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Chatroom - Matthew Beard interview

Matthew Beard in Chatroom

Interview by Rob Carnevale

MATTHEW Beard talks about some of the challenges of filming Hideo Nakata’s Chatroom and getting into the shy, introverted character of Jim.

He also talks about visiting real-life chatrooms and wishing (sometimes) that he hadn’t, as well as his career to date and why he’s delighted to have worked with Lone Scherfig again on the forthcoming One Day

Q. What was the appeal of Chatroom for you?
Matthew Beard: I hadn’t actually seen the play, which it’s based on, but I’d read the first script and immediately clued into Jim as a character really. I mean I liked the whole film but Jim was someone who struck me as really interesting to play with. And I really liked the whole concept of the film – the online and offline worlds and that seemed very filmic and visual. So, I thought I’ll go for it.

Q. Was Jim a particularly easy character to inhabit?
Matthew Beard: No [laughs]. It was difficult because you had a lot of things to think about on this film. So, you had to be quite artificial because you have the online world where it’s all done through words, and you’re expressing yourself through words, so it’s not very natural and feels slightly heightened and artificial. So, in a way you have to be quite self-conscious about your performance and how you’re acting, because that’s how someone when they’re typing thinks… they’re consciously shaping themselves in the role when they’re typing. So, on one level you have this kind of self-consciousness in you, but on the other level you need to kind of bring some naturalistic vulnerability to it and it’s how you try and get those together without making them seem too messed up. We tried to play with the online/offline world and make the offline one a bit more gritty. But it was difficult.

Q. Is it difficult to shake off such a nervous character?
Matthew Beard: It wasn’t difficult to shake off. In fact, I loved getting rid of him. But it was difficult to do during the time. I’d be waking up in the morning knowing I’d have to cry for 12 hours and that’s difficult… you can’t get happy. You feel like you’ve betrayed yourself if you do and your whole life gets drawn into this world of microwave meals and Jeremy Kyle. So, I was happy to shake it off once done and get on my life, and get my family and friends back.

Q. Was it as much of a help as it was a hindrance to have the cast right there in front of you, even when there were times you weren’t supposed to be able to see them?
Matthew Beard: Again, that was another thing that was quite difficult. We decided quite early on that you could react to their sort of feel because, through their words, you could look at them and you could make eye contact with them. We had to decide our own rules essentially when we first sat down. We asked whether we could look at each other, or react to gestures and feelings. But in terms of having them there, I think it would have been strange to do our bits individually with blue screen or something. It would have been even more artificial. I think we pushed the limits of the artificiality.

Q. How was working with Aaron Johnson?
Matthew Beard: It was great. Obviously, we had to look up to him and he had to hold our attention and be this character who could have influence over everyone. So, he had to command the set basically, from the first day. We were sat there looking at him for most of the time.

Q. I read that in getting into character you spent some time in chatrooms?
Matthew Beard: I did. I went to quite a lot, actually. It wasn’t so much to get into character, but more to try out the lines and try out the script and see how it was going to work. It was also really useful to kind of put yourself in that vulnerable position and see how people do react to you. So, I went there quite a lot. Some of them I wish I hadn’t because some of them were much more brutal than the ones we show. Ours has got five people in it; but some have hundreds of people in them and it’s very chaotic… you have to follow the different threads of narrative by working through them.

People sort of disappear into personal messages and then re-appear again. So, it’s a different dynamic and it’s really strange to follow and to try and to try and work out the psychology because it’s all there in text. You can scroll back and see where this person came on and where they are now… you can follow their story.

Q. Is it tough to work out why people are so attracted to them? Or can you see the appeal once you start going down that path?
Matthew Beard: I can definitely see why people are attracted to it. I think if you have a void in some way and you want to fill it… some people do it through sport or with family and friends. But some people will fill it with the easiest thing, the thing that’s most at hand, and that today is the Internet. I can see why people would turn to it for help. I mean I turn to it for help every day… Googling stuff! But if I had some more significant help that I needed I wouldn’t turn to a chatroom.

Q. Do you ever Google yourself?
Matthew Beard: No [laughs]. I have a flatmate at university and I have house mates who occasionally tell me about certain things that are online. They try and tempt me. But I try and avoid it.

Q. How is finding the balance between work and study?
Matthew Beard: I find it difficult sometimes juggling both. But I’ve done that since I was young. I’ve been acting since I was really little, so have juggled school with acting together. So, I’m only really extending that to university. I actually shot this in one of the summer holidays. So, you give up your free time to do this, but it’s hardly a sacrifice really.

Q. But you must be incredibly delighted with the way your career is working out? You’ve worked with Lone Scherfig twice recently, for instance, on An Education and the forthcoming One Day
Matthew Beard: Yeah. I just did another little bit for Lone on One Day but I really loved working with her on An Education. She’s really warm and special and you get a feeling on some sets where you can see yourself turning up there every day for the rest of your life and I would happily do tiny parts for Lone for the rest of my life [laughs]! But it is just another small part in One Day, although it’s a really good script based on an incredible book.

It has an incredible cast as well. I didn’t know anyone was in it when I took the part, I just said ‘yes’, but it also has Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess and Rafe Spall and all these people. So, I am excited. It’s not thought out at all… it’s just all by chance and the way things have worked out. Hopefully, once I finish uni I can get properly cracking with it.

Q. have you got anything else you’re about to take on?
Matthew Beard: I’m just in my last year and I have a couple of terms left at uni, so that’s a bit insane at the moment. But hopefully I’ll finish that and then just see what happens.

Read our review of Chatroom

Read our interview with Imogen Poots