Compiled by: Jack Foley
Q. How was it seeng London recreated in the Czech Republic?
Did it give you an odd feeling?
A: No, not with this movie. Alain Sarde’s design
on this film is absolutely phenomenal. He’s got to be one
of the best designers around at the moment, to take on a project
like this and to recreate it so truthfully and realistically.
It was so easy with Anna Shepherd’s costumes as well, you
walk out, you go onto the backlot and you just hit this huge,
And the amount of detail, whatever shop you walked into, if it
was a butcher’s say, there would pork chops there. If you
went into a greengrocer’s shop there would be fruit and
veg hanging around the walls. Not that the camera was ever going
to delve in there, but you always got a sense that it was actually
It’s very easy for an actor to pretend all of that, but
it’s easier when you’ve got it all there.
Q. Having grown up in Dickens’ neighbourhood, was
the role of Bill Sykes one that you had to play?
A: You could make a shopping list of all the characters
you want to play, but with somebody special like Roman, who comes
along and sees you have the qualities that he’s looking
for in his Bill Sykes, that’s a dream come true. For any
I talked to some great actor friends of mine and they all said,
‘Polanski, oh God, I’d love to work with him’;
he’s on everyone’s shopping list. It was a great thrill.
Q. What's your best memory of working with Polanski?
Strong: His terrible jokes. He loves a terrible joke,
although he doesn’t think they’re terrible, he laughs
harder than anyone else at his own jokes. The point was though
that it was fun, he made it good fun.
Foreman: He’s very intense. I’ve
never worked with a director who is so meticulous, but it’s
all for your benefit.
I remember a scene where we were in the street, when I’m
walking towards my house to confront Nancy, and I’m doing
this scene and we’re having trouble with the dog, getting
it to stay on the right side of me, I’m going round the
lamppost one way and he’s going the other, and extras are
going up in the air.
Then all of a sudden, when you feel like you’ve just got
one bang on, Roman starts screaming and there’s a guy at
the end of the road, overacting, far in the background. At first
I thought that wouldn’t have mattered, but then I realised
that if his eye had gone to it, it would take the audience’s
eye away from it as well. So you felt so protected and so cared
for, that everything’s going to be so right.
And that’s right, because if I’d gone to the cinema
and seen it, I would have got back on the first plane to Prague
and found this guy, because he’s upstaged me, in the best
moment in the film for me! But that’s the beauty of working
with someone like that, he’s a joy, the whole experience
was like that.
Q. Having spent so much time in Prague, did you have
a favourite restaurant?
A: I was there for seven months in all, going backwards
and forwards, with four months of that continuously filming. It’s
a great town. I had my favourite restaurants, funnily enough I
was at one yesterday, because I was over for the premiere over
there. I got a later flight back so I could visit it.
Q. How did you go about putting your own stamp on such
a familiar character?
A: We had a great Ronnie Harwood script. I feel I was
given a lot more scope as an actor to approach Bill, because he’s
gone back to Dickens’ original text a lot more. And he’s
funny, Bill’s opening scene when he’s introduced in
the book is funny, very dark and wicked.
I think if you can capture the humanity that they bring into the
writing, and he gets a lot more screen time to project other sides
to him. When he’s lying in bed ill, with the fever, that’s
seeing another side to Bill that no-one’s ever seen before.
As with Toby.
Bringing Toby into it, and his relationship with Toby. Seeing
the way he enjoys Toby’s flamboyance. That gave me a lot
more chance to put my stamp on it and open him up a lot more.
What everyone should remember is that Oliver Reed, who’s
phenomenal, played him in a musical and that’s a different
genre and it has a different effect on the overall look and feel
of the film.
He never sang a song or anything, but he has this weight and this
presence that represents the danger, to offset the musical elements
in the film. I never had that problem, I could play him as a more
Q. You also do a lot of acting
with the eyes? Was that hard?
A: That’s all I’ve got! It comes from the
right place, if you’re feeling it. Don’t play Bill,
be Bill. So it was because I had the chance to delve into different
sides of his character.
I don’t think Robert Newton had that opportunity and Oliver
Reed certainly didn’t. I’ve been lucky enough to have
had that opportunity thanks to Ronnie Harwood and Roman Polanski.
I didn’t ever feel that I was walking in anyone else’s
Q. You have a number of tough scenes, especially with
the dog involving some abuse. Was it hard to do? And were you
best friends off-set really?
A: No. I wanted to barbecue him. That’s going to
upset every dog owner in the country! But he gave as good as he
got, so don’t worry about him. He held his own. It was me
or him at one point [laughs].
He’s bigger than me, the dog. He was a Czech dog, he didn’t
speak any English so that didn’t help. No-one told me for
the first two days, that when he started barking, if I went ‘shush’
it meant ‘bark more’. But no-one told me that for
He certainly wasn’t Lassie, that’s for sure.
Q. How was your relationship with the younger cast?
A: It was difficult because Barney and I had a lot of
very dangerous things to do. I’m a father of sons, and I’m
very protective to them, but when we were up on the rooves and
doing this you have to feel a sense of trust.
I think that helped Barney and I, because when I was throwing
him about he’d know there was another side to me that’s
different. This is just what we’ve got to do.
We used to do scenes, and every time I’d grab him I’d
ask if it hurt, and when he said ‘yeah’ I’d
say ‘good!’. But he knew that I’m doing that
for a reason.
Clark: It was funny, because before every single
scene Jamie would scream, start roaring in character. You’d
be getting ready to go into the room and you’d hear this
Foreman: It was the same with all the [young]
guys, they’re such good actors. You don’t have to
explain everything to them, they inherently know it.
Q. How was working with Sir Ben Kingsley?
A: I think every actor who’s ever worked with Ben
will say the same thing, and that is that he’s a joy to
work with. It’s a great experience to work with an actor
of his quality and calibre. You know that you are in the moment
when you’re there, and it’s a great thrill.
He’s phenomenal. He would stay in character and that was
very important for him to do that, because it’s so not like
The man is a tall, wonderfully elegant, good looking guy. He’s
playing this wizened monster. The pain he was going through, because
he was bent double all the time, one day he stood up straight
and his back cracked and he said he was dying for that to happen,
he’d been waiting three days to do that, to release the
pressure. He was a joy.
Q. Was it a daunting project going into it? And do you
think the story remains relevant to modern audiences?
A: It’s like you have great directors like Kurosawa
coming in and taking on Shakespeare. These stories are universal,
the themes of these stories are universal, they relate to anywhere
in the world. There’s no dominion over them. The relevance
is universal in that respect. I had no problems with him coming
along and taking this on.
He’d done such a great job with Thomas Hardy’s Tess,
and he’s admitted himself that he has a great penchant for
19th Century literature, especially English literature. So you
know it’s going to be a serious interpretation whatever
Roman Polanski does with it.
And to get Ronnie Harwood on board, one of the best screenwriters
this country has ever produced. So he’s taken this very
seriously, put a lot of money and a lot of investment into it.
He knows the dangers that he’s going to be faced with and
the questions he’s going to be asked, why he’s taking
this one when it’s been done before.
I think for a director of his stature it’s even more important
to understand that he’s taking on somebody else’s
luggage and put his own stamp onto it. I think he’s done
that very well.
I think it’s the best interpretation I’ve ever seen.
It’s the most succinct, the most clear, and I think –
with the greatest respect to the master – if Dickens was
to write a film script of his story this would be as close to
it as we would get.
Related stories: Read
Read our special feature
Barney Clark interview
Harry Eden interview
Mark Strong interview