the genesis of all this. For me I was more worried about, ‘Am I fit for this role? Do I think I can do it? Is it something I could be interested in?’ Those kinds of questions are more foremost in your mind.
Q. What was Madonna like on set — stern at times?
James D’Arcy: I feel defensive of her because these questions will get asked and in a way it seems like a character description, but in fact all directors on all sets behave slightly differently depending on what the scene is. For example, if you are doing a love scene, which is intimate then the director is likely to be intimate. If you are doing a scene where everyone is mucking around and laughing then the director is likely to start with that. If you are playing a scene which us incredibly heavy and everyone getting killed then there are probably not many laughs on the set. So in that regard there was time when she can be very direct and not keen on small talk. Then there were times when she would be unexpectedly sweet.
Q. Describe your first meeting with her…
James D’Arcy: We met on Skype. I put an audition together on tape and then I flew like the day afterwards to London so that was a week altogether. I do remember putting something on tape in America at four o’ clock in the afternoon and sent it off on the internet and then when I woke up the next morning there was a phone call saying ‘I want you to fly to London tonight’, so it was really quick. I flew to London that night, got in the next day slept and then the next day went and met her and then flew back to LA. Then three days later I was offered the role.
Q. Is LA home for you then?
James D’Arcy: London is home but I split my time a little bit and LA is where they make the films so it is good to be there. And, in truth, I like being in the sunshine. LA is much nicer than here. You just have to remember to take your jumper out with you in the evenings.
Q. When did you make the decision to split your time?
James D’Arcy: It has been a gradual thing I suppose. I go and I stay for a bit and then I come back. I live in London. I own property in London and not in LA, so London is my home.
Q. Is there a formative moment that you recall that turned you onto becoming an actor?
James D’Arcy: There were a few moments. When I was at school I was in this group called The National Youth Group Music Theatre and it really meant you had to sing and I couldn’t so they asked me to mime. Now I think you have to be f**king good at singing.
Q. You were good at other elements then…
James D’Arcy: Yes. I couldn’t do the singing. Perhaps they were desperate. I was involved with that group for a number of years and it was great. I really enjoyed it but I never thought about it seriously. It was just a school activity and at the end of my days at school I guess I thought I was going to go to university and study languages. I got offered a job to go to Australia and help out at a secondary school in the drama department there for a year and I thought that would be a great year out. I had no money. I took it. It was fantastic and I think it was sometime during that year where I went: “Mmmm maybe that would be fun. I really like this.” I was very lucky and I got a grant from the government as I couldn’t have afforded to go to drama school without it and I had really three fun years. I knew nothing about acting. There is no history of it in my family.
Q. Were your family up for it?
James D’Arcy: No. Not really. They were all: “Don’t go for it. Don’t do it. Get a proper job.” I understand that retrospectively. It is perhaps not a very secure career but then what it is nowadays? College was great. It was only afterwards that I went: “Aahhh. F**k. I have got this stupid diploma, which does not qualify me to do anything!” And then I got lucky. I don’t know how else to describe it.
Q. Name something you enjoy that is unconnected to work…
James D’Arcy: I like playing tennis a lot. I am enthusiastic but not talented but I do enjoy that. I like reading a lot. One of the things I love about London is the parks. I love the parks. I love the countryside too but I live in London. The parks are fantastic and when London is good it is the greatest city in the world.
Q. Your co-star in W.E., Andrea Riseborough, looks set for big things…
James D’Arcy: She is fantastic. When I first met her she had been cast a week or so before me and I met her and her hair was more or less in the style of Wallis. She was wearing a dress and she had boots and make up and it was arresting. I had seen her on stage and in other projects on film and it occurred to me how closely, physically, she resembled Wallis. I saw her and I was like: “Oh, My God!” It is freaky. And it was very playful between us. It felt being like partners in crime and I think that was something that Edward and Wallis probably did have. I am sure that is how they felt at that point as well. And they were stuck with it.
If you see interviews of their life later there was still this incredible bond. You can see it through the interviews. They mirror each other’s body language quite often. It is quite amazing. If one sits forward the other does and if one leans forward so does the other. I feel it is destiny. Andrea and I just hit it off well right away. It felt very easy with her, very easy.
Q. Do you feel as though you’ve shone a fresh light on this misunderstood couple?
James D’Arcy: It is a very complex situation. The books contradict each other in terms of what they are like and who is guilty of what. One thing that they are all clear about is that this was one big infatuation. He was just besotted with her and there doesn’t seem to be any area for argument in that. From my own perspective it wasn’t a story that I knew at all. I am embarrassed to tell you that I was vaguely aware that there was a king that abdicated but it didn’t occur to me that it was in 1936. My grandparents were alive when this all happened.
I am embarrassed to say all this but maybe that serves me quite well because I didn’t come with baggage and I discovered quite quickly afterwards that people hold extremely strong views about them to the point where nobody would have a conversation about them with me. They would just tell me. They would all contradict one another and they would get into a fight and I just used to sit back and listen to them. It reminded me about what Madonna said about talking about them; it was like just throwing a Molotov Cocktail into the conversation and it is.
W.E. is released on Blu-ray and DVD on June 4, 2012