Best known as the man who stepped in to portray King Edward VIII in Madonna’s historical romance “W.E.” after Ewan McGregor (wisely?) dropped out of the project, British thesp James D’Arcy is in the midst of his highest profile year yet thanks to three wildly varied turns in films that couldn’t be more dissmilar.
In the buzzed-about biopic “Hitchcock,” D’Arcy plays “Psycho” star Anthony Perkins; in Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski’s siblings’ independently financed epic “Cloud Atlas,” he dons prosthetics, wigs and a myriad of costumes to play a number of characters of varying ages, ethnicities and genders. And in the indie horror-thriller “In Their Skin,” out this Friday in select theaters, he lets loose as an unhinged homicidal maniac who keeps a family hostage in their own home with the intention to steal the man of the house’s identity once all is said and done.
D’Arcy called in to Indiewire from his homebase in London to discuss his stellar year and tell us why the bad guys have all the fun.
I’ve been a longtime fan of your work, but this year seems to be a huge one for you, given the fact that you appear in “Hitchcock,” “Cloud Atlas” and “In Their Skin.” What strikes me about all three projects is that they’re all so different and varied from one another. How has this year been for you in that respect?
The fact that they’re all coming out together is unexpected. The truth is, “Hitchcock” I finished shooting six months ago and it’s coming out in about ten minutes. “Cloud Atlas,” I don’t know how they did the post-production of that in nine months. “In Their Skin” is a film that I shot nearly two years ago now. So it’s funny that they’re all coming out at the same time, and often the fate of the smaller independent film is that it takes awhile to find someone who wants to promote it and distribute it and nurture and love it and all the rest.
In truth, in terms of this project [“In Their Skin”], I’m really happy that it’s going to see the light of day. So often you do these things and you take a leap of faith, you hope that something comes out of it. I’m just happy that people will see it at all. It isn’t by design, it just happens to be the way the cards fell and I am beyond. The truth is anyone who is in “Cloud Atlas” gets to play four different parts in one film anyway, so you’re already off to a pretty good start there.
What film was the most challenging of the three?
They were all different challenges. “In Their Skin” was a script that was not really written for me, it was written for… for a redneck is how it was originally conceived. When I met with Jeremy [Power Regimbal, the director] I suggested that if he were interested in me then perhaps we could reconceive the role because I wasn’t sure that it was… it felt that I may have seen some version of that before, and I thought probably, if he was interested in me, I probably wasn’t the obvious casting for a redneck. Joshua [Close, the writer] was really up for it, completely up for it.
The idea that he is trying to become them in some way actually evolved as we talked about it. We had an 18 day shoot — it was nothing, we did it so fast. I had to play an American throughout the film, and the first time I was hoping that the lines on camera would come out with a good accent. I remained in the accent when we were on the set, and I’ve never done that before. I have to admit I found the first week of that pretty tiring, but it was probably a good thing to have done. Also I’m pleased that we shot it somewhere where I don’t know anybody, because it was slightly embarrassing at times, you know, ordering a coffee in a coffee shop and quietly thinking to myself, “This is not what I actually sound like, but it’s okay because these people don’t know.” That was a fun challenge.
How did you even get on Jeremy’s radar?
You know, that is a really good question I never asked Jeremy or Josh. I don’t know how it happened. I wish I had the answer to that for you. I just know that on the way to meet them I thought , “If they’re going to shoot the script that I’ve just read, I’m not the right person to play the part.” And it was totally fine, I didn’t mind. I felt that, like with any project, if you’re the guy you’re the guy, and if you’re not than that’s absolutely fine.
When I went to sit down with them, I said “I’m really excited by the possibility of this, but if you’re going to shoot exactly this you probably don’t want me to play this part.” And I don’t know if they were already thinking they were going to change it slightly, but it was a very good meeting because everything I said Josh would jump on and expand on and make it a bigger idea. So we ended up crafting, not a new story, but I hope we added some nuance to it that perhaps I hadn’t seen the first time I read it.
This might be a little too meta, but did you see any parallels between the fact that your character is someone who is seeking to assume other peoples’ identities and your own profession as an actor?
I’d never even thought about that, to be honest. My view of acting, and it’s difficult to say anything about acting without sounding like a wally, is that everybody acts all the time, every human. You are a different person with your parents than you are with your partner, than you are with a friend in a bar, than you are with your boss. We’re all slightly different people all the time. I just think actors get paid to notice that.
You always hear the saying that playing the villain is the most fun. Did you have a great time shooting this role, or was it taxing emotionally in some kind of way?
The first part of the answer is yes. Playing the villain in this was very good fun. But it was surprisingly tiring in that, because it was a very low budget independent film, Josh had cleverly written around all maybe five main scenes, each that were about eight or nine pages long, so we would shoot those scenes in one take. I haven’t seen the film, so I don’t know how they cut it up or whether they lingered on any of those shots for a long time.
One of the suggestions when we were shooting was if it were even possibly to show the entire scene from one wide shot. You had to feel like the whole of every take worked. Some of that stuff is quite intense and high energy, so doing that eight times a day was tricky, and right at the end I remember there’s a bit where I… get shot? Is that what happens? Well, I fall over — there was a chair there and I fell and landed on it and broke a rib and we had to keep going because we had like a day and a half left to shoot. But I can’t tell you how incredibly painful that was, and it was my fault. The one place in the room where there was a chair, which in reflection I shouldn’t have done. But it presented some challenges and some things that are incredibly exciting, as if I was doing theater in some way. I really enjoyed it, I had a good time.
Did you suffer any injuries on the set of “Cloud Atlas?”
No nothing on “Cloud Atlas.” “Cloud Atlas” was injury free. Halle Berry got all the injuries on that film.
I love that on this 18 day shoot you suffered a rib injury, but on “Cloud Atlas,” an epic blockbuster, nothing happened.
Well, Russell Crowe had the same thing. On “Master and Commander” absolutely fine, and then he did something to his shoulder on a film called “Cinderella Man,” which I know now is a boxing film, but at the time it made me laugh.