In Joe Wright's historical drama Darkest Hour, Ben Mendelsohn takes on the key role of King George VI... but cinefiles will remember that he's not the first to take on the significant part in recent years. In fact, Colin Firth won an Academy Award playing role, starring in the Best Picture-winning The King's Speech. Given the impact of that movie and that performance, you'd imagine that it would factor into Mendelsohn's take -- and he recently confirmed to me that it was a part of his preparation period. Said the actor,
I looked at The King's Speech quite late in preparing. I'd seen it, and it's just such a beautiful performance by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush - [who] are just superlative in it. But it's a responsibility, and it's an honor as well. You want to make sure that you prepare as well as you can. And also you're doing to be acting across that man [pointing to a picture of Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill], who is one of the greatest actors to have drawn breath. And you're going to be in a Joe Wright film on top of it! So, yes, it's pretty, pretty, pretty good.
With Darkest Hour set to arrive just in time for Thanksgiving this year, the studio held the domestic press day in Los Angeles, and I had the pleasure of sitting down one-on-one on camera with Ben Mendelsohn. I began our conversation asking about the pressure of taking on the part of King George VI in a world where The King's Speech exists -- and he explained that it was one of many factors that made the job both intimidating and honorable.
It's worth noting that there isn't any time overlap between the events of The King's Speech and Darkest Hour, and Ben Mendelsohn's King George VI finds himself facing a very different kind of conflict during the terrifying years of World War II and the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany. While the Tom Hooper biopic centered on the monarch's challenges as an orator, the Joe Wright movie is more about his somewhat antagonistic relationship with Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), who is made Prime Minister of Britain during one of the most tumultuous times in the nation's history. It's a strong and key supporting role in a brilliant film that looks destined for success in the upcoming awards season.
I would highly recommend clicking play on the video below, as it not only has Ben Mendelsohn talking about the impact of The King's Speech on his Darkest Hour performance, but it also has a nice little Larry David impression from the actor as well.