Jeremy Northam's An Enigma Himself
an Emily Blunt interview
I loved Enigma.
In it fabulous actor Jeremy Northam (you know him you just don't know you know
him) played snooty spy catcher Wigram to a highnoon tea! So, when I was asked to
interview Jeremy, I was happy to make room in my terribly busy chickbabe
Good things happen to those who follow through. Turns out this Jeremy fellow is incredibly charming, handsome and has that sexy smirk that makes one forget your at a fancy hotel with witnesses. To say he's good-looking is an understatement of great proportions is all I mean. Hmm, I wondered if he'd read the review and wanted to explore his description....meow.
Alas, I was professional and dutifully asked all the questions needed to expel his way of working his craft. Jeremy's a phenomenal actor. Trained in theater and spread out into film. He's picky and his work shines for it! Still he's in everything (Wuthering Heights, Gosford Park, Mimic, Happy Texas...) like that brilliant Alfred Molina chap—look close he's there. He has that patented upper-crust British facade complete with nobel accent...one expects him to have to dash off for a fox hunt or some such poppycock.
Anyway enough babble on to Jeremy....dreamy delectable Jeremy ( I think I'm smitten folks). On with the interview.
EMILY: You look nice and tan. Where have you been? [I said wiping the sweat from my brow...]
JEREMY: Probably makeup.[laughter] Probably residuals from the interviews this afternoon on TV. [laughter] No, I grabbed a holiday in about, where was it? Feels like ages ago, it was in February. Then I was out here for about three weeks, and it was, you know, it's nice to have the sun on your face.
EMILY: Where'd you go on holiday? [thought but not spoken: so I can book a room conveniently next door next time?]
JEREMY: Jamaica. I read about this hotel that was great, down in the south of the island, not in a touristy area. I had no particular desire ever to go to Jamaica, but I thought, what the hell? Sounds nice. Let's go!
EMILY: [visions of him in the surf start to blur my thoughts...] You play a great spectrum of characters. What is it about Enigma and this chap Wigram that made you want to get involved?
JEREMY: It's a fantastic part, I think I'd have been a fool not to spot that off the page. It's just a great part, a very smart movie. There aren't many movies around that have the ambition of this movie, that kind of hold their audiences' attention and challenge its intelligence, to mix you now a good dollop of history with romance and throw in a whodunit all rolled into one.
EMILY: Did you have have family or friends who were associated with WWll?
[thought but not spoken: and if yes, do you have pictures of the male relatives in those adorable RAF uniforms?]
JEREMY: Yeah, my dad served in the Air Force as ground crew for several years, and doesn't really talk about it. I know that it's there. I think my main thing about direct or indirect experiences as near to home as it were is the idea of self-sacrifice really. I was born in 1961. Now I think the 16 years that elapsed between 1961 and the end of the wars is nothing. To a child growing up it felt like an eternity, an entirely different world. And it's taken me longer still to realize what a short span there is between those life experiences and the rest of your life. That's a job for the people who lived through it. It's strange growing up in a very, well in retrospect it's strange growing up in a very peaceable, comfortable, nonbellicose environment, unthreatened environment. While that had been was not present there, not long before. And so the idea of people disowning other aspects of their lives or ordinary people, everybody putting themselves on the line in one form or another for a common fight I suppose, that meant a lot to me. I find it hard not to separate it from the political because the end of WWII in the UK we voted in our first, well, it was a major Labor government for the first time with a huge mandate to really change things to cause the foundation of the welfare state and many of the things that are still held dear in the UK despite all the changes that have occurred in the last 60 years. National health service, education system, social security system, which seem to at its best, include everybody and support the idea of society which during, you know, the last 20 years or so has steadily been in decline, so it's uh, it's had a… I think the knock off from WWII has a very large impact.
EMILY: Before the film, how familiar were you with Bletchley Park? [looking into his manly man eyes I started to drift with the beautiful lilt of his voice...]
JEREMY: Not particularly. I mean David Herr had done a tv film, set at Bletchley Park with various things and a little bit about Enigma the machine. Of course as soon as he starts, as soon as I read the book and read the script and you couldn't stop seeing it everwhere. They was a very good Channel 4 series of documentaries called "Station X" which were full of firsthand accounts from people who worked there.
EMILY: Is Enigma the British answer to U-571, were the Americans were the ones to do capture the infamous Enigma machine?
JEREMY: I've still never seen U-571 and there was quite a brouhaha about it, and it was very funny because there's a very good news radio program on radio 4, the BBC, in the morning called the Today Show and they cover all this major political and world events in the first couple hours of the day, and there was this ongoing debate about U-571. And so they got the son or the grandson (it's the son, isn't it?) of the commander of HMS Bulldog which is the ship that actually did bring the sub to the surface and first found the machine. Actually the first one ever captured was captured by the Poles, and the interviewer said to the son of the commander of the HMS Bulldog "What do you think about this?" And he said "It's a rather blasted… I think it's a lot of bloody nonsense, actually. I don't see the problem with it. Everyone knows that fact and fiction are two totally different things. Everyone knows what happened factually and knows my father's involvement with all of this. And what they've done with this
movie is what Hollywood has always done, just telling a ripping good jar." It's funny because so many movies know have this thing, this writer that says "based on a true story" and it's funny because it opens up a whole can of worms really, because the next question is "how much? What part?" And you know, you could say of this film that it's based on a true story. Well, the romance element of it and the suspense element, there might well be some evidence of that. That seems to be irrelevant. Surely the job of fiction is to actually tell the truth. It's a paradox that's at the heart of any kind of torytelling. All the great novels, all the great films, all the great dramas are fictions that actually tell us the truth about us or about human nature or about human situations without being tied into the minutia of documentary events. Otherwise we might as well just make documentaries.
There's so much of, it could have been a very critical examination of what happened, and really the emotional lives of the people involved sort of carry the characters forward. Talk about really having to design that. Where you went to the interesting aspects of what Wigram was all about, and the relationship to the kind of story that you wanted to portray among each of the characters.
Sorry but that's not really for me to say, I'm just a hired actor who was hired for a particular job, but I think one of the joys of reading the script was the way that the personal and the global are woven together. And the tricky thing in the film of course, where you see it's not for me to say, is the connection of those two things. The Enigma machine lies as a sort of metaphor for that, for the complexity of both situations, and the film also has to explain the ferocious complexity of the machine itself. It's always a very hard thing to portray genius and complexity in the limited scope of the movie, but I think it makes a really good effort at doing that. I think it explains many things about the workings of the machine which, just watching, in the course of watching the film and understand, start to grasp what you wouldn't understand necessarily if you read a book or watched a documentary about it. It's carefully leading you through.
EMILY: You're characters always harbor a wee secret it seems...even in Winslow Boy. Do you look for these?
JEREMY: I always try and look at what the function, it's very boring answer, but it's true. I always try and look at what, you know, your job is as a functionary of telling the story; as part of a cast, as part of an ensemble that tells the tale collectively. And I never want to sort of put all the cards
on the table all at once, because that's somehow...there's always a journey to go on. There's always something to be revealed, in my mind, about characters. And so, well, with this part for instance. There's a lot of bullying to do. That's his job, is to put pressure on our hero. I just felt it was more interesting to play him as a sort of bad guy to start with. It doesn't say
"play like a bad guy" in the script necessarily, but I think we'd all say that best suited the shape of the part and the shape of the film so that only, it's late on when you understand that he has his own duties and responsibilities that have been compromised by the potential leak at the Park and his mistake in the past. And the implications of those things on a global scale. Then you start to have, maybe if you have any sympathy for Wigram at all as a character it will be then, but it's quite late on.
EMILY: Did you see the sinister part of Wigham when as you first read the script? He reminds me of Michael Palin's More Ripping Yarns characters.
JEREMY: [laughter] I think he was written, he has such a patronizing tone and manner, and such a sarcastic sense of humor. I found him rather brutal, a kind of elegant brutality which appealed. No, I think he came pretty much off the page.
EMILY: [again his beautiful befuddles me...I gather myself] Now Michael Apted said a lot of the people from Bletchley Park opened up and let the actors come interview them. Did you do that?
JEREMY: I didn't, but then I wasn't involved with the code breaking, literally. I mean, I would have loved to have met some former spies, but they don't readily advertise themselves unless they're not living in Moscow, and even then. I'm sure I've met some without realizing it. And it's funny that you,
that the sources, the things that sort of got into your mind that resurface later without you realizing you have absorbed them. I remember years ago going on holiday to Italy with a girlfriend of mine, and we hopped around from place to place, and on a wet Saturday morning found ourselves at a place called San Phillip Margerita Ligura Riviera and we didn't realize it, but it was a major port that we'd gone through and it was a very industrial place and it was a dull grey Saturday, so we went to a bar to think what to do next. We were having a coffee and this voice from a corner said "Go to Rome." He's got his collar up and the white hair, and we started talking to him and he said "Just pop down the road, get on a train, take you four hours. It will be fine. Marvelous. Go to Rome." And we started talking and I asked him what he did and he said "I am being posted throughout the world. I work for the British counsel." And he probably did just work for the British Counsel, but there was something, you know, you could construct a whole world around this character who just happened to be sitting eavesdropping in a bar.
EMILY: So you called upon this fellow to create Wigham?
JEREMY: Yeah, and those politicians I've seen on TV over the years.
EMILY: He had a smirk, like maybe James Bond.
JEREMY: [laughter] No, no, not James Bond.
EMILY: Well, I mean, you're British. [in thought only I thought: and gorgeous, and adorable, and sexy like the Bond boy]
JEREMY: [laughter] And so is he!
EMILY: But he's the quintessential British spy!
JEREMY: Again, not consciously.[laughter] No, not consciously. I didn't refer to... I remember I don't know probably more than,what I'm saying is... goodness knows what one's influences are. I think one probably absorbs things like a sponge and things emerge without your always being aware of it. I remember at Sundance when we first showed this year before last, somebody said "the guy in the purple sweater, I can't remember his name, how many Cary Grant movies did he watch before he did this?" I don't think there's a slightest resemblance. I don't talk like that, and I don't look like him and I don't perform like him.
EMILY: [Jeremy, Jeremy Jeremy] Speaking of spys would you want to inherit the James Bond gig?
JEREMY: It's funny, it's one of those things. Years and years ago, when everyone knew that Pierce was going to be doing the job, they started selecting new people. I had this bizarre thing when I hadn't done many movies, and of going on for an interview. But it was one of those things were you, 10 seconds into the interview, there's nothing to say. They have nothing to say to you because you're quite plainly not appropriate for the role, and I sat there grinning like this because I still felt like the 10 year old that I was when I first saw a James Bond movie, not believing that… well, it's just weird and bizarre. [laughter] And that's, somehow it was reported in the press that various people had been seen for the part and then it goes into the system and then it sort of, you know, I read to my disbelief I think the last week we were shooting Enigma that one of the papers had rung up the bookmakers and got various odds on who was going to play the next James Bond. And I was somehow in this list. No one's ever approached me, no one's ever talked about it, you know. It's something that…
EMILY: It's a compliment...
JEREMY: Oh right, and I take it as such. Thank you. All I'm saying is that it's a rather confusing state of affairs.
EMILY: [state of affairs????How sexy is this guy's wording?] You volley between big budget and small British film...why?
JEREMY: No rhyme or reason. Just as this, you're getting a slightly odd perspective, because the way in which things are released, we made this two years ago. Straight after this I made Possession which isn't going to come out until July at the earliest. And I'm in Gosford Park, I think it was this time last year, and then I did a hyper paranoid thriller called Company Man that type of a change, I think.
EMILY: Is Company Man a studio film, big big budget? [just keep talking cutey...]
JEREMY: No. I think we did that for about $8 million. It was tidy. And thirty-five days shooting. The only rhyme or reason to it, I suppose, is that I sometimes feel like I'm in way too many period movies, not because I'm dissatisfied with the results or not enjoyed the experience in making them, but because sometimes period movies, often they are lumped together into one separate ghetto. That this would be put with Emma or An Ideal Husband I mean, how are they different? The parts might be, all the periods are, but they're all consigned to one bucket. Which can be a little frustrating sometimes, because I always want to do things that are different. I don't want to be doing the same thing, the same performance constantly, and it feels like most people tell you that they are the same. However different you feel might approach them. So I'm always looking for things that are going to be clear… if there's an opportunity to be something away from the ordinary that I feel I can have a go at, then I will. Hence things like Happy, Texas or Mimic, or even Gloria , you know, or Company Man. I don't see any point in this if you're just sort of repeating what one's done. That's terrible.
EMILY: This WWII movie feels quite modern not all heavy handed. [Blunt translation: not DULL]
JEREMY: I think that's part of the attraction for me for this story, this script, is that it had a sort of, partly because the story reveals things that were not commonly known until quite recently, namely about the Katyn massacre and part of the film describes having to suppress this information for a greater cause over there. That's, we're telling this story now in an age of
fairly healthy cynicism about what systems of government and information tell us about things. Our attitudes have changed a lot, really, and so there's a certain toughness about it. I don't think any of us wants it to, although one has to embrace the fact that people talk differently, articulate differently, they're, people came from different educations and backgrounds and experiences and that formed the way that they appeared to be and the way they articulated themselves and the vocabulary they used. None of us wanted to an impersonation of performances that one has seen in previous WWII movies,so there is that thing.
EMILY: How was it working with this cast? You and Dougray Scott had some great scenes!
JEREMY: Oh, it was a pleasure working with him. Nerve-wracking to start with,because to play, what I have to,you know you rethink for this to work, I've got to really bully the guy and you just hope that the person playing Jericho will allow himself to be bullied. It's like dancing....
I zoned when he said dancing...suddenly he and I were alone on a cruiseship in the Atlantic...dancing to a great version of Begin The Beguine...then someone yelled "Iceberg!" Well, not really. They interrupted actually to advise Mr. Northam had to scurry off to his next drooling journalist.....
When I say Jeremy is handsome I mean take George Clooney multiply his looks by ten, ad a spy-like British accent with that adorable messy "bed head" hair and wrap it all up in a perfect 6'2" foot package....Um, YUM!
See Enigma - it is brilliant!
© Blunt Review - 19/April/2002