Brit Rupert Friend, best known for high-quality performances in The Death of Stalin, Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate, and the Showtime hit Homeland is busier than ever. We got the scoop on taking the lead in Netflix’s Anatomy of a Scandal, playing the nemesis in Obi-Wan Kenobi, and wrapping production on two new Wes Anderson films.
LEO: You’ve been extremely busy as of late. Let’s start with the British-set thriller Anatomy of a Scandal, recently released on Netflix.
Rupert Friend: It’s a six-part binge-fest about a privileged conservative politician called James Whitehouse, embroiled in a sex scandal, whose past comes back to haunt him. They’re all directed by the uber-talented SJ Clarkson and I was lucky enough to work with Sienna Miller, Michele Dockery and Naomi Scott on the acting side.
What drew you to this part? And was your performance inspired by any real-life members of Parliament, Tory or otherwise?
I wasn’t drawn to it! I had no interest in that world at all. The challenge was to play someone I didn’t particularly like, who had done some pretty terrible things, without judging them. James Whitehouse doesn’t think he’s ever done anything wrong; he believes he has the perfect life, so why question it? However, the tragedy of the man is that he was in many ways a great husband, father and politician, and very charming. Finding charming MPs to draw on is quite tricky.
You’ve played a few characters based on true people. Theo Van Gogh, Vasily Stalin and, of course, Prince Albert. Do you approach these roles any different from fiction ones?
Every approach is different. With a character who has been, or is, alive, there’s obviously many more research materials available, and there’s a responsibility to someone’s memory that I try to honor. That said, I’m not in the business of making documentaries, so artistic license applies. Playing Vasily Stalin was one of the most joyful roles of my career. He was so utterly ridiculous but just couldn’t see it.
What was it like stepping into the world of Star Wars with Obi-Wan Kenobi? Did you have to learn any new skills or do any specific training for it?
It’s just such a thrill to be allowed to play in the Star Wars sandbox. It’s the original and most fully realized alt-universe, with the most passionate and loyal fandom out there. I’m honored to be a part of it.
My character in Obi-Wan has two stomachs, so I had to practice eating two different meals at the same time: A bite of a sandwich, a lick of an ice cream, back to the sandwich. He also has quite specific dentistry. So to make that feel real I would eat the [aforementioned] with a mouthful of small pebbles, which I took from my goldfish tank. It was quite difficult, but I only swallowed two or three.
You also have two Wes Anderson films coming out – Asteroid City and The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. Can you tell us a little bit about them?
Ahhh, those are top secret, I’m afraid. But if you Google the casts, you’ll see that you’re in for a treat. Wes had the most incredible sets built in a melon field in Spain for one of them, and for the other, I got to return to the English countryside and help the pubs pay their mortgages.
What’s been your favorite part about working with Wes Anderson?
Wes has become a dear friend; working with him is like when you played make-believe as a kid, except at the very highest level. I love it.
You’ve also written and directed two award-winning shorts. Are you interested in directing a feature film?
Yes. Directing my short film Steve, starring Colin Firth, was the most rewarding experience of my career thus far. I am very excited to direct again, and I have been developing a couple of projects which I’m very much looking forward to. Watch this space!
With so much going on, do you ever find time for any hobbies to help keep you sane?
I’m a big reader. I usually have a half-dozen books scattered about that are on the go: fiction, non-fiction, biography. I love it all. Relaxing for me is physical and involves being in nature: climbing; hiking; swimming in the sea in winter. I love animals too, and cooking for friends.
Is there anyone you look up to within your industry?
I’m a big fan of chameleonic actors; those who don’t bend the role to fit them, but rather transform themselves to find the character. Gary Oldman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cate Blanchett. And I’m a huge admirer of Paul Thomas Anderson. I’ve not seen something of his I didn’t like. I’d also love to throw down with Melissa McCarthy; she’s such a talented improviser.
CHECK OUT RUPERT
In Wes Anderson’s The Wonder Story of Henry Sugar
As Montana in Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City
As Guru Bob in Ben Stiller’s High Desert
As Grand Inquisitor in the new Star War’s series Obi-Wan Kenobi
As James Whitehouse in Anatomy of a Scandal
As Theo van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate
As Vasily in The Death of Stalin
As Prince Albert in The Young Victoria