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Valkyrie – Tom Hollander and Jamie Parker interview

Tom Hollander in Valkyrie

Interview by Rob Carnevale

TOM Hollander (pictured) and Jamie Parker talk about donning German uniforms for Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie – about the World War II plot to kill Hitler – and some of the more odd moments that took place while filming, such as seeing Hitler in the lunch queue and shooting around the paparazzi while there was a bounty on Tom Cruise…

Q. How much did you know about this story before you did the film?
Tom Hollander: Very little. I knew very little. Jamie knew a bit more…

Jamie Parker: I had sort of general knowledge. I’d watched The World at War. It doesn’t go into any great detail. But my dad’s also a bit of a history buff, so you pick up little things. As soon as you start scratching at the surface of the Second World War it’s one of the famous stories that jumps out. So, I knew about the briefcase, I knew about the table saving Hitler and I’d seen the photo of the room being screwed and thinking: “How does anyone live through that?” And then seeing the photo of Hitler shaking Mussolini’s hand on the same afternoon and realising that he’s deaf – he had ringing in his ears for the rest of the day. But beyond that, no I didn’t know any of the details that there’d been this huge cross-continental network of thousands. Of course, you can’t get it all into a two-hour movie, either.

Q. Were you relieved you didn’t have to put on fake German accents?
Jamie Parker: We seem to be talking about that over here [in London] more than anywhere else [laughs].

Tom Hollander: I think they wanted the film would be about what all of us would do in that situation, so it was important that we all sounded familiar, rather than sounding foreign.

Q. Was there ever a discussion?
Jamie Parker: It was floated. I was there for almost the whole thing and for the first couple of days I remember there were dialect coaches available. The idea was floated. But there was a kind of across the board reaction from everyone, who had the same gut reaction – that it was kind of running the risk of being a very expensive episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo. Nobody wanted that to happen. And it [no accents] worked very well in Conspiracy, which is mostly Brits as Nazis with one American actor. So, we decided to let the story tell the story and get past it early on.

Q. How did the costumes inform the performances?
Jamie Parker: They’re very potent, aren’t they… very evocative. Hugo Boss famously did the SS ones. They make you hold yourself completely differently and demand that you have that sort of ramrod back. Otherwise you look a bit daft in it. But there is a very grey area once you put it on, because you do feel more powerful and they do look extremely good. It was something that the Nazi regime got absolutely right – it’s very potent, it’s very alluring, it’s very seductive and they’re very intimidating. So, that’s very attractive from an actor’s vanity’s point of view. But it immediately makes you take stock.

Q. How was it getting into the mindset of your characters – for you, Tom, especially, given that he’s not quite so heroic?
Tom Hollander: I thought about being very, very frightened of my boss and being very suspicious of everybody else. It was really about those two things. There wasn’t enough room to be much more than that. In moving the briefcase when he did, it meant that he blew his own legs off and inadvertently saved The Fuehrer who then cradled him in his arms as he was dying and made him a general. For about 30 seconds, he was a general and then he died.

Q. Did they ever think about shooting that scene?
Tom Hollander: They were thinking about shooting it, but they didn’t. So, he was just doing his job. He was also an Olympic horseman as well. He won a bronze medal, I think, for the German Equestrian Team. It wasn’t about being evil, so much as being in that position.

Q. While filming, did you ever have a sense of being under siege with all the controversy surrounding where you filmed, and the accident on set?
Jamie Parker: A little bit, but it was kind of the eye of the storm. Mostly, you didn’t see it or hear it, but you got reports from friends and family who’d ask about the thing with the truck. But I’d have no idea what they were talking about. So, from that point of view it was easy enough to get your head down and get on with it.

I do vividly remember early on, though, that we were on the air strip doing the scene after the bomb has exploded and there was a bounty on the first photo of Tom Cruise in his costume. And there was a little Cessna circling the air strip where we were, with a guy with a high-powered lens. Tom had to stand under a golf umbrella and wait. We’d wait until the plane got round to behind where we were shooting, do a take and then when the plane came back we couldn’t shoot and Tom had to go back under the umbrella. I found that really weird and was amazed by the things that you have to take into consideration on a shoot, especially coming from small British independent movies. This was the other end of the film world!

Tom Hollander: I was walking down Von Stauffenbergstraße [the street named in honour of Von Stauffenberg] on July 20, which is the day that it’s commemorated, and I got ran into a documentary film crew making a film. I think they asked me about the whole thing. It was horribly coincidental. They asked what I was doing there and I had to kind of whisper: “Well, actually, I’m making a film on the subject…” But then they started asking very intense, articulate questions about it which I just couldn’t answer! I was desperately hoping they wouldn’t use any of the footage because I felt ashamed about how little I know. It’s a very big subject in Germany.

They had a strong police presence on that day, too, because some people were demonstrating against the idea that Von Stauffenberg was a hero. They’re very conflicted about it still. Some think he was a traitor to the Fatherland, irrespective of whether it was doing the wrong thing. So, you had to tread quite carefully…

Q. David Bamber is uncanny as Hitler, isn’t he?
Jamie Parker: Yeah, it’s weird. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for him in trying to think the thoughts and everything…

Tom Hollander: It was even strange being around him, wasn’t it?

Jamie Parker: Yeah. People kept telling him to be more like Hitler. But seeing Hitler in the lunch queue was odd, as was walking past the trailer with Adolf Hitler on the door [laughs]!

Q. Do you deliberately attempt to make jokes in between takes to de-compress?
Tom Hollander: Yes. There was a very funny joke with David Bamber. I was sitting with him and Kenneth Branagh… I was taking photos and they were chatting. And then David went, “look at that”, [gestures him pointing upwards in an inadvertent Nazi-style salute] and I said: “Can you do that again?” And took a photo. So, there was lots of that. But it was spooky watching the extras, because they were German. Their faces are German faces, so they really, really looked like the films we all used to see growing up.

Their response to David Bamber the first day he was on set was quite amazing. I think they found that quite shocking. It’s almost too much to see this figure wondering around. And then people started asking for his autograph, which was kind of odd… I don’t mean they were Nazis secretly infiltrating the extras. But they didn’t know how to behave and whatever their response was, it was extreme. It must have been tricky for them, especially as they’ve spent 60 or 70 years trying to bury all that stuff and change the way the world thinks.

Q. How was the whole experience for you given that this is your first big role since The History Boys?
Jamie Parker: Well, I had the luxury of being on the set for most of the shoot. The History Boys was unique for a lot of reasons. But before this, the only other filming experience I’d done were a few bits and bobs of TV, which entailed a few days here and there, and you don’t get to know anyone. But on this one, it was like four to four and a half months and the man himself, Tom Cruise, was big on allowing families to come on set. So, visitors were constantly around and it was very open and welcoming on that level. So, it did have a relaxed atmosphere and that helped with the getting to know you thing, which was a nice surprise.

Q. And Tom, can you explain the sideburns. They’re rather splendid!
Tom Hollander: It’s for a BBC six-parter about the pre-Raphaelites and I’m playing John Ruskin – even though I look like I’m playing the inventor of the first hairdressing chain, or the inventor of conditioner! I grew them to prove I was butch enough to do so, and now I’m stuck with them because we shot on them. I should have let the make-up department do what they do. It’s called Desperate Romantics and it’ll be on BBC2 on Sunday nights in the autumn, probably.

Read our review of Valkyrie

Read our interview with German stars Christian Berkel and Thomas Kretschmann