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Vanity Fair - James Purefoy Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. Were you part of this mutual Thackeray appreciation society? And what sort of preparation did you do, as it's crucial for the audience that we believe the world in which these characters are set?
A.
Hadn't read the book before we started filming! I tell you why, it was because I've done a number of these adaptations now and, actually, quite often, it's just more trouble than it's worth, because you're making the script, you're making the film obviously. You're not making the book and you end up really regretting scenes that aren't in it, trying to put scenes that are in it that aren't in it, and I'm a pretty simple fellow and need to have a very clear mind about what I'm doing. By reading the books of other adaptations that I've done, it just kind of fucked me up a bit! So I didn't read it. I've read it since, cos I didn't want anyone to accuse me of not having read the novel, and it is remarkable; it's a wonderful book, a great read, a really good, gripping yarn.
As far as research is concerned, again, I've done a lot of these - as you probably know, of Austin and Bronte and that kind of world - and I don't need to do much research. And it's a love story. It's not about the detail of him as a cavalry officer, it's a love story, and I've been in love once or twice in my life, and so I do know a thing or two, as most people do, about what it's like to be in love and how you do that, so does that mean I'm lazy [laughs]?
I was a big fan of Mira's films; I'd seen Monsoon Wedding and Salaam Bombay! and I thought they were really works of genius. But that was the reason I wanted to do the film more than anything else. Because having seen her films, you could see there was a director of astonishingly fierce intelligence that's right in the middle of those other films, and the cohesiveness of those other films is so strong that you'll see all the compartments are pulled together by this person in the middle who is just so demanding to get the passion, to get the film that she's got in her mind up on the screen. And that was the biggest challenge for all of the actors, I think, to help Mira achieve that, because it was so specific what she wanted.

Q. You've done a lot of these types of stories, so were you at all reluctant to take on a part that could have been typecast?
A.
It's a good point and it's not something I took on lightly. But also, when did we make this? How long ago? So now I'm playing Mark Anthony in HBO's Rome, and that's a very different part, and it's a very different man, and I think I've been quite lucky in that way, that although there are sort of themes that run through the parts that I play, I think I have escaped, to a certain degree, being typecast. And I'm incredibly lucky for that.
I have been offered a couple of other things in boots that I've left, because I'm not sure if it gets any better than this.

Q. And you're constantly linked to another typecast role with another dinner jacket and a Walter PPK. Would you like that?
A.
[laughs] I've just signed up to HBO's Rome for the next five years, so I think it's unlikely. Obviously, it's an extraordinary, iconic part and I would walk 50 miles over broken glass barefoot to do it, but...

Q. Reese has come into a predominantly British cast, so did she ever ask for advice? Was she ever intimidated?
A.
She's a remarkably self-possessed woman. She's very smart, bright, witty, full of grace and elegance. She's so well prepared. And I think she'd already had a sort of dry run on The Importance of Being Earnest, and so she'd already worked with the English actors. And English actors to have a very different way of working to American actors, I think, and she just slipped very easily into that ensemble playing, which is the kind of great thing about English actors - that they kind of work together on a scene rather than in a bubble, or on their own. For me, that's the big difference. And I think that comes out of theatre companies and actors coming through drama school and theatre companies, and that's the way they work, and she slipped straight into it. There wasn't a moment, even at the beginning, of having to warm into it at all. She very quickly acclimatized.

Q. Was she very swiftly acclimatized to the English way of socializing after work?
A.
She was very pregnant when we were making this... But she took her job very, very seriously. She was very aware that, like me doing a Western as the sheriff, with Ed Harris and Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, and half a dozen other brilliant American character actors, she was surrounded by very fine British character actors, so she was aware that she had a job to do to pull that off.

 

 

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