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And When Did You Last See Your Father? - Jim Broadbent interview

Jim Broadbent in And When Did You Last See Your Father?

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JIM Broadbent talks about appearing in And When Did You Last See Your Father?, the memories it brought back of time spent with his father and how much he was able to bring to the character of Arthur Morrison.

He also talks about working on the forthcoming Indiana Jones movie, his involvement with Harry Potter and his own fondest memories of a remarkable career…

Were you aware of Blake Morrison’s novel before taking on the role in And When Did You Last See Your Father?
Jim Broadbent: I was aware of it. I hadn’t read it. I think I might have gone out and bought the book and read it before reading the script. I can’t quite remember but I certainly read the book at more or less the same time as I read the script.

How did you go about finding the character of Arthur? Was it strictly by sticking to what’s on the page, or did you draw on your own experiences with your father?
Jim Broadbent: It’s a wonderful bonus to have a book about the man you’re going to be playing and the script is very good as well. There’s an awful lot there. I didn’t know Arthur, obviously; I don’t look like him or presumably sound like him… But Arthur was an absolute contemporary of my father’s. They were born in the same year in Yorkshire, so they had an awful lot of similarities. They also both died at home, with the family around them, of cancer. So I was able to draw on that to a large extent.

A bit like Blake, when that was going on I was in floods of tears and having a terrible old time. But a little part of me was saying: “This is interesting, maybe I’ll be able to use this in the future.” I recognised Blake’s dichotomy of being part of this whole emotional journey and being fascinated and wanting to know about it and understand it and work out what was happening to him and his family, what it meant and all that. I found that the really attractive thing about the book and the script. But the book really was the main thing, and the script, because when it’s that good there are an awful lot of clues to follow.

Do you have happy memories of time with your father?
Jim Broadbent: He died when I was 22 but I have some great memories. He was always very imaginative with holidays. We had some great treks across Europe with a couple of other families. We’d all pile everything in, there’d be a boat on the roof and a trailer and with very little money we’d take a huge great journey down to Yugoslavia and places like that. We’d camp a lot. I’d be daunted by the whole prospect of doing it but he was always brilliant. Thinking back now, it was a huge thing he took on to organise all that. He also liked boats and loved sailing, so there was always quite a lot of stuff in boats.

I’d imagine the camping scenes in this film were extra poignant for you then?
Jim Broadbent: Yeah, that sort of making do. There were elements of that, for sure, that were familiar. And the driving… he liked the old cars and going to motor racing meetings. He also liked to overtake the queues like in the beginning of the film [laughs], so that certainly rang bells for me. It was a mixture of embarrassment and pride.

One of the most incredible things the film does is force everyone to think about their own relationships with their fathers. Did you find yourself thinking about your own when on set?
Jim Broadbent: Not so much on the set. To a degree, I suppose. But when I first read it, it proved a moving read because it is so recognisable. It’s an accurate piece of writing and that’s why it choked me up, so I hope that’s what we can carry on and bring to the screen. It’s a wonderful piece of writing on Blake [Morrison] and David [Nicholls]‘s part. It’s a compassionate look at a relationship but also dispassionate – at the same time as he’s very involved in his father dying, he’s fascinated by it and sort of analysing it. He’s almost scientifically looking at the relationship and at death. It’s a curious mixture of objective and subjective.

How much does it take out of you when you’re filming a role like this? Was Arthur an easy character to let go of at the end of the day, especially when shooting the latter scenes when bedridden with illness?
Jim Broadbent: It’s quite easy really. In some ways, the bedridden scenes are the easiest to do – you just lie there [laughs] with nowhere to go. But I don’t get too emotionally involved in a role. Perhaps you learn as you get older that you can switch on and switch off. I mean, it’s a long day and long weeks of doing it, so you can’t be in character all that time, on the edge, you’d exhaust yourself. You have to learn how to switch off, switch to low light for a bit and then have it ready when they get the cameras ready again. You can’t be too emotionally wrung out all the time.

Did you meet Blake Morrison?
Jim Broadbent: Yes, I’ve met him quite a lot. But I met him first and we had a chat for a couple of hours before we started filming to get more stuff about his dad. He was more than helpful.

You’ve just finished working on Indiana Jones IV. How was that and working with Steven Spielberg?
Jim Broadbent: Well, I still have another day to do to finish off my contribution. But it was lovely – working with Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg is the stuff that dreams are made of. It was totally as you’d expect really. He [Steven Spielberg] is a man that’s totally on top of his game… and delightful with it. He had a lot of time for the actors and for us to find a way around the scene. It was good.

Is everything they say true about Harrison Ford in that he’s a real life action hero?
Jim Broadbent: Well, not in the scenes I’ve been doing [laughs]. I’m his colleague at the university.

How does working on a film like Indiana Jones compare to working on something more intimate like And When Did You Last See Your Father?
Jim Broadbent: Well, the scenes I was doing were quite contained on Indiana Jones. It’s not out there in the jungle. Clearly, there’s a lot more personnel and budget but when you’re filming a scene with two people in a room it’s still two people in a room. It’s basically the same experience. I always assumed before I ever did any work in America that the Americans must do it differently in some way. But the same nuts and bolts have to be put together…

You’ll also be in the next Harry Potter film, The Half-Blood Prince?
Jim Broadbent: Yes, that’ll be another one. It’s very exciting to be part of this great British institution. I start next month and I’m very much looking forward to that.

Q. What do you consider to be your own best achievements or proudest moments when you look back on your career?
Jim Broadbent: It’s the whole really. I always want to do something different from what I’ve done before and that’s what delights me, really. Topsy Turvy is a favourite film of mine and then there’s some that have opened up doors in different ways for me, such as Bullets Over Broadway with Woody Allen. I thought that was a great one to do and a fantastic film to be part of at that time.

But I also got a huge amount out of Longford – it was a good, challenging central role to take on. But on the whole I like doing everything really. I can also do small parts on TV and things – I loved doing The Street. I thought that was a really good job to get and it was really enjoyable to do. It was a different sort of pace and a very quick turnaround but that was a real delight. There’s also been lots of theatre I’ve been happy with.

Q. How did things change when you won the Academy Award?
Jim Broadbent: I suppose the main thing that changed was it meant I was more relaxed about my career. I didn’t have to worry about it so much. In terms of the work coming in it didn’t change a huge amount because I’d had a good run up until then. But it meant I didn’t have to worry about what’s right to do, what’s good or bad for the career, I don’t worry about that now. The career can look after itself and I can do the jobs that I want to do. That’s a big difference.

b>Read our review of the film

b>Read our interview with Matthew Beard