Based on the cloying (if entirely understandable, don’t get me wrong) faffing around that took place at yesterday’s press conference for The Iron Lady, at which Meryl Streep was showered with flowers, Russian Matryoshka dolls and declarations of love, you’d be forgiven for thinking that supporting co-star Jim Broadbent has as little to say for himself as the character he plays, Denis Thatcher.
Wrong. On both counts: Denis kept his own counsel and so, apparently, does Jim Broadbent. So it was a great pleasure to have an off-the-cuff talk with Broadbent prior to the Golden Bear award ceremony for Meryl Streep on Tuesday evening—on late nights, advice for young actors, and the weird and the wonderful.
And on working with Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis, who directed Broadbent in multiple roles in the upcoming Babelsberg-produced movie version of David Mitchell’s award-winning novel Cloud Atlas.
Are you curious about how things will go tonight? Meryl Streep getting the Golden Bear…
Yeah, it’s great. It’s going to be a late night. The screening isn’t until 11am or something. I’ll get a nap.
When it comes to premiers and screenings, how important is the audience reaction. Do you draw something from that?
I don’t go to all the screenings. I’ve seen it a couple of times. I normally see a film two or three times. I’m certainly not one of those people who doesn’t like to see themselves on screen. If I don’t want to see the film, why would anyone else? I always do jobs about which I think: I’d like to see this film. That’s the motivation to do it. If it’s a comedy, I’d like to see if it makes me laugh. And if it makes other people laugh. After seeing it two or three times I think: it’s either working or it’s not working. I don’t get obsessed by it.
So you prefer comedies?
I think there should be humour in everything. If it’s true – it makes you laugh. A lot of comedy comes from accurate observation and being really truthful. Even in a very bleak story that there should be some recognition that at least amuses you on some level.
Will you follow the German reaction to the film, to see if it’s different to the way other publics in other countries have reacted?
Yeah! Definitely. It’s done very well in Spain. That’s extraordinarily interesting. It’s done very well in Hungary. Why? So how it performs in different countries is fascinating.
The Berlinale Talent Campus is taking place right now. A lot of newcomers come together – young filmmakers, actors, actresses. What advice would you give them?
Given that they’ve already come to their decision? Because a lot of people come to me and say: “I don’t know, I’m thinking of becoming an actor …” and I say: “No! Don’t. If you’re not sure, if you have to ask, don’t.” The only way to become an actor is if you’ve got absolutely no choice. Because it’s not going to be easy and you need a degree of obsession to carry you through.
But given that they’ve already made that decision, I’d say, spread your net as wide as possible. Take every new experience that you can get because you don’t want to limit yourself in the early stages of your career. That will limit you later on. Spread your net wide and try to take in everything and take risks and do odd things. When you don’t have responsibilities of mortgages and family, do weird and wonderful things for no money and be brave and put yourself out there.
Is there anything weird and wonderful that you can imagine doing? That you’d like to do?
Nah. Done all that. But I always like the jobs that come up. I never think about what I might like to do because other people have much better ideas and much more exciting ideas about what I can do than I could ever have. I mean Cloud Atlas: That was a wonderfully weird and wonderful job. Extraordinary.
What was the favourite character you played there?
Well, my main character was the Timothy Cavendish character, I suppose, and then the composer, the eccentric old classical composer, was great fun to play.
So it was fun, changing roles every day?
It was a bit like theatre. I’ve been in productions where you play a lot of different characters, or you’re playing one character in repertory and you’re playing another character next day. So, it tapped into a lot of that theatrical experience. I get bored quite easily so having such a complicated job to do was stimulating.
Six roles, three directors …
I worked mainly with Tom Tykwer. My two biggest roles were with Tom and he’s a lovely director, really, and such a happy crew. Really, I loved working with a German crew and the team. It was a really great job.