Ioan Gruffudd Amazing Grace, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer Interview

Ioan Gruffudd Amazing Grace, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer Interview


EXCLUSIVE By Paul Fischer In Los Angeles
Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd, now living here in Los Angeles, has come a long way in such a short period of time. Best known in Hollywood as one Mr Fantastic in Fantastic Four and its upcoming sequel, Gruffudd first caught moviegoers' attention as Fifth Officer Lowe, searching for survivors of the ill-fated liner "Titanic" in James Cameron's Oscar-winning blockbuster. The Welsh actor gained fame in his native land for his five year stint (1987-92) as a teenager on the popular soap opera "Pobol Y Cwm/People of the Valley". Leaving the series, Gruffudd moved to London to matriculate at RADA. After graduating, he returned to Wales for the BBC-2 drama "A Relative Stranger" (1996) before landing the role of Jeremy, the son to "Poldark" in the 1996 ITV remake. "Wilde" (1997) marked his screen debut, playing John Gray, one of the young men of London who catches the fancy of the writer Oscar Wilde (Stephen Fry). While his part was relatively small, the actor, wearing shoulder-length hair, invested the role with gusto and proved particularly moving in a scene where he declares his love for Wilde. Gruffudd landed what proved to be his breakthrough role returning to a maritime setting in the title role of the ITV/A&E production "Horatio Hornblower" (1998) and the several subsequent follow-ups based on the stories of C.S. Forester.

The Hornblower films and his continuing U.K. career--including his role as Pip in a British TV production of "Great Expectations" (1999)--ultimately brought Gruffudd to the attention of Hollywood, landing a supporting role in "102 Dalmations" (2000), Disney's sequel to the live-action version of its classic canine cartoon. The actor continued to land leading roles in U.K. productions--including the films "Another Life" (2001), "Very Annie Mary" (2001), "Happy Now" (2001), "Shooters" (2002), "The Gathering" (2002) and the telepic "Man and Boy" (2002)--while building American cachet with smaller roles in films such as "Black Hawk Down" (2002) and the short-lived television series "Century City" (ABC, 2004).

Gruffudd began emerging as a Hollywood leading man in the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced action epic "King Arthur" (2004), which cast him as a dashing Lancelot in a love triangle including Arthur (Clive Owen) and Guenivere (Keira Knightly) in a version of the legend that was set in an allegedly historically accurate context. The actor's profile got a serious boost when he was next cast as Dr. Reed Richards, a.k.a the pliabaly elastic superhero Mr. Fantastic in Marvel Productions and 20th Century Fox's big-budget, big-screen adaptation of the classic Stan Lee-Jack Kirby comic book "The Fantastic Four" (2005). The versatile actor proves his depth starring as Wilberforce in Michael Apteds Amazing Grace, and will next be seen in Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer.

Outspoken and always the gentleman, Gruffudd talked exclusively to Paul Fischer.

Paul Fischer: I take it Wilberforce was an irresistible character for you to play.

Ioan Gruffudd: Yes absolutely. As an actor you do the movies like Fantastic Four which allow you then to come to these sort of parts. So yes, I read the script and fell in love with it. I thought he was - theres something heroic about him in the fact that hes not a man of action like Hornblower was, you know, swashbuckling hero but this is a hero for humanity.

Paul Fischer: How much did you know about him before you took this on?

Ioan Gruffudd: I wasnt entirely aware of his whole background. I knew of him but I always had him associated with the abolition of slavery. I didnt realise that this was the big turning point - it was the abolition of the slave trade which led on to the abolition of slavery. So I had to research quite a bit to get the background of him and to get under his skin.

Paul Fischer: Was it easy to find stuff about him that would enable you to work through him as an actor or was it very much historical material?

Ioan Gruffudd: Well there are very much historical biographies that are out there on Wilberforce and a lot of the biographies are sort of very religious biographies about his evangelical Christianity. So what I extracted from there was just the little eccentricities and how people described him. The described him as somebody who always had his pockets full of paper and books and he was always writing, he was never still. He was a very busy man the whole time. So I tried to get that into the film and the contrast of when he was ill, you know, that he was really on deaths door. They didnt give a man much time to live so to try to constantly fight that ailment, that was a lot of fun to play.

Paul Fischer: Theres not a lot of you in this character physically. I mean, you really do have to step into the character physically. Was the physicality something that enabled you to - once you were in makeup and costume - does that help you to accentuate the performance and get that performance?

Ioan Gruffudd: Yes, yes. I must admit the whole process starts by osmosis. The whole thing sort of filters down. We had a two week rehearsal period so you get to hear the words of this character. Thats a rarity in this day and age to rehearse for that length of time. And then during that period we do a lot of costume and wig fittings especially and it was doing the wig and makeup fittings that he started to come to life. Because I was terrified when I first saw myself with one of those horrible grey wigs on my head. I was shocked. My own vanity got the better of me. I was just, I look horrible but gradually, with that wig, his face came to life and he became more earnest and honest and more compassionate that way than trying to be dashing and young and, well this is what I wanted to be as a vain actor, and it gave me confidence to go that distance, to put extra lines in there to make myself look ill and what have you and knowing that that would look good. It would look different to anything else that I had done so, yes, it was a help to immerse myself in the ailment and the illness especially.

Paul Fischer: How tough a film do you think this is to market outside of the UK because one would think of it, I mean Wilberforce I dont think is hugely studied in even English history, let alone American history. Do you think that the Americans will get it.

Ioan Gruffudd: It certainly is going to be a tough sell, I agree. Its a crowded market place, the movie industry at the moment, and the sad fact is that its all about that opening weekend that determines the life of the movie. Which isnt fair but I guess its a factual base now. The people are told Right if you dont enjoy it this weekend then youre not going to enjoy it further on down the line but the outreach of this movie and the ???? for this movie is extraordinary. Theyre trying to get it out there to the awareness of kids in school or whathaveyou and obviously chapels and churches across the country so who knows? I mean that community, the safe based community made Passion of the Christ the massive hit that it was. But it also might shy away from it. But I know that hes a big hero even to Christians, so who knows. But I think that all that aside its a good movie on its own. It stands alone. It is a political thriller, you know, its not a bio pic. Its about the perseverance of this character and I think its incredibly uplifting and inspiring.

Paul Fischer: Are you hoping also that a film like this opens up different doors for you. I mean youre associated with a couple of these Hollywood big movies which are very much all about the bigness I suppose, of the characters, and obviously for you doing this is an opportunity to get out of that.

Ioan Gruffudd: Yeah, its an opportunity for me to play a leading man who is also a three dimensional character. And its in a movie of this nature and I hope people wouldnt have pigeonholed me too quickly as Mr Fantastic, you know, hes that sort of actor. I think its a great journey for me as a British actor to represent his American icon. And this time there wont be any doubts. I hope there wont be any doubt that this guy can act. Thats something that Im determined ...

Paul Fischer: Now apart from the Fantastic Four sequel youve got another film before that coming out right?

Ioan Gruffudd: Yes, called TV Set.

Paul Fischer: Which youre coming back to do some more interviews for.

Ioan Gruffudd: Yes.

Paul Fischer: People will see you three times.

Ioan Gruffudd: I know, theyll be sick of the sight of me, yeah. Which is great. Its a luxurious position as an actor to have three things in the can that havent come out yet so it eases the pressure of trying to find the next job.

Paul Fischer: And TV Set is with Sigourney Weaver ...

Ioan Gruffudd: David Duchovny and Jake Kasdan who wrote and directed it.

Paul Fischer: Who do you play in there?

Ioan Gruffudd: I play a British TV executive whos been brought over to bring in a bit of class to the whole establishment ....

Paul Fischer: Of American television?

Ioan Gruffudd: Yes, exactly.

Paul Fischer: Its a bit of a tall order isnt it?

Ioan Gruffudd: Well exactly. And you see his sort of demise. He gets sucked into the system and he enjoys the trappings of that sort of corporate lifestyle, yeah.

Paul Fischer: Do you have to immerse yourself in American television culture to be able to sort of do a movie like this?

Ioan Gruffudd: Well the premise of the movie is about a writer bringing the television pilots to work and it being picked up to be shot and I have had first hand experience with Century City which got made and then got commissioned for mid season pick up and then it seems to me that they buried it. They put it up against American Idol and didnt give it a chance. I was most upset about that. I thought, is it something that I did? Was it my involvement? And of course Paul Attanasio and David Shore have gone onto greater things with House so Im delighted for them but yeah it was a bit of a shock, that ruthlessness of it.

Paul Fischer: Does an experience like that give you a degree of cynicism about the profession? Particularly on this side of the Atlantic.

Ioan Gruffudd: I think it does. I hope though that the good stuff does rise to the top, the good projects to get a chance to be seen and things like Greys Anatomy and House have proven that in that quality can rise within that system. It does seem a bit sort of an odd system that you dont give things a chance and give things life but then again its more of a business here. In the UK you would see six episodes or nine episodes, you get to see the nine episodes. And Im sure its the same in Australia. So my involvement was very brief and I sort of got burnt a little bit by it so its interesting to observe it. And my big gripe with it is the whole system of casting. I think its unbearable to see us as actors having to go jump through these hoops and to be directed by committee. The director doesnt get the final say. Its all about the network and the look. So as an actor you go to all these auditions, you have no idea what theyre looking for they dont know what theyre looking for. So sometimes you present something different and then theyre like Oh no hes too different. They wanted somebody more plain. Or he wore the wrong shirt. Its things that we have no idea how to go about obtaining these parts. Its a mystery. It really is a mystery.

Paul Fischer: Is it different in film?

Ioan Gruffudd: Yes, in film the director usually gets the final say. Its about your relationship with the director and the material. But the casting directors have far too much power to get you into the rooms to begin with, then the director himself is overridden by another executor and then the networks executive and then the studio. Its just unbearable.

Paul Fischer: Would you resist doing another television pilot?

Ioan Gruffudd: No, Ive been offered a few over the year but having had experience with Century City Ive sort of shied away a little bit. I must admit I do love making movies and the fact that Fantastic Four was such a success has allowed me to financially live for the last couple of years and do projects like Amazing Grace.

Paul Fischer: Have you moved over to LA?

Ioan Gruffudd: Yeah I live here now, yeah.

Paul Fischer: Do you enjoy LA?

Ioan Gruffudd: I love it. I must admit I havent looked back since I left the UK.

Paul Fischer: Now, Fantastic Four, the first one did very well commercially but was not exactly embraced by the critics. So how surprised were you that a) the film did as well as it did; and b) that it spawned a sequel which nobody really expected?

Ioan Gruffudd: To be honest with you I always give myself 50/50. I always say 50% will love it and 50% are going to hate it. So thats how I protect myself. We certainly thought whilst we were shooting the movie, ok this isnt necessarily the cool teenage movie that we thought we were making when entering into. It evolved into a family movie which in turn was the reason it was so successful, that all of the whole family could go. And the fact that the ardent fans were disappointed - Yes, we were aware of that because Fantastic Four deserved to be a bit cooler than possibly the way it was presented. But again its an origin movie. So we were explaining who all these people are, how they came to be, because theyre not necessarily up there with Spiderman and Batman and Superman that we all have an image for them. So we had to introduce them. I think that weve embraced the fact that it was such a success and a family movie and were deliberately making a movie for the family this time again. But its a lot cooler. Its a family that can bring those cool teenagers who slagged it off the first time around.

Paul Fischer: How different is the second one?

Ioan Gruffudd: Well we start off at the very beginning with a bang and it just doesnt relent. Were chasing down the Silver Surfer until we pin him down and the end of the world is upon us.

Paul Fischer: Is it fun making these movies?

Ioan Gruffudd: Ill be honest with you. I wouldnt necessarily say it was fun on a daily basis and fun in the sense of a satisfying experience. Its a long period of time. Its like five months of your life, its very repetitive on a daily basis. The blessing is that we all get on together as a cast and we do try to keep it light and funny and crack as many jokes as we can because it does become tedious. The skill if theres any skill involved is to concentrate for periods of time on what youre doing and imaging what youre doing fully. I mean its harder in acting terms in a sense because youre constantly imagining everything so you have to be as a kid the whole time.

Paul Fischer: What about embracing the world that is inhabited by the comic book fraternity. Is that an experience that you enjoy or is it one that you would rather not have to deal with?

Ioan Gruffudd: Well these people are the reason that the movie is such a success. So of course theyre going to be annoyed and angry because they come from the position of love. These people love these comic books, its their life, theyre immersed in it. And I love sport and if a movie about Welsh rugby was made and it wasnt represented as I saw it then of course Id be upset but you cannot please everybody. And the fact that theyre talking about it generates buzz and theyll go and see it time and time again even if they hate it so they can have something to talk about.

Paul Fischer: Is Fox planning a late summer release for this?

Ioan Gruffudd: No its in early summer actually. June 15th.

Paul Fischer: So you dont have to worry about dealing with Comicon.

Ioan Gruffudd: Oh so Comicon is after this? Ahh right. Well, well go down to Comicon to be greeted by the fans who have hailed it a big success again, I dont know. I embrace them because they are coming from a position of passion and excitement and as cynically as theyre the audience that were catering to, they love these characters so I have to love Mr Fantastic as much as they do. I know how revered and loved these people are.

Paul Fischer: Are you signed up for a third one?

Ioan Gruffudd: Yep, we definitely are.

Paul Fischer: The quartet?

Ioan Gruffudd: The quartet. I mean the way that we shot the movie was leading to another one as well. So I think its a very exciting time.

Paul Fischer: What else is coming up for you?

Ioan Gruffudd: Thats it really. Well Ive got Amazing Grace and TV Set and then Fantastic Four.

Paul Fischer: Youre Welsh. Which part of Wales?

Ioan Gruffudd: From Cardiff.

Paul Fischer: Did you feel when you were growing up that it was a realistic aspiration to be an actor?

Ioan Gruffudd: Yes, absolutely. And hence Im still on that journey and still here. Whats funny is when you leave drama college all you want to do is act and get work. And then you start to get work and then you have stronger desires and greater aspirations and then the horizons become further away again. So its sort of an evolution and if I had somebody told me that Id be in this position now within ten years I wouldnt have believed them.

Paul Fischer: Why do you want to be an actor?

Ioan Gruffudd: It just gives me an immense amount of satisfaction. Whenever actors talk about why they want to act they tend to get a bit wanky about it. Its like why does a painter want to paint. I dont know, it just gives me immense satisfaction.

Paul Fischer: Were you acting at school? Did you do school plays?

Ioan Gruffudd: Yeah to be honest with you this has been part of my life. I was in a Welsh language soap opera from the age of twelve so I didnt really know anything else.

Paul Fischer: And making that transition from a twelve year old soap opera star to an adult actor is quite ...

Ioan Gruffudd: Yeah Im very proud of it. I decided at the end of my school years, I got invited to go back to do the soap opera and I wanted to go and train so I went to RADA to study and got in and I knew I wasnt a good actor and I needed to improve and I used to be immersed in it. And at the end of that even the soap opera asked me back and I kindly declined and I wanted to go on to other things. So it was a conscious effort to improve myself.

Paul Fischer: Is the soap opera still running?

Ioan Gruffudd: It is, yeah. Its the oldest soap opera by the BBC.

Paul Fischer: And have they ever asked you back again?

Ioan Gruffudd: Theyve asked me back now as myself, as Ioan Gruffudd which is really odd. Yeah, I thought that would be a bit much to do that.

Paul Fischer: Are you as passionate about it now as you were when you started?

Ioan Gruffudd: I think Im more passionate now because theres more at stake. I have a livelihood that depends on it and doing a movie like this is what Ive aspired to do and Im delighted that Im able to do it at this level.

Paul Fischer: Do you want to do theatre?

Ioan Gruffudd: You know what, to be honest with you I dont have a great desire to do theatre. Not to say that I wouldnt ever do it. I just enjoy the process of film making. Id find it hard to repeat the performance night after night after night. I discovered that when I was at drama college. But Im never saying never. If Broadway came calling then Id leap at the chance.

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