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There are some films out there that are best kept as mysteries until you’re sitting in the theater as the lights go down. Sometimes you need to skip the trailer, ignore clips and plot synopses, and just let the story unfold as it should on the big screen. Park Chan-wook’s Stoker is one of these films. It’s not about major reveals and big twists, but rather than the movie centers more on characters, filmmaking and the finest details, than a sweeping, broad story.
As a result, it’s a challenge to discuss Stoker with any depth without giving too much away, and one that I faced personally when I had the chance to sit down one-on-one with star Matthew Goode to talk about the film back in late January. So now that the film has had its first weekend in limited release, I’d love to share our spoiler-laden conversation with all of you.
Check out our extended conversation below, in which Goode discusses the damaged psychology of Uncle Charlie, his secret obsession, why he hates watching horror films, and how he reflects on Zack Snyder’s Watchmen four years later.
FINAL SPOILER WARNING: This is your last chance to not be spoiled about Stoker. Read at your own risk!
So, I’ve got to say...one of the things that I actually, just kind of to kick things off, one of the things that I really loved about this movie is that it doesn’t play in black and white. There’s a lot up for kind of viewer interpretation and kind of it doesn’t necessarily answer every question. It leaves it up for the audience to understand.
I like that too.
But one thing I’m kind of curious about your performance in that sense is when you’re approaching the material and approaching the character, do you make your own interpretations of what everything means or are you going to Wentworth Miller and going to Director Park and kind of...
I never met Wentworth. I’d like to talk with him about this, and I thought he would come to Sundance, it would have been… maybe I’ll meet him at the premiere. Whenever you read something you have your own interpretation. And I think it was one of those scripts that you can, you know, you can really see the film in your mind’s eye a little bit and you can certainly, you know it’s been directed by Director Park. You see that adds another layer of sort of macabre visuals into it for you. But we talked about it extensively. It was my kind of rehearsal, because I don’t really like getting it up on its feet straight away, especially because normally you rehearse in a hotel room or something, or a place that isn’t the set, so certainly it just feels weird taking your rehearsal into somewhere, it’s all different. So, I talked extensively with Director Park. He’s just a joy to collaborate with really, and through those discussions actually were little bits and ideas that went into the film and you kind of think, it’s good for one’s own self-respect as an actor. You kind of think, you have good days at the office. And I had a few good days at the office, so it was nice. But then obviously, the film finishes and you go, “I don’t know what I’m doing!” I’m plagued with self-doubt! The thing for us, because the film thematically as a whole, is about the idea of bad blood, in a sense. It’s about this genetic predisposition in the family blood line to do these...
Monstrous, monstrous things.
...monstrous, naughty things. And obviously there is because obviously the way that the father tries to keep her power in drive, by stopping her from doing worse things by hunting, which is odd, but we get it. We really get it! But so, for me, you have to make your characters have the layers, so it’s sort of three dimensional, so it’s not... but as you said, which I think is bang on, it lives with you afterward...
I saw it on Tuesday and I’m still coming down.
We explored him fully, but there’s less stuff left out. So there’s a mystery and we just wanted...there’s pivotal scene for me, that was the flashback with Dermott [Mulroney] and you know…cause there’s bits of it we see. He’s a kind of man-child. It’s a coming of age drama for Mia’s character and yet at the same time there’s this guy who’s locked as an eight-year-old, you know, in some senses he’s been completely detached. I mean, they’re all detached, because we don’t really know where it’s set or what time it is and that’s why it plays as a kind of wonderful, gothic fairy tale, a fucked up fairy tale. But I wanted the childlike innocence to this character who is not innocent in any which way and at the same time he is and then he kind of has his first kiss with Nicole [Kidman]’s character and so that was part of the sort of cycle of the investigation of where he might be as a character, but in this wonderful operatic framework, it allowed us to be hopefully, quite subtle.
And you mentioned the kind of innocence in him, and frankly your performance reminded me a great deal of Anthony Perkins in Psycho...just kind of the cold stoicism, but also like that seeming innocence, “you wouldn’t hurt a fly.” So, was that an inspiration for you?
Never seen Psycho! I haven’t seen Psycho. I’ve never seen Shadow of Doubt. And it’s funny because there was something written in a press pack saying Director Park had seen it – I could see what people talk about. I’m really glad I haven’t seen the film, because I’d be worried that I’d subconsciously be leaking in with gestures or whatever, so thank you. That’s a very nice compliment as that’s kind of an iconic performance from Anthony Perkins.
But they share similar strains. I mean, I don’t dress up and you know... It’s funny, it’s the only bit of Psycho I’ve seen is the end, because they were going to do Hitchcock and James D’Arcy did it and actually he looks far more like him and he’s brilliant. I was going to have the, before I was going to get on the line with the director, who’s a lovely English guy, and he’s like, “Just see a little bit,” and I saw the excerpt the mom dressed up with the skirt…Fuck! I fucking hate horror films! [laughs]
Why do you hate horror films?
I don’t like to be scared! I don’t like it! And this isn’t really, it’s not a quintessential horror film. So yeah, I think I could probably make one, but I’d hate watching it. Fuck! I remember almost choking on popcorn in Madrid, when I was shooting a film over there. We watched The Ring or something, and the first time that girl’s face comes up with the tongue out and I went [pretends to jump back in fright] And I started choking with a piece of popcorn and the whole fucking audience is laughing and I’m like, “I can’t breathe and you’re laughing their ass off, alright!” Jesus!
And I do want to dive into the psychology of this character, because it’s so fascinating. This is a character who’s not only hiding a secret, he’s hiding a secret obsession - he is completely obsessed with India. Even when you’re doing scenes that aren’t necessarily bringing up that obsession, is that always there in your mind?
Well, he’s been living with it for years. He has a birthday each year. He’s obviously found out, since he’s been locked up that... I’m sorry...we can’t mention that really. He’s been on holiday! But from Mrs. McGarrick. She’s the person that helps him. So, that’s intrigued him. And I suppose in some sense you kind of go, “Someone like me.” It’s like kindred spirits and it’s not a sexual thing or anything at that point. I think it’s just, he wants to go out into the world together and do some fucking dark shit [laughs]. Really! So, it’s an obsession, and yet, at the same time it’s a timeline on it. He can leave that place anytime he wants, for quite a long time. For the past few years, he’s decided to stay there. And it’s a shame, actually. There was some more footage, that was shot at the institution. I was meant to be mounted with a camera, there was meant to be another bit when I die at the end. You can’t reveal that!
I’ll have plenty of spoiler warnings, don’t worry [laughs].
So yeah, it’s always in his mind. It is obsessive, about someone he’s never met, so, who knows what he’s expecting when he turns up and that’s all part of the fun of it. I don’t know. It’s a very unhealthy obsession. It is very much about her becoming...he’s waited in like a fair way for her to come of age. I don’t want to corrupt her before, but once she’s 18 fair is fair! [laughs] It’s like, she’s allowed to drive a car, she’s allowed to murder people now.
I’ve talked to actors before who’ve played killers and they always tell me that on some level they have to have a justification for the character. The character can’t just be pure evil. There has to be an understanding within themselves, even if it’s not necessarily explained in the film. But Charlie is such a monster, and has such this awful demon within him. I’m curious, do you have a justification for him?
Well, I don’t think, he doesn’t come back just to kill. I think in his way, he’s like, I can come back. I can be close to India. I’ll be in my brother’s house. You know? That’s what he wants. But every step of the way, the super objective is to get back with India, this person he’s obsessed with. And people get in the way of that. Mrs. McGarrick gets in the way of that. His brother gets in the way of that. Also his brother does that... You know, he was in love with his brother. He’s jealous of his younger brother. So, that’s the reason that he... [dances around spoiler]
I understand! It’s a hard movie not to spoil!
It really is, because it’s not a whodunit. You know pretty early on...
Something’s fucked up with this dude.
He’s mental! But, it’s true. There’s got to be some sort of a justification there and also, there’s some stuff, when you film stuff, things can be interpreted, that you hadn’t even planned for, just cause you blinked and someone might read into that. And so, conversely, sometimes people think you’ve done something and I don’t know. You still get your happy accidents, which always happens when you’ve got cameras on you. It’s just a really interesting exercise.
No. it’s fascinating.
There’s something so heightened about trying to be real with it.
And obviously, the key to the movie is the relationship between Charlie and India, but what’s so fascinating and what I love about it is, when the dynamic between them is so incredibly complex. I mean, yes they have the uncle and niece thing, but there’s also a father-daughter thing in there, there’s a teacher-student...
Well, he looks like a father. I mean, Freud is jumping all over this...
Father-daughter, teacher-student, lover - to an extent, enemy, friend...it’s a very complicated thing.
Absolutely! So, I’m curious. How did you work with Mia in that respect?
We talked about it. And we talked about her journey. And obviously, the nature of filming is that you jump around a lot. And so, I think we worked out sort of how our arc went together, when we weren’t together and when we were together and possibly when she discovered we couldn’t really make this work together - when that was discovered. That’s the thing, she’s the smarter cookie. He’s a deviant, but each generation, they get more evolved. That was what was really interesting about it. I just loved working with her. She fucking talented and just so much fun. And I think that was one of the few times where I actually sort of understood, you know, when people say you’ve got good chemistry together. Normally, it’s like, “Yeah, we did! We learned our lines!” But with her, I think you can tell, we got on really well. I think maybe you could have stuck another lot of actors in there and given exactly the same performances, possibly. But it felt special to us because we all got on and I think that comes across on the screen really well. Jacki Weaver was part of it. I fell in love Jacki Weaver! She’s fucking hilarious.
Was it kind of weird to have such an international cast?
Bunch of Australians and Englishmen, yeah. We had two Englishmen, because obviously, we had, oh, one of my favorite characters... Have you ever seen Withnail & I?
No, no I haven’t. I know of it. It’s kind of on my shame list [laughs]. You haven’t seen Psycho, I haven’t seen Withnail & I.
He plays the sheriff, Ralph Brown. So that was just fucking brilliant, amazing.
In addition to the relationship with Mia, you also have the relationship with Evie, Nicole Kidman’s character, which it’s interesting, because as much as Charlie has his obsession with India, Evie seems to have somewhat of an obsession with Charlie.
Well, she does, because her husband sort of grew fat and was less exciting, and also he was very much about his daughter...
Absolutely, out of protection for her.
And so she hasn’t been romanced. And so effectively, you lose the person you’re in love with, because of the person you created. So, that’s their dynamic, I think, between the father, the daughter, and the child. So, you have someone who comes in, who obviously, by being a brother, looking slightly like him, that reminds her of him and Charlie utilizes that, because in some ways, it’s his sexual awakening too. He’s been “on holiday.” That’s kind of like his first kiss with Evie and I think he finds it fun. I think he knows that deep down, he’s planning to, you know, “Pack a small bag.” He knows that’s going to happen. He knows he’s going to have to rub her out. But it’s a kind of happy accident. He finds it interesting. It’s not planned. But also in a sense, he’s able to stay near India and so this is when she has a bit of, “You should probably leave, Charlie”. And then that whole scene, which ends with the dance. It’s good and twisted. I need to watch it again. It’s so much. It’s so rich. We were sitting very close to the screen, a big screen. Someone mentioned something about my name, when my name comes up. It’s placed somewhere in the frame…I don’t know what it is, but it goes around some boobs or something. Something about my surname and where it’s placed. Yeah, I should ask about that. Unlike me, everything he does is on purpose. Nothing is wasted.
I don’t want to take up too much of your day. But I want to say I honestly think Watchmen is legitimately a great film and unfortunately, I think it hasn’t gotten the recognition yet that it deserves.
I think it will age better.
And frankly, I think it already has.
It’s funny, I was just having a similar chat. I was just going to bed and I was just changing the channel over, and it was Jeffrey Dean Morgan murdering a Vietnamese pregnant girl. And I was like, “Oh, Jeff!” I was knackered and had to go to bed, but even just watching it for a couple minutes and it’s really good!
And just four years removed from it, I’m just kind of curious, how do you kind of reflect on it, because this is a comic book that people for years just said couldn’t be turned into a film and yet, actually, I would even say that there are elements of the film, particularly the end, that are better than the book.
I think the squid would have been a bridge too far. There’s only a certain amount of displacement from things from things that we can really show. The novel is amazing. And you know, I won’t talk about casting and things like that because it’s unfair and things have been written about what I did before and I’ve always thought, why do people want to lambast me? But I totally respect why fanboys didn’t want me to do it and I do think that I was a bit young. I did. I think the main problem with it really is that the character was a man that doesn’t have the backstory, or have that time to show what he’s about, so I over thought it a bit, but everything was done with myself and Zack, chatting about it, and we like the idea of there being a public persona and a private persona and also the American dream with the immigrant, the guy’s going to end up saving the world effectively, in a kind of twisted way, and so to have an American accent for the guy who looks like the American dream. So, even just talking about it now, I’m like, fuck, I really did over-think that. It’s beautifully shot. But the thing is, it’s someone who’s trying to be so faithful. I’m really glad they did that, because I read an earlier script and they really hatcheted the hell out of it. So, it’s an incredible piece of film-making. The opening credits, you’re just like, you are a very special, gifted, talented, director. One of the most fun people you’ll ever be directed by, because there’s an energy there that’s phenomenal.
Just the number of times he says “awesome” in a sentence.
He’s like a child, energy wise, with a brain, a mega-mind. The film will age. It was accessible. I think it was accessible for people who don’t know the material.
Absolutely. An even more important thing, in addition to the theatrical cut, you also have... Have you seen the Ultimate Cut that they released??
I haven’t seen that.
It’s fantastic. I definitely recommend it. I mean, I loved the theatrical cut too, but...
It’s time that I got around to doing that. I want it now! I bet I look disarmingly young it, my blond hair, fucking hell. That was a bold choice.
It matches the character from the book.
Well, thank God I didn’t have the skirt or the visor, although I did love those little crack bowl things. I wish we could have had those in there. Mind that I don’t smoke them, Malin Akerman… [to the publicist who has just walked into the room to hear us talking] Hi! I’m not talking about smoking crack! [laughs]